Another season came and went without a Mike Trout playoff appearance. The best player on the planet still has 15 plate appearances to show for a Hall of Fame career by age 29. Trout will get 10-and-5 rights by the end of this season after making his debut at 19 and accruing over nine years of service time, all with the same team.
The Angels are a team that I haven’t thought highly of for several seasons in a row. For the most part, I’ve been right. The Angels have one division title and one short-lived playoff appearance since 2009. In that span, they’ve never really bottomed out, but haven’t been good enough to be in contention. They have failed to surround Trout with talent good enough to compete.
The health of the pitching staff has been a big deal. Last season was the first time since 2015 that the Angels used fewer than 30 pitchers. Granted, they were well on their way with 25 different hurlers in a 60-game season. They used 57 total players in 2019 and 60 in 2018. Numbers like that speak to a combination of poor play and poor health.
The Angels won the AL West in 2014. They were second in 2017 and finished 21 games back. Otherwise, they haven’t finished higher than third since 2011. All of this with a perennial MVP candidate and a first ballot, maybe even second all-time unanimous Hall of Famer, in center field.
Basically, in so many ways, this has been an organization with no plan. Old-school thinker Mike Scioscia was past his prime as a manager. Jerry Dipoto was never content with anything and seemingly never pushed the right buttons. He gave way to Billy Eppler, who was given five years to try and figure things out. He was fired a couple months after being given an extension through 2021. Dysfunctional doesn’t even begin to describe what has happened to this organization under owner Arte Moreno’s misguided and micromanaged leadership.
Enter Perry Minasian, who did time as the Director of Pro Scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays under Alex Anthopolous and then the assistant GM and Vice President of Baseball Operations when AA went to Atlanta. A baseball lifer from a baseball family, it remains to be seen if Minasian will blend the new-school, analytics-heavy approach employed by so many teams with his background of being around players and seeing the day-to-day from the clubhouse.
I was skeptical of the Joe Maddon hire prior to the 2020 season. Brad Ausmus did an admirable job navigating the Angels through the tragic death of Tyler Skaggs and a myriad of injuries in 2019, but he was shown the door anyway. Maddon was a square peg in a round hole with an organization that hasn’t made a huge commitment to analytics, but then Maddon is a guy that seemed to eschew analytics the longer he was with the Cubs.
What we know about the Angels is this: Minasian has put a major emphasis on run prevention, as written about by Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic. A major emphasis on run scoring would help, too. Hell, anything would help.
Has enough help been added? Will a new voice and possibly a change in direction help the Angels finally surpass some expectations and maybe even return to the postseason?
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win AL West
|Team||Odds To Win|
|Los Angeles Angels||+375|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+10 (5.01/4.85)||-103 (4.69/5.33)|
|3rd Order Win%||30.8-29.2||73.5-88.5|
|Record in One-Run Games||9-9||18-22|
Additions: Jon Jay, Phil Gosselin, Juan Lagares, Junior Guerra, Jose Quintana, Kurt Suzuki, Juan Graterol, Alex Claudio, Scott Schebler, Kean Wong, Jake Reed, Aaron Slegers, Dexter Fowler, Alex Cobb, Raisel Iglesias, Jose Iglesias, Robel Garcia, Jose Alberto Rivera
Losses: Hansel Robles, Hoby Milner, Justin Anderson, Keynan Middleton, Matt Andriese, Ryon Healy, Jose Briceno, Elliot Soto, Cam Bedrosian, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons, Jahmai Jones, Leonardo Rivas, Noe Ramirez, Garrett Stallings, Jean Pinto, Jacob Barnes
The annual gripe for Angels fans and baseball bettors is that Mike Trout has gotten no help in the offseason. Last year’s big splash with Anthony Rendon wasn’t going to be matched this winter, but pitching was the proper focus. The Angels also made some moves with defense in mind.
