Projected Division Finish
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Texas Rangers
5. Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2014 Finish: 98-64 (First Place)
Projected Batting Order
RF Kole Calhoun
SS Erik Aybar
CF Mike Trout
1B Albert Pujols
LF Josh Hamilton
3B David Freese
DH Matt Joyce
2B Josh Rutledge
C Chris Ianetta
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Jered Weaver
RHP Garrett Richards
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Matt Shoemaker
LHP Hector Santiago
CLOSER Huston Street
The Angels had the best record in the major leagues last year. But you wouldn’t know it based on what has happened since the end of the regular season. The Angels were swept by the red hot Royals and were then summarily overlooked by everyone in the offseason. The talk about the Angels has focused on their closing window, the issues with Josh Hamilton and questions about Albert Pujols. The Angels look like a forgotten division winner from a year ago. They hope to remind everyone they are still around and come back with a vengeance when the season starts.
The offense looks to be in pretty good shape. While they lost the extremely talented and heavily underrated Howie Kendrick, they were able to add talent in the forms of Matt Joyce and Josh Rutledge. And while Rutledge is a downgrade from Kendrick at second, Joyce is a major upgrade at DH.
The Angels had a fairly prolific offense last season, leading the league in runs while sitting second in the hits column and third in team AVG. They didn’t feature a ton of power or speed overall, but have guys who can contribute in multiple categories and hit for a plus AVG.
The best player in baseball, Mike Trout, leads this offense. Trout has earned his honorific by being a great all around player: with the bat, the glove and on the base paths. He does it all, hitting 287 last year while leading the team with 36 HR and 111 RBI, both career highs. His stolen base totals have declined three straight years (49, 33, 16) but part of that is due to his spot in the lineup changing and his putting more balls over the fence. He will anchor this lineup, likely hitting third, and probably produce another season of 280+ with 25+ HR, 100 RBI and maybe 10 SB, depending on where the Angels bat him in the order. He will excel, no matter what LA needs him to do.
Albert Pujols will likely back him up in the order. He hit 272 last year with 28 HR and 105 RBI. The cleanup hole is a better place for him to hit now as he can focus on driving in runs. He drove in over 100 runs for the 12th time in his 14 year career. 28 homers is nothing to sneeze at in this current offensive climate. And his AVG won’t hurt you. I will expect him to have another productive season of 25+ HRs and around 100 RBI with an AVG north of 260, which is great for anyone but looks subpar for a player who was once the best offensive player in baseball.
Josh Hamilton was supposed to be the number 5 man protecting both Trout and Pujols, but he’s had a tough offseason. That follows a tough regular season where he only played in 89 games due to injury. He was hot before he went got hurt, but never made it back to that level when he returned. He is a consistent injury risk, due to his early struggles with drugs and alcohol. He had shoulder surgery in early February before suffering a drug relapse, which may require time in rehab and an additional suspension. He was supposed to be the third musketeer of this offense, but we have no idea when he will be back with the Angels and what he will bring when he comes back. It is a major question for LA, and one that will likely have a major impact on their season.
Luckily the Angels signed Matt Joyce in the offseason to be their primary DH and provide some depth in the outfield. Joyce is not a star, but he will provide some good innings both in left and with the bat for the Halos. He hit 254 with 9 HR last year for the Rays in one of his worst offensive seasons. The hope is that in a better lineup, he will see more pitches to hit and return to his previous levels of power, when he routinely slugged 15+ HRs, which was as recent as 2013 (18 HR). He’s career 250 hitter who can provide good at bats, a couple stolen bases and some RBI production.
Erik Aybar was a pleasant surprise last year, and with the injuries to Hamilton, the Angels would like to see him continue to play like he did in 2014. Aybar hit 278 while swiping 16 bags and continuing to play great defense. He’s always been a bit underappreciated, but has great speed and has always been an above average hitter. He is a good fit for the number 2 hole, with his speed and ability to put the ball in play. And seeing more fastballs, he has the chance to be a double-digit home run man. But as important as Aybar has been to this team in the past, he is even more important this year with the loss of Hamilton. I think we know his AVG will be around 275. But if the Angels are going to be successful, then we need to see 8-10 HRs, 70+ RBI/R and another 15+ SB season.
The rest of the Angels offense is a varied group. Kole Calhoun was given the leadoff role last year and ran with it. I think Trout would have been a better option (with Pujols hitting third, Kendrick second and Hamilton cleanup) but Calhoun’s success allowed Trout to hit lower in the batting order. Calhoun hit 272, slugged 17 HR and scored 90 runs, doing exactly what the Angels wanted him to do. He doesn’t have the speed that most teams want in their leadoff hitter, but he runs the bases well, even though he’s not a base stealer. More important was his 325 OBP and ability to hit with runners in scoring position. David Freese will likely hit 6th and man the hot corner. He has never lived up to his potential, outside of the Cardinals’ great world series run a few years ago. He hit 260 last year with 10 HR. But his defense is only average, he has no speed and doesn’t hit for incredible power. That’s not what you are looking from a corner infielder. University of Alabama graduate Josh Rutledge, who the Angels picked up in a trade with the Rockies, has the inside track to replace Howie Kendrick at second. He is a significant downgrade from Kendrick across the board. He’s still young so he could improve, as he’s never played more than 105 games in a season. Catcher Chris Ianetta provides good at bats and defense. Pitchers love throwing to him and Mike Scioscia, a former catcher, expects a lot from his backstops defensively. He’s got double digit pop at the plate and does a good job working walks. Colin Cowgill is the fourth outfielder due to see a lot of work this year. They wanted a quality fourth outfielder to take over for Josh Hamilton in late innings. But now, Cowgill will man left field more than expected. He hit 250 last year in 260 ABs. He also hit a career high 5 HRs, got on base at a 330 clip and went 4 for 4 on the bases. Drew Butera is a solid backup, known more for defense behind the plate than his work with the bat and Johnny Giovatella offers some experience at second and a passable glove.
