AL West – Odds to Win Division – MLB Betting

The AL West Division features the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim), Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers.  The Houston Astros are the returning champs and have a solid core of talented young players.  Oddsmakers have the Astros as heavy favorites to win the American League West division in their MLB futures odds.  The Angels and Mariners are noted as the second most likely candidates to win the division by AL West futures oddsmakers in Las Vegas and offshore.  The Rangers and Athletics are in rebuilding mode and not expected to make an impact. Can anyone else compete with the talent that the Houston Astros have?  Our AL West Futures Odds preview takes a look in our MLB futures series.

Houston Astros -431

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

Astros -431?

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The Astros delivered on all of the promise of their strong farm system in recent years, finally winning the AL West, and then the 2017 World Series over the Dodgers.    Their biggest strength was their explosive offense, the top ranked unit in baseball, which was led by their homegrown talent.

ASTROS BATTING ORDER

Ever since signing as an international free agent in 2007 for a mere $15,000, Altuve has been proving the doubters wrong, and last year was his biggest statement to date: a dominant .346/.410/.547 season with 32 stolen bases.  That year was good enough for the diminutive 2nd baseman to win AL MVP, and it was well deserved.

George Springer and Carlos Correa, the Astros’ first rounders from 2011 and 2012, were key contributors as well.  Springer won a Silver Slugger award for his work in the regular season, and then slugged a cool 1.000 in the World Series on his way to the MVP award.  Correa put up a ridiculous slash line for a shortstop during the regular season (.315/.391/.550) as a 23 year old.  Correa, much like his counterpart in Cleveland (Francisco Lindor) should be in the MVP conversation for years to come.   Another top pick (#2 in 2015) and 23 year old last season, Alex Bregman had a strong season in his first full year in the big leagues, hitting .284/.352/.475.   

The list goes on and on - even utility guy Marwin Gonzalez was killing it at the plate last year, posting a 144 wRC+ over 515 PAs.  So how will they fare this year?

All signs point to another fantastic year for the Astros offense.  Nearly everyone is back - the only notable member of their lineup that won’t be starting in 2018 is Carlos Beltran, who had a fantastic career, but a terrible 2017, so it will likely help the Astros to replace his bat in the lineup.  However, it would be smart to assume a bit of regression from some of their key producers last year.

Altuve, while still spectacular, should see his batting average on balls in play come down a bit (.370 in 2017), as well as his homer to fly-ball rate (14.6% in 2017).  Marwin Gonzalez had never had a year like he had in 2017, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll regress to the mean - his walk rate in particular was abnormally high last year.  Same goes for Josh Reddick, who had his best offensive season since debuting in 2009. The offense should still be very good, it just probably won’t be quite as good as last year.

ASTROS PITCHING STAFF

The pitching staff however, is different story.  Houston’s pitching was rated 3rd in xFIP last year, a very solid mark, but it has a chance to be even better.

Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young award in 2015 while throwing 232 innings - last year he was only able to throw 145.2 due to injury.  If he can reach the 200 inning plateau again, he may enter the Cy Young discussion again in 2018.

Justin Verlander was added at the trade deadline last year - literally, almost exactly at the waiver trade deadline - and he never looked back, making two quality starts in the World Series that helped them win the title.  He only made 5 regular season starts last year for the Astros, so a full season of starts for Verlander in 2018 will certainly improve the pitching staff as a whole.

Gerrit Cole, the former first overall pick in 2011, was acquired in a trade this offseason.  He, along with Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton form what is probably the strongest 3-4-5 starters of any team in baseball.  This staff could be scary good.

ASTROS BET - FINAL THOUGHTS

This team has a legitimate chance to have the #1 offense and pitching staff in baseball, so we have to wager on them to win the AL West, right?  Well, not so fast.

Despite their apparent dominance, the 2017 team was a 99 win team based on their run differential.  If we project a significant regression from the offense - totally possible, given the heights they were at last year - then we could project that they fall into the mid 90s in wins.

Is there a team that could come up from behind and meet them in the mid-90s?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

Los Angeles Angels +610

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

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The Angels had a so-so year in 2017, finishing at 80 wins but miles behind the Astros in the AL West.  If their offseason this year is any indication, though, they believe that they can bridge that gap in the very near future.

