June 30, 2022

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AL West Primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West Primer: Los Angeles Angels





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Last year, the Los Angeles Angels continued a pattern of mediocrity that’s become commonplace over six consecutive losing seasons. With Opening Day upon us, we should consider whether Angels management has built a roster capable of winning. First, let’s reflect on the team’s underwhelming 2021 campaign.

More Of The Same

The Angels finished 77-85 and a distant fourth place in the AL West division. Offensively, the team was below average in multiple categories, including runs scored. Just three hitters with 250-plus plate appearances had an OPS+ above the league-average mark – Shohei Ohtani (158), Jared Walsh (128), and Max Stassi (104).

On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average.

Ohtani clobbered 48 home runs, tied for the MLB lead with 8 triples, and stole 26 bases. The two-way threat was also a superb pitcher with a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts. The 27-year-old’s special season earned him an All-Star selection, Silver Slugger award, and an AL MVP trophy.

Walsh enjoyed a breakout campaign finishing second on the team behind Ohtani in home runs (29), OBP (.340), SLG (.509) and OPS+ (128). The 28-year-old also paced the Halos with a .277 AVG.

In 87 games, Stassi hit 13 home runs with a 104 OPS+ that was ninth best in the majors among catchers with 300-plus plate appearances. The 31-year-old’s .326 OBP and .426 SLG were both tenth best among MLB receivers.

Taylor Ward proved valuable to manager Joe Maddon with a solid .250/.332/.438 slash-line and 108 OPS+ in 238 plate appearances. The 28-year-old primarily played right field, although he made starts at the other outfield positions and even logged two innings behind the plate.

Unfortunately, that’s the end of position player success stories.

The biggest problem facing the lineup was the expected core of the lineup – Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Anthony Rendon – appearing in the same game just 17 times due injuries suffered by Trout and Rendon. There were other issues with the offense, although losing this potent duo was more than a flawed roster could overcome.

Trout was boasting a 195 OPS+ in 36 games before going down for the season in mid-May with a calf injury. Rendon’s last game was on Independence Day due to a right hip impingement. All told, the two-time Silver Slugger appeared in just 58 contests producing a suboptimal 94 OPS+.

David Fletcher didn’t have an availability problem. But his bat was less productive than expected. Never known for a power stroke, Fletcher’s .297 OBP reflected significantly less success at reaching base than his first three big-league seasons (.346).

When we turn our attention to the Angel’s pitching staff, less-than-ideal results continued to be on display. Realistically, the run prevention effort was even less effective than the lineup.

The biggest issue was the starting rotation, which has been an organizational challenge for over a half-decade. The Angels had just one pitcher (Ohtani) log 100-plus innings. On that note, the Halos and the Twins were the only clubs without a pitcher that made 25 starts.

That said, Maddon’s bullpen did provide a measure of balance to the staff with the team’s relief corps logging 645.1 innings – fourth most in MLB. Furthermore, eight Angel relievers boasted a better-than-average xwOBA with closer Raisel Iglesias (.243 xwOBA) ranking eleventh best in MLB among relief pitchers facing 75-plus batters.

Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .316

Still, several of those key relievers, and many others, are no longer with the Angels. How the team intends to replace their contributions and build a better roster is what matters most moving forward.

Key Departures: Dylan Bundy, Steve Cishek, Alex Cobb, Dexter Fowler, Juan Lagares, Franklin Barreto, AJ Ramos, Kean Wong, Phil Gosselin, Junior Guerra, Justin Upton, Tony Watson (July), José Quintana (August)

Mostly Familiar Faces Return

Despite enduring another frustrating year, the Angels were relatively inactive this offseason. The most notable additions were starters Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen, relievers Aaron Loup, Archie Bradley, and Ryan Tepera, and infielders Tyler Wade and Matt Duffy. Interesting, but not revolutionary.

Position Players

Essentially, the Angels begin 2022 counting on mostly the same cast of characters it banked on last year. Clearly, the club is hoping for fewer health-related issues.

