by: Ryan Waldis
Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 16th team preview of the series, featuring the Los Angeles Angels (the third of three consecutive AL West previews).
If only the Angels just a little more help on offense. The Halos finished 27th in the league in OPS, posting an ugly .712 mark. They were ahead of just the anemic offenses of the Pirates, Padres, and Giants. The Angels are the perfect example of why baseball is different from some other sports. They have the best player in baseball and one of the best players many of us will ever see, and yet they’ve reached the postseason just once during his career (and, to top it all off, got swept in the ALDS the one time they even made the playoffs).
Stop me if you’ve heard a story similar to this one over the past two team previews: after a win against the Texas Rangers on September 16th, the Angels found themselves just one game out of the second AL Wild Card spot. So, what happens next? Is it the same thing that happened to the Rangers and Mariners? You bet it is! The Angels proceeded to go on a 1-7 skid, essentially taking themselves out of playoff contention. The pitching staff allowed four or more runs in seven of these eight games while the offense plated two or less runs five times over the same period. It’s actually kind of remarkable that three different teams in the same division experienced essentially the same course of events over the last two or so weeks of the 2017 season.
Martin Maldonado is about as good a one-trick pony as you’ll find when it comes to catchers. The longtime Brewer stayed true to form in his first year back with the organization that drafted him back in 2004. Maldonado hit just .221/.276/.368, albeit with a modest 14 home runs. He posted a strikeout rate of 25.3% and a walk rate of just 3.2% in close to 500 plate appearances. It’s common knowledge, though, that Maldonado’s value comes behind the dish. He finished third in both adjusted FRAA (27.5) and Framing Runs (23.7).
At least in terms of wRC+, C.J. Cron had the worst season of his career in 2017. The infielder and DH hit just .248/.305/.437 with 16 home runs en route to a 99 wRC+. He struck out 25.7% of the time (a career-high) and walked just 5.9%. Cron did log 815.2 innings at first and actually graded out positively, playing to a UZR of 1.5. Still, Cron’s a known commodity at this point at this point in his career—he’ll hit for some power and produce a serviceable slash-line, but that’s about it.
After spending his entire career with the Nationals, Danny Espinosa saw time with three different teams in 2017. The first of those teams was (unfortunately) the Angels. To his credit, Espinosa provided solid defense in the 585.2 innings he logged at the keystone, posting a UZR of 2.2. That was about the only positive, as he proceeded to slash .162/.237/.276 with a 45.8% strikeout rate! Ditto for Cliff Pennington, although to a lesser extent. He had a 1.0 UZR at second base but did a little better at the plate, hitting .253/.306/.330 in 217 plate appearances.
Andrelton Simmons put together quite possibly the best season of his career en route to finishing as the Angels WAR leader. The shortstop was elite yet again in the field, finishing with a 15.5 UZR. That was the highest mark among qualified shortstops and second-highest among all qualified fielders (Mookie Betts posted a UZR of 20.5). Andrelton’s work at the plate deserves some praise, though—he hit to a line of .278/.331/.421 in 647 plate appearances, cranking 14 home runs and stealing 19 bases. He walked 7.3% of the time and struck out just 10.4%. The combination of elite defense, 15ish homer power and 15ish stolen bases he showcased was extremely valuable.
To his credit, Yunel Escobar has had several nice seasons over the course of his career, especially his first few seasons with the Braves. He’s been inconsistent ever since leaving Atlanta, though, and in 2017 was simply league average at the plate. He had a triple-slash of .274/.333/.397 with seven home runs, which partially culminated in a 100 wRC+. The infielder isn’t as good in the field as he used to be either—he graded out negatively (-1.6 UZR) in the 755.1 innings he played at the hot corner. Luis Valbuena also earned time at third and had an interesting season. He hit just .210/.294/.432 with 22 home runs. He posted an extremely low .210 BABIP and his strikeout rate spiked at 26.4%, which might indicate that 2017 was simply an outlier for the corner infielder.
