Last Updated: 2019-03-04
Another wasted year of Mike Trout’s prime. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the best baseball player on the planet and have had him since he made his MLB debut at 19 years old in 2011. In that span, Trout has 15 plate appearances in the playoffs.
Injuries have played a significant role for the Angels over the last several years, but it has been a lot more than that. Different seasons have brought different failures, including some albatross contracts and bad trades. It’s been one thing or another for the Angels.
Mike Scioscia wasn’t to blame for all of this, but there did seem to be a disconnect between the Angels and the current state of Major League Baseball. Scioscia was an old school manager that likely had more than his fair share of influence on transactions. Jerry Dipoto skipped town and basically traded anything that wasn’t nailed down in Seattle following what seemed to be a contentious relationship with Scioscia and ownership.
Unfortunately, the Angels made what I believe to be a bad managerial hire in Brad Ausmus. Ausmus had a lot of things to contend with in Detroit, including an aging roster full of bad contracts, but he seemed to be in over his head from the jump. He came off as abrasive and full of excuses. Here, he was a special assistant to GM Billy Eppler and then got hired as the manager in late October.
Dysfunction has been the name of the game in Anaheim for a while. Arte Moreno wants a new stadium. Matt Klentak, Tim Bogar, Scott Servais, and Dipoto have all been front office casualties from the never-ending power struggle.
The Angels have had some bad luck as well. Shohei Ohtani can’t pitch now because of a torn UCL. Seemingly every Angels starter has spent extended time on the disabled list, including several instances of Tommy John surgery. Albert Pujols’s decline has been rather dramatic. Zack Cozart signed a three-year deal and got hurt just 58 games into the season after posting a ghastly .219/.296/.362 slash line.
Only the Blue Jays used more players than the Angels last season. The Angels used 60 different players and Toronto used 63. The Angels, based on the Batter Age formula at Baseball-Reference, were the third-oldest team in baseball in that regard. They were one of the youngest teams on the pitching side, so maybe there’s something to build on there.
In any event, the Angels need to change things philosophically. Eppler is a pretty progressive executive as far as analytics go, but then he hired a manager that came from a Tigers team that remains well behind the data curve. With Trout’s free agency looming after the 2020 season, time is running out for the Angels.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 80-82
Run Differential: -1
Pythagorean W/L: 81-81
BaseRuns Record: 81-81
BaseRuns Run Differential: +2 (4.45/4.43)
3rd Order Win% Record: 80.4-81.6
Record in One-Run Games: 26-15
Additions: Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy, Kevan Smith, Tommy La Stella, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen, Dan Jennings, Luis Garcia, Dustin Garneau, Roberto Pena, Wilfredo Tovar, Peter Bourjos, Ty Kelly, Jarrett Parker, Cesar Puello, Dillon Peters, Forrest Snow, John Curtiss, Matt Ramsey, Daniel Hudson, Luke Bard
Losses: Chris Young, Eric Young Jr., Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Jim Johnson, Blake Parker, Junichi Tazawa, Blake Wood, Tyler Stevens, Jabari Blash, Conor Lillis-White, Parker Bridwell, Jose Alvarez, Daniel Ozoria
Meh. The Angels just never seem to have the sense of urgency that they should in the offseason. While Zack Cozart is essentially a free agent signing after missing most of last season, the only really noticeable upgrade in the lineup is Justin Bour. Maybe Jonathan Lucroy can get it figured out, but after how poorly he hit last season, that’s difficult to say.
The bench will look a little better with Tommy La Stella, who was a valued member of the Cubs in a utility role, but the Angels didn’t really do much to replace the lost production of Shohei Ohtani, who had Tommy John surgery and is out indefinitely. He won’t be pitching until at least 2020, but the Angels ruled him out for Opening Day in early February and wouldn’t set a timeframe for his return.
