Major offensive regression came in like a wrecking ball for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season. Having the best player in baseball still allowed the team to win 85 games, but they were one of baseball’s overachievers last season. The Angels wrapped up the year with a 79-83 Pythagorean win-loss record and BaseRuns was not a fan either at 78-84. These alternative standings metrics are a good place to start when projecting regression for the upcoming season.

Why did the advanced metrics frown on the Angels? The biggest reason is that the Angels were 35-17 in one-run games. Normally, the best bullpens in the league wind up somewhere around four or five games above .500 in one-run contests. The league average tends to be around .500 and anything well above that is an anomaly. The next closest team to Anaheim in one-run wins was the Chicago White Sox and they went 29-30. The next best record in one-run games by win percentage was Kansas City at 23-17, with Texas close behind at 27-22. Anaheim’s best month was September, where they went 18-9. In that month, they were 10-2 in one-run games. If the way that the Angels finished up the season is going to create any recency bias in their early lines or in their season win total, go against it.

My favorite part about the record in one-run games is that the Angels were 12th in FIP and 18th in xFIP among bullpens, so we’re not talking about an elite bullpen by any means. They were also 16th in K%, so they weren’t blowing people away. It’s these types of stats that handicappers need to be looking at in order to pinpoint the teams that overachieved based on last season’s numbers and to find out the reasons why.

It’s a new season, however, and the Angels have made some pretty big changes over the last eight months. Billy Eppler was hired as the full-time General Manager on October 4 after Jerry Dipoto resigned on July 1. Dipoto found a home in Seattle, where he went on a transaction spree, after butting heads for the last time with Arte Moreno and BFF Mike Scioscia. Scioscia has his owner’s ear more than anything else in the organization and Dipoto had enough. The organizational disconnect may have affected the team throughout the season and now there’s some more stability.

In all likelihood, the Angels will find a way to overachieve again, but will they do so enough to go over the season win total? Oddsmakers have started to adjust this team down, as age and health concerns move to the forefront more and more with each passing year. On the other hand, Mike Trout is a franchise player and the Angels have won at least 85 games in 10 of the last 12 seasons.

Season win total odds:

BetOnline: 81.5 (105/-135)

5Dimes: 80.5 (-125/-105)

Bovada: 81.5 (-115/-115)

 

Key additions: Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Geovany Soto, Craig Gentry, Daniel Nava, Jefry Marte, Al Alburquerque

Key losses: Erick Aybar, David Freese, Chris Ianetta, Sean Newcomb, Collin Cowgill

It’s been an interesting offseason at Angel Stadium. The Angels made their impact moves in trades to get Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar and then played around with platoon guys and minor league signings. The Angels gave up promising pitching prospect Sean Newcomb to get Simmons, but Simmons is a generational type of defender at shortstop and that’s a several win upgrade from Aybar’s play at short.

Yunel Escobar will man the hot corner at third, but one has to wonder if the Angels are actively hoping that somebody steps up at either third or second to take Johnny Giavotella off the field. Craig Gentry is a defense-first player with a light stick and Daniel Nava is a guy that can have some success against right-handers and play a reasonable corner outfield.

Escobar should make up for the loss of David Freese, who was a little bit streaky at the plate, but wound up being a bit better than a league average regular at third base. Carlos Perez will take over for Chris Iannetta behind the plate with some support from Geo Soto. Overall, outside of the Simmons deal, there were a lot of lateral moves for the Angels.

 

Why bet the over?

Michael Nelson Trout is the obvious starting point. In terms of bWAR (Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR), Trout is a full season away from being the second-most valuable player in franchise history and he should pass Chuck Finley by the end of 2017. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player with 10-win upside and he’ll turn 25 in August. There are no faults with him. He hit a career-high 41 home runs last season while cutting down on his strikeouts and drawing more walks. It wasn’t his best all-around offensive season and he doesn’t steal as many bases as he did in his first two years, but the defensive metrics looked more favorably on him last season and… you know what. He’s just awesome. Plain and simple. He is the best player in baseball. Any time you have Mike Trout, you have a chance to win, because he impacts a game that much.

Andrelton Simmons got out of Atlanta at just the right time, but it’s unfortunate that he went to another park that suppresses offense. After breaking out with 17 home runs in 2013, Simmons has hit 11 bombs over the last two seasons combined. He’s not really there to hit, however. He’s there to suck up every ground ball hit in his general direction. He has amassed 113 defensive runs saved over 4,334.2 innings at shortstop in his career, which is an astonishing number. His UZR at SS is 68.4 and the next closest guy is JJ Hardy at 39.3. He’s unrivaled at that position and is the true definition of an impact defender. If he has some better BABIP fortunes, since he puts the ball in play so much, we’re talking about a guy that could sniff 3.5 fWAR.

What is a reasonable expectation for Albert Pujols? Pujols turned 36 in January and has battled chronic foot problems that have basically turned him into a DH. He hit 40 home runs last season, which was great on the surface, but he also posted by far the lowest on-base percentage of his career and had a .217 BABIP. He has such a strong upper body that he’ll hit mistakes out of the yard. His contact metrics suggest that his bat speed is still there and there will always be offensive value in high slugging percentages.

