|Sportsbook||Win AL West||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 85.5 (BetOnline)|
In the race for second place in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels have not fared particularly well. This past season marked the fourth year in a row that the Angels finished with a losing record. It was the first time since 1999 that the Angels lost 90 games. Ironically, the interim manager that finished out the season was Joe Maddon.
Well, Maddon is back in California and he will look to turn around the fortunes of a team that has had losing records in four straight seasons for the first time since the California Angels had seven straight losing seasons from 1971-77. Of course, those Angels teams didn’t have the benefit of having the absolute best player on the planet.
I feel like I harp on this every year, but I should. It is a major embarrassment and a complete and utter failure that Mike Trout has 15 career plate appearances in the postseason. Trout made his debut at 19 in 2011. The Angels have one division title (2014), two second-place finishes (2011 and 2017), and have finished at least 18 games out of first place five times. How the Angels, who generally run a pretty high payroll, have been unable to build more around Trout is simply astonishing.
At least signing Anthony Rendon is a start to rectifying that unforgivable situation.
Last season, the Angels were actually 54-49 on July 24. They went 18-41 the rest of the way. After the two-game sweep of the Dodgers that took the Angels to 54-49, they won consecutive games just four times the rest of the season. In fairness, this was a team that I looked to pick against in my guide last season because of the lack of starting pitching depth. Tyler Skaggs tragically passed away early in the season. Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning got hurt. In fact, not a single starting pitcher for the Angels made more than 18 starts last season.
The Angels did incorporate the opener quite extensively throughout the year, as 19 different pitchers received at least one start, but they were almost forced into it out of necessity. Quite frankly, none of their starting pitchers had that high of a ceiling anyway. Heaney and Skaggs had similar ceilings to be at the front of the rotation, but they had both experienced all sorts of injuries throughout their careers and it was a tall ask for them to stay healthy for 30 starts and lead the staff.
I’m always a bit leery of teams that can use injuries as a crutch. Not only did the Angels have a bevy of pitching injuries, but Trout missed 18 games. Andrelton Simmons was limited to 103 games. Shohei Ohtani could not pitch at all because of UCL damage and only played in 106 games as a DH. Tommy La Stella’s breakout season was cut short by a broken leg. Teams that point to injuries often fool themselves into thinking that they are better than they are and then don’t act aggressively enough in the offseason. The Angels seem to be bucking that trend, but have they done enough?
With an outsider’s perspective, I’m also a bit skeptical of the Maddon hire. Maddon initially managed on the cutting edge with the Tampa Bay Rays and even with the Chicago Cubs. Recently, he’s gotten more ornery and seems to have eschewed some of the more advanced analytics and philosophies. I don’t know if he’s the cure-all for an organization that has seemingly been viewed as a laggard in the analytics community.
I guess we’ll see. At least the best player in baseball is a good place to start.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-103 (4.69/5.33)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||73.5-88.5|
|Record in One-Run Games||18-22|
|Additions: Ryan Buchter, Jason Castro, Neil Ramirez, Elliot Soto, Julio Teheran, Anthony Rendon, Hoby Milner, Matt Andriese, Kyle Keller, Garrett Williams, Dylan Bundy, Jose Quijada, Mike Mayers, Parker Markel|
|Losses: Adalberto Mejia, Kevan Smith, Kole Calhoun, Trevor Cahill, Justin Bour, Kaleb Cowart, Luis Garcia, Miguel Del Pozo, Nick Tropeano, Jeremy Beasley, Jose Estrada, Will Wilson, Zack Cozart, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek, Luis Madero, Jake Jewell, Kean Wong|
Quality over quantity. That’s the story for the Angels. They lost a lot of players, but they brought in the best position player free agent in Anthony Rendon to finally give Mike Trout some help. The Angels also made a sneaky good signing in January to bring in Jason Castro, who was 23rd in average exit velocity among players with at least 250 plate appearances. He also had the seventh-highest Barrel%. That adds some much needed offense to the Angels lineup.
The pitching side remains a question, but Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy might find a soft landing spot in the AL West and specifically at Angel Stadium, which is much kinder to fly ball guys like Teheran and guys with shoddy command like Bundy.
I’ve been lower than the market on the Angels for several years in a row, but this type of winter gives me some newfound optimism. The volume of movement was lower compared to some teams, but Rendon and Castro are two big upgrades.
Non-pitchers for the Angels accumulated 20.4 fWAR last season. Mike Trout accumulated 8.6 of that and only played 134 games. David Fletcher was a very pleasant surprise with 3.4 fWAR, most of that coming on the defensive side, as he was a league average hitter. Kole Calhoun and Tommy La Stella were the only other players with 2.0 fWAR or more.
The imbalance for the Angels year in and year out is staggering. Andrelton Simmons and Shohei Ohtani missed ample time, however, and that played a role in what happened with the Angels on the offensive side. Ohtani was also relegated to just being a DH because of a torn UCL. Ohtani was actually a productive hitter at .286/.343/.505 with a .352 wOBA and a 123 wRC+, but the positional adjustment of being a DH dragged his fWAR down. He’s expected to pitch a little bit more this season, but not until May or June.
