Instead of going team by team this off season, I will review the divisions as a group. And whereas last year, I used a version of BaseRuns, with some modifications for strength of schedule and the like thrown in, to determine the ranking of teams’ true talent levels, this year I will use WAR as provided here on FanGraphs.
Part Five: The AL West
The ranks last year were Anaheim (13th), Texas (17th), Oakland (20th) and Seattle (28th). Clearly not a strong division in 2008. A lot of changes took place over the winter between 2008 and this past season. The Mariners cleaned house in the front office, the Rangers embraced defense and the Angels shifted from a run prevention focus to a run scoring one. The Athletics gambled on retread veterans, a rotation from Double-A and an out of left field trade for Matt Holliday.
In the end, the division as a whole, one predicted to be evenly mediocre, turned in a vast improvement over the year prior. Every team improved their relative rank. The Angels once again led the way and, with 46 WAR, were fourth in baseball, a legitimately great team this season. The Rangers stayed in second place in the division and moved into the top ten in baseball with 41 WAR, ranked 9th.
The Mariners edged the Athletics for third place, with their 37 WAR moving them all the way to 14th. Oakland was not far behind, though, at 36 WAR and 15th in baseball. The entire division finished in the top half of teams in 2009.
As previously mentioned, each team focused on new areas in 2009 and, amazingly, all those focuses worked out. The Mariners’ re-tooling around defense gave them baseball’s best. The Rangers’ similar moves netted them the 6th best defense and promotion of youngsters into the bullpen contributed to one of the league’s better units.
It wasn’t as good as the Athletics’ bullpen, though, which blew away everyone in the league. And the Angels’ focus on offense resulted in the third-best hitting squad in baseball. In the end, the WAR standings matched the actual won-loss standings for 2009. Here’s a summary of the ranks for the AL West teams, with 2008 first:
ANA: 13, 4
TEX: 17, 9
OAK: 20, 15
SEA: 28, 14