This offense doesn’t excel at anything, but they have a lot of players who are above average, a few who are good and one who is great. The key is everyone can provide quality at bats, a few have speed and more than a few have some power. I think this is the best overall team in the division and the offense is a major part of it.
The defense isn’t too shabby either. Mike Scioscia has made Chris Ianetta a very good defender behind the plate. Albert Pujols is good at first and Erik Aybar is very good at short. They will miss Howie Kendrick’s defense at second, but Rutledge is a young, energetic defender who should only get better and isn’t bad now. Freese is average at third and there aren’t a lot of options currently behind him on the roster. In the outfield, Trout is a Gold Glove caliber center fielder, Calhoun is above average in right and Joyce is okay in left. Hamilton is actually not a bad defensive left fielder; his health just precludes him from logging as many innings in the field. Cowgill can back up all three outfield spots and is an excellent left fielder, which is where he will get most of his playing time. Johnny Giovatella is good at second and Butera is even better backing up the catcher’s spot.
The pitching staff is not as strong as the offense. Their 2014 team ERA of 3.58 was pretty average. They gave up the third most walks in the league, but made up for it by allowing only the fourth most hits. Looking at it like that, they have pitchers with good stuff, but that are perhaps a little sloppy. The good news is that you can fix that, but it’s not easy. And if they are going to win this division again, they need their pitching staff to be at least as good and probably a little better than they were in 2014.
Jered Weaver is still their number one on paper, though he is not the pitcher he once was. His velocity has fallen off a cliff, as he’s gotten older. But he was such a good pitcher before that he knows how to survive with lesser stuff. He led the Angels with 18 wins and 169 Ks last year, despite having a fastball that barely touches 90 MPH. Weaver pitched to a 3.59 ERA while logging 213 innings and a 239 BAA. He will likely give them another 200+ innings of quality, sub 4 ERA baseball, avoiding walks and keeping the Angels in the game.
Their true ace is Garrett Richards. He has always had good stuff, but finally found his way last year. He led the league in average MPH on his fastball (96) and went 13-4 in 26 starts with a 2.61 ERA. His 1.04 WHIP and 201 BAA show how dominating he was. He tore a knee tendon covering first in a game in August and likely won’t be back until May. But when he comes back, the Angels will need him to be their ace. He’s got the stuff, but not necessarily the track record.
The biggest question on the starting staff is C.J. Wilson. He signed a huge contract with the Angels a few years ago but saw the wheels come off last season. His ERA ballooned to 4.51, his WHIP grew to 1.45 and his 258 BAA was not at all good. He led the AL in walks and ended his season on a low note failing to get out of the first inning against the Royals. He’s got good stuff, but has to get out of his head and deliver for the Angels this year, especially with Weaver getting older and using smoke and mirrors to get by and Richards possibly dealing with injury to start the year.
Matt Shoemaker was another revelation for the Angels last year, though he was greatly overshadowed by his teammate Garrett Richards. Shoemaker’s emergence was definitely a key to the Angels winning the division as he went 16-4 in 20 starts with a 3.04 ERA. Those numbers are great, and supported by his 1.07 WHIP. He doesn’t walk a lot of guys and won’t beat himself. However it was his first full season in the bigs and a number of teams only saw him pitch once. This year he will have to improve, as his stuff is only average (he gets by with great control and an above average splitter as a strikeout pitch) and now teams will have a book on how to face him.
Hector Santiago will likely be the 5th starter, or at least is the man to beat. He is a quality pitcher who needs to avoid the walk and not pitch too much to contact. Andrew Heaney will try to push him for the spot, but if he succeeds, then Santiago is a good long man in the bullpen and possible spot starter. The left-handed Heaney has a bright future and good stuff, but perhaps needs a little more seasoning, especially moving from a more pitcher friendly league and stadium.
Closer Huston Street will anchor the bullpen for the Halos in 2014. He made 61 appearances between the Padres and Angels last year with 41 Saves and a 1.37 ERA. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but his BAA and WHIP are exquisite. He’s got 275 career Saves and a 2.82 ERA. I think he will be fine as the Angels closer.
Joe Smith is the top setup man. He had a 1.81 ERA over 76 appearances last year and even spent some time in the closer’s role before the Angels added Street. His underhand delivery and sinking fastball was extremely effective as he notched 15 Saves, 18 Holds and held hitters to a 172 BAA while pitching to a 0.80 WHIP, both of which are phenomenal. The rest of the bullpen is made up of young arms that aren’t overly exciting and need to rein in their command.
I truly think the Angels are the best team in this division. I’ve thought that before and picked them to win the division in 2012 and 2013. They didn’t. So I finally picked someone else to win the division in 2014….and they finally get it together and win it. This team seems to hate me. I was all set to pick them to win the division this year…but I stopped short. Hamilton is a question mark who will assuredly miss some time. Without him, Trout and Pujols don’t have protection. Add to that the loss of Kendrick, and I think this year’s offense won’t be as strong as the 2014 edition. Richards will miss the beginning of the year, Wilson is a question and Shoemaker has to see how he does now that opposing hitters will have film on him. Add to that some young, question marks in the bullpen, and this team may not be quite as good as they were last year. On the flip side, the rest of the division (especially the Mariners) has definitely gotten better. That’s enough improvement in the division that I can’t see them winning 98 games anymore.
I’ll pick them to finish second, take home a wildcard and finish with around 90 Wins.