2014 Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels

It finally feels like Spring and baseball in the U.S. has begun.  I will wrap up the 2014 season previews with the AL West.

Houston Astros/ Los Angeles Angels (78-84 last season)

Starting Lineup

C: Chris Ianetta (30) – 115 games, .225/.358/.372, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 40 runs, 68 walks, 109 OPS+, 2.1 bWAR

1B: Albert Pujols (34) – 99 games, .258/.330/.437, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 49 runs, 19 doubles, 116 OPS+, 1.9 bWAR

2B: Howie Kendrick (30) – 122 games, .297/.335/.439, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 55 runs, 4 triples, 118 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR

3B: David Freese (30) – 138 games, .262/.340/.381, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 53 runs, 26 doubles, 101 OPS+, 0.1 bWAR (w/ Cardinals)

SS: Erick Aybar (30) – 138 games, .271/.301/.382, 6 HR, 54 RBI, 68 runs, 12 SB, 93 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR

LF: Josh Hamilton (32) – 151 games, .250/.307/.432, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 73 runs, 32 doubles, 108 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

CF: Mike Trout (22) – 157 games, .323/.432/.557, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 109 runs (led league), 33 SB, 110 walks (led league), 179 OPS+, 8.9 bWAR 2013 All-Star, Silver Slugger, finished 2nd in MVP voting

RF: Kole Calhoun (26) – 58 games, .282/.347/.462, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 29 runs, 2 triples, 128 OPS+, 0.5 bWAR

DH: Raul Ibanez (41) – 124 games, .242/.306/.487, 29 HR, 65 RBI, 54 runs, 128 strikeouts, 123 OPS+, 0.6 bWAR (w/ Mariners)

Good News:

Mike Trout1Any conversation about the Angels is going to start with Mike Trout.  Trout is the most complete player in the majors and just signed a very favorable contract at only 22 years old.  Trout’s the perfect combination of power, speed, smart hitting, and defense which has led to him being worth almost 20 wins during the past 2 seasons.

As good as Trout is, the Angels season will likely come down to how Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton perform.  It’s no secret that Pujols has dropped off significantly since joining the Angels but last year was especially bad, suffering a serious injury for the first time in his career and setting career worst marks in almost every offensive category.  If he takes another step in the wrong direction, it’ll be a big problem but if he rebounds at all, he still did have an OPS+ of 116 last season and a bWAR of 1.9 in less than 2/3 of a season so saying Pujols is a bad player is wrong, he’s just not proving to be worth the monster contract he was paid.

Hamilton did his part to lend credence to the idea that the Angels are where careers go to die with his own career worst marks at the plate in his first year in LA.  Again, it’s not that Hamilton was bad in 2013, he just didn’t live up to what he’s being paid but a 108 OPS+, .182 ISO and 1.5 bWAR as hopefully the low point with a possible bounce back isn’t going to kill the Angels.

The other areas of interest in the Angels lineup are Howie Kendrick and Kole Calhoun.  Kendrick is a consistent staple of the Angels lineup and puts up a good AVG, with a nice amount of doubles, HR, SB, and some triples.  In his limited time, Calhoun has shown some good skill with a AVG and good power and a full season for him could give the Angels a nice boost.  Raul Ibanez also makes a nice addition and brings some serious power to the lineup.

Bad News:

The Angels lineup is very talented on paper but they have a similar problem to the one I wrote about in my Giants preview: they have too many players who need to bounce back to have success.  Although it’s easy to hope Hamilton and Pujols rebound, it may not be the case and it’s very unlikely Pujols ever returns to the form that earned him the $24M/year contract.

New addition David Freese needs a rebound of his own after his bWAR dropped from 3.8 in 2012 to 0.1 in 2013.  Injuries played a part but until he proves otherwise, Freese could be a one-hit wonder.  Erick Aybar is another example of players who dropped off last season, posting a bWAR of 1.4, his lowest since 2007, after it was 4.1 in 2012 and 4.4 in 2011.  You can look at it 2 ways, either the Angels players all had an off year that they can bounce back from and they’re bound to do better this year, or some will bounce back but expecting them all to do so is hoping for too much.

Bench:

C: Hank Conger (26) – 92 games, .249/.310/.403, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 23 runs, 13 doubles, 101 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR

3B/1B: Ian Stewart (28) – Did not play in MLB in 2013

IF: John McDonald (39) – 51 games, .116/.197/.174, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 8 runs, 6 OPS+, -0.4 bWAR (w/ Red Sox, Phillies, Pirates, & Indians)

OF: Collin Cowgill (27) – 73 games, .211/.245/.349, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 18 runs, 2 triples, 67 OPS+, 0.3 bWAR (w/ Mets & Angels)

Skinny:

The Angels bench is far from intimidating and if any of the members becomes everyday players, the Angels will be in some trouble.  The exception may be Hank Conger.  Conger played in more games in 2013 than he did in the 3 seasons prior combined.  Though none of them are incredibly impressive, he set career bests in almost every offensive category and can at least be a serviceable option.