In his second season as an everyday player, Kole Calhoun’s counting stats got a little bit better, but pitchers made adjustments. The question now is whether or not Calhoun can re-adjust. The tools are there for him to get back to some better rate stats and he’s a quality defender in right field. The nice thing about a guy like Calhoun, who swings it well against the fat side of the platoon, is that his floor is very low. A bad season for him should still be an above average season overall.

Yunel Escobar is a fairly underrated player. His 2014 campaign was bad, but he makes a lot of contact and has good feel for the strike zone. He swings a lot, but he mostly swings at a lot of strikes, so that allows him to make pretty solid contact overall. That’s why he has a .306 career BABIP. He’s going to a tough offensive park and a bad division for offense overall, so he’ll probably fall short of 10 home runs for the fifth straight season, but he’s a good, serviceable player. Remember: League average means value. It’s a hard sell in some cases, but Escobar shouldn’t hurt the Angels.

CJ Cron hits for some power and there’s room for some power gains from the big first baseman. He makes pretty solid contact when he does make it, so he’s a decent average, good power guy. Sabermetrics don’t always look favorable on guys with low walk rates, so it’s possible that some outlets will sell Cron short. In terms of the corner situation in the outfield, Calhoun is solid and a left field platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry will be sound defensively and Nava’s skills against righties could net league average offensive value or thereabouts.

Garrett Richards has good stuff, with an exploding, heavy sinker and a quality slider. He’ll turn 28 this season, so his pitchability should start to play up to his stuff and some better control and command certainly wouldn’t hurt. Because his arsenal nets a lot of weak contact and balls hit on the ground, he’s a guy that has a very high floor. He’s miscast as an ace on this team, but he’s a quality #2 and a very good #3.

Did Hector Santiago figure some things out last season? He increased his strikeout rate, which was essential with his BB rate and his penchant for giving up long balls. If more of those home runs become pop ups this season, there could be something there. The margin of error for a hitter between a 375-foot bomb and a 75-foot cloud-piercer is pretty thin. That’s the line that Santiago walks in a lot of his plate appearances. The increase in strikeouts is something to watch.

Andrew Heaney got a lot of growing pains out of the way last season over 18 starts. He had a below average K rate, but did fairly well limiting walks and induced a lot of weak contact. He also learned how to pitch out of jams, which is a key for every young starter. Angel Stadium isn’t as pitcher-friendly as Marlins Park, but Heaney should be quite good at home and good enough on the road, especially with Safeco and O.co on the schedule rather often.

Will a healthy CJ Wilson, pitching in a contract yet, return to being a valuable asset? Wilson shut it down early last season to have surgeons work on some bone spurs and there were some positive trends to build off of from last season. Wilson’s control improved, as his walk rate dropped by almost three percent. His strikeout rate stayed about the same, so it allowed his FIP to drop from 4.31 to 4.02. He also got some better sequencing luck and it led to a drop in ERA. Pitching for what he hopes is a multi-year deal, there’s a lot on the line for Wilson this season.

The Angels bullpen didn’t strike out a lot of guys, but it didn’t walk many either. Huston Street had a fine season with 40 saves and managed to stay healthy through 62 appearances. He gave up some home runs, as he usually does, and regressed from an ERA standpoint because 2014’s 93.3 percent strand rate was not going to stick around. He’s still a decent closer.

Joe Smith could be in line for some improvement after his lowest strand rate in the last three seasons. He actually posted his second-best strikeout rate since 2009, but a walk increase hurt him a little bit. Smith is not a guy to worry about and is a quality middle reliever. Fernando Salas was burned by sequencing, owning a 3.15 FIP and a 3.23 xFIP, but a 4.24 ERA was the direct result of too many home runs allowed and a 64.8 percent strand rate. Expect positive regression in both areas. Speaking of strand rates, Mike Morin struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he faced, but owned a 6.37 ERA because of a .344 BABIP against and a 44.4 percent strand rate. He’s a guy pegged for improvement.

Mike Scioscia seems to be a manager capable of getting a lot out of his teams. It’s tough to find a more consistent team over the last 15 years than the Angels and Scioscia has been a very big part of that.

 

Why bet the under?

Injuries are always a possibility. It’s foolish to play the “what if” card from an injury standpoint with a lot of teams, because everybody will struggle if one of its best players goes down. However, it has to be mentioned with the Angels. If Mike Trout went down for any significant period of time, like a month-long stint with an oblique, or worse, the Angels would completely bottom out. Of course a team with a 10-win player is going to be “top heavy”, but the Angels really do fit the bill based on Trout’s supporting cast.

