Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Midseason Report: AL West

It's time now for the American League West version of our mid-season baseball reports. It's been a few days coming, and I was beginning to wonder if finding an AL West fan was going to become like finding a Chargers fan. Good gravy. We were lucky enough to get in touch with Brett Brecheisen, who runs the aptly named Brett Brecheisen's Blog.

Anyway, we're a few days beyond the resumption of big-league play, and it's time to have a look at the first half of AL West baseball, after the jump.

Bankmeister: Tell us, if you will, a bit of your history with baseball. This page of your blog tells us that you're a senior at Florida State, that you grew up in Florida, but that you were born in Kansas City. Tell us a bit more about your baseball self. Did you grow up around the game? Play it at any level? Favorite team(s)? Play any fantasy?

Brett Brecheisen: My family was born and raised in Kansas City so I was born in Olathe and my family moved to south Florida when I was just a year old. Being a lifelong Royals fan, my Dad brought me up on the game from an early age. When the Marlins arrived in the area in 1993 I quickly adopted them as my own team. My parents slowly shifted gears as well although I still think if the Royals were ever as good in the future as they were in the 1970s and 80s they would be thrilled. I consider Kansas City my second favorite team.

I played organized baseball every year from the age of four until I graduated high school. I was more of a scrappy player since I felt like I understood the game at a high level but wasn't blessed with size, strength or speed.

I've since grown into broadcasting to stay in the game at the college level. I called games on ACC Select (a webcasting service) for the Florida State baseball team during their run to the 2008 College World Series. I was also behind the mic for 44 games in the summer of 2008 for the Orleans Cardinals (now the Firebirds) of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

My fantasy experience is more for fun than anything else. I've been playing for roughly seven or eight years and get pretty competitive with it but only play seriously in two leagues -- both of the keeper variety -- with friends. It's definitely a popular topic of conversation between my buddies and I.

B: Excellent. Now to your Midseason report.

You started at the top of the standings and worked your way down, so I'll jump in in the middle, beginning with the Seattle Mariners. Honestly, after last season, I expected this club to be hurting for, at bare minimum, at least another season. They have been, however, quite the pleasant surprise. You mentioned Ichiro Suzuki, who continues to impress, and equally so in the All-Star Game, by in terms of getting there and performance within the contest. I still hang some crap on him for having his first name on the back of his jersey, but whatever. I would agree with you that Russell Branyan has been a great surprise. In fact, I noticed his season picking up and I nabbed him from the free-agency pickins in our fantasy league.

Now, in this league, there is an owner that is so completely obsessed with the game that he psychologically bullied me into thinking I should drop him. Stupidly, I did. But as you pointed out, career numbers for the "bum," as he was called. One really has to respect a veteran like that guy going to a team like Seattle was in 2008, and producing like he has. As far as pitching, you mention Jarrod Washburn being the big surprise, but I might argue that Erik Bedard has been an even bigger surprise. Yes. He's had a good campaign or two in the past, but last year was a rough one for him. This year, he's sporting a 2.70, and a 30:84 BB:K ratio. If this club is moving in the right direction, what can they expect from Bedard in the next 2-3, 4 seasons, given that he turned 30 this year? Washburn, for that matter, will be 35 next month. The numbers these guys have put up through half of the season, especially considering that they're both lefties, would suggest that you want to keep them around assuming they hold up.

Double B: You bring up a good point on Bedard. I didn't consider him as big of a surprise as Washburn simply because he had shown great flashes in the past. But you're right, he has definitely rebounded from an injury-riddled 2008 and has been a crucial component to this team turning it around in 2009.

I think that Bedard has the makeup of an excellent pitcher. He has great stuff and definitely goes after hitters. The knock on him has been some inconsistency and lack of control. However, Bedard saw his BB/IP ratio decrease in 2006 and 2007 when he started to really come into his own as a dominant pitcher. Obviously his torn labrum in 2008 set him back but he has rebounded and appeared to have the same life and movement on his pitches that he did prior to the injury. I think he'll continue to improve his command and -- if he can stay healthy -- will become a consistent Top 10 pitcher in the American League.

B: That's a big "if." And hey -- if Texas and Los Anaheim keep them out of the mix this year, will they be geared to make a run at the West in 2010?

Double B: It's always difficult for me to predict what will happen more than a year out simply because you don't know what kind of off-season moves a team will make. In terms of young talent, the Jeff Clement experiment has not gone as expected so far. They are still pretty old in terms of position players as Russell Branyan, Kenji Johjima, Ichiro Suzuki and Ken Griffey, Jr. aren't getting younger.

However their biggest problem is going to be their expiring contracts. I believe their big three arms of Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard will all be getting new deals. I doubt the Mariners pony up the money for all three so this team could definitely look a lot different on Opening Day 2010 than it does now.

B: True. And if they know what they're doing, one of those differences will be a different catcher, as Johjima just plain sucks. Speaking of suck, how about those Rangers? They held off the Angels for mostly three whole months, which, for a team that has decent-but-inconsistent pitching, and, as you mentioned, power, but can't hit for average, is noteworthy. Strictly looking at division standings, however, how much of Texas' success in the first half can be attributed to L.A.'s rash of injuries? Will the Rangers be in the conversation come September?