Trevor Cahill is a strong addition for the rotation and we’ll have to wait and see what Matt Harvey can do. Cody Allen ran out of gas last year for the Indians and is a bit of a gamble for the back end of a bullpen that really needs somebody stable in a high-leverage role.
To sum it all up…meh.
BA: .242 (20th)
OBP: .313 (20th)
SLG: .413 (12th)
wOBA: .313 (17th)
wRC+: 100 (11th)
BABIP: .277 (30th)
K%: 21.3% (8th)
BB%: 8.4% (18th)
As usual, a vast percentage of the offense for the Angels came from Mike Trout. Trout was out-fWARed by Mookie Betts, but turned in yet another phenomenal season with a .312/.460/.628 slash, a .447 wOBA, and a 191 wRC+. He fell just shy of his second 40-homer season, but walked in over 20 percent of his plate appearances, joining Joey Votto and Jose Bautista as the only other players to do that this decade. If he retired tomorrow, Trout would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
At least Trout had a bit of support last season. Andrelton Simmons (the best defensive shortstop ever) had a 5.5-fWAR season, backing up his elite defense with a .292/.337/.417 slash and a .326 wOBA. It was good to see the power gains stick around for Simmons and he’ll be a big part of the offense again this season. So will Justin Upton, who slashed .257/.344/.463 with a .348 wOBA.
The loss of Ohtani is a tough blow for this offense. Who knows when he’ll be back, but he was the only 20-homer hitter in the lineup aside from Trout and he was one of three Angels to steal at least 10 bases. Ohtani dazzled on the hill and at the dish, where he posted a .285/.361/.564 slash with a .390 wOBA and a 152 wRC+.
It’s hard to call 19 home runs empty, but Kole Calhoun posted a 79 wRC+ in his 552 plate appearances. He posted a .272 OBP against right-handed pitching, despite the platoon advantage. He also hit 16 of his 19 homers that way, but struck out 26 percent of the time. A bounce back from Calhoun, who posted a 117 wRC+ in 2016 to end a run of four straight seasons with a wRC+ over 100, would go a long way in trying to make up the loss of Ohtani and account for what Albert Pujols has become.
Justin Bour has been a steady hitter in his MLB career with a slash line of .260/.344/.466. We’ll see how he translates to the AL and also moves from Marlins Park to Angel Stadium, which is a bit of an upgrade. Zack Cozart was given a big contract after a breakout 2017 season in which he slashed .297/.385/.548 with a .392 wOBA and a 140 wRC+. It seemed like a risky gamble, as Cozart had never done better than a 106 wRC+. It turned out that he had to have shoulder surgery and the first year of his deal was a sunken cost.
The Angels could be a bit better than league average offensively this season, depending on how quickly Ohtani comes back and if Bour, Cozart, and Calhoun all do what they are capable of in the batter’s box. To me, I can’t get over the fact that the Angels are striving for league average or slightly above on offense when they literally have the best player on the planet.
ERA: 4.15 (19th)
FIP: 4.36 (21st)
xFIP: 4.18 (17th)
K%: 22.7% (14th)
BB%: 8.9% (22nd)
LOB%: 74.1% (10th)
Year in and year out, the Angels have health questions in the starting rotation. Last season, the Angels called upon 16 different starting pitchers. Some were relievers. Most were not. It really did help that Andrew Heaney was able to make 30 starts and that Tyler Skaggs was able to make 24 starts. Outside of Shohei Ohtani, those are two of the highest upside guys.
They didn’t disappoint either. Heaney struck out a batter per inning and posted pretty decent metrics across the board with a 4.15 ERA, a 3.99 FIP, and a 3.68 xFIP. Heaney’s 15.2 percent HR/FB% is the reason why he posted a 4.15 ERA, but the biggest news is that Heaney worked 180 innings after working only 27.2 MLB innings over the last two seasons and just 162.2 innings over his previous four MLB seasons combined. Heaney did deserve a better fate on the road, where a .316 BABIP against and a 65.8 percent LOB% led to a 5.06 ERA. I’d be looking for him to improve this season.