The 35-17 record is one-run games is definitely going to regress. Only once in the last five years has a team won more than 35 one-run games. It was the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. The Baltimore Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games in 2012. They were 20-31 in 2013. The 2013 New York Yankees were 30-16 in one-run games. They were 28-24 the following season. The 2013 Cleveland Indians were 30-17. They were 25-21 the next year. Arizona went from 34-21 in 2013 to 23-30 in 2014. The sustainability of success in one-run games is not commonplace. Even last season’s top team, Pittsburgh, was 31-29 in 2014. Every season, a handful of teams are really fortunate in these close games, but, more often than not, the same teams do not appear the following season.

There’s also this tweet from Keith Law:

So, yeah. The Angels don’t have a whole lot of depth. They have incorporated some platoons, but the team doesn’t have a lot to work with from a resource standpoint in the event of struggle or injury. And, with this roster, injuries are very possible. We’ll start with Albert Pujols, who is already slated to miss some time this season after foot surgery. The 36-year-old saw a massive decline in his contact quality, in that anything he hit reasonably well left the ballpark. His 15.9 percent line drive rate was a three percent drop from his previous season and his career rate. He also had to lowest pop up rate of his career and that translated into his best HR/FB% in four seasons. Looked at the batted ball profile, I would expect the power to drop pretty substantially. Since power is hit only hit-related tool at this stage of the game, that’s not a good thing at all.

Andrelton Simmons is a great addition, but it’s fair to wonder if he was the right addition. Simmons is a light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop and will carry a ton of defensive value. On the other hand, he’s an offensive downgrade from Erick Aybar. Aybar had a terrible offensive season last year, so it’s not that big of a deal, but Angel Stadium inherently suppresses runs. Simmons will help on the road, where Angels pitchers had a 4.68 ERA (compared with a 3.25 ERA at home), but this is not a great offensive team.

The Regression Monster is coming for Yunel Escobar. Escobar’s .347 BABIP was the best of his career and guys that put the ball in play as much as he does cannot sustain a BABIP that high, especially without elite speed. Escobar has very little speed and is a negative baserunner. In any event, he’ll likely regress to league average offensively and he’s been a really bad defender by the metrics in each of the last two seasons.

The league adjusted to Kole Calhoun last season and he was slow to adjust. His power provided some offensive value, but a .308 OBP won’t cut it this season. He also saw his strikeout rate go up to 23.9 percent. Calhoun absolutely has to get on base more because he hits in front of Mike Trout. The way this team will score is through Trout, so Calhoun’s role is really magnified. Calhoun made less contact in the zone and pitchers worked ahead in the count more frequently. This can go one of two ways – either Calhoun protects the zone better behind in the count or he gets more aggressive earlier in the count if pitchers are being aggressive. Will one work better than the other? The Angels better hope so.

With below average offensive production coming at catcher, second base, shortstop, and left field, a very mediocre pitching staff won’t get a lot of support. As mentioned above, Garrett Richards is really solid and always has breakout potential, but he’s miscast as an ace on this roster. One thing to keep in mind about Anaheim overall is that they have the potential to be good at home because of the run-suppressing environment. Most of their starters are great fade material on the road.

The last time CJ Wilson had bone spurs removed was prior to the 2013 season. It was his best season with the Angels. Now, however, he’s older and not better. He’s a guy that can net some value if he stays healthy enough to throw 200 innings, but he’ll be a 4.00 FIP, 4.25 xFIP type of guy once again in all likelihood. Serviceable, but not enough to move the needle. This is a guy that worked four straight 200-inning seasons after making 66, 50, and 74 relief appearances in the previous three. Now, his arm is just starting to fail him and it’s affecting him in a lot of ways.

If Jered Weaver threw an egg at a brick wall, it might not break. His assortment of breaking balls and kitchen sinks can be valuable in certain spot plays, but his strikeout rate fell to 13.5 percent and hitters smacked 24 home runs in 159 innings. He didn’t walk many guys, but there’s just not a whole lot left here to be excited about. He’ll continue to be a guy with terrifying home/road splits and his home run rate should keep going up. Fortunately, this is his last year on this contract.

In past write-ups, I’ve talked about ERA/xFIP discrepancy. Hector Santiago says hi. Santiago had a 3.59 ERA with a 4.77 FIP and a 5.00 xFIP. He actually had a 2.33 ERA with a 3.96 FIP and a 4.50 xFIP in the first half. Things, as you would expect, bottomed out in the second half. He’s in a good park for being a fly ball guy, but like the majority of this staff, the road will be unkind and his poor walk rate coupled with an inability to get double plays makes that home run rate really ugly. He’ll be a guy with a lower ERA than FIP/xFIP, so don’t blindly fade him throughout the season, but he’s just another red flag in a starting rotation with a lot of them.

Huston Street is one of those guys that just gets the job done. Of course, he turns 33 in August and health has always been a question. Street, and primary setup man Joe Smith, personify another interesting wagering angle for the Angels. If they’re out of it, and they very well could be, Street, Smith, Weaver, and Wilson are all impending free agents. Escobar has a team option for next season. This could be a team in fire sale mode in an effort to restock the farm system. With two wild cards and a lot of AL teams in the mix, the Angels could get a good return for some of those guys.