Los Angeles used four main outfielders in 2017 before the addition of a fifth later in the season. It’s pretty surprising to say this but Mike Trout was actually the Angels best outfielder in 2017. He hit .306/.442/.629 in 507 plate appearances as he battled an injury during the season that limited him to just 114 games. In those plate appearances, he sent 33 balls out of the yard, stole 22 bases, and posted an insane 18.5% walk rate paired with a 17.8% strikeout rate. I encourage you to look at his career statistics on FanGraphs because it’s hard to put into words how good he actually is. Justin Upton came over later in the season and appeared in 27 games for the Halos. He hit .245/.357/.531 with seven home runs in 115 plate appearances. He also walked 14.8% of the time which, in a full season, would be a career-high.
Kole Calhoun put up his worst numbers since his rookie campaign. He hit 19 home runs but posted a wRC+ of 98, slashing .244/.333/.392 with a walk rate of 10.9% and a strikeout rate of 20.5%. His biggest strength is his durability—the outfielder has played in at least 155 games each of the past three seasons. Cameron Maybin started the season with the Angels before being moved to the Astros and was actually productive given his history. He hit .235/.333/.351 but posted walk and strikeout rates of 12.4% and 20.2% which are more than passable. He also hit six homers and, more importantly, swiped 29 bases for the first time since 2011 when he stole 40. He even posted a 3.0 UZR in center field. Finally, Ben Revere had a typical Ben Revere year. He hit .275/.308/.344, stealing 21 bags. He didn’t strikeout a ton (8.1% strikeout rate) but he didn’t walk a lot, either (4.9% walk rate). With almost no power to speak of—of his 80 hits, 64 were singles—Revere proved once again that he can provide an empty batting average with plus-speed.
Albert Pujols had 23 home runs and, for what it’s worth, 101 RBI. That’s about where the positives ended for the 37-year-old. He hit just .241/.286/.386 while posting a career-high strikeout rate (14.6%) and a career-low walk rate (5.8%). He could barely run the bases (-6.3 BsR), and had a -2.2 UZR in the 50 innings he logged at first base. The 78 wRC+ he finished with was the lowest of his career by far (the next lowest is 110). Everyone declines at one point or another. It’s inevitable. 2017 might have been an indicator of what’s to come for Pujols.
As bad as the offense was for the Halos, the pitching was much better. The unit finished 12th in the league in ERA, pitching to a cumulative mark of 4.20. The rotation held up its end of the bargain, also finishing 12th in the league with an ERA of 4.38. It’s actually kind of surprising because almost every starter in the rotation outpitched their peripherals. Parker Bridwell led the way, finishing with a 3.64 ERA in 20 starts. His campaign didn’t end without red flags, though. His FIP and xFIP were 4.84 and 5.07, respectively, and he posted a strikeout rate of just 14.8% which is far from appealing. The low strikeout rate is also concerning because Bridwell finished with a FB% of 40.7%, and the majority of the contact that was made off of him was either medium (50.4%) or hard (33.5%).
Ricky Nolasco was somehow allowed to make 33 starts for the Angels as the team was expecting him to repeat what he did in 2016 with the organization. The longtime Marlin actually regressed, pitching to an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 4.92/5.10/4.79. The 18.2% strikeout rate was kind of passable, but the 35 home runs in 181.0 innings wasn’t ideal. Jesse Chavez made 21 starts and wasn’t effective, pitching to a 5.24 ERA and 5.50 FIP. The strikeout rate was lower than Nolasco’s (17.8%), and Chavez let up 24 dingers in just 113.1 frames as a starter. J.C. Ramirez made 24 starts and pitched to a 4.15 ERA, although the 4.71 FIP is a little concerning. He struck out just 105 in 147.1 innings while walking 49.