Pitching Rotation:

Ace: Jered Weaver (31) – 24 starts, 11-8, 3.27 ERA, 154.1 IP, 6.8 K/9, 3.16 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP, 115 ERA+, 3.7 bWAR

#2: CJ Wilson (33) – 33 starts, 17-7, 3.39 ERA, 212.1 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.21 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP, 111 ERA+, 3.3 bWAR

#3: Hector Santiago (26) – 23 starts, 4-9, 3.56 ERA, 149 IP, 8.3 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP, 120 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR

#4: Garrett Richards (25) – 17 starts, 7-8, 4.16 ERA, 145 IP, 6.3 K/9, 2.30 K/BB, 1.35 WHIP, 91 ERA+, 0.8 bWAR

#5: Tyler Skaggs (22) – 7 starts, 2-3, 5.12 ERA, 38.2 IP, 8.4 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP, 75 ERA+, -0.3 bWAR

Good News:

Jered WeaverThe front two of the Angels rotation are as good as you can ask for.  Jered Weaver, who finished top 5 in Cy Young voting each year from 2010-2012,  His walk and strikeout rates have been remarkable consistent during his career and his 3.27 ERA from 2013 was the worst he’s had since 2009.

CJ Wilson may have his picture next to consistency in the bullpen (hello 1995!).  Since becoming a starter in 2010, Wilson has started at least 33 games with over 200 IP in each year.  Like Weaver, Wilson has very similar K and BB rates each season and his ERA has stayed with 25 points of his career average (except the time it was way better).  Having consistent, strong pitchers at the top of the rotation is a big plus.

Bad News:

The last three members of the rotation have some major question marks.  Hector Santiago has been the most impressive of the group, finishing with an ERA+ of 120 last year.  He’ll need to cut down on his walks to really take the next step forward in his career but 2014 could be the season he puts it all together.

Garrett Richards, like Santiago, spent a lot of time in the bullpen in his career but will begin as a starter this season.  Richards has more question marks as his ERA has not been under 4.00 in any season and his strikeout rate is much lower.  The good news is that Richards has improved his K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and ERA in each of the three years so if that trend continues, he may also be a strong starter at the back of the rotation but he does need to keep improving.

Tyler Skaggs is definitely the biggest question mark although he may have a lot of upside.  He hasn’t been able to put it together yet, though he has only had 13 starts to do it.  At 22, there’s still plenty of time to figure it out but the bigger concern is who the Angels will use should Skaggs not be up to the task.  They released Joe Blanton (something I’ve discovered most Angels fans consider to be genius) and don’t really have anyone to turn to if Skaggs can’t handle the job.

Bullpen

Closer: Ernesto Frieri (28) – 67 games, 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 68.2 IP, 37 saves, 12.8 K/9, 3.27 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP, 99 ERA+

Set-Up: Joe Smith (30) – 70 games, 6-2, 2.29 ERA, 63 IP, 25 holds, 7.7 K/9, 2.35 K/BB, 1.22 WHIP, 165 ERA+ (w/ Indians)

Set-Up: Kevin Jepsen (29) – 45 games, 1-3, 4.50 ERA, 36 IP, 8 holds, 9.0 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 1.53 WHIP, 84 ERA+

MR: Nick Maronde (24) – 10 games, 6.75 ERA, 5.1 IP, 2 holds, 8.4 K/9, 0.63 K/BB, 2.25 WHIP, 60 ERA+

MR: Fernando Salas (28) – 27 games, 0-3, 4.50 ERA, 28 IP, 2 holds, 7.1 K/9, 3.67 K/BB, 1.18 WHIP, 82 ERA+

MR: Michael Kohn (27) – 63 games, 1-4, 3.74 ERA, 53 IP, 8 holds, 8.8 K/9, 1.86 K/BB, 1.32 WHIP, 101 ERA+

LR: Matt Shoemaker (27) – 1 game, 0.00 ERA, 5 IP, 9.0 K/9, 2.50 K/BB, 0.80 WHIP

Skinny:

Joe SmithIf you know anything about the Angels bullpen, you’ll notice some names missing.  That’s because Sean Burnett, Dane De La Rosa, and Brian Moran are starting the season on the DL.  The sooner they get back, the better as the current state of the Angels bullpen is a bit troubling.  The bright spots in the pen are last year’s closer Ernesto Frieri and off season addition, Joe Smith.

Frieri did see a major spike in his ERA last season but closed out 37 games with only 4 saves blown and his incredible strikeout rate stayed high while he improved his walks.  Joe Smith has been very reliable, pitching rather well the past 3 years but over the course of his career, he’s racked up 117 holds with only 16 blown saves.

Things will be a little rocky for the Angels while they wait out the injuries but once the bullpen is healthy, it should be a good, if not great, bullpen.

Top 10 Prospects (MLB.com)

1. 3B Kaleb Cowart

2. 2B Taylor Lindsey

3. 1B CJ Cron

4. RHP Mark Sappington

5. LHP Hunter Green

6. SS Jose Rondon

7. RHP RJ Alvarez

8. LHP Ricardo Sanchez

9. 2B Alex Yarbrough

10. RHP Mike Morin

Skinny:

According to Scoutingbook.com the Angels have the worst farm system in the majors.  Tyler Skaggs isn’t really considered a prospect anymore but hi return to the Angels gives them a boost of young talent.  They aren’t totally devoid of talented prospecst as Kaleb Cowart and Taylor Lindsey are good players but the Angels do not have a single player ranked inside MLB.com’s top 100 prospects.  Should Skaggs falter in his role, Mark Sappington might be the one to get the call-up if the team decides he’s ready for the role.

Season Projection:

The Angels have a very good team on paper and have the benefit of having the best player on the planet.  For the Angels to really compete, they need a lot of players to bounce back, get healthy, or take the next step forward in their careers.  As talented as the team is, I think it’s a lot that needs to fully come together for them to win the always competitive AL West.

Projected Record: 85-77, 3rd in AL West