Key Position Players
1B – Jared Walsh
2B – Matt Duffy
SS – David Fletcher
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Brandon Marsh
CF – Mike Trout
RF – Jo Adell
C – Max Stassi
DH – Shohei Ohtani
C – Kurt Suzuki
INF – Jack Mayfield
INF/OF – Tyler Wade
OF- Taylor Ward
IF/OF – Jack Mayfield
IF/OF – Luis Rengifo
IF/OF – Andrew Velazquez
IF/OF – Jose Rojas
C- Matt Thaiss

Offseason acquisitions

The corner positions are set with Walsh at first base and Rendon patrolling the hot corner. Fletcher, who was Gold Glove finalist at second base in 2021, is the starting shortstop. Fletcher’s former position will have a platoon of the right-handed hitting Duffy and the lefty bat of Wade.

Last season with the Cubs, Duffy played across the diamond with the majority of his 97 appearances coming at second base and third base. The 31-year-old also made a handful of starts in left field and at shortstop. Duffy hit .287/.357/.381 with a 100 OPS+ in 322 plate appearances. The six-year veteran doesn’t have much power, although his 86.1% contact rate was 19th best among hitters with 300-plus plate appearances.

In 145 plate appearances with the Yankees last year, Wade hit .268/.354/.323 with five doubles, no home runs and a 90 OPS+. Since debuting with New York in 2017, the 27-year-old has 491 MLB plate appearances with a 66 OPS+. During his career, Wade has made double-digit starts at both middle-infield positions, third base, and both corner outfield spots.

Trout is the Opening Day center fielder, although it’s plausible he eventually transitions to left field. Brandon Marsh would be the likely replacement for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer since he made 63 center field starts during Trout’s 2021 absence. In the interim, the 24-year-old plays left field. That said, Marsh still has to master big-league pitching. Last year, he had an 84 OPS+.

Former top-five prospect Jo Adell will be the right fielder. After a disastrous 2020 debut that resulted in a 30 OPS+ and -1.5 bWAR in just 28 games, Adell performed much better last year with a 90 OPS+ and 0.3 bWAR in 35 games and 140 plate appearances. We should remember that the tenth overall pick in 2017 doesn’t turn 23 until Opening Day weekend.

Stassi starts at catcher with Suzuki serving as backup. Despite a decline in Suzuki’s stats, the team recently re-signed him to a one-year deal. Last year, the 38-year-old hit .224/.294/.342 with an 84 OPS+ in 247 plate appearances.

Rotation

The team will continue to use a six-man rotation to manage Ohtani’s workload, as it did in 2021.

Projected Starting Rotation
Shohei Ohtani
Noah Syndergaard
Patrick Sandoval
Michael Lorenzen
José Suarez
Reid Detmers

Rotation Depth
Janson Junk
Cooper Criswell
Daniel Ponce de Leon
Davis Daniel
Ryan Smith
Jaime Barría

Offseason acquisitions

Consider this; only Ohtani (23) made 20-plus starts in the majors last year. José Suarez (14), Patrick Sandoval (14), Griffin Canning (13), and Jaime Barría (11) reached the double-digit mark in starts. But only Sandoval (.278) and Ohtani (.282) had a good xwOBA. The rest were well-below average.

Sandoval could be a breakout star for the Halos in 2022. Lower back issues limited him for most of the second half last year. But he recorded a 3.62 ERA and his .278 xwOBA was 14th best among starters facing 300-plus hitters.

The most recognizable newcomer is Syndergaard, who missed all of 2020 due to Tommy John surgery.  That said, “Thor” did make a pair of one-inning appearances totaling 26 pitches in the final week of 2021. In the first outing, the right-hander’s fastball averaged 95.9 MPH – noticeably lower than pre-surgery (97.6 MPH). His average fastball velocity dropped to 93.8 MPH in the second start.

Am I suggesting the sky is falling for Syndergaard? Heck no. His .280 xwOBA in 2019 suggests he can help any rotation. But it’s reasonable to expect he’ll encounter challenges and perhaps innings/workload limitations, which may slow his comeback.

Lorenzen is getting an opportunity to start, which is interesting considering he’s made just 26 starts (21 as a rookie) and 269 relief appearances in seven MLB seasons. It’s worth noting the right-handed hitting Lorenzen does have outfield experience – 34 games and 147 plate appearances with an 84 OPS+.

Rookie Reid Detmers, who made five late-season starts in 2021 is the sixth starter. Although his overall numbers look bad, the southpaw did have a strong outing against Houston allowing one run and striking out six Astros in six innings of work. Considering he placed 21st in the most recent MLB Prospect Pipeline top-100 rankings, there’s still a lot to learn about the 22-year-old.

