Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Los Angeles Angels 2020 Season Preview 2.0



From Getty Images
       Every season is the same when it comes to the Angels. They have Mike Trout, the best player on the planet. They have Albert Pujols, one of the most overpaid players on the planet. They have multiple pitchers who are recovering from Tommy John surgery, and they don't have any decent starters. The Tommy John train almost already started, as Griffin Canning got a scare in Spring Training, but should be good to go. The Angels have a plethora of young pitchers, but they need to figure out who is good and who is not. Returning from Tommy John is Shohei Ohtani, the pitcher, who will certainly be at the top of the rotation. The Angels went hard for former Astros ace Gerrit Cole in free agency, but got a pretty good consolation prize instead.

       Offseason additions: 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Julio Teheran, C Jason Castro, RHP Matt Andriese, LHP Jose Quijada, RHP Mike Mayers, RHP Parker Markel, LHP Ryan Buchter, RHP Neil Ramirez.

       Offseason subtractions: OF Kole Calhoun, C Kevan Smith, 1B Justin Bour, IF Zack Cozart, RHP Luis Garcia, RHP Nick Tropeano.

       Rotation
The Angels traded away four prospects for Dylan Bundy. The 4th overall pick in 2011 struck out 162 batters in 161.2 innings, but he allowed 86 earned runs for a 4.79 ERA with the lowly Orioles. He allowed 29 home runs and 58 walks. Bundy has been consistent in that his innings pitched over the last three years are all within 10 innings, qualifying in all but 2019, when he missed the mark by just one out. Andrew Heaney struck out 118 batters in 95.1 innings for a 11.1 K/9. He had a 4.91 ERA, his worst in a full season (it was only his third "full" year). Heaney's sinker has a spin rate of 2524 rpm, just 21 rpm less than his curveball. Former Braves ace Julio Teheran was signed to a one year deal. He struck out 162 batters in 174.2 innings with a 3.81 ERA. He allowed just 7.6 hits per nine. Over the last five seasons, Teheran's fastball velocity has dropped, from 92.1 mph in 2015 to 89.7 mph last year. Griffin Canning had a decent debut. In 18 games (17 starts) he had a 4.58 ERA with 96 Ks in 90.1 innings. Canning's slider can hit the low 90s and had an xBA against of .209 last year. Shohei Ohtani will be a starter when he gains eligibility to be a two-way player. He only DH'd last year due to Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings in 2018. He hit 18 home runs with 12 stolen bases and an .848 OPS last year at the plate. Ohtani's fastball averaged 96.7 mph in 2018, and his average exit velocity at the plate was 92.8 mph. Ohtani is surprisingly fast, with a home plate to 1st base speed of 4.05 seconds. The Angels have young pitchers in Patrick Sandoval, Jaime Barria, Dillon Peters and Jose Suarez attempting to be a swingman. Due to his seniority, Felix Pena could be the one to make the team. Pena probably had the best year out of all of them last year, with a 4.58 ERA plus 101 strikeouts in 96.1 innings over 22 games (seven starts). Pena's slider had a 46.2% whiff rate. He would also follow openers in games. Barria's slider had a .255 slugging against in 2018, but that rose up to .511 in 2019. Because Ohtani will only pitch once a week, the Angels will have a six-man rotation. Sandoval, the team's sixth best prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has a weak fastball, with a .302 average against, but his off-speed and breaking balls were all successful. Sandoval struck out 42 batters in 39.1 innings last year. He was acquired in 2018 from Houston for Martin Maldonado.