Juan Lagares has a good chance of making the roster as a bench player and Jose Iglesias is a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop. Of course, the other position players, namely Kurt Suzuki and Dexter Fowler, fly in the face of those defensive upgrades. Fowler might be okay in a corner, but he can’t really play center field anymore. That’s okay because some guy named Mike Trout is out there.
The Angels loaded up on pitching help by signing Jose Quintana and trading for Alex Cobb. The bullpen got a makeover as well with Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, and Raisel Iglesias.
None of the losses are players of great consequence except for Andrelton Simmons, the best defensive shortstop in MLB history. Simmons played through some mental health issues last season before opting out for the final few games. His loss will be felt, but the others are pretty easily replaceable.
|Batting Average (BA)||.248 (13th)||.247 (18th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.332 (9th)||.324 (14th)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.430 (12th)||.422 (20th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.329 (11th)||.316 (17th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||109 (10th)||99 (12th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.284 (17th)||.281 (29th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||21.2% (5th)||20.4% (3rd)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||10.4% (6th)||9.4% (7th)|
It may have been a short season, but we saw some semblance of the impact that Anthony Rendon can have on this offense. Rendon outWARed Mike Trout with 2.7 fWAR and a .286/.418/.497 slash line. The positional adjustment and good defense at third base is what allowed Rendon to pass Trout. Rendon’s 16.4% BB% was also felt in the full-season numbers, as the Angels jumped a full percent in the walk category.
Trout still had a Troutian offensive showing with a .407 wOBA and a 162 wRC+. He also led the team with 17 homers. The defensive metrics were not kind to Trout at all, so we’ll see if he can rebound in that department to bump his overall value, but he clearly outhits any other area of weakness. Rendon saw a BABIP drop to a career low of .302, so he could even improve a little bit next, despite matching his 154 wRC+ from the previous season. That means that between Trout and Rendon, the Angels have the best 1-2 offensive punch in baseball.
As always, the supporting cast is in the spotlight. Who steps up? Who else contributes? Last season, that someone was David Fletcher. Fletcher carried a .348 BABIP to a .376 OBP with a .350 wOBA and a 123 wRC+. Fletcher’s offensive profile doesn’t impress me one bit. He ranked in the 4th percentile in exit velocity and the 1st percentile in Hard Hit%. He puts a ton of balls in play, but has minimal contact authority. He’ll have to live on high BABIPs to be a valuable offensive contributor. Just about every projection system rates him below average for this upcoming season.
Fletcher may very well carry a high average and a respectable OBP. The negative projections do heavily factor power into the equation and he won’t hit for any at all. I’m not keen on the profile, but he’ll likely post a high batting average because of his bat-to-ball skills and he’s also an outstanding defensive player, so he’ll carry positive value.
That is important because it is tough to know just how much more help Trout and Rendon will get. Shohei Ohtani has the most upside of any other hitter. The everyday DH posted a terrible .190/.291/.366 slash with a .290 wOBA and an 82 wRC+ with decreased contact quality. He also tried to pitch, but that proved to be a failed experiment. The Angels should just have him hit this season, but it seems as though they want to try and maximize their value with him, which could mean a six-man rotation.
If Ohtani bounces back and Jared Walsh’s 108 plate appearances were something to believe in, then the Angels lineup looks a lot better than it has in several seasons. Walsh only played 32 games, but posted a .393 wOBA with a 153 wRC+. He hit 36 homers in the hitter-happy PCL in 2019. He’ll strike out a lot more in a full season sample, but his minor league numbers also suggest he should walk more.
Jose Iglesias is another version of Fletcher with low contact quality and a bat-to-ball profile. Justin Upton appears to be done and he’s a pretty terrible outfielder these days with lower body ailments, so the Angels are just playing out the string of his contract much like they’re doing with Albert Pujols.
The Angels did hit a few more fly balls last season and do seem to be making a concerted effort to pull the baseball a little bit more. The alterations to right center field at Angel Stadium did enhance the park factor a bit, so it makes sense that the Angels would try to elevate a bit more and take advantage of the shorter dimensions. The left field corner is also shallower with a short wall.
