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March 16, 1999

AL West Notebook

Divisional offensive outlook for 1999

by Jeff Bower

The American League West, where like the children of Lake Wobegon, all the offenses are above average...

ANAHEIM ANGELS (1998: 787 runs, .263 Equivalent Average)

Lineup (with projected Equivalent Average)
LF Darin Erstad .288
2B Randy Velarde .265
1B Mo Vaughn .316
RF Tim Salmon .308
CF Jim Edmonds .300
DH Garret Anderson .257 / Todd Greene .264
3B Troy Glaus .315
C Matt Walbeck .233 / Greene .264
SS Gary Disarcina .213

Bench/Alternatives: 2B Keith Luuloa .247

The Angels' offense ranked tenth in the American League last year, but should move into the top five in 1999. Winning the Mo Vaughn Sweepstakes is worth about thirty additional runs from first base, where the ever-expanding Cecil Fielder and an out-of-position Darin Erstad each spent half of the season. There have been musings that because the 31-year-old Vaughn's body type is similar to Fielder's, Vaughn's career is due to follow a similar downward track. I don't buy into that line of reasoning, as Big Daddy was never as complete a hitter as Big Mo. Vaughn's arrival also produces a beneficial domino effect: Erstad moves back to the outfield, and the eminently replaceable Garret Anderson is relegated to DHing. Assuming that his hamstring doesn't act up, expect a monster season from Erstad.

Other potential upgrades are at third, second, and catcher. Although Troy Glaus is unlikely to perform up to the off-season hype, he should be about twenty-five runs better than Dave Hollins. Thanks to multiple breaks in Justin Baughman's legs, Randy Velarde will have second to himself for as long as he's healthy. Since Baughman's only offensive asset is his speed, a good start by Velarde may have Baughman doing "extended rehab" in Edmonton. On the other hand, if Velarde has his usual injury problems, that might create an opportunity for Keith Luuloa or force a trade. Todd Greene's improved shoulder may allow him to catch twice a week, which should be a big improvement over Matt Walbeck and Phil Nevin. Collins would be wise to look ahead a series or two and only have Greene catch when the Angels face right-handed pitching. That would leave him free to DH against lefties, instead of Anderson.

The lone position where Anaheim probably will see a significant offensive drop-off is at shortstop, where last year Disarcina was about twenty runs above his usual anemic output. Add it all up, and the Angels offense should score about 860 runs-nearly half a run per game better than in 1998.

Projected offensive rank in AL West: fourth

OAKLAND ATHLETICS (1998: 804 runs, .263 EqA)

LF Tony Phillips .262 / Tim Raines .265
CF Ryan Christenson .256
RF Ben Grieve .302
DH Matt Stairs .304
1B Jason Giambi .289
2B Scott Spezio .253
3B Eric Chavez .289
SS Miguel Tejeda .246
C A.J. Hinch .261

Bench/Alternatives: OF Jason McDonald .246, 3B/1B Olmedo Saenz .256

In contrast to the high-visibility maneuvering of Team Disney, the A's will cross home plate more often in 1999 simply due to the maturation of their young team. Their organizational emphasis on plate discipline yielded a squad that ranked third in the league in walks last year. Expect a repeat performance in that department, plus an aggregate increase in batting average and power, as the younger hitters continue to mature.

The primary turbo-boost is at third base, where Bill Beane has pulled the sputtering three-cylinder engine of Mike Blowers, Ed Sprague, and Dave Magadan and installed a shiny new Eric Chavez. The sweet-swinging Chavez should increase the A's offensive horsepower at the hot corner by about thirty runs. Other, more modest, increases will occur following last year's thousand-mile break-in period at catcher, center field and right field. A.J. Hinch held his own in '98, following a rapid ascent to the big leagues. His increased confidence has been evident this spring, and he should blossom into one of the top backstops in the AL. Ryan Christenson is the type of player that will never grab much media attention, but his work ethic should result in a higher OBP and gap power. Ben Grieve took home the AL Rookie of the Year trophy last year, so don't look for any dramatic improvements. Instead, expect a year of consolidation and small improvements across the board. Wearing out our auto mechanic analogy with Jason Giambi and Matt Stairs, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The only place in the lineup where the A's will not equal last year's output is in left field, where the age-defying Rickey Henderson has gone back to Broadway for another one of his one-year stints. Although Tony Phillips and Tim Raines do a nice, low-budget imitation in terms of age, attitude and OBP, the A's should lose at least ten runs from that corner outfield position.

Oakland ranked ninth in the AL in 1998 with 804 runs. Inserting Chavez and normal offensive growth from their other young players will result in about a 45 run improvement over last year, and should push the A's into the upper half of the league in offense.