       Bullpen
The Angels found their closer in Hansel Robles. In his first full season with the club, Robles posted a career best 2.48 ERA in 71 games. He saved 23 games with 75 strikeouts in 72.2 innings. His walks per nine were down to a career low 2.0, as was his 0.7 HR/9. Robles' fastball averaged 97.2 mph, and his previous career high was 96.4 mph back in 2015. Ty Buttrey entered 2019 looking for the closer role. He had to settle as a set-up man. He struck out 84 batters in 72.1 innings with a 3.98 ERA. Buttrey throws hard, with an average fastball velocity just under Robles' at 97.1 mph, but that could lead to hard contact, as batters averaged a 90 mph exit velocity versus the right-hander. Keynan Middleton, who was the closer early in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, returned late to post a 1.17 ERA in 11 games. He has 85 strikeouts in 83.2 career innings. Unfortunately, Middleton's fastball dropped two miles an hour when he returned, down to an average of 94. Noe Ramirez had a 3.99 ERA, and struck out 79 in 67.2 innings, with a career low 2.7 BB/9. Ramirez gets a lot of vertical movement on his change-up, 7.7 inches more than average to be exact. Cam Bedrosian had a 3.23 ERA, the second best mark of his career. He struck out 64 batters in 61.1 innings, while allowing only seven hits per nine innings. Bedrosian throws his slider half of the time, and the pitch had an average against of just .194 last year. Justin Anderson has been a workhorse for the Angels the past two years, playing in 111 games. He has a career ERA of 4.75 with 127 strikeouts in 102.1 innings. Walks are Anderson's issue, as he has a career BB% of 15.7%. The Angels traded a top-30 prospect in Jeremy Beasley to the D-Backs for Matt Andriese. Andriese averaged about 1.1 innings per outing over 54 games last year, with 79 Ks and a 4.71 ERA. A former starter for the Rays, Andriese had a career best 3.75 xERA. Trusty lefty Ryan Buchter throws a curveball with an unusually low spin (2087 rpm), but the pitch works, allowing just three hits all season, and no extra-base hits. In his career, Buchter has never had a season with an ERA over 3.00, and he has 235 strikeouts in 214 innings for four different teams. The three batter minimum rule will likely hurt him. Luke Bard has an insane spin rate on his fastball, a league leading 2746 rpm. Taylor Cole, who can pitch multiple innings, can limit great contact, with a 3.2% barrel percentage.

       Catchers
The Angels signed former Astros and Twins catcher Jason Castro to a one year, $6.85 million deal. Castro had his best offensive season in a long time last year, hitting 13 home runs in 79 games with a .435 slugging percentage and .767 OPS. It was his best slugging and OPS since he was an all-star in 2013. Castro hit the ball hard, with a 91.5 mph average exit velocity. The backup is Castro's old Houston teammate in Max Stassi. A seven year veteran with only 183 MLB games, Stassi hit eight home runs in 88 games in 2018. He was terrible last year, with a .136 average and .378 OPS in 51 of those games. 20 of them were with the Angels, where he had a .071 average and .235 OPS, and did not record an extra base hit. Per Statcast, Stassi is in the 96th percentile in pitch framing among catchers.

        Infielders
Albert Pujols will be forced to play a lot of first base due to Ohtani. A first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Pujols will see his career average dip below .300 this year, a sad thing considering he did not hit under .300 in a season until he hit .299 in his 11th year. He hit 23 home runs with a .244 average and .734 OPS. A three time MVP, six time Silver Slugger, two time Gold Glover and 10 time all-star, Pujols has made one all-star team with no other awards since he joined the Angels in 2012. Pujols still doesn't strike out often, with a 12.5% K rate. Tommy La Stella was a surprise all-star, though an injury cost him his chance to play in the game, and it limited him to 80 games. He hit 16 home runs with a .295 average and .832 OPS. La Stella had a career high .482 xSLG. He can play third and first base, as well as second. David Fletcher was the starting third baseman, but he won't play much there due to a big free agent signing. He will be a super utility player. In 154 games last season, Fletcher hit .290 with six home runs and eight stolen bases. Fletcher does not strike out, with a whiff rate in the top 1% of the league. He also had a .302 xBA. Andrelton Simmons is still probably the best defender in the game, though Matt Chapman has a case. Simmons played in 103 games last year, hurting his case to win the Gold Glove. He has won four in his career. Simmons saved 12 defensive runs with 16 outs above average. At the plate, he had one of his worst seasons, with a .264 average and .673 OPS. Like Fletcher, Simmons does not strike out often, with an 8.5% career K rate. He hit seven home runs and swiped 10 bags. Anthony Rendon is the aforementioned big free agent signing. After finishing third in MVP voting, winning his second Silver Slugger and the World Series, the Angels gave Rendon $245 million over seven years. He had a career year at the plate in 2019, with 34 home runs, a league leading 126 RBIs and 44 doubles, plus a .319 average, .412 OBP and .598 slugging percentage for a 1.010 OPS. Rendon also had a .413 wOBA. Luis Rengifo was almost traded in the offseason. He played in 108 games last year with a .685 OPS. Rengifo is fast enough to be a pinch runner in extra-innings, with a 28 ft/s sprint speed. Matt Thaiss is in a battle with Regnifo for the final spots. The corner infielder hit eight home runs in 53 games last year, with a .714 OPS.