Double B: I think it's fair to say that they will be in the conversation. I just don't think they'll end up making the playoffs. With all the injuries the Angels have had, keep in mind the biggest name that's been missing during much of this division race belongs to the Rangers and that is Josh Hamilton. He says he's healthy and he hasn't been awful but he also has yet to be the Josh Hamilton of 2008.

If he returns to full strength and has the second half he's capable of having I fully expect Texas to be in the hunt in September. I just think the Angels have too much firepower in the lineup and depth on their pitching staff to not win the division.

B: How about their rotation? You mention that they've been successful keeping other teams off of the scoreboard. While not terribly far down it, they are in the bottom half of earned runs. As far as runs scored, they're smack dab in the middle. Could it be that they simply hit for enough power to make their pitching staff look a shade better than they are? Will Vicente Padilla be kept around? Can you name, without looking, three uglier players in the bigs than Padilla?

Double B: I think their pitching staff has over-achieved thus far. I didn't expect guys like Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman to have the types of seasons they are having, particularly in a hitter's ballpark like the one they play in. I don't think they will be as good in the second half but I can't really pin-point a reason to say that they'll decline other than I just think that over 162 games the law of averages prevails and the guys with the most talent have the better seasons.

I've never been a big Padilla guy. He's serviceable and definitely is talented enough to have a spot in a big league rotation but he hasn't had a season with an ERA under 4.50 since 2003. And without looking... three players uglier than Padilla would be Matt Stairs, Julian Tavarez, and Bartolo Colon.

B: Hmm. Well, I find Matt Stairs handsome. Handsome in that Canadian kind of way, but since I mentioned ugly, let's talk Oakland. Now, everyone knows that their football club has a roster full of clubbed-foot, octogenarian beaters, and that their fan base thinks a tailgate party is a contest to see how many pedestrians they can back into at the Coliseum. But isn't their baseball team supposed to be a bit more respectable than they've shown us through three months? What, in your estimation, has become of the once-heralded birthplace of small ball?

Double B: I think the biggest problem is that small-market teams like the Athletics just have such a small margin for error. They have to be perfect with almost every trade because they can't go out and buy a free agent to fill a hole. Unfortunately, sometimes you just miss on guys regardless of how good of a talent evaluator you and your staff are. The Matt Holliday trade hasn't worked out so far, their young pitchers have taken a little longer than expected to develop, and the Jason Giambi experiment has failed.

B: Offensively, they are darn bad. You mention Jason Giambi batting near the Mendoza Line. Frankly, most of their team appears to be. Adam Kennedy, their second baseman, is the only one toying with hitting .300, and that's a dude that was playing in the National League for the last two seasons. Your comment regarding the promise of their young pitching is an interesting one. If we assume this club has a 2009 fork in it, what must they do to get back on track?

Double B: I do like their young core of pitchers and think they have a chance to greatly improve next year if they can find a bat or two to contribute. However, there aren't many position players who will be big-league ready by 2010 and the A's don't spend much in free agency so it will be interesting to see how creative they get trying to improve that lineup.

B: Finally, the Angels. These guys are, as you said, are a solid all-around team, and the likely favorite to take this division, and they could make a run at the pennant as well. Since there's little to examine with this team, what was your opinion on the K-Rod ship-out and the Brian Fuentes acquistion?

If you're the Colorado Rockies, how do you let go of a guy like Fuentes that, over seven years, averaged 20+ saves a season and converted 84 percent of your club's save opportunities?

Double B: I'm not a big fan of relievers who don't throw strikes and K-Rod has definitely had some instances where he can't throw a strike when he has to. I'll admit, prior to the season starting I thought Jose Arredondo would end up with this job by the All-Star break. I underestimated Fuentes and he has been excellent. He's definitely a reason this team is in first place right now.

B: I haven't looked at contract numbers for either guy, but L.A. looks pretty smart for having done so. Is it plausible that this club is the best-structured in baseball, getting the most for their payroll dollars and having all -- speed, average, power, defense, starting-and-relief pitching -- of the desired attributes?

Double B: I would have to say so. I mean they are good year in and year out and they aren't even the primary team in their own market. I love the style of ball they play. They always seem to spend their dollars wisely. And recently named them the ultimate franchise for sports fans. They've had a great run and seem to show no signs of slowing down. Maybe they'll add another World Series trophy to the mantle this year.

B: Since we have your attention, what are your predictions for division winners around the league? The ALCS and NLCS? How about a Series prediction?

Double B: Ah, trying to catch me with some predictions so I can look stupid after the season ends, are we? I'm kidding of course and am not a big predictions guy just because I believe injuries play such pivotal roles (even more so in football) and they are impossible to predict and you never know who is hot heading into October as we saw Colorado do in 2007. But knowing what we do now, my predictions are as follows:

NL East - Philadelphia
NL Central - Chicago Cubs
NL West - Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Card - St. Louis

AL East - Boston
AL Central - Minnesota
AL West - Los Angeles Angels
AL Wild Card - New York Yankees

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Philadelphia
ALCS: Los Angeles Angels over Minnesota

World Series: Angels over Dodgers

B: Wow. An all-L.A. Series? Man. I would really hate that. Nevertheless, Brett, thanks so much for joining us. We hope to catch up again sometime soon.