ANGELS PITCHING STAFF

The biggest name in the 2017 offseason was Shohei Ohtani - 23 year old Japanese megastar who intends to both pitch and hit in the major leagues, which would be a truly special feat not seen since the days of Babe Ruth.  The real shocker is that the projection systems actually believe he can do it - despite questions about his swing, Steamer projects him as well above average as a hitter with a wRC+ of 116.  However, Ohtani’s undeniable talent is on the mound - he should fit in as the Angels’ ace from day one, something they desperately needed last year.

The Angels are also set to get help from two of their own homegrown pitchers who missed significant time in 2017.  Since 2015, Garrett Richards has only managed to pitch 62.1 big league innings as he recovers from arm injuries. Matt Shoemaker is another bounceback candidate, only throwing 77.2 innings in 2017.  150 innings from both of these guys would lighten the load on Ohtani and significantly improve the pitching staff from 2017.

ANGELS BATTING ORDER

While Ohtani made international news, the Angels made two of the best under-the-radar acquisitions as well, grabbing infielders Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler.  Cozart had a career year last year with the Reds, hitting .297/.385/.548 while playing fantastic defense at shortstop. This year he’ll be asked to play 3rd due to the presence of defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons - those two should provide exceptional defense on the left side of the infield.  Kinsler is 35 years old now, but he has been posting productive seasons since 2006, managing at least 460 ABs per year and playing solid defense at second. If he can manage to bring it for one more year, the Angels will have gotten much better at that position.

Two of the greatest players of all time also reside within the Angels batting order, and both should have better seasons than they had in 2017.  

The one currently in his prime, Mike Trout, had a down year by his standards, which was still good for 5th amongst all position players in WAR, despite only playing 114 games.  It’s said often, but this guy simply does not get enough respect for being one of the greatest athletes on the planet.  If he can play in 150+ games in 2017, the MVP is his to lose.

The other guy is Albert Pujols, who will one day head to the Hall of Fame, but is currently experiencing the other end of the spectrum - he was literally the worst player in baseball last year by WAR, and by a large margin.  Amazingly, he still has 4 more years on his contract signed in 2012, and the Angels are on the hook for a preposterous 114 million for those 4 years.  He won’t be playing to the level of his contract - those years are long gone - but if he can simply provide some level of production better than “worst in baseball” it will be an improvement over 2017.

The Angels finished 21st in offense last year.  With the addition of the guys mentioned above, plus additional plate appearances from Justin Upton (acquired last year from the Tigers), I believe they have a great shot of entering the top 10.  If Ohtani can live up to his billing, the pitching staff could do the same.

ANGELS BET - FINAL THOUGHTS

The over/under set for the Angels is set at 83.5 - I foresee them crushing that number, reaching 90 wins with ease.  I give them a legitimate chance of hanging with the Astros - legitimate enough to grab the 6-1 odds and make them my best bet in the AL West.

Seattle Mariners +1030

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

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The Mariners appeared to be trending in the right direction after finishing the 2016 season in 2nd place in the AL West with 86 wins, but they ended up sliding back down to 3rd in 2017, finishing with 78 wins.

MARINERS PITCHING STAFF

The main culprit for their slide was the pitching staff, which finished 21st by xFIP.   Long time M’s ace and future Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez had shown signs of decline in 2016 but was much worse in 2017, battling injuries and an all time high home run rate to his worst season of his career, a 4.36 ERA over only 86.2 innings pitched.   The rest of the rotation wasn’t able to fill the hole left by Hernandez - Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo two of their three leaders in innings pitched, were barely replacement level, each with ERAs over 5. James Paxton was the one bright spot on the staff, finishing with a sub-3 ERA, but even he battled injuries and only threw 136 innings.

The staff is largely unchanged in 2018 - the Mariners will depend on Felix returning to his old self, Paxton inching towards 200 IP,  and 2017 trade acquisition Mike Leake providing more production in 2017. If all three of them have good years, this could be a decent staff.  What’s more likely is that they improve, but only to about league average levels.

MARINERS BATTING ORDER

The offense on the other hand was quite good in 2017, finishing 5th overall by wRC+.  Known commodities Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager all had solid years at the plate in addition to catcher Mike Zunino, a former #3 overall pick by the Mariners who posted by far his most productive offensive season, reaching the 25 homer plateau.