 

Pick: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Under 81.5 (-115 – Bovada)

Mike Trout is a world-class player and a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent. The Angels are going to waste his prime years and it’s going to be sad. This is not a good baseball team all around. The starting rotation has some major question marks and the position players around the best player on the planet are not good enough. There are a lot of signs of individual regression and all of that adds up to team regression, which adds up to losses.

The Angels probably don’t have as low of a floor as most teams with these kinds of problems, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if this was a 75-win team, even with a player like Trout. This was a 79-win team by Pythagorean win-loss last season. In terms of recent results, 75 wins would be the lowest since 2001. I still think it’s possible. I think this is the year that the window finally closes on the Angels and they have to rebuild around Trout.

Other Teams: Baltimore, Boston, New York (AL), Tampa Bay, Toronto; Chicago (AL), Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota; Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Texas;

 

-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-

 

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won 98 games during the regular season and failed to win a single game in the playoffs. The Angels were swept by the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals and went into the offseason much earlier than they anticipated. A season full of impressive records and statistics went up in smoke in a hurry and the Angels were left to wonder what could have been.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a shock that the Angels were trucked in the playoffs. After all, the Angels padded their record by going 57-21 against teams below .500. They were 41-43 against teams .500 or better. Staff ace Garrett Richards suffered an ugly knee injury on August 20 and missed the rest of the season. The Angels bounced back to win that game and improve to 76-50. They were just 22-14 the rest of the way, including a 10-game winning streak in early September.

The Angels are kind of a rare breed in today’s Moneyball generation. They led the league in runs scored and finished second in hits, but they finished eighth in walks and fourth in home runs. Having the best player on the planet, Mike Trout, certainly helps. How sustainable is what the Angels do? They are often thought of as a model baseball franchise, but the 2014 season was their first playoff appearance in five years and they were swept out of the first round.

Lofty expectations are once again placed on the Angels, who saw an upper 80s win total last season after a 78-win campaign in 2013. Oddsmakers at Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno posted the Angels at 87.5 and then Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas upped the ante by placing an 89.5 on the Angels. BetOnline came out at 86.5.

Key additions: Andrew Heaney, Matt Joyce, Josh Rutledge, Roberto Baldoquin, Cesar Ramos

Key losses: Howie Kendrick, John Buck, Ian Stewart, Joe Thatcher, Hank Conger, Kevin Jepsen

The biggest move of the offseason was the trade that sent Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for Andrew Heaney, who had been acquired in the Dee Gordon trade with the Marlins. The deal was a breath of fresh air because it was a player-for-player, old school deal that should benefit both teams. It remains to be seen how much it will benefit the Angels, who gave up their second-most valuable player by fWAR last season.

Josh Rutledge will be the replacement for Kendrick and he had a nice season in Colorado, but any player that leaves Coors Field’s incredible hitting conditions faces a pessimistic outlook and that’s especially true when that player goes to a place like Angel Stadium. Most of the other losses were of the depth variety, but the Angels are taking a chance on Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who will start in the low minors.

Some big contracts handcuffed Jerry DiPoto this offseason because four contracts make up over 60 percent of the Angels’ guaranteed payroll. Josh Hamilton makes $25.4M this season (and $32.4M in 2016 and 2017), Albert Pujols makes $24M this season (and goes up by $1M each year through 2021), C.J. Wilson makes $18.5M and Jered Weaver is signed for $18.2M. That explains why the Angels were willing to give up Kendrick for Heaney so that they could infuse some young, cost-controlled starters into the rotation.

Why bet the over?

Mike. Trout. Mike Trout is the best player in the game and has put up historic numbers in his first three seasons in the Major Leagues. The Angels have been a franchise since 1961. Mike Trout is 10th in franchise WAR by Baseball-Reference’s calculation and will probably move up to sixth by the end of the season. He’s an incredibly gifted player with four of the five tools. Interestingly, Trout took a step back last season and won the AL MVP award anyway. A power bump from Trout led to more strikeouts as pitchers worked up in the zone more frequently to try and take away the weapon of Trout’s speed. As a result, he struck out more, walked less, but hit nine more home runs.

Defensive metrics soured on Trout last season as he posted his first negative fielding value. Projecting Trout for this season is actually kind of difficult because his baseline numbers aren’t what the baseline numbers are for any other player. If the 2014 version of Mike Trout is what the Angels get, he’s still an elite player. If the Angels get a return of Mike Trout’s 2013 season plus the power boost, he’s in another stratosphere. Trout hit nearly 40 more fly balls and 46 fewer ground balls last season. That affected his batting average negatively. Any complaint of Trout’s numbers of just nitpicking because he’s an elite hitter, but there’s room for improvement this season and that’s scary.

He didn’t put up the numbers that he did in his younger days, but Albert Pujols returned to form as best he could. Pujols was limited to 443 plate appearances in 2013 and posted a .258/.320/.437 slash line with a 112 wRC+. It was the worst season of his career. He was 12 percent better in 2014 and hit 11 more home runs with a .272/.324/.466 slash line. He’s not the player that the Angels thought they were getting, but he’s still a better hitter than what most lineups have to offer in the middle of the order.