Simmons only played 103 games and his offensive profile took a huge tumble with poor contact quality and a lack of power. Simmons hit 25 HR over 1247 plate appearances from 2017-18, but only hit seven in 424 last season. His SLG sat at .364 and his BABIP fell to .277, more in line with his career averages when he was a light-hitting SS for the Braves. Simmons is a bounce back candidate to a degree offensively and should add more defensive value with a healthier season.
Trout finally has help in the person of Anthony Rendon. Rendon owns a career slash of .290/.369/.490 with a .366 wOBA, but he has outperformed those numbers each of the last three seasons, including a ridiculous .319/.412/.598 slash line with a .413 wOBA last season. His offensive numbers are likely to fall with a league change and a big park factor change, but he’s still going to be a well above average hitter to put with Trout, Ohtani, and Justin Upton, who was limited to 63 games last season with persistent knee issues.
Rendon adds a lot to this lineup, particularly on the power side. The Angels didn’t strike out much and saw some nice walk rate increases. Rendon will fall in line in both of those departments, but add that power punch that has been missing. He is a perfect fit for this lineup. Of course, he’d have been a perfect fit for any lineup.
Upton is only a year removed from 30 homers and a .257/.344/.463 slash with a .348 wOBA for the Angels. Those are far from Troutian numbers, but they are solid enough to add back into the middle of this lineup if he can stay healthy. Leg injuries to outfielders, especially on teams where he cannot DH, are problematic. It would be nice if the Angels would move on from Albert Pujols for the sake of the lineup, but they aren’t going to do that.
I would say that the Angels will go as far as Mike Trout carries them, but let’s be honest, Trout has been carrying the team forever and they still can’t get anywhere. It is no fault of his own. After his rookie cameo in 2011, Trout has posted wOBAs of .409, .423, .402, .415, .418, .437, .447, and .436. He has been at least 67% above league average offensively in each of his eight seasons. He’s a freak and the best baseball player on the planet. Trout’s lowest fWAR in a season is 6.8. He only played 114 games. He was still fourth in fWAR and the three guys ahead of him played 155, 153, and 159. One of them also cheated (Jose Altuve). By the way, Rendon was sixth that year.
I’ve never been high on the Angels lineup, but this year I am. It scares me, but I’ve sold their stock while other people have bought their stock. Now most of us are buyers. After all, this was just about a league average offense last season without Rendon and Upton. Add those in and the Angels may actually be looking at a top-10 offense in wRC+ and could crack the upper half in a lot of offensive categories despite the detrimental effects of the home park.
Remember, too, that the Angels with Rendon, Upton and maybe Jo Adell, who is coming very soon, are better equipped to take advantage of the shortened wall in right center. Other teams were taking more advantage of that than they were last season, though it did help a guy like Brian Goodwin to a career high with 17 homers and helped Tommy La Stella to 16 after having 10 in over 900 MLB plate appearances going into last season. Jason Castro will be a benefactor this year with a lot of hard contact and a high barrel rate.
This offense may take the biggest leap of any team in the American League.
Unfortunately, there is still the issue of this pitching staff. The death of Tyler Skaggs hurt a lot from a personal standpoint, but it also hurt the Angels a lot in a personnel sense. This was not a deep rotation. This was a rotation littered with injury risks. As I mentioned in last year’s write-up, the Angels were reliant on Skaggs, who had maxed out at 125.1 MLB innings a season, Andrew Heaney, who threw 180 innings for the first time in his career in 2018 after throwing just 27.2 innings over the previous two seasons combined, and then rotation fodder like Jaime Barria, Matt Harvey, and Trevor Cahill.
When all was said and done last season for the Angels, 19 different pitchers made a start. Trevor Cahill led the team with 102.1 innings. He had a 5.98 ERA with a 6.13 FIP and a 5.11 xFIP. Griffin Canning got hurt and lost valuable development time with only 90.1 innings. Skaggs had the best FIP of the regular starters. Matt Harvey was terrible. Dillon Peters and Jaime Barria weren’t any better. The Angels used a lot of openers late in the year out of necessity.
There is some more hope this season. The betting markets don’t like Julio Teheran for his career 3.67 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and 4.37 xFIP. They really don’t like the two prior years with ERAs of 3.94 and 3.81 to go along with FIPs of 4.83 and 4.66. He had an xFIP over 5 last season. Teheran did find the IDEAL landing spot, though. Angel Stadium is kind to fly ball pitchers with that marine air. The ball also doesn’t carry well in Seattle or Oakland.
Teheran’s walk rate is really concerning, but Jason Castro is a decent framer and he’s always been able to minimize damage in one way or another. He grades about average in exit velocity and Hard Hit% against, but he’s gotten better at home run prevention for more of a fly ball guy and, perhaps most important, he’s been very healthy. Teheran has made at least 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons. That is a sight for sore eyes for the Angels.
