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June 9, 2000

AL West Notebook

Not as Close as it Looks

by Joe Sheehan

Not as Close as it Looks

The entire AL West is separated by one-and-a-half games, with the A's currently at the top and the Rangers at the bottom. A recent ten-game stretch of intradivisional play didn't separate the teams, nor did nine games of interleague play.

While the division looks like it could provide significant excitement through the summer, is it possible for these four teams to really be this evenly matched? Sure, but it's not likely. A better measure of quality is looking at runs scored and allowed by team:

             W-L    RS    RA
Oakland    32-27   355   317
Seattle    30-26   323   263
Anaheim    31-28   325   336
Texas      30-28   329   333

While the A's and Mariners have nearly identical records to the Rangers and Angels, they've outscored their opponents considerably, while Texas and Anaheim have actually been outscored. This gap indicates that the true contenders in the AL West are Oakland and Seattle.

Why do teams with such similar records have such dissimilar run scoring and prevention? One reason is the teams' records in one-run games:

           1-Run       Other
             W-L         W-L
Oakland     8-11       24-16
Seattle      4-9       26-17
Anaheim     14-9       17-19
Texas      13-11       17-17

It's a point we've made before, but a team's record in one-run games is primarily a factor of its luck, not of any special ability. At all other differentials, good teams will have better records than bad teams, a trend that is reflected in the numbers above.

For me, the biggest surprise here is the Rangers, who I felt in the spring were still the division favorite. Their bullpen has been bad, they've suffered injuries to their entire starting outfield and have lost their center fielder, third baseman and #2 starter for the season. That they're even a .500 team is probably a significant achievement. The Angels, however, have simply been lucky. Don't expect them to hang around the race much past the All-Star break.

No, it's fairly clear that despite what you see in your morning paper, the AL West is a two-team race between the A's and Mariners. In the next AL West Notebook, we'll take a closer look at the two real contenders and see if either emerges as a clear favorite.

Notes

  • While the Angels and the media that covers them lament the loss to injury of most of the team's projected starting rotation, don't cry any tears for them. Not having Ken Hill, Tim Belcher and Kent Bottenfield available has opened up opportunities for Jarrod Washburn, Brian Cooper and Seth Etherton. Collectively, those three have a SNVA of -0.30 in 11 starts, just slightly below average.

    Maybe that's not terribly impressive, but these are the pitchers who will be starting for the next good Angels team, and if they can get 25 starts under their belt this year, they will be that much better prepared in 2001. Add in Ramon Ortiz and Scott Schoeneweis, and the Angels will have a cheap rotation that could be league-average or better next season.

  • If the A's and Mariners do make it a two-team race, we can look forward to some big series in September. Well, one, anyway. The teams meet for four games on the next-to-last weekend of the season. Gotta love the balanced schedule mixed with interleague play.

    Of course, it did give us the big Padres/A's matchup this week. Almost 48,000 people attended Network Associates Coliseum to see another chapter in this great rivalry. So what if it took all three games for them to get there?

  • Ruben Mateo's injury hampers the Rangers' chance to repeat as Al West champs, but they still have their best Rookie of the Year candidate. Mike Lamb has rebounded from a poor spring and a slow start to take control of the third-base job, hitting .320/.386/.505 since Tom Evans was first hurt on May 5.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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