When Major League Baseball re-aligned into three divisions per league in 1994, the AL West and NL West were assigned only four teams each.  These two divisions thus became the smallest units of regular season competitive standings at the major league level of baseball since such leagues have existed.  The NL West enjoyed this cozy arrangement only until 1998, when a new baby arrived in the form of the Arizona expansion team.  The AL West, on the other hand, has remained undisturbed as a family of four for eighteen seasons.

2012 will, however, be the last year of splendid isolation for the Angels/Mariners/A’s/Rangers as the emigrating Astros arrive on the AL West’s shores beginning in 2013.  In addition, 2012 brings, to the AL West, the Player of the Century thus far (WAR 2000-2011: 1. Pujols 88.7, 2. A-Rod 78.5, 3. Bonds 64.4, 4. Halladay 58.9, 5. Beltran 56.2).  So it seems an opportune time to look back at some stats-based history of the four-team AL West, which you can read after the jump.The players who have generated the most Wins Above Replacement (non-pitching) for AL West teams since the current four-team format was adopted in 1994, using the baseball-reference formula for WAR:

1. Alex Rodriguez 61.0
2. Ichiro Suzuki 54.5
3. Edgar Martinez 49.4
4. Ivan Rodriguez 43.7
5. Ken Griffey, Jr. 39.0
6. Eric Chavez 36.0
7. Tim Salmon 32.6
8. Jason Giambi 30.5
9. Garret Anderson 28.6
10. Darren Erstad 28.0
11. Mchael Young 26.9
12. Vlad Guerrero 26.7
13. Ian Kinsler 24.9
14. Mark Ellis 21.6
15. Chone Figgins 21.4

This list allows us to fill the hitting/defense side of a pretty good All-Star roster of AL Westerners:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: Eric Chavez
SS: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Garret Anderson
CF: Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
DH: Edgar Martinez
INF bench: Michael Young, Mark Ellis
OF/1B bench: Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, Vlad Guerrero
UT: Chone Figgins

However, we don’t really have a backup catcher in this group. The highest AL West WAR by a catcher other than Pudge Rodriguez is the comparatively recent sensation Mike Napoli at 16.1 WAR. We’ll put him in the back-up catcher slot on our roster and count on him to keep adding WAR.

How about the pitching side?  The most pitching WAR for AL West teams, 1994-2011:

1. Kenny Rogers 33.9
2. Jamie Moyer 32.4
3. Felix Hernandez 29.1
4. Tim Hudson 28.9
5. Barry Zito 28.8
6. Jered Weaver 26.8
7. Jerrod Washburn 26.7
8. John Lackey 25.3
9. Randy Johnson 23.3
10. Chuck Finley 22.0

That gives us ten starters, some of whom we could use as middle and long relievers. On the relief ace side, the top WAR numbers for AL West teams have been:

Frankie Rodriguez 18.0
Troy Percival 17.9

The pitching on this team is probably not quite up to the standards of the hitters, in terms of combining both quality and quantity of performance in the AL West.  But it’s still a pretty good staff.

In the four-team AL West, the Mariners have been division champs 3 times, the A’s 4 times, and the Rangers and Angels 5 times each.  Is that more evenly split than you thought?  Theoretically, being in a four team division should give a team an advantage in the quest to win a World Series, by giving each team, all other things being equal, a 25% chance of  qualifying automatically for the post-season.  But that theory has not produced practical results, as not a single one of the 17 division winners from the four-team AL West has ever gone on to win the  World  Series.  The only World Series champ the current AL West has ever produced, the 2002 Angels, made it as a wild card team (finishing behind the Moneyball era A’s, with their movie-famous 20-game win streak).    It does seem that the Astros, who have now played 50 seasons of baseball and have yet to win a single World Series game, may fit in nicely with this group. Or perhaps 2012, as the swan song of the four-team division, will finally produce an AL West champion who can win a team-ful of World Series rings.  It is, after all, hardly possible to get any closer without winning it all than the AL West Rangers did in 2011.

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