Projected offensive rank in AL West: third, but second is in reach

SEATTLE MARINERS (1998: 859 runs, .277 EqA)

2B Carlos Guillen .242
SS Alex Rodriguez .320
CF Ken Griffey, Jr. .315
DH Edgar Martinez .326
1B David Segui .280
RF Jay Buhner .288
3B Russ Davis .254
LF Butch Huskey .265
C Dan Wilson .257

Bench/Alternatives: INF David Bell .218, UT John Mabry .259

Despite having three of the game's finest run producers in Griffey, Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez healthy for all of last season, the Mariners only finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The disappointment was primarily due to virtually no contribution from the bench, and little production from the outfield corners during Jay Buhner's Year of Pain. While the bench has been upgraded by signing Matt Mieske, Mabry, and Tom Lampkin, and while Buhner's elbow seems to be mending nicely, don't expect more fireworks at the Kingdome and new Safeco Field in 1999. The Mariners have saddled themselves with an old and frail team, with many regulars in the decline phase of their careers.

The outfield corners should be much improved, as Buhner returns to his beloved Boneyard, and Butch Huskey arrives from the Mets. At 34, Buhner is unlikely to recapture his earlier form, but should still manage 25+ circuit clouts and 75 walks. Huskey was Woody Woodward's off-season answer to the Mariners' need for a high on-base leadoff hitter, which tells you a thing or two about Woody. Huskey will nevertheless be a colossal step up from the clearly overmatched Shane Monahan. Dan Wilson may only put up league-average numbers at catcher, but that will be an improvement from the unsavory John Marzano/Joe Oliver concoction that replaced him when he tore ankle ligaments last season. The offense could also get a boost if Lou Piniella would swap Martinez and Griffey in the batting order. It would mean about fifteen fewer plate appearances for Griffey, but more runners would be aboard for his moon shots.

As for declines, the platinum-coifed David Segui should permanently move into the Jeff King District of league first basemen. Expect a fifteen run decrease, and even more if the injury-prone Segui misses more than his usual thirty games. Although Edgar Martinez remains a great offensive force, at 36 he will likely decline by at least ten runs this year.

Offense again shouldn't be the problem with 1999 version of the Seattle Mariners. With a fortified bench, if Piniella's band of aging warriors stays healthy, the Mariners could even exceed last year's total of 859 runs. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen unless Woodward cuts a shrewd deal with Lucifer, and negotiating isn't Woodward's forte. Rather, look for them to approach last year's output while keeping in mind that if any of the Big Three succumb to injury the Mariners suddenly become an average offensive club.

Projected offensive rank in AL West: second, but not by much

TEXAS RANGERS (1998: 940 runs, .271 EqA)

CF Tom Goodwin .237
2B Mark McLemore .241
LF Rusty Greer .293
RF Juan Gonzalez .305
1B Rafael Palmeiro .289
C Ivan Rodriguez .272
DH Lee Stevens .274
3B Todd Zeile .268
SS Royce Clayton .248

Bench/Alternatives: INF Luis Alicea .260, OF Roberto Kelly .267, CF Ruben Mateo .259

The 1998 Texas Rangers set a franchise record by scoring 940 runs, finishing just behind the Yankee juggernaut for the top spot in the American League. Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez had their best years to date, Will Clark temporarily resuscitated a career gone lifeless, most of the other regulars posted very solid seasons and the bench was one of the league's best. Looking at adjusted numbers, I wouldn't have expected them to score as many runs as they did. Playing half of their games at The Ballpark helps, but my hunch is that their actual run total exceeded their expected runs by a sizable margin.

The Rangers are generally a veteran collection coming off relatively injury-free seasons, and their best players had career years in 1998. That's a roundabout way of saying that there aren't many positions that are going to post offensive gains this year. The two spots that should crank out more runs are shortstop and left field. Though re-signed for his defensive play, a full season of Royce Clayton at shortstop is worth about a dozen runs that the Rangers didn't plate when Kevin Elster was hanging around for the first four months. Left-fielder Rusty Greer probably won't repeat his sub-par first half of '98 and should log a .900 OPS, which should be worth a ten-run improvement. No, I'm not overlooking marquee free agent Rafael Palmeiro; he's four years to the bad side of 30, just had two knee surgeries, and replaces Will Clark, who had a surprisingly good campaign last year.

While it's silly to use Grapefruit League games to project regular season performance, the springs of Tom Goodwin and Mark McLemore only further the cause for concern. Goodwin's OBP last year was way out of line with his career figure, and 34-year-old second basemen like McLemore have a habit of falling off cliffs as far as their production goes. All signs point to Texas losing at least twenty-five runs from the top two spots in the order. Lee Stevens and Mike Simms make a dandy set of DH bookends, but both are 32 and father time is unlikely to be sympathetic just because it took each of them a decade to become established big leaguers; Simms is already hurt and out for an unknown length of time. Juan Gonzalez credits his personal fitness guru for his first injury-free season in six years. If healthy, there's nothing to suggest an offensive downturn for Gonzo. I just don't have that much faith in the fitness community.

Texas can expect reduced offense at nearly half of their positions. Combine this with the fact that they most likely exceeded their expected run output last year and the Rangers are ripe for a large offensive drop-off in 1999. It could amount to half a run per game, which would still leave the Rangers in the upper echelon of league offenses, but it may not be enough to carry their suspect pitching to the divisional title.

Projected offensive rank in AL West: first, with a large chance of collapse

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