       Outfielders
What can you not say about Mike Trout that is positive. The best player in baseball signed a monster contract before the start of the season, and had another great year, winning his third MVP and 7th Silver Slugger. He hit a career high 45 home runs, with 11 stolen bases and a .291 average. He led the league in OBP (.438), Slugging Percentage (.645) and obviously OPS (1.083) in 134 games. He edged out Houston's Alex Bregman for the trophy. He also had a 185 OPS+, leading the league for the fifth consecutive time. Trout had an insanely high .669 xSLG and a 18.6 barrel percentage. His career OPS rounds up to exactly 1.000. He will soon receive another outfield buddy, with top prospect Jo Adell primed to debut this year. Adell, the 6th best prospect in baseball, hit .289 with an .834 OPS and 10 home runs with seven stolen bases in 76 games across High-A, AA and AAA. He would be best suited for AAA, but with no minor league season, he might as well start in the big leagues. Justin Upton, the first overall pick in 2005, had a terrible injury filled year. He played in just 63 games, hitting 12 homers. However, he had a .215 average and .724 OPS, and he is not a good fielder in left, with -5 outs above average. Upton was awful against off-speed pitches, with a .048 average against them. With Kole Calhoun off to Arizona, Brian Goodwin will hold the starting right field job unless Adell can beat him. Goodwin hit 17 home runs with seven stolen bases, a .262 average and .796 OPS in 136 games. He also had 5 outs above average. Goodwin will then take the job of Michael Hermosillo as the 4th outfielder. In 18 MLB games, Hermosillo hit no home runs with a .527 OPS. He had an .802 OPS in AAA.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
SS Andrelton Simmons (R)
CF Mike Trout (R)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
DH Shohei Ohtani* (L)
LF Justin Upton (R)
RF Jo Adell (R)
2B Tommy La Stella (L)
1B Albert Pujols (R)
C Jason Castro (L)
*On non-starting days only

       Projected Rotation
Andrew Heaney (L)
Julio Teheran (R)
Shohei Ohtani (R)
Dylan Bundy (R)
Griffin Canning (R)
Felix Pena (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Hansel Robles, closer (R)
Ty Buttrey (R)
Cam Bedrosian (R)
Justin Anderson (R)
Keynan Middleton (R)
Noe Ramirez (R)
Matt Andriese (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Patrick Sandoval (L)
Luke Bard (R)
Taylor Cole (R)

       Projected Bench
C Max Stassi (R)
IF David Fletcher (R)
OF Brian Goodwin (L)
IF Matt Thaiss (L)
IF Luis Rengifo (S)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
52-40 record, 3rd in AL West
Most home runs: Mike Trout (27)
Highest batting average: Mike Trout (.285)
Highest OPS: Mike Trout (1.024)
Best ERA, starters: Andrew Heaney (3.33)
Best ERA, relievers: Ty Buttrey (2.30)
Most innings pitched: Andrew Heaney (127.0)
Most strikeouts: Shohei Ohtani (146)
Best K/9: Hansel Robles (11.8)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 29-31
2018: 32-28
2017: 29-31
2016: 26-34
2015: 30-30

       Prediction
The Angels have one of the best lineups in the league. Obviously Trout will make a difference, but now he has a lineup behind him. When the Angels traded for Justin Upton in 2017, a big factor was that he could back-up Trout in the lineup. While he hasn't been great at that, he is still there, with a superstar in Rendon in front of him, plus great hitters with big potential in Ohtani and Adell sprinkled in the mix. Throw in all-star Tommy La Stella and guys like Andrelton Simmons and David Fletcher who won't strike out and will play great defense, and you have a stellar lineup. The rotation isn't great, but the bullpen has the potential to be very, very good. With Joe Maddon at the helm, the Angels can finally get Mike Trout to the playoffs. I predict that the Angels will finish 2nd in the AL West, and finally get over the hump, and into the 2nd Wild Card spot.

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