Do you know who Kole Calhoun is? You should. The Angels offense was able to benefit by having Calhoun in front of Trout and that was a big reason why they were among the league’s best offensive teams. Calhoun posted a strong .272/.325/.450 slash line with 17 home runs and 90 runs scored while batting at the top of the order. Twenty-two of Trout’s RBIs were runs scored by Calhoun. Calhoun has a platoon split, so he’s not the greatest hitter against lefties, but he posted a .793 OPS against righties and a hitter will face a righty over 70 percent of the time on average.

The Angels were hit hard by injuries last season. Josh Hamilton missed significant time and David Freese continued to be hampered by the back injuries that zapped his power after his 20-homer season in 2012. Health is never a guarantee, but both players have some power potential and the ability to post high BABIPs because of how hard they hit the ball. When Hamilton was in the lineup, he was 13 percent better than league average, so there’s still some value there, though not enough to live up to his huge contract.

Chris Iannetta is a fine catcher that doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. Nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances are decided in the batter’s box. Iannetta struck out almost 25 percent of the time but also walked almost 15 percent of the time. Along with working counts and getting on base over 37 percent of the time, Iannetta threw out over 30 percent of baserunners to be one of the bright spots of an Angels team that struggled defensively. There’s surplus value in Iannetta that often gets overlooked because of the big names and huge contracts around him.

Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker were fantastic last season. Richards was limited to 26 starts because of the knee injury and Shoemaker made 20 starts as a starting rotation replacement for Hector Santiago. The Angels were 35-11 when one of these two started a game and nothing stands out that would suggest major regression. Richards played his upper 90s bowling ball sinker into a 51 percent ground ball rate and increased his strikeout rates with better control and some more sliders. Richards may miss the first week or two of the season, barring any additional setbacks, in his return from knee surgery, but he shouldn’t miss more than a handful of starts.

Shoemaker came out of nowhere to be an integral part of the Angels rotation and his excellent control was a big reason why. Shoemaker walked 24 batters in 136 innings and complemented it with an above average strikeout rate. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he relies on a split-fingered fastball that is hard to center on and five-to-six pitch arsenal is good for keeping hitters off balance. Most of what he accomplished last season appears sustainable, so the top of the Angels rotation is in good hands.

Jered Weaver kept defying the aging curve in the face of declining velocity. The crafty righty stayed healthy enough to throw more than 200 innings for the first time in a couple of seasons and the biggest compliment about Weaver is that he won’t kill you. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher in a perfect park to be that and his road ERA is never too far out of whack because of road starts in Seattle and Oakland.

Hector Santiago’s bad luck from the first half evened out in the second half with similar peripherals, which would suggest that he could be a solid back of the rotation starter this season. He’s durable and most fourth and fifth starters around the league are below average, so the fact that Santiago can pitch at a league average or better level is valuable.

The Angels bullpen started out as a weakness last season, but some acquisitions during the season and some gambles from manager Mike Scioscia paid off. Huston Street was acquired from the San Diego Padres and did well in the closer’s role as he found himself in yet another good pitcher’s park. Joe Smith continued to be an elite setup guy and former closers Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli were effective. The righty-heavy Angels pen should be good again this season.

Why bet the under?

Well, for starters, the number is too high. The Angels have only exceeded 89.5 wins once in the last five seasons and a large portion of their team is on the wrong side of 30. Basically, all of their high-priced contracts are on the backs of guys that are declining in either skills or production. Josh Hamilton had a shoulder procedure a couple weeks ago that will set him back during Spring Training. Albert Pujols will never fully be healthy due to the plantar fasciitis that he has played through for the last several seasons. C.J. Wilson is a shell of the pitcher that he used to be. Jered Weaver’s rabbit’s foot is going to fall out of an unnamed orifice at some point and his declining skills will catch up with him. Really, I don’t need to go on further because this is one of my strongest plays in this win total series, but I will.

The Angels made a mistake trading Howie Kendrick. They didn’t make a mistake in what they got in return because Andrew Heaney has #2 starter potential in a place like Anaheim, but Kendrick was a hugely valuable part of this team. He consistently hit well above average for a second baseman with a .292/.332/.424 slash line and has provided as much defensive value as he has offensive value. The Angels were -16 defensive runs saved last season and their most important pitcher, Garrett Richards, is a very heavy ground ball guy. Kendrick’s absence is going to hurt the team in more ways than one.

Josh Rutledge is a poor defender and his career slash line away from Coors Field is .215/.265/.333. That’s awful. If Rutledge wins the starting job, which he may not because of Grant Green, that likely represents a net loss of around 3.5 wins for the Angels going from Kendrick to Rutledge. Basically, every player in the mix for the second base gig represents a major step down from Kendrick. It seems that the oddsmakers failed to properly account for this.

