Wendy and Matt have already covered the NL West and AL Central, so let’s continue to show that we here at FanGraphs are not subject to East Coast bias and look at the other set of second baseman on the left coast: the AL West. Due to the presence of the A’s and Mariners, the AL West does not generally project as a strong offensive division, but second base is the exception with two All-Stars, a potential star, and the younger brother of an All-Star second baseman. Let us know how you think these players will perform next year.
Texas has the most well established player in the division in Ian Kinsler, a player with a strong walk rate and excellent power for his position. Last season, he posted the 4th highest WAR total in the American League on the strength of a .370 wOBA. Pretty impressive considering his .243 BABIP was 39 points below his career average. The big factor was that he eclipsed 650 plate appearances for the first time in his career. No one has ever doubted Kinsler’s talent level – for his career he has posted 4.64 WAR per 650 plate appearances – just his durability. This is the big question going into 2012, along with whether he can maintain his power while simultaneously raising his BABIP. It may be a coincidence, but the two seasons in which he has posted an ISO above .220, he has had BABIP’s of .241 and .243. All of his other seasons have resulted in ISO’s below .200, and BABIP’s ranging from .279 to .334.
In Seattle is a player, Dustin Ackley, who has inspired a lot of discussion at FanGraphs considering he only has 376 Major League plate appearances under his belt. He also has more Fan Projections submitted than pretty much everyone except Ryan Braun – and these projections are optimistic. In limited action last year, he posted a strong .340 wOBA thanks to a solid walk rate of 10.6% and a .339 BABIP. Ackley is certainly the type of player that can maintain a high BABIP, and so far the fans agree he will maintain a BABIP of .338 while increasing his walk rate to 12.0%. This leads to a projected wOBA of .364, 38 points higher than the Bill James projection. When combined with slightly above average fielding, this leads to a 5.6 WAR season. Do you agree or are you more bearish?
Impending free agent Howie Kendrick is also an interesting case in Los Angeles. Obviously expectations are high after the club signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and Kendrick will be a big part of helping the Angels catch the Rangers. After posting four straight seasons between 1.9 and 2.5 WAR, Kendrick broke out in a big way last season, posting 5.8 WAR thanks to a number of factors. First, he received regular playing time for only the second time his career. Second, after posting above average fielding numbers for most of his career, which vibes with the Fan Scouting Report over at The Book Blog, Kendrick jumped to a UZR/150 of 19.7 in 2011. This was the highest number among second basemen in all of MLB, and should be prone to some serious regression. Finally, he posted career high number in both walk rate and ISO at 5.7% and .179 respectively. His HR/FB rate was double his career average at 16.5%, but these could be legitimate improvements for a toolsy player who is entering his prime at age 28. Is Kendrick a 4+ WAR player going forward, or was last season an outlier?
It would be a disservice to not also mention Maicer Izturis, who in 2011 accumulated 449 plate appearances as the Angels super utility infielder. He has spent significant time at second, third and short in his career, and is a very important player should one of the Angels starters at one of these positions go down. Izturis is a player who provides value with his positional flexibility and his ability to limit strikeouts. He is a player who doesn’t do one thing exceptionally well other than make contact, but doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. This has lead to a consistent player, as his wRC+ has ranged between 89 and 110 since he really established himself in 2006. With Izturis, one can be fairly confident in his rate stats, with the big question being how many times he will step up to the plate.
Finally, in Oakland we have our biggest question mark, the speedy Jemile Weeks. Through 436 major league plate appearances, Weeks has been very much what he was expected to be – a low-walk slasher who puts the ball in play and the runs his tail off. While the .350 BABIP he posted last season isn’t impossible to maintain for a guy with his speed, it is interesting to note that he only had an IFH% of 6.6%. This does not compare favourably to other high BABIP speed demons like Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Bourn, who are at 12.7% and 10.6% respectively for their careers. All in all, Weeks posted a very solid .332 wOBA, although he was thrown out in a third of his stolen base attempts. Is Weeks the real deal in Oakland or will a sub 5% walk rate relegate him to second division starter status? In the event that he does struggle, the A’s have some insurance in Scott Sizemore. Acquired last season in a trade for David Purcey, Sizemore battled a 26.1% strikeout rate to post 1.9 WAR in 429 plate appearances. Sizemore is scheduled to open the season as the A’s starting third baseman, but could easily slide back to the cornerstone if necessary.
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