We’ll see if Dylan Bundy tilts back towards being an extreme fly ball guy, but getting out of the AL East should help him in a big way. He’s had xFIPs of 4.28 and 4.58 the last two seasons, which aren’t great, but they are markedly better than what the Angels had last season. Bundy has also made 89 starts the last three years. The Angels aren’t going to be playing musical chairs at the same rate with this rotation.
It would enhance the ceiling of this rotation if Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning can stay healthy. Heaney was having a breakout season from a strikeout standpoint before the injury bugs found him yet again. His 2018 was really solid with a 4.15/3.99/3.68 pitcher slash over 180 innings. Canning had over a strikeout per inning last season. That was only his second season in pro ball, so there is some risk attached to him, but scouts like him and his minor league numbers were mostly fine.
Shohei Ohtani has finished Tommy John rehab, so he could very well be back pitching every fifth or sixth day for the Angels, depending on how they set this up. Ohtani only worked 51.2 innings over 10 starts in 2018, but they were excellent with a 3.31/3.57/3.53 pitcher slash. The plan is for Ohtani to pitch a little more often as spring turns to summer.
The bullpen still doesn’t excite me. But I don’t hate it. It’s sort of like going to McDonald’s. You’d rather get something better, but that fountain coke with those fries, man. It’s a nice combo out on the road in a pinch.
Anyway, the Angels were 20th in bullpen ERA and 20th in bullpen FIP. They didn’t add anybody to the unit except for Matt Andriese, the starter turned reliever that had a 3.72 FIP and a 3.88 xFIP to go with a 4.71 ERA in 70.2 innings last season.
Hansel Robles was really good last season. Ty Buttrey was very good early and fizzled out late with a 58.3% LOB% in the second half. There is hope for a bounce back from him. Some of last year’s failed starters are also likely to slot in relief with Teheran, Bundy, and Ohtani now in the fold. Keynan Middleton, who had a solid year in 2017 with some okay peripherals, is now fully back from surgery and got to spend the winter strengthening instead of rehabbing. Cam Bedrosian has also been pretty reliable with a career 3.76/3.64/3.98 pitcher slash in 274 appearances.
The bullpen is fine. It has a low ceiling without a ton of upside or promise, but it shouldn’t actively hurt the club too much.
Positives & Negatives
On these very pages last season, I talked about how I was not a Brad Ausmus fan. This year, I feel bad for Ausmus. He inherited a very flawed team last season. Then he had to try and navigate a heartbroken squad through the Tyler Skaggs stuff. They just weren’t good enough and ran out of gas physically and emotionally as the injuries mounted in the second half.
Now Joe Maddon has taken over. I’m not a big Maddon guy these days. He used to be an innovator and a creative manager. Now he’s just a crotchety, irritating, get-off-my-lawn kind of old man. Maybe he had just grown stale in Chicago or had gotten bored. Maybe this fresh start is good for him and the Angels. I’m going to keep my expectations very low for his impact on the team.
This team should have a buzz early in the season. Ohtani is back full-time. JUp is back. Rendon is in. The rotation looks better. The offense looks better. The team seems more stable all the way around. I never bought the Angels hype early in the process, but it appears that I have gotten caught up in it this year to a degree.
The one thing about all season win totals is health. Some teams are good all around and can withstand an injury or two. Other teams are very top-heavy. If Mike Trout got hurt for an extended period of time, the Angels would be screwed. I am always concerned about betting a win total over on a team like that. Not only does a major injury to a stud lower the margin for error dramatically, but any additional injuries hurt that much more.
Pick: Over 85.5
I wavered back and forth on this one for a little bit before I got tired of the blinking cursor on Microsoft Word. I don’t think that the Angels have a high ceiling. I don’t think that they are a playoff contender. I think they still finish third in the AL West. But they are going to be better. This is a team that was 54-49 through 103 games with a +17 run differential last season before everything just completely fell apart.
That clip would have given the Angels 85 wins. Sure, it doesn’t always work that way, but this is an improved team from last year’s version with Rendon in the mix and some other starting pitchers.
This is not a pick that I am confident in. Rendon is a huge addition to the lineup and a fine wingman for Trout, but there are several other areas of the team that are lacking. The pitching staff has no true ace and a lot of fourth and fifth starters. Heaney is the only one with real upside and he can’t stay healthy. The bullpen is also not among the top half of the league in my opinion and could end up being a real detriment.
However, I went with the over as the pick for the guide, which will not be an official bet. This is one of my least favorite win total picks in the guide, just because I don’t think that the Angels can finish a whole lot higher than this. I just can’t ignore that they were on an 85-win clip last season with a severely flawed roster and everything that they went through emotionally and mentally, so I have to look over the total because this year’s team is better and hopefully won’t have to go through anything remotely close to that again.
Assuming the ceiling is lower for the Astros and A’s, assuming that the Rangers regress a little and assuming the Mariners fall back some more, which are all developments that I anticipate; there are some additional wins there for the taking. This is just not a team I will have a bet on.