Like the pitching staff, the lineup will look very similar in 2018 - speedster Jarrod Dyson is out, speedster Dee Gordon is in - but there is good reason to believe that the offense won’t be as highly ranked.  For one, Nelson Cruz is entering his age 37 season, and while he’s remained super productive in his mid 30’s, he’ll have to start declining eventually. Zunino may regress back to his norm this year - he ranked 15th in BABIP last year amongst players with at least 400 PAs, which suggests that he may have gotten lucky to have the season he had.

MARINERS BET - FINAL THOUGHTS

The 2018 Mariners seem to be about an average team - not one that should lose 90 games, but not one that should win the AL West either.

Texas Rangers +2158

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

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The 2016 Rangers won the AL West by 9 games, due mostly to luck: they overperformed their expected win/loss by an astonishing 13 games.  Last year, the luck evened out and the offense underperformed, leading to a 78 win season, good for 4th in the West.

RANGERS BATTING ORDER

The Rangers were depending on strong years from young hitters Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, and they disappointed.  Odor in particular managed to reach 30 homers in 2017, but at the expense of getting on base - his OBP was a disastrous .252, lowest by far in the majors for qualifying hitters.  Mazara, who has shown great potential after entering the big leagues in 2016 as a 20 year old, was unable to take a step forward in 2017, posting a season nearly identical to his first.

A couple of Rangers hitters did meet or exceed expectations - Elvis Andrus hit double digits in home runs for the first time in his 9 year career, making it all the way to 20.  Joey Gallo put his prodigious power on display, hitting 40 bombs in his first full big league season.

If Odor and Mazara can take leaps forward this year, the offense could climb into the top 10 - provided ageless wonder Adrian Beltre can still produce in his 21st (not a typo) season. Rookie Willie Calhoun, acquired in the Yu Darvish trade, should provide some pop.  

RANGERS PITCHING STAFF

The pitching staff has not been good in Texas for a few years, and it shouldn’t be much better this year.  Yu Darvish is gone. Cole Hamels is still there and should be productive in 2018, but he’s starting to decline - he had his worst season as a pro in 2017.  Budget free agents Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Matt Moore were brought in to eat up innings, but it’s unlikely that any of them perform at a high level. They’ve finished 28th in xFIP in consecutive years, and it wouldn’t be shocking for them to finish right at 28th again this year.

RANGERS BET - FINAL THOUGHTS

All-in-all, I project about 80 wins for this year’s Rangers club.  Their over/under win total is set at 77, so I may have interest in playing the over on that number.  However, I don’t think they have the pitching staff to contend with the Astros or Angels in 2018.

Oakland A’s +4095

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

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The league may be catching up to General Manager Billy Beane’s tricks, as the A’s have been unable to escape the cellar of the AL West since 2014.

ATHLETICS PITCHING STAFF

The pitching staff was the real problem in 2017, finishing 20th overall in xFIP, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any better this year.  Productive young starter Sonny Gray is now a Yankee. Contributor Jesse Hahn is now a Royal.  Nobody of note was added in free agency.

26 year old Sean Manaea should be solid - he led all Athletics starters in WAR last year, and should again this year - but his unimpressive strikeout and walk rates make him less desirable as an ace of a staff.  The three other projected leaders in starts this year, Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs, and Daniel Mengden, have yet to post a real productive season in the major league careers. Don’t expect greatness out of this staff.

ATHLETICS BATTING ORDER

The offense was actually strong in 2017, led by a throwback years from 32 year olds Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce and solid half-seasons from rookies Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.  However, there are reasons to be less optimistic about 2018.

Lowie and Joyce should show some decline in their age 33 seasons.  Slugging first baseman Yonder Alonso is now a Cleveland Indian. Free agent additions Jonathan Lucroy and Stephen Piscotty should provide some help, but Lucroy in particular was signed for his work behind the plate, not with the bat.

ATHLETICS BET - FINAL THOUGHTS

I don’t see enough improvement here to assume that the A’s could make a leap towards the top of the standings.  Unless Beane is able to find the next great market inefficiency, the A’s appear headed to the bottom of the AL West yet again.

AL West Conclusion:

Best Bet: Angels +610

2018 Odds to Win AL WEST (BOVADA)

The Astros are a great team, but the general public may be underrating how good this Angel team could be.  If Shohei Ohtani can have a strong rookie season and other Angels starters can stay healthy, the Angels may be able to climb to the top of the standings.

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