If a team in the AL West wants to play in the postseason in 2007, they'd better win the division, because our projections offer them slim hope of a wild-card berth.
Los Angeles Angels
Projection: 1st, 91-71, division title 75 percent, wild card 3.1 percent
Since 2002 it's pretty much been a two-horse race in the AL West between the Angels and A's. In 2006, the teams couldn't have been much closer, with the Angels scoring just five runs less than the A's, while allowing just five more.
We see the two teams moving in opposite directions in 2007. Our projections have the Angels reducing their runs allowed from 732 to a league-best 711 (with the A's increasing from 727 to 748), and increasing their runs scored from 766 to a division-best 810 (with the A's increasing only slightly from 771 to 778), boosted by the addition of CF Gary Matthews Jr and a full season from 2B Howie Kendrick.
(So why, with a +65 improvement in their run differential, has the Angels' projected win total gone up by just two from 89 in 2006? Because last year they outperformed their Pythagorean projection by five wins. That still wasn't good enough to overtake the A's, whose run differential was only +10 better than the Angels, because the A's outperformed their Pythagorean projection by even more.)
If there are any clouds on the postseason horizon for the Angels, they are the injuries to Jered Weaver and Chone Figgins (neither of which was factored into our simulations), which are the sort of injuries that could linger beyond April.
Projection: 2nd, 84-78, division title 20 percent, wild card 5 percent
We projected the A's to finish first in the AL West every season from 2001 to 2006, and they won it in three of those years (the Angels won it in two others), and took the wild card in another (with 102 wins in 2001, the year Seattle won a mind-boggling 116 regular-season games). We projected the A's to win over 90 games in every one of those seasons except 2005, and they did.
The A's have done it by leveraging risk, and there's plenty of that on their 2007 roster. The thing is, the downturn we've projected for 2007 occurs despite having given them the benefit of that leverage in averaging our simulated seasons. We've got Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Shannon Stewart, Eric Chavez, Milton Bradley, and even Rich Harden, all remaining reasonably healthy and productive for the entire year. And our projection includes a 27 HR, 98 RBI season from Mike Piazza.
Even if the A's repeated their level of production from 2006, they likely would be going backwards in the win column, given that they outperformed their Pythagorean projection by eight wins last season. The modest -14 slip in run differential we've projected only compounds the problem.
For years (at least in some quarters) the demise of the Oakland A's has been greatly exaggerated. Until perhaps now.
Projection: 3rd, 77-85, division title 2.8 percent, wild card 2.2 percent
It's not like this team didn't have some decent players to build on at the end of 2006. It's the changes they've made since that leaves you scratching your head in wonderment. Is Jose Vidro supposed to be the second coming of Edgar Martinez? Because his projected 4/30/.271 batting line sure doesn't look like it. On the other hand, Jeff Weaver's projected 8-13 5.36 looks exactly like, well, Jeff Weaver.
They swapped Chris Snelling to the Nationals in the Vidro deal, then signed former National Jose Guillen to play right. Why wouldn't you just put Snelling out there? The Nationals were desperate to unload Vidro, so refusing to give them Snelling wouldn't have been a deal breaker. Was it that they thought Snelling would never stay healthy? Well, Guillen hasn't exactly been Mr. Dependability the past three seasons either.
It's possible that GM Bill Bavasi has been consulting Allison DuBois, and knows things no one else does, though it certainly seems more like he may be taking his advice from Patricia Arquette.
Projection: 4th, 75-87, division title 2 percent, no wild cards
Let's take a journey together down Rangers memory lane:
Before the 2006 season we said: "Will a retooled starting rotation lead to great things in 2006? Maybe, but it doesn't look that way. ... Kenny Rogers was their best pitcher in 2005, and he's in Detroit now. Chris Young was their second-best starter, and he was traded to San Diego ..."
Before the 2005 season we said: "Only one of their starting pitchers, Ryan Drese, posted an ERA below the league average last year, and Drese's 4.20 figure carries some baggage."
Before the 2004 season we said: "The ERAs of the 16 men who started at least one game for the 2003 Rangers were 4.85, 5.09, 5.49, 6.10, 6.23, 6.45, 6.85, 7.01, 7.11, 7.16, 7.30, 7.58, 8.35, 8.53, 11.40, and 12.00. John Thomson, the best of this bunch, is now in Atlanta. The guys who were north of 7.00 amassed a total of 61 starts, so this isn't just a handful of cup-of-coffee September starts that make the overall picture look worse than it really was. You could hardly do worse if you dumped them all and started over with replacement-level pitchers."
Before the 2003 season we said: "In 2002, much was said and written about the Rangers' pitching woes -- Chan Ho Park was anything but an ace, several key relievers got hurt, and a number of blown leads turned what might have been a good start into a deep hole."
The more things change in Texas, the more they stay the same.