Saturday, February 16, 2008


Seattle's new ace

By J. Northrop, aka "Angelsjunky"

With the recent acquisition of Erik Bedard, the Seattle Mariners have earned talk of contention in the AL West. Before Bedard, the commonly held viewpoint was that all the Angels have to do to win the West was play (relatively) well and stay (relatively) healthy. While the Angels aren’t stacked with stars, they have remarkable depth—and thus can withstand the usual assortment of injuries that a major league team inevitably copes with during the season.

So the question is: are the Mariners serious contenders? They are certainly head-and-shoulders above the Rangers and Athletics, with both teams in different phases of rebuilding (a baseball euphemism which means that a team realizes it sucks and needs to drop its over-priced veterans in favor of prospects). But how do the Mariners stack up against the Angels, player for player?

Let us take a look…

KEY
Even (0), Slight Edge (+1), Solid Edge (+2), Strong Edge (+3)

I’m rating the nine positions, five starters, closer, and the bullpen and bench as one player each, for a total of seventeen rated positions. I’ll leave “intangibles” to your imagination.


CATCHER

Mariners:
Kenji Johjima and Jeff Clement.
Angels: Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis.

Johjima is the only sure thing among the above four players—solid, if unspectacular. Clement is a decent prospect who should get some DH at-bats. Napoli might surprise if he stays healthy for a whole season (or at least 120-130 games) and hit 25 HR with some walks; Mathis looks good behind the plate, but hasn’t shown much next to it—until he does he’ll be a coveted back-up, but nothing else. This means a...

Slight Edge to Mariners (+1 M)

FIRST BASE
Mariners:
Richie Sexson
Angels: Casey Kotchman

Kotchman is 25 and on the rise, while Sexson is 33 and coming off a season in which he hit .205/.295/.399 in 121 games. Sexson might improve, but Kotchman definitely will, giving a...

Slight Edge to the Angels (+1 A)

SECOND BASE
Mariners:
Jose Lopez
Angels: Howie Kendrick

Lopez has the advantage of experience and defense, but was terrible with the bat last year (.252/.284/.355). The jury is still out on whether Kendrick will be a star or not, but no matter how good he is he will hit—whether .330 or .300 remains to be seen (and probably depends upon if he can lower his strikeouts). If he does, this edge could be “solid” or “strong,” but until then I’m going to only give a…

Slight Edge to the Angels (+1 A)

THIRD BASE
Mariners:
Adrian Beltre
Angels: Chone Figgins

This was a hard decision to make: Beltre has more power and won the Gold Glove last year, but Figgins is coming off a career year and his speed and versatility make him a very valuable player. Still, Beltre is a terrific fielder and evened out with the bat last year, so I’m going to give a…

Slight Edge to the Mariners (+1 M)

SHORTSTOP
Mariners:
Yuniesky Betancourt
Angels: ? Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and/or Brandon Wood

This one could even out if Izturis lands the job (a superior hitter to Betancourt, but an inferior fielder), if Wood suddenly blossoms, or if Aybar actually fulfills the Jose Reyes Lite potential. But until any of those happen, Betancourt’s all-around solid play gives a...

Slight Edge to the Mariners (+1)

LEFT FIELD
Mariners:
Raul Ibanez
Angels: Gary Matthews Jr

Ibanez has been an underrated and unnoticed player over the last seven years, consistently solid with the bat. Yet he is going to be 36 and is due for a decline. Matthews is the superior defender but aside from 2006 has been mediocre with the bat; still, he could improve and repeat last year’s first half numbers. I’m calling this one…

Even

CENTER FIELD
Mariners:
Ichiro Suzuki
Angels: Torii Hunter

Suzuki and Hunter are similar in that they are both better than their OBP and SLG would imply, yet both are also somewhat over-rated because of their relatively low numbers in those categories. Who is better? Got to give to Ichiro, but only a...

Slight Edge to the Mariners (+1 M)


RIGHT FIELD

Mariners:
Brad Wilkerson
Angels: Vladimir Guerrero

A few years ago Wilkerson looked like he was breaking out as a star. Then he dropped off the face of the earth. Yet even with something of a resurgence, this is a clear winner for the Angels—and by a significant margin, thus a…

Strong Edge to the Angels (+3 A)

DH
Mariners:
Jose Vidro
Angels: Garret Anderson

Two aging has-beens, with different strengths but similar overall value. Vidro gets the edge in OBP last year (.381 to .336), but Anderson in SLG (.492 to .394). Many Angels fans might disagree with me, but I’m going to call this one…

Even

BENCH
Mariners:
Jamie Burke, Miguel Cairo, Mike Morse, Willie Bloomquist, Jeremy Reed
Angels: Reggie Willits, Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar

The Angels have a deep bench, filled with players that could start on some other teams. This is a…

Solid Edge to the Angels (+2 A)


STARTING PITCHING

Mariners:
Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista
Angels: John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jon Garland, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders

This is closer than you would think. I’m going to pair them in terms of similarity, if not place in the rotation. Lackey and Bedard are about even, both possible Cy Young candidates (0). Hernandez has tremendous upside but suffered a “sophomore slump” last year, and Escobar is injuried, so I’ll call that even as well (0). Washburn and Garland are virtually the same pitcher, so that is close to even (0). Batista was good last year and has proven himself a solid league average pitcher, but Weaver was slightly better and should continue to improve, so I’ll give him a solid edge (+2 A); Silva is a decent, reliable pitcher, perhaps slightly better than Joe Saunders, but Santana could build upon his potential, so I’ll give the Angels a slight edge (+1 A).

Overall Slight to Solid Edge to the Angels (+3)


CLOSER

Mariners:
J.J. Putz (31, 1.38 ERA, 40 saves, 13-82 bb-k in 71.7 IP)
Angels: Francisco Rodriguez (26, 2.81 ERA, 40 saves, 34-90 bb-k in 67.3 IP)

Usually youth is a bonus, but perhaps not in this case as Putz is well past the “blow out” phase of his career. There are few closers that I’d rate higher than Rodriguez, but Putz is one of him: his ERA was a run and a half lower, and he walked 21 less batters in 4 more innings. Rodriguez is a roll of the dice every time he walks to the mound: both in terms of whether he’ll give up a three-run homer and if he’ll (finally) blow out his arm. Still, he’s one of the top five closers in the game, just not quite as good as Putz has been over the last two years.

Slight Edge to the Mariners (+1)


BULLPEN
Mariners:
Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe, Chris Reitsma, Horacio Ramirez, ???
Angels: Scot Shields, Justin Speier, Dustin Moseley, Rich Thompson, Chris Bootcheck, ???

A traditional strength for the Angels, although with some recent difficulties, they are still stronger than the Mariners, at least until Morrow and Lowe stabilize.

Solid Edge to the Angels (+2)


THE VERDICT

The Angels win, 12 to 5. The trade for Bedard probably decreased that win total a point or even two, but it is still more of a significant margin than I thought going into this piece. While you could argue with any number of my distinctions, they would probably even out in the end, or at least no wider of a range than 10-6 to 14-3, making the Angels a safe--although not definite--bet to win the AL West in 2008.

Love to hear what you think!

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