LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM: 78-84 (Third in AL West)
Projected Lineup/Batting Order:
LF Khris Calhoun
CF Mike Trout
1B Albert Pujols
RF Josh Hamilton
3B David Freese
DH Raul Ibanez
2B Howie Kendrick
C Chris Ianetta
SS Eric Aybar
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Jered Weaver
SP C.J. Wilson
SP Garret Richards
SP Hector Santiago
SP Tyler Skaggs
RP Ernesto Frieri
RP Kevin Jepsen
RP Joe Smith
The Angels continued to underperform and disappoint both fans and ownership. Owner Arte Moreno didn’t want to spend Yankee money for years. But 2 years ago he relented and added C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols on huge deals. He then added Josh Hamilton last year. And it still didn’t yield the results people expected. Now, with the A’s winning the West back to back years and the Rangers still considered by many to be the best team in the division (for the 2nd straight year, despite Oakland consistently winning the division) the expectations in Anaheim have died down a bit. And that can only help, as the team certainly wasn’t living up to those expectations in their first two attempts. They still have a wealth of talent on this team, and on paper could theoretically be a favorite. But they have to change what they’ve been doing and change hasn’t ben present in Anaheim very much in Mike Scioscia’s 13 years as the manager.
The offense continues to look stout, with the best player in baseball Mike Trout, stepping in as the leader of this offense. Fresh off his new 6 year $144 million dollar contract, they are really counting on him this season. Last year’s numbers weren’t quite as good as his magical rookie year but still fantastic. MVP worthy. He hit 323 with 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 SB and a league leading 109 R. Other positive indicators included a dropping K rate and an OBP that swelled 33 points to an exceptional 432. And his OPS went up 25 points as well to 988. He’s the best player in the game for my money. You are a little concerned that he stole fewer bases and got caught more, but he’s still a premier running threat who stole over 30. He’s exceptional and I expect another MVP year from him. Let’s see if they finally give him one as he’s earned it in both of the last 2 years in my opinion. The big change is that Scioscia is moving him into the 2 hole, and letting Kole Calhoun leadoff. Calhoun hit 282 in 58 games last year with 8 HR, so they’ll see what he can do in a full season. I don’t know why they’d let him give it a go atop the lineup, but that’s the plan. With all that thunder behind him I don’t get why you’d let a rookie leadoff with the chance of not doing a good job setting the table. I think Trout should leadoff, but I’m not making the lineup. Those are the guys who will set the table for the biggest disappointment on this team, first baseman Albert Pujols. Injuries took their toll on this hitter who continues to limp into the back half of his baseball life. In the first 9 seasons of his career he hit below 320 once. He’s not hit higher than 312 in the last 4 years. It’s been 3 years since he hit 300, with a 299 his last season in St. Louis followed by 285 in 2012 and a career low 258 last year. That came with career lows in HR (17) and RBI (64) albeit in only 99 games. If the Angels are going to be better, the biggest step forward they can take would be for Albert to return to the Hall of Fame numbers that he put up. And while he doesn’t have to hit 350 again with 40 HR and 120 RBI, he does have to approach 300 with 25+ HR and 100 RBI. If he can do that, his supporting cast will help him. But he’s got to be a much better hitter, especially seeing as how he dominates their payroll. And speaking of disappointments, Josh Hamilton was not at all what the Angels expected in his first year in Anaheim. He hit 250 with 21 HR and 79 RBI. He’s in the second year of his 5 years $125 million dollar deal and the Angels expect a lot more of him. The numbers aren’t bad, but not nearly good enough based on what he’s done in the past, his spot in the order and the amount of money he’s being paid. If he can up that HR total closer to 30 or maybe up that average closer to his career 295 mark, really do one thing or the other he can begin to help the Angels a lot more. They need his bat, specifically his power to drive in runs and protect Pujols, who they also need to step up. Not many teams have as many questions in the 3,4 