Injuries are a possibility for every team, but there would be no bigger injury for any team in baseball than if Mike Trout got hurt. The Angels are so dependent on him offensively that they would be completely screwed if he missed significant time. It doesn’t even have to be something like an ACL. It could be something as simple as a strained oblique or a fractured thumb from stealing a bag or getting hit by a pitch. If Clayton Kershaw went down for the Dodgers, it would be horrible for them, but they have starting pitching depth. The same with Corey Kluber for the Indians or Felix Hernandez for the Mariners. Trout is on another level as a position player and any replacement won’t come close. When a team has to win 90 games, which is a .555 winning percentage, there’s not much of a margin for error. It has to be considered given how Trout plays the game with an all-out effort and the freak things that can happen.

C.J. Wilson will throw 175 bad innings again for the Angels because his contract is completely unmovable. Wilson had the second-highest walk rate at 11.2 percent last season and his home run rate went up as his command and control dropped. Wilson really limited the usage of his slider, which could either mean an underlying injury or he’s trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher at 34 years old. Either one is a bad thing.

While Matt Shoemaker’s statistical profile suggests that most of his performance is repeatable, there is one area that concerns me. Shoemaker stranded 75.6 percent of baserunners in his 20 starts. League average for starters was 72.5 percent. It’s not a huge difference, but Shoemaker held hitters to a .208/.251/.332 slash line with a .257 wOBA with men on base. Batters slugged .409 off of him with the bases empty. Shoemaker may just alter his pitch sequencing with men on base, but one has to assume that there will be some regression in those splits and that should lead to a bump in ERA and FIP. It won’t be enough to turn him into a pumpkin or anything like that, but any increase in runs allowed is a concern.

Speaking of LOB% regressers, Jered Weaver falls into that category. With declining velo and a dropping strikeout rate, Weaver stranded 78.3 percent of opposing batters and posted another terrific BABIP because of his fly ball stylings. His chase rate, or outside the zone swing percentage, fell to an all-time low last season by a substantial amount. Hitters are laying off the junk and forcing Weaver to get in the zone because he’s gotten easier and easier to pick up as he ages. One of these seasons, Weaver’s going to completely fall apart. If it’s this season, you’ll be in great shape on the under.

If you rank the Angels relief pitchers by appearances, you have to go down 12 spots to find the first left-handed pitcher. That pitcher is Joe Thatcher, who was released. It worked for them last season, but not having a good lefty in the bullpen has to be a concern. Maybe it didn’t matter last season because the Angels won 30 games by five or more runs and only played 49 one-run decisions, but that’s going to catch up with them.

Pick: Under 88.5

This Angels team is going to be challenged by a tremendously talented Seattle Mariners team and (spoiler alert) the Oakland A’s are a better team than people think. The Angels have some depth problems and a lot of high-risk players on offense. A lot of the depth for the Angels has sharp platoon splits and the wrong injury can really hamper this team.

The back of the rotation is really scary. The Angels may have to use Andrew Heaney pretty quickly this season, but it remains to be seen if he’s fully ready for the big leagues or not. Tyler Skaggs is out for the season following Tommy John surgery.

The biggest thing to me is the drop from Kendrick to somebody else. That’s a 3.5-win drop, and while the Angels won 98 last season, they weren’t going to repeat that and the loss of Kendrick brings them down in a big way. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are on the downsides of their careers and so are Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.

This number is way too high because oddsmakers were validated by last season’s number that was too high. The Angels were mediocre against good competition and there should be more parity overall in the AL this season. This is not a 90-win team, and, frankly, they won’t even win the AL West.

 

-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-

 

Things didn’t go as planned for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season. With a large financial commitment to Josh Hamilton and the second year of Albert Pujols’s mega free agent deal, the Angels were expected to contend in the top-heavy American League West with Texas and Oakland. The lineup expenses prevented the Angels from addressing their pitching and it showed. The Angels spent nearly $1.5M per win last season en route to a 78-84 season. After winning the opener to go 1-0, the Angels were never over .500 the rest of the season.

After starting the season 9-17, the Angels were mediocre for the most part over the final five months of the season. The Rangers won 15 of 19 meetings and the A’s were 11-8 against the Angels last season. With a small run differential by season’s end, the Angels should have finished .500 according to their Pythagorean Win-Loss record. Overall, it was an extremely disappointing season.

Oddsmakers are very bullish on the Angels this season, presumably expecting Danny Glover to manage and Tony Danza to anchor the rotation. BetOnline.ag is showing 86.5 (under -120) after opening at 87.5. BetDSI.eu is still at the 87.5 number, with the under at -125. Bovada.lv is also at 86.5. 5Dimes.eu is at 87 and the over is -130. While oddsmakers are high on the Angels, bettors appear skeptical.

Key additions: Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Joe Smith, David Freese, Raul Ibanez, Brandon Lyon, Fernando Salas

Key losses: Jason Vargas, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jerome Williams

The Angels have added nearly $30M to their payroll for 2014 and have addressed the areas that needed attention. The biggest transaction was the three-team deal between the Angels, Diamondbacks, and White Sox that included Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, and Mark Trumbo. The Angels added rotation depth to a staff that was in dire need of assistance and gave up Trumbo to fill that glaring need.

