We reach the end of the line for the AL lineup grades. Grading out lineups in January is often challenging because it is a lot like nailing jello on the wall. There aren’t a lot of major changes that happen at this point in the offseason, but the competitive balance in the American League means any move could change the balance of power. Furthermore, moves like the Mark Trumbo move earlier yesterday may not directly affect other teams, but it does have an impact on the market. We could see things change rapidly for one or two AL West teams.
We are grading out the lineups based on their three year averages in three key statistics. The first is Baseball Prospectus’s wins above replacement (actually called WARP). It obviously measures the overall value of a player and helps us to see which lineups have more experience overall. The second statistic is their total average (TAV) statistic. It measures a hitter against the league average (.260) by calculating everything they do and factoring out differences in home ballparks. The final statistic is fielding runs above average (FRAA). Looking at fielding numbers doesn’t affect the hitters but it does give us an outlook on which pitchers we should target and avoid based on the fielding that occurs behind them.
WARP: 19.8 (5th)
TAV: .278 (2nd)
FRAA: -4.4 (12th)
The trio of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer carried the Astros as far as they could last season. Those three are the only real holdovers from the 2016 lineup. Technically, Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel were there in August, but they are relatively new as well. They club added Carlos Beltran, Nori Aoki, and Josh Reddick to their outfield and added Brian McCann behind the dish. None of them move the needle a ton individually, but collectively they turn one of the most shallow lineups into perhaps the deepest lineup in the league.
There is no official unfinished business, but the Astros have one of the more enviable problems in that Evan Gattis is coming off of a 30+ home run season and he has nowhere to play. He could DH a little and he is officially the backup catcher but getting him 400-450 plate appearances will be a challenge. The club is constantly on the look out for more pitching, so his name could come up in trade talks.
The fielding numbers are a bit disconcerting. The Fielding Bible had the Astros as the number one fielding team in the American League last season. None of the individual actors added would seem to upset that any. Given that fact, there is an argument to be made the Astros could have the best lineup in the American League on paper.
Los Angeles Angels
WARP: 22.0 (3rd)
TAV: .270 (5th)
FRAA: 5.6 (7th)
When you have the best player in baseball it is awfully tempting to keep adding. The Angels did that last offseason when they added Andrelton Simmons and they did it again when they added Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa this offseason. Like Simmons, they don’t do much more than plug holes, but one could be tempted to see the moves as the final pieces in a wild card run.
A quick look at the Angels reveals one major hole remaining. The catcher situation looks bad on paper, but the combination of Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez is really not that bad. Still, the club has been in touch with Matt Wieters and adding him for the short term would make sense when compared to their philosophy.
The Angels have become the AL West version of the White Sox. They keep trying to add that one piece that will push them over the top, but they are more than one or two pieces away. Still, their lineup is enough to do damage if you ignore them. Plus, Mike Trout is so good he will make them competitive with his sheer will.
WARP: 12.0 (14th)
TAV: .268 (8th)
FRAA: -7.8 (13th)
Watch Moneyball and you can understand this offseason for the Athletics. They get the leftovers and they always seem to manage to make due with them. The likes of Trevor Plouffe, Rajai Davis, and Matt Joyce don’t blow anyone’s skirt up, but they are solid big league players that will hold down the fort. Couple them with holdovers like Khris Davis, Marcus Semien, and Stephen Vogt and you have something.
The Athletics made a surprising run at Edwin Encarnacion. Guys like that don’t typically choose to play in Oakland. The decision to go after a first basemen makes a great deal of sense. Yonder Alonso sticks out like a sore thumb even on a team like the Athletics. Maybe a Chris Carter or Brandon Moss would be more their speed. If they signed one of them their lineup would actually be very underrated.
A lot has to go right for the Athletics to be competitive, but if they add a passable first basemen you could imagine a world where they could be competitive. They would need a lot of pitchers to step up and pitch well, but stranger things have happened.
WARP: 26.7 (2nd)
TAV: .268 (8th)
FRAA: 57.0 (1st)
The big trade is the one that brought Jean Segura to the Mariners. If he plays like he did last season then the Mariners could be AL West champions. If he plays like did in 2014 and 2015 then they could finish in third place. The club also essentially exchanged Jarrod Dyson for Seth Smith in an effort to improve their overall team defense. They have the best fielding rating of any lineup in baseball by a considerable margin.
Like the Athletics, the Mariners are a bit thin by experience at first base. They have some impressive young prospects though that could end up holding down the fort. Dan Vogelbach came from the Cubs in a trade a couple of years ago. He has impressive power potential, so it remains to be seen whether the Mariners will give him that chance or bring in a veteran.
The Mariners took more chances this offseason and ended up adding a couple of starting pitchers and a couple new regulars. They seem to be aiming around pitching, defense, and speed on the base paths. It will be interesting to see if it will work.
WARP: 19.5 (6th)
TAV: .266 (11th)
FRAA: 17.1 (5th)
The Rangers have lost more than they have added the last year or so. They lost Ian Desmond to the Rockies and they lost Prince Fielder to premature retirement. To date, they’ve added nothing this offseason except if you count re-signing Carlos Gomez. They also have a possible reunion with Josh Hamilton. Neither of those moves move the needle.
The Rangers have been flirting with Mike Napoli for over a month now. With Mark Trumbo re-signing with the Orioles, that would seem to grease the tracks on Napoli. In the game of musical chairs, there are fewer and fewer chairs remaining. Give Napoli to the Rangers and they would plug a significant hole in their lineup.
The Rangers have the dangerous combination of coming off of a Pythagorean miracle season all the while losing some key pieces along the way. Without a significant move or two they are probably on the outside moving in.