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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Season Previews, Part Nineteen: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2011 Record: 86-76
Pythagorean Record: 85-77
Games out of first: 10

2011 Recap

After a run to the American League Championship series in 2009, the Angels came back with a disappointing 3rd place finish in the AL West in 2010. A bounce back 2011 had the team hanging with the eventual AL Champion Texas Rangers, even coming as close as 1.5 games out on September 10th. But after that mark, the Angels stumbled through the finish line while the Rangers coasted to another division and league title.

Before the season, the Angels traded away their best offensive catcher, Mike Napoli, to Toronto for OF Vernon Wells (and his HUGE contract). Napoli was later traded to Texas, and flourished in Arlington, while Wells and an aging Bobby Abreu contributed very little to LA's 2010 campaign. The little production here was countered with solid seasons from OF Torii Hunter (.262/.336/.429 in 649 plate appearances) and 2B Howie Kendrick (.285/.336/.464 with a .338 BABIP). Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar displayed speed on the basepaths, combining for 52 stolen bases. C Jeff Mathis provided stellar defense behind the plate, but very limited offense (.174 average). Rookie 1B Mark Trumbo put up huge power numbers in his first full big league season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting to Jeremy Hellickson.

As for the pitching, not much went wrong. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana each had 10 wins and an ERA under 3.40. Each had a 7.0+ K/9 ratio and Haren finished the season with a dazzling 5.82 K/BB ratio. Weaver finished 18 wins and 2.41 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP, and he and Haren both threw over 230 innings. In the bullpen, Jordan Walden took over the closer role and finished with 32 saves and a 2.98 ERA, and 7th in the RoY voting. Scott Downs also held down the backend with a 1.34 ERA.

Top Performers by WAR

1. Dan Haren (6.4)
2. Howie Kendrick (5.8)
3. Jered Weaver (5.6)
4. Peter Bourjos (4.3)
5. Erick Aybar (4.0)

Offseason Overview

Whoa. The Angels made the biggest splash in free agency, committing $332 million dollars total to the top hitting free agent, Albert Pujols, and the top pitcher on the market, CJ Wilson. Pujols was given a 10 year contract, Wilson's is for 5. These moves were made by new General Manager Jerry Dipoto, who took over after Tony Reagins resigned after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001. In addition to the huge signings, Dipoto signed reliever LaTroy Hawkins to a one year deal to shore up the bullpen, and traded SP Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for C Chris Ianetta. Ianetta is an offensive upgrade over Mathis, who was traded to Toronto for P Brad Mills, who could compete for a rotation spot or be a solid long reliever.

Notable Additions

1B Albert Pujols
SP CJ Wilson
RP LaTroy Hawkins
C Chris Ianetta
SP/RP Brad Mills

Notable Losses

SP Tyler Chatwood
C Jeff Mathis
OF Chris Pettit

Projected Lineup

SS Erick Aybar
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Albert Pujols
3B Mark Trumbo
DH Kendrys Morales
RF Torii Hunter
LF Vernon Wells
C Chris Ianetta
CF Peter Bourjos

This team will score a lot of runs. A lot. But the Angels main power producers are all getting up there in age. Kendrick signed an extension over the winter and will be a solid producer if he can replicate his 2011. Speed at the top and bottom of the lineup will help get more runners in scoring position for the big bats. Pujols and Trumbo will get plenty of opportunities. Kendrys Morales will get first shot at the DH role, although if he struggles early, Abreu may take over or one of Wells or Hunter may be moved there in order to make room for dynamic super-prospect, Mike Trout. If Wells does not improve, he may just be benched all together and Trout will take his spot. Ianetta is an offensive upgrade over Mathis, but then again who isn't?

Defensively, there are some question marks. Wells and Hunter have both lost a step, forcing a move from center to a corner outfield position for both. Bourjos is one of the fastest players in the league and can more than make up for the ground that Wells and Hunter cannot reach anymore. Each infielder can technically play two positions. Pujols is a great first baseman, and can also fill in at third if ever necessary. Kendrick can play second well and will also see outfield time. Aybar can play either middle infield position and has good enough speed to get to many balls. Trumbo, a natural first baseman, is moving to third base (or possibly a corner outfield position) to make room for Pujols. Whether he will survive there or not is a virtual unknown, but at least his bat will remain in the lineup.