Skaggs was limited to 125.1 innings, which was still a career high at the MLB level, and he posted a 4.02 ERA with a 3.63 FIP and a 3.79 xFIP. He also deserved a better fate, even though he was still worth 2.4 fWAR in those 24 starts. Skaggs spent most of the second half injured, and his performance over the final three months of the season destroyed some of the positive vibes from the first half. He allowed a .291 wOBA in the first half and a .408 wOBA in the second half. Hopefully he’s healthy all the way through this season. The Angels will need it from both Heaney and Skaggs to make up for the losses of Ohtani and Garrett Richards.
Projection systems do not like Jaime Barria. I don’t either. Along with the ERA/xFIP discrepancy of 1.58 runs, Barria regularly allowed a lot of hard contact, yet it never seemed to hurt him. He allowed a .271 BABIP and also had an 82.1 percent LOB%. I fully realize what fly ball pitchers are capable of in Anaheim, but he’s still a fade guy for me going into the season.
Newcomers Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey could go a long way in defining the season for the Angels. Cahill is an extreme ground ball guy and that seems to mesh with the skill set of Andrelton Simmons. Cahill has also had some decent strikeout rates in his career and just posted a 3.76/3.54/3.80 pitcher slash with the A’s in 110 innings. Harvey was quite a bit better with the Reds than he was with the Mets after last year’s change of scenery trade. Harvey increased his K%, dropped his BB% by quite a bit, and still had poor command to post a 4.50/4.33/4.14 pitcher slash in those 24 starts. Angel Stadium is a lot friendlier than Great American Ball Park, so this could work out for Harvey.
The biggest problem here is that Heaney led the bunch with 180 innings and more than doubled his career workload across five seasons. Harvey has his own injury history. So do Cahill and Skaggs. Barria may be the best bet to stay healthy and that’s not ideal. That could bring Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano, and Dillon Peters into the mix.
Speaking of injuries, Cody Allen was never diagnosed with one, but he was positively brutal for the Indians in the second half last year with a .349 wOBA against. That’s not closer material, but with this group, he is literally the only option. There just aren’t enough options here and Ty Buttrey, who worked 16.1 innings in his MLB debut late last season, is probably the second-best pitcher in the pen. That’s scary.
Positives & Negatives
Brad Ausmus is a big negative for me. I didn’t think anything of his job in Detroit and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall on his face here. He and Billy Eppler worked hand in hand last season, so I would hope that Ausmus embraced analytics more than he did in the Motor City, but I remain very skeptical.
The Angels were dominated by better teams and rolled up on worse teams. Anaheim was 35-61 against teams .500 or better and 45-21 against teams with losing records. The Mariners and Rangers are both ticketed for losing seasons, but I happen to like Oakland and Houston is in a class of its own once again this season.
Man, there is a ton of injury risk on this team. We’ve become very passé about Tommy John surgery, but it is still a major operation. An operation had by Skaggs, Heaney, Harvey, Ohtani, JC Ramirez, and Keynan Middleton. Cozart is also coming off of a major injury. And, as always, if something happens to Mike Trout, the Angels are royally screwed.
Pick: Under 83.5
Another season of mediocrity is expected with the best player in the game patrolling center field. The Angels managed to finish under .500 while going 26-14 in one-run games with a patchwork bullpen, so that is a bad sign. I’d set the over/under of Angels pitchers throwing 150 innings at 1.5 and probably juice the under.
While there are upside, promise, and potential in a lot of different areas for this team, the red flags outnumber the positives. The lineup could actually be really good. On the other hand, this is one of the oldest lineups in the big leagues and I’ve never been eager to bet on older teams with a season-long bet that requires 162 games of competency.
I’m selling this bullpen. I’m selling the health of this rotation. I’m selling the Angels again. Please trade Mike Trout.
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