Tyler Skaggs once again couldn’t put everything together, tossing 85 innings of 4.55 ERA/4.56 FIP ball while struggling with injuries yet again. Ditto for Matt Shoemaker, who also struggled with injuries and pitched to a 4.52 ERA and 5.13 FIP in 77.2 innings. He’s alternated up and down years since his breakout season in 2014, so perhaps he’ll stay healthy and pitch well in 2018. The two positives from the Angels rotation? Garrett Richards came back, made six starts, and looked like himself. Alex Meyer put a rough 2016 behind him and exhibited some positive signs in 13 starts. Control was a major issue for the 27-year-old (14.4% walk rate) but he struck out just over 10 batters per nine innings and kept the ball in the yard (0.80 HR/9).
The Angels bullpen wasn’t awful, either. The group finished 11th in the league with a 3.92 ERA, striking out 601 while walking just 168 (the third-lowest total in the bigs). They were led by a trio of veterans in Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit, and David Hernandez. Parker led the team in appearances with 71 and provided 67.1 innings of 2.54 ERA/2.71 FIP ball. He struck out 86 while walking 16. Petit also had a nice campaign, pitching 90.1 innings over 60 appearances. The former Giant finished with a 2.76 ERA and 2.85 FIP, notching 101 strikeouts while walking just 18. Hernandez started the campaign with the Braves before being traded to the Angels. He made 38 appearances and finished with an ERA of 2.23 and a FIP of 1.86 before being moved to the Diamondbacks. He notched 37 strikeouts to just eight walks.
Bud Norris and Jose Alvarez also produced well out of the ‘pen. Norris made 60 appearances and posted an ERA of 4.21 and a FIP of 3.90. He struck out 74 batters over 62 innings while walking 27. Alvarez, a southpaw, pitched 48.2 innings over 64 appearances and finished with an ERA of 3.88 and a FIP of 3.92. The 28-year-old put up 45 punchouts and 122 walks. Kenyan Middleton was serviceable as well; the 23-year-old put had an ERA of 3.86 and a FIP of 4.38 in 58.1 innings.
General manager Billy Eppler had a fairly active offseason. The Angels were in on a lot of players and made several moves that will hopefully vault them into contention. The biggest addition was obviously Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, who decided to sign with the Angels over several other big market teams. Ohtani will attempt to play both ways in the majors both as a pitcher and as a batter on his off days.
The Angels didn’t lose any big names but did have some notable departures. Yunel Escobar is gone, but he was replaced by Zack Cozart. C.J. Cron is gone, but he’ll be replaced by Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter. Cliff Pennington is gone, but he’ll be replaced by Ian Kinsler. Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin are gone, but Justin Upton will fill their spot. Ricky Nolasco is gone but is replaced by Ohtani.
Best Case: The offense, which was one of the worst in baseball in 2017, becomes at least league average in 2018 if not better. The middle infield of Kinsler and Simmons is one of the best in baseball, while Cozart performs very well in his first year away from Cincinnati. The outfield is above-average with both Upton and Trout shouldering the load, while Ohtani proves he can hit major-league pitching. Richards comes back healthy and stays healthy, forming a formidable top three with himself, Ohtani, and Shoemaker. The bullpen performs just as it did in 2017, and the Angels win close to 90 games, making the postseason for the first time since 2014 and just the second time since 2010.
Worst Case: Kinsler’s 2017 wasn’t an outlier, but instead the new norm. Cozart adjusts at third defensively but forgot his bat in Cincinnati. Trout and Upton do what they can but the offense is only slightly better than it was in 2017 (and that’s not saying much). Ohtani struggles to adjust both at the plate and on the mound, and since Richards and Shoemaker battle health and/or consistency issues, the entire rotation is a mess. The bullpen falls off, and the entire season is a wash. The Angels finish under .500 for a third-consecutive season, and Mike Trout trade rumors become more prominent than before.
PECOTA Projected Record: 80-82, 782 RS, 796 RA