spots of their order like the Angels. However few have the potential either. It’s unlikely both will struggle this year as much as they did last year. But if both can find their former MVP winning selves, then this offense could be amongst the best in the business. The Angels added 2 new bats to their order and I listed them as the 5 and 6 hitters. They got new third baseman David Freese from the Cards in a trade that sent the oft-injured Peter Bourjous to St. Louis. Freese is the first legitimate third baseman this team has had since Chone Figgins left for Seattle. I listed him as the number 5 hitter for now but he’ll need to improve on last year’s numbers of 262 with 9 HR. Despite being a somewhat famous name in this business, Freese is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. He’s never played a full season in the league, but his closest was 2012 when he hit 293 with 20 HR. Last year was definitely a down season in 138 games. But his career mark is 286, so if he can approach that, or perhaps 270 with 15 HR, then he’ll be a strong addition. He still has quite a ceiling. The other new bat was DH Raul Ibanez, who this team gave a 1 year $2.75 million dollar deal to. He hit 242 with 29 HR last year in the cavernous Safeco Field in Seattle. At this point in his career he’s just paid to hit HR, and he can do it well. The 29 was a surprise as he hit only 19 in the little league dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium in 2012. So I don’t know what to expect from him, but 20 HR doesn’t seem unlikely and that’s all they want him for. Howie Kendrick will be the number 7 man. He hit 297 last year with 13 HR, 54 RBI and 55 R. He’s kind of like a half a Mike Trout. Hit half as many HR, drive in half as many and score half as many R. And that still makes him one of the better, and under appreciated, players at his position. He’ll never steal 20 bags or hit 20 HR, but he’s a consistent hitter with a career 292 mark and averages around 12 HR and 12 SB a season. The key for him is health, as he only played in 122 games in 2013. A healthy Kendrick looks like a lock for 290 with a 12/60/65/10 line. Personally, I think he should be the number 2 hitter with his consistency and ability to do all things well. Trout in the leadoff hole and Kendrick hitting second is the best possible lineup I can think of for this team. I don’t like Trout second and burying Kendrick in the seventh spot. That makes no sense to me. I know that the number 2 man gets more fastballs theoretically, but that only works if the leadoff man gets on base. Perhaps if they put Trout third, Kendrick second and then either Calhoun or Aybar leadoff. I know the theory is to put Trout’s HR power in a spot where he can drive in more runs, but if he’s your best leadoff hitter and Kenrick is your best number 2 hitter (which he is), then let them do those jobs. Even if Trout is the best option to hit third, put him up top because others will do a decent job hitting third but nobody else can leadoff effectively. You can’t trust a third year player with 79 career games under his belt to leadoff. Eric Aybar may be a decent option after hitting 271 last year. But his 301 OBP won’t play at the top of the lineup and his ceiling is limited with only 12 SB. Let him hit 9th, get on a decent amount of times and have Trout drive him in. The eighth spot will go to either Hank Conger or Chris Ianetta. I thought Ianetta would win the starting job with his better power ceiling, which is why I listed him as the starter. This lineup has tons of potential. But even if they don’t get the bounce back seasons they need from Hamilton, Pujols and Freese, a slight improvement overall makes this offense one of the better ones in the game and at worst they are average.
Defensively this team looks to be in good shape. Trout is a Gold Glove caliber player in center with Hamilton, a center fielder, locking down one corner and young Kole Calhoun capable in the other corner. I like Hamilton and his arm in right field, but Scioscia does odd things like bat Trout second so who knows which guy ends up in which corner. Pujols is a great defensive first baseman and Kendrick is above average at second. Aybar is a slick fielder at short and David Fresse has always been solid at third. Ianetta and Conger are good behind the plate, though neither is overly great. The outfield is excellent, and the infield is above average. They are in good shape on that side of the ball.