It is just hard for me to wrap my head around Trout having help because he hasn’t for a long time. Even a guy like Max Stassi profiles as an above average offensive catcher. The Angels have an interesting mix of bat-to-ball guys and guys that walk a lot. This could really be a team that gets a lot of opportunities with runners on base. That would be a continuation of last season when Los Angeles was fifth in number of plate appearances with a runner in scoring position. Their .328 wOBA in that split was 14th and their .248 average was 19th. Improvement in that area, even just a little, would go a long way.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||5.09 (25th)||5.12 (25th)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||4.49 (17th)||5.04 (28th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||4.60 (17th)||4.80 (23rd)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||23.2% (17th)||22.3% (17th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||8.8% (13th)||9.2% (23rd)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||65.5% (30th)||71.0% (21st)|
While I’m pretty confident that the Angels will have an offense that ranks somewhere in the top half of the league, the ceiling for this team will be defined by the pitching staff. The first thing worth noting from last season is that the Angels did improve. They were 25th in ERA for the second straight season, but went from a 5.04 FIP to a 4.49 FIP. In a season in which walk rates went through the roof, the Angels were one of the few teams that improved theirs.
You don’t really have to know advanced metrics to see what happened. The Angels were 30th in LOB%, which means they stranded the lowest percentage of runners in the league. This is not the traditional LOB stat in a box score. This has a much more in-depth formula that is calculated by looking at a pitcher’s actual hits, walks, and runs allowed results.
League average nowadays is typically in the 72-73% range. As you can see, the Angels were well below that. Generally speaking, a low LOB% happens most often with bad defensive teams and teams that don’t get a lot of strikeouts from their pitchers. The Angels improved a little bit in the K% department, but ranked 27th in Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150.
The biggest culprits were in the outfield. In fact, it was Trout that was the biggest culprit with -9 DRS. Justin Upton, Brian Goodwin, and Jo Adell were also below average out there. Tommy La Stella was awful at second base, but he signed with the Giants. I wouldn’t expect the Angels to improve much in this area. Trout’s numbers could positively regress, but Upton and Fowler are concerns in the corners. The infield defense should be just fine.
The Angels have had a lot of fly ball pitchers over the years because they’ve been in a ballpark that suppresses power. The cool marine air limits carry on fly balls, so the Angels have tried to do what the Athletics typically do and pitch to the ballpark. Well, with the right field wall moved in and the outfield woes defensively, the Angels have had to pivot a little bit.
Like I mentioned in the intro, Perry Minasian has talked at-length about run prevention. We can see more of that in the starting rotation. Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney each struck out over a batter per inning. Griffin Canning was close. Jose Quintana has been added to the rotation with more of a ground ball split in his batted ball distribution. Alex Cobb is very much a ground ball guy. Bundy has moved more towards ground balls with some pitch usage changes.
Bundy only made 11 starts and racked up 2.0 fWAR. His best season is 2.8 and that came back in 2017. Bundy cut his HR/FB% down from 16.4% getting out of Camden Yards, the AL East, and the AL East ballparks he had to contend with on the road. It was a huge year of growth for Bundy, even if it was cut short by COVID. I talked a lot in the Twins preview about how Minnesota overhauled Kenta Maeda’s pitch usage. The Angels did that with Bundy.
Bundy almost exclusively threw fastballs to lefties. Of his 342 fastballs, 250 were to lefties. He attacked righties with the slider, as 197 out of 255 total sliders came against same-side hitters. Opposing hitters batted .138 with a .200 SLG on the slider. He didn’t allow a home run on the pitch. He also increased his changeup usage as an out pitch against lefties. A lot of these were trends from 2019 that were stepped up in 2020. Bundy’s average launch angle allowed on the fastball was 30 degrees. He worked in the upper half with the pitch, making it much harder to get on top of and drive for home runs. That even worked out for him with decreased velocity, as he busted lefties up and in with the pitch. I’ll be surprised if Bundy hangs a 3.29 ERA or a 2.95 FIP, but his days of being a mid-4s guy are probably over with.