Jaime Barría begins the season in the bullpen, although he does have starter experience with the Halos. Canning was expected to compete for a rotation spot. But he’s dealing with a back injury and won’t be ready for Opening Day. The right-hander, who has a 4.52 ERA in 41 MLB starts, is a potential reinforcement sometime down the road.

Bullpen

Iglesias will once again close games. That said, Maddon has declared the 32-year-old will be limited to one-inning appearances. Last season, Iglesias made 15 multi-inning relief stints. Expect new additions Tepera, Loup, and Bradley, along with 2021 holdover Mike Mayers to cover the innings formerly handled by Iglesias.

Key Relievers
Raisel Iglesias
Ryan Tepera
Mike Mayers
Aaron Loup
Archie Bradley
Austin Warren
José Quijada
Jhonathan Diaz
Jaime Barría
Jimmy Herget
Andrew Wantz
Jose Marte
Oliver Ortega
Elvis Peguero
Kyle Barraclough
César Valdez 
Brian Moran
Zack Weiss
Luis Ledo

Offseason acquisitions

Tepera appeared in 65 games for both Chicago ballclubs and held opposing hitters to a .164 AVG – fifth lowest in the majors among relievers facing 200-plus hitters. More proof of the right-hander’s excellence; an eleventh-ranked .249 xwOBA within the same peer group.

The left-handed throwing Loup (.192 AVG and .274 xwOBA) enjoyed a career-year with the Mets last year. Whether the 34-year-old repeats that success in Anaheim is worth watching considering the club recently committed two years and $17 million to the Tulane product.

Bradley wasn’t as effective (.258 AVG and .306 xwOBA) as the other new arms. Moreover, the righty’s strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 17.9% with the Phillies last season, which is nearly a 10-percent drop-off since 2019. It’s worth noting Bradley had two IL stints last year due to oblique strains.

Mayer was a versatile arm normally pitching in the seventh and eighth innings, although the 30-year-old did make relief appearances as early as the sixth. He even started a game for Maddon last year. It’s worth noting a quarter of Mayer’s 72 appearances were multi-inning affairs.

Beyond the names already mentioned, no remaining relief depth candidates boast recent MLB success.

Win At Any Cost?

Realistically, the Angels start the season are a fringe contender. Not a serious threat for the AL West division title.

That could change with ideal health from the team’s established stars and the emergence of youngsters like Marsh, Adell, and Detmers. Still, this feels like a big ask for an organization more focused on paying for a few, expensive marquee names rather than invest in building a sustainable contender.

With this in mind, we should consider the affect the top-heaviness of the Angels’ payroll may have on the team’s competitiveness in 2022. Did money prompt the Halos’ lethargic player acquisition plan this offseason?

Spotrac currently estimates the Angels’ payroll at approximately $161.3 million – eighth-highest in MLB – with a whopping 72.4% of that money obligated to four players. One won’t play for the team in 2022, another is coming off Tommy John surgery, and the others missed most of 2021.

Cost Of Angels’ Most Expensive Salaries
Mike Trout                $35,450,000
Anthony Rendon      $36,000,000
Justin Upton             $28,000,000
Noah Syndergaard   $21,000,000
Total                        $120,450,000

It’s worth noting Justin Upton was recently designated for assignment. If another team acquires the 15-year veteran via trade or free agency, it’d be responsible to pay him the MLB minimum of $700 thousand with the Angels on the hook for the remainder of his $28 million salary.

It’s impossible to say with certainty that having so much money committed to so few players will hamstring the Angels during the season. But it could, if payroll limitations prevent the addition of established players.

If the Angels do falter again this summer, the team will have several potential rental players to peddle prior to July’s MLB trade deadline. It’s also reasonable to expect that any effective reliever could be made available.

Notable Pending Free Agents
Noah Syndergaard
Michael Lorenzen
Aaron Loup
Archie Bradley
Kurt Suzuki

I realize I’m projecting a dim outlook for the Angels. But the team hasn’t done enough to inspire confidence in the roster’s ability to withstand adversity because ownership is seemingly reluctant to extend payroll beyond normal levels.

Perhaps the Angels’ hopes come true. Maybe their stars remain healthy and the kids deliver meaningful contributions.

Then again, hope is not a course of action.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.

In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.

You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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