In another trade, the Angels acquired David Freese from the Cardinals for Peter Bourjos. The hope, of course, is that Freese will replace the power production lost from trading Trumbo. The Angels have a glut of young outfielders, so they’re trading from a position of strength without Bourjos.

Other lineup additions include Raul Ibanez and Carlos Pena. Ibanez will play a bit in left field and get some at bats at designated hitter, while Pena will hope to resurrect his career.

Joe Smith and Brandon Lyon will tremendously help one of the game’s worst bullpens in 2013. Smith signed a lucrative free agent deal to pitch in the setup role in front of closer Ernesto Frieri. If healthy, Lyon will slot into a middle relief role. Also added in the Freese deal was Fernando Salas. Salas will add additional Major League quality depth.

Why bet the over?

There’s no question that the Angels underachieved last season given all of the talent they have. An injury that cost Jered Weaver a handful of starts didn’t help, but there were a lot of other problems with the team. The Angels put a lot of resources into Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, despite their ages, and it backfired in a big way in 2013. Pujols missed the final two months of the season and didn’t perform anywhere near the level that he has been capable of over his career.

Reports have been promising about Pujols in Spring Training. The foot injury that has nagged him for the last few seasons was treated in the offseason and was supposedly at 100 percent back in December. Pujols lost weight and got healthier in the offseason and expects to return to being a huge part of the Angels offense. Even while hurt, Pujols’s plate discipline numbers were near his career averages and he hit 17 home runs in 99 games. His health is a concern and he’s 34, but there are DH at bats available and an improvement even to his 2012 numbers would be a three-win upgrade.

Mike Trout continues to be a god amongst mere mortals on the baseball field. His second consecutive season of 10+ fWAR proved that 2012 was no fluke, and, honestly, how could it have been? He’s an elite player with tremendous plate discipline, good power, great speed, and more tools than a Home Depot. He shows no signs of slowing down and could, presumably, get even better in his third season of facing the same pitchers and maturing as a player.

Howie Kendrick continues to be a consistent player at an offensively-weak position. Kendrick was in the top 10 in wOBA last season, despite walking just 4.5 percent of the time. His .340 BABIP was out of the average range, but was right in line with his career average. He chipped in a little bit more power last season with five more home runs than the previous season and that was in just 122 games. He’s a very versatile player and a bounce back season from both Pujols and Hamilton will likely increase his value to the lineup.

Advanced metrics suggest a bounce back season for David Freese, assuming he can stay healthy. He’s leaving Busch Stadium, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, for Angel Stadium, a park that suppresses lefties, but is pretty fair to righties. Freese should be able to recoup some of the offensive value that he lost last season and that will help to offset some of the loss of Mark Trumbo. Freese should be a more complete hitter, with fewer strikeouts, a higher average, and a better on-base percentage.

Kole Calhoun should get a lot of playing time in one of the corner outfield spots and he’s a bit of a sleeper. He has a good walk, a knack for solid contact, and decent speed. With Grant Green, JB Shuck, and Ibanez, the Angels have some decent position player depth at their disposal.

Health, alone, should make the Angels pitching staff better. The Angels had to use 11 different starting pitchers last season and no injury was bigger than Jered Weaver’s. Weaver missed nearly two months due to a fractured left elbow from a line drive. The loss of Weaver left a thin rotation scrambling to find early season replacements and it really derailed the season before it even started. Weaver was good, as usual, last season with a 3.27 ERA and a 3.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even though sabermetric stats don’t look favorably on Weaver, he’s arguably the biggest exception to a sabermetric evaluation of pitching. He mixes speeds extremely well and his deception leads to a lot of weak fly ball outs. Sabermetric theory says that fly balls are bad things, but not all fly balls are created equal and a lot of Weaver’s are the harmless kind.

CJ Wilson was the only starter to make over 30 starts for the Angels and he turned in another fine year. Expect the same again. Behind Wilson, starts were made by Jerome Williams, Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Barry Enright, Billy Buckner, Michael Roth, and Matt Schumaker. With the exception of Richards and Vargas, to an extent, all of those guys are below average starting pitchers. And it showed.

The Angels rotation will likely keep Richards in play as a guy who induces a lot of ground balls with decent control and will add Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Richards throws hard at 95 with some cut and sink to his fastball. Santiago showed some strikeout ability for the White Sox and pitched well all things considered. In U.S. Cellular Field, Santiago’s problem was that he was a fly ball pitcher and the ball carries well in the summer. Angel Stadium suppresses home runs with pretty big gaps and a high wall in right center, so Santiago should do better in a better environment. Skaggs is the upside pitcher of the group. The Angels are getting a guy with good strikeout rates in the minors and will give the Angels a rotation with three lefties. That’s a rarity in today’s MLB and it could certainly play to the Angels favor.

