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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.