The pitching is another curious matter for this club. C.J. Wilson was their ace last year, which was nice but he’s paid to be the number 2 man on this team. He went 17-7 with a 3.39 ERA and team leading 188 Ks in 212 IP. His BAA was fairly average and his WHIP was way too high, as a result of his walks. But outside of that, he was very good. He kept guys from scoring, threw a ton of innings and logged plenty of wins. C.J. Wilson should be solid again this year with about 15 Wins and another 200 IP effort if healthy. The bigger question is their actual ace, Jered Weaver. Injury limited him to 24 starts where he went 11-8 with a 3.27 ERA. Those numbers don’t look bad. But a deeper look shows us he wasn’t the pitcher last year that he has been in the past. The previous 2 seasons he had sub 3 ERAs and the season before those two his ERA was 3.01. So the 3.27 was his highest since 2009. His WHIP climbed 12 points and his BAA went up 13. His Ks have dropped 4 straight seasons, though last year he was limited in innings as well. I don’t know that he’s going to strike out 200 guys anymore. I don’t know that he breaks 180 ever again. But the question is will the other aspects of his dominance return. A fully healthy Weaver can be an ace with a sub 3 ERA, but injuries at the end of last year have people worried that Weaver may be somewhat diminished from his glorious past. After Weaver and Wilson, the pitching staff looks vastly different. Last year they used Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton as their 3-5 starters. All three are gone now. The new number 3 man will probably be Garrett Richards who continues to work on his stuff and tries to live up to expectations. He played in 47 games last year with 17 starts. He’s getting experience and improving, but he’s not quite where people expect him to be with is stuff. He went 7-8, which is hard to judge with all those relief appearances. But his 4.16 ERA isn’t where they want it to be and his WHIP and BAA are well above the league average. They will let him try to work it out as a starter from the get-go and see if his skill has caught up to his stuff. Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs will take the last 2 spots. Santiago, like Richards, is a hybrid starter/reliever who went 4-9 last year in 34 games, 23 of which were starts. His peripherals were better than his record with a 3.56 ERA and 137 Ks in 149 IP. But he’s got to keep guys off base. The 243 BAA was fairly average and the 1.40 was not at all good. That means he’s got to cut down on walks and perhaps try to pitch to contact. His strikeout stuff isn’t elite, and many pitchers find their other numbers improve when they don’t look for the strikeout. Maybe that will help, I’m not sure. They added Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in a 3-way trade that sent Mark Trumbo out of town. Skaggs will be the 5 man with Mark Mulder getting hurt and missing the year shy of his comeback bid and the dismissal of Joe Blanton. He went 2-3 in 7 starts last year with the Diamondbacks. His 1.37 WHIP and 252 BAA were above average in a bad way. He did have 36 Ks in 38 IP and his BAA was pretty close to the league average. They hope he will grow into his stuff and be a strong starter for them this year and down the road. The other are of concern is the bullpen. Ernesto Frieri has great stuff and will close. But his 3.80 ERA was way too high for a closer and his 1.24 WHIP was pretty average. He needs to cut down on the walks a bit, but has great strikeout stuff with 98 Ks in 68 IP. 37 Saves isn’t bad, so he’ll close from the get-go this time and the Angels hope he settles in a bit. Fernando Salas will have a chance to set up, after garnering 24 Saves in 2011. But he’s not been nearly as good since then. Joe Smith may be the safer bet with a 2.29 ERA in 70 games for the Indians last year. Smith and Frieri look good, Salas has a strong past but isn’t a sure bet, and the rest of the names are a collection of young, unproven arms like most MLB bullpens. If the Angels struggle again this year, the pitching will likely be the culprit.
The Angels have a ton of talent. Two years ago they had the most talent in the division. This year, I’m not so sure. But they are definitely in the top 3, possibly top 2 in terms of talent. However Texas looks better on paper for the second straight season, and Oakland improved their team after winning the division the last two years. It’s hard to say that the Angels are the favorite since their team looks about the same as the team that finished third the last two years. The only difference is the pitching which got…worse. That’s not good. Especially since Oakland can always pitch and the Rangers have had better pitching than hitting the last few years. And their hitters are still elite. On paper Texas looks better than LA. The A’s have had more success the last few years and look better this year, which makes them a better bet than the Angels. So while I like the Angels and think they will be better this year, I don’t know that they can win this division.
And that’s bad news. The farm isn’t exactly teeming with prospects. They’ve added some young talent and have three young starters in Skaggs, Santiago and Richards. But they aren’t sure things, and all have already spent time in the major leagues. Beyond them, no one is sure what is coming up the pipe. But we know that the A’s are young and good, the Rangers have some young talent premiering this year and in the years to come and the Astros are nothing but young guys who are getting experience and preparing to join a major league team with no major monetary commitments and a large T.V. deal coming from being in the fourth largest media market in the country. The future for this team doesn’t look especially bright, and gets duller as you consider the future for the teams in their division. They are built to win now, but can’t seem to do that. Pujols will be with them for 8 more years. Josh Hamilton for 5 more. The current starting DH in LA is 41 and their starters at second, short, third and catcher already have put in some quality major league time. At least they have Mike Trout, the best player in baseball for the next 6 years. Alas, this year the team look talented, but not as talented in years past when they were expected to win it all. I’m thinking an 83 win season and another third place finish.