The Angels bullpen posted the fourth-worst ERA and third-worst FIP in the second half of last season. There are some talented guys that miss bats, but also struggle with command. It was a very young bullpen, so consistency was definitely an issue. The free agent signing of Joe Smith adds that consistency. A steady reliever for years with the Indians, Smith and his sidearm style add another dimension to the Angels bullpen. He, along with Dane de la Rosa, will bridge the gap to Ernesto Frieri and strengthen this group. Fifteen different relievers made 10 or more appearances for the Angels and almost all of them struggled for long stretches.

If Brandon Lyon makes the bullpen, he, along with Smith, will add a much-needed veteran presence to this group. The return of Sean Burnett from surgery could also help the bullpen. He was great in 2012 and an injury-shortened 2013 was not much of an indicator of performance

Why bet the under?

While a power drop was inevitable from Josh Hamilton because of the move from hitter-friendly Arlington to pitcher-friendly Anaheim, nobody expected Hamilton to be as bad as he was. Hamilton was woefully bad against left-handed pitching, after holding his own previously in his career. Hamilton saw slash line drops of 35, 47, and 145 points in his overall numbers. Even though he showed more value as a fielder, he was worth 2.3 less fWAR in 2013 as opposed to 2012.

It’s possible that Hamilton is showing signs of age. The drop in power coupled with high swing-and-miss and high chase rates over the last two seasons could signal a player going through a drop in bat speed. It’s no secret that Hamilton has quite a past that aged his body and going from the top, to the bottom, back to the top, and now somewhere in the middle is a lot to endure. He’ll turn 34 this season and it’s rare to see players bounce back significantly at that age.

Like Hamilton, Pujols is getting older. The foot injuries may not be a thing of the past despite what Pujols says. Once games start and he’s out there on a daily basis, a return seems likely. Pujols has played through various ailments over the last few seasons and he turned 34 in January. The big jump in expectations from 74 wins last season to the 87 needed to win this play would require Pujols to return to being a three or more win player. His defense is getting worse and his chase rates are climbing.

While there’s hope for a David Freese bounce back season, he’s going to a tougher league and still going to play the majority of his games in places like Anaheim, Oakland, and Seattle. His batted ball splits indicate that his 20-homer season in 2012 is the anomaly, not the norm.

The Angels walk above league average as a team, but most of that can be attributed to Mike Trout and Chris Iannetta, one of the team’s two catchers. The average walk rate for a hitter is 8.5 percent of his plate appearances and only Pujols was above that number of guys still with the Angels. They’re a BABIP-driven offense and that’s always hard to pin down. Guys like Howie Kendrick have consistently posted well above average BABIPs, while Erick Aybar’s has bounced around a bit.

Not to mention, the Angels are one of the oldest lineups in the league. Freese, Kendrick, Hamilton, Aybar, Pujols, Ibanez, and Iannetta are all over 30 with a lot of years in the game for some of those guys.

There’s a common sense element to betting the under as well. Angels position players accumulated 26.4 fWAR last season. Mike Trout amassed 10.4 fWAR by himself. That’s nearly 40 percent of the fWAR from position players. With a team that’s so dependent on one player, an injury to him makes reaching a number this high almost impossible. It wouldn’t even take a season-ending injury like an ACL tear. Something as simple as an oblique strain or a sprained wrist that could keep Trout out for a month or more would significantly impact the Angels during his absence. Unlike the Tigers, who still have an elite pitching staff even if Miguel Cabrera were to go down, the Angels would likely be irreparably damaged if they had to endure a long stretch of the season without their superstar.

The rotation is better, but still has the potential to struggle. Four of the five projected starters are expected to have above average walk rates and that puts pressure on the defense. As a trade-off, four starters project to above average strikeout rates. That will run up pitch counts and force the Angels into an improved, but not particularly deep bullpen. The depth behind the top five guys is very questionable. The bullpen still has concerns, even with Smith’s addition, especially with the young guys they had in high leverage spots last season. Will they be as effective the second time around?

Pick: Under 87.5 (-125, BetDSI)

Of all the teams I’ve written about so far, I’ve had the hardest time writing about the Angels. Outside of Trout, there is very little intrigue on the team. The reason for the under is that it’s hard to see this team staying healthy enough all season long to win 88 games. The talent is there and the rotation is certainly more interesting than last season, but Aybar, Kendrick, and Pujols all missed time for various injuries. Hamilton was healthy but regressed a lot, specifically in the power department. The Angels still have the “old school” philosophy with Mike Sciosia at the helm, as they don’t walk, put the ball in play, and utilize small ball and situational hitting to score runs. The Angels led the league in sacrifice flies and were fourth in sacrifice bunts. It works, but it’s also predicated on getting hits to set up those situations since the Angels have so many free swingers.

Ultimately, this is a talented team without a lot of depth that is going to have to stay healthy to compete. Recent history has shown that they won’t and Mike Sciosia may even spend time on the hot seat this season since the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. That’s a distraction that a veteran ballclub may not appreciate.

Even though there’s been movement on the under and it’s likely the right side, it seems that there are better wagers on the board that are more worthy of your betting dollar.