If Andrew Heaney could consistently stay healthy, he’d have a much better projection. He has pitched well in two of the last three seasons and had a huge strikeout rate in 2019 when he just allowed too many home runs. There is some intrigue here, though he still needs to command the fastball better.
Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb are the keys to this rotation. That is a scary proposition. Quintana only pitched 10 innings last year on the heels of his worst season from an ERA standpoint. Quintana, though, ran into a 65.9% LOB% that year. He fixed the BB% issues he had in 2018. I think this is a good landing spot for him, as he’s back in the AL.
Cobb isn’t going to be anything overly special, but he, too, gets out of the AL East and that can only help. He won’t suddenly peak like Bundy because he simply doesn’t have the arm talent anymore, but as an extreme ground ball guy with much more favorable park factors, he can be a league average type of guy.
I’m waiting for Griffin Canning to take the next step. He was bothered by an injury in the first Spring Training last season, but was able to make 11 starts with the delayed Opening Day. Canning is a guy that could use an arsenal change. He throws too many fastballs for my liking with what is a pedestrian pitch, but his curveball usage went up last year and that was a legitimate out pitch for him. If he can harness the slider he had in 2019 and pair that with a decent changeup, this might be the year he takes that leap.
But that’s really the problem overall with this Angels team. They simply don’t have enough certainties on the pitching side. Everything in Bundy’s profile looks like a positive, but we have one short season worth of data. There is a realistic chance that the Angels have one above average starter in Bundy and four league average types of guys in Canning, Cobb, Quintana, and Heaney. With this offense, that could still win a lot of ballgames.
The bullpen doesn’t get me all hot and bothered, but moving Felix Pena to the bullpen was a smart move. Raisel Iglesias slots into a high-leverage role and other guys can slot into different roles. One thing I really love about this bullpen is that the relievers don’t walk many guys. Walks are a cardinal sin for relievers. The Angels pen was sixth in BB% last season and none of the new additions have major control problems. Junior Guerra is a little on the high side, but he may not even make the team.
Positives & Negatives
I still worry about the dynamics from top to bottom in this organization. Arte Moreno is a meddler that has to get his way. He has made some really awful big investments in the past and feels entitled to always have a say. He was the one that really wanted Perry Minasian, who has been described as a “baseball lifer”. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway was a decent hire up until it came to light that he preyed on women and made unwanted advances at previous stops, so that left the Angels scrambling for a pitching coach right before Spring Training started.
I’m not a Joe Maddon guy. Where Maddon used to be innovative and part of two very smart organizations with the Rays and Cubs, he seems more like the cranky version of Carl from Up instead of the happy one who eventually gets worn down by Russell. I really do prefer teams that are able to communicate a cohesive vision at all levels. With so much turnover at the executive level for the Angels in recent years, this has been a pretty dysfunctional team and it has leaked over to the field.
Los Angeles Angels Pick & Prediction: Over 83.5
This is not a strong play. I honestly went into writing about the Angels expecting it to be one. I like the offseason that they’ve had and I like the recent improvements that they have made. Now we have a new regime and I’ll be curious to see if the groundwork laid last season continues with Bundy and if the others make some changes to their arsenals.
Trout and Rendon are good enough to hide a lot of shortcomings. With the offensive production of those two guys over a full season, it is very hard to see the Angels as a bad offensive team. Everybody outside of those guys may not do much, but they will and two superstars can carry an offense fairly far.
I think the Angels are working towards being better. I think they’ll limp over this number because I don’t like three of the teams in this division and somebody has to be able to pick up some extra victories as a result. That somebody could very well be the Angels.
In breaking down the Angels, I think we have a small range of outcomes. I think .500 is a bad season and 85-86 wins is a good one. I need more of a range in order to make a play one way or the other. With this team, though, I do lean ever so slightly to the over. It will not be a bet now or later in Spring Training.