This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Angels, who breezed through the regular season with flying colors last year, only to flatline in the playoffs. This year, Mike Trout and company are looking for a deeper October run, but maybe they should be focusing instead on winning enough games in the regular season.
Projected Lineup: RF Kole Calhoun, SS Erick Aybar, CF Mike Trout, 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Joyce*, 3B David Freese, DH C.J. Cron, 2B Josh Rutledge*, C Chris Iannetta
Projected Rotation: RHP Jered Weaver, LHP C.J. WIlson, RHP Matt Shoemaker, LHP Hector Santiago, LHP Andrew Heaney*
* new additions
What is there left to say about Mike Trout?
He finally won his first MVP award. He led his team to the playoffs for the first time. He already has more career WAR than some Hall-of-Famers. And he’s still younger than the baby from the “Nevermind” Album cover.
But despite all Trout’s personal success, the team has room for improvement. In particular, they’d like to avoid getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round again. In three quick games last October, the team that led the Major Leagues in wins turned into an ineffectual, lifeless blob before our very eyes.
However, it’s hard to feel better about the coming year, especially when it comes to an offense that lost one of its premier run-producers in Howie Kendrick. He will be replaced at second base by a Josh Rutledge/Grant Green platoon, both of whom are below-replacement level players for their careers. Meaning don’t get excited to buy your whole family Rutledge jerseys from the team store.
One guy who might make up some of that production is Kole Calhoun. He looks primed for a breakout year after a solid campaign in which he scored 90 runs in just 127 games. As the Angels’ primary leadoff batter, what could transform him from good player to great player is getting on base more. In the minor leagues, Calhoun walked in 11.75% of his plate appearances, a mark he has yet to match in the majors, with just a 7.1% walk rate last year. If he can draw a few more walks while maintaining the power stroke he found last season, he’ll be an All-Star. And at 27 years old, he should just be hitting his prime years.
The rotation is where there is a real cause for concern. The Angels don’t have a true ace. Jered Weaver’s fastball velocity has dropped four years in a row, and his ERA has correspondingly risen. Last year, he was still able to rely on his deceptive stuff to eke out wins, but how many more years will he realistically be able to do that?
At least he’s faring better than teammate C.J. Wilson, who actually is terrible. But the Angels have decided that trotting Wilson out there every fifth day increases viewership, particularly among the female demographic.
The bullpen will need to be the saviors of the staff, much like they were in last year’s second half, when they bailed out a mostly incompetent rotation by maintaining a 3.12 ERA while notching more innings than any other bullpen in baseball. This extraordinary feat was made possible by a few midseason acquisitions, including Huston Street and Vinnie Pestano, both of whom will be back for full seasons.
The bullpen should continue to be the Angels’ biggest strength, and they’ll win a lot of close games as a result. The only potential weakness is a lack of lefty options for late in games. Right now, Cesar Ramos projects to be the only lefty arm in the ‘pen. But I wonder if they’d consider putting rookie starter Andrew Heaney in the bullpen as they ease him into a starting role. Young pitchers like Heaney spending a month or two in the bullpen can be an effective way to limit their inning totals for the season, for teams conscious of that sort of thing.
The AL West is the Angels’ to lose. What they accomplished last year was legitimate, but done on a very thin foundation. I would be wary if I were a fan, because all it takes is a few cracks before a full-scale collapse becomes a real possibility.
Projected Finish: 86-76, Second place in AL West