Projected Rotation

Jered Weaver
Dan Haren
CJ Wilson
Ervin Santana
Jerome Williams/Garrett Richards

This rotation was already very good, but the addition of Wilson catapults it into the top 5 in the majors. Weaver, Haren, and Wilson only need to come close to their 2011 seasons to produce more than enough. Santana didn't have the best luck with wins, but still had decent peripherals and a solid ERA. Weaver and Haren each gave up only 0.9 HR/9 last season. Wilson, pitching in the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, started the most games in the majors last season and improved on what was a very good 2010 season. He won 16 games with a 2.94 ERA. In a hitter's haven, Wilson only gave up 0.6 HR/9. He improved on his walk and strikeout rates from the previous season, in which he led the league in walks with 93. He cut that down to 74 in 2011 and lowered his rate by a full walk, from 4.1 to 3.0. He also struck out 36 more batters in 2011, 206 up from 170. The final spot will most likely be taken by Jerome Williams, although he did strain his hamstring yesterday, so Garrett Richards will take that spot if Williams is ever not available.

Significant Relievers/Reserve Players

CL Jordan Walden
RP Scott Downs
DH Bobby Abreu
OF Mike Trout
3B/2B/SS Alberto Callaspo
2B/SS Maicer Izturis

Roster Strengths

The pitching staff. I know, I know, the offense is scary. But there are too many age questions to know how much it can produce. The Angels have three of the best starters in the AL, and Santana can reach that soon too. Each of these four has the ability to reach 15 wins and Williams or Richards will contribue plenty as well. In the bullpen, Walden will continue to grab saves and of Downs can repeat his 2011 and Hawkins can finish with a WAR higher than 0, the backend of the 'pen will be scary as well.

Roster Weaknesses

Age. Pujols, Hunter, Wells, Abreu, Izturis, and Morales are all over 30. The starting rotation is also getting older. There may be problems here. The team has good depth and the ability to give anybody a day off if needed, but that will usually mean taking a big bat out of the lineup somehow. Inexperience may also be a problem, if Trumbo cannot adapt to third base and if Trout does not produce much like he did in his limited time last season. Other than Walden in the bullpen, there are many aging veterans who may not be able to perform at their past levels.

2012 Outlook

Los Angeles or Anaheim or all of Orange County or whatever you want to call it, will be back in the playoffs. The Angels will compete with the Rangers, and only the Rangers, once again for the divison title. But MLB's decision to add another wild card means that the Angels have three ways to get in now. They will have to keep a closer eye on the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays as many have already decided that the two wildcards will either come From the AL East or AL West, or one of each. After recent years of early (and the occassional late) playoff exits, the Angels may have new series to look forward to. Although they will only go as far as their aging legs will take them.

Potential Breakout Player

Mike Trout will contribute...if he can work his way into the lineup. Trout is viewed as one of the most dynamic prospects of any team and will bring power, speed, and good defense to the Angels. Unfortunately, he is blocked by the clubhouse leader Hunter, the big bucks Wells, and the young speedster Bourjos. If one of Wells or Hunter does not produce well, Trout will finally get his chance to shine somehow.

Potential Bust

Kendrys Morales. Morales has not played a single inning since breaking his leg while celebrating a walk off grand slam in 2010. Ouch. He is being given the DH role to start the season, but nobody knows if he will get back to having MVP-caliber production levels. If Morales starts slow, or does not produce enough at all, he will most likely be replaced by Wells, Hunter, or Abreu, and possibly even be traded.

Prospects with Potential to Contribute (other than Mike Trout)

SP Garrett Richards: If Williams' hamstring is indeed a problem, Richards will get the fifth rotation spot. He had high strikeout rates in the minors and improved his pitch variation greatly. Even if Williams does take the last spot, Richards could work his way in by the summer. If not, he will most likely remain at AAA or help out in the bullpen. His only downside is a 1.78 ERA in his AAA home park and a 4.57 ERA away from home.

SS Jean Segura: Segura has injury problems, but if he can stay healthy he will move up the ladder quickly and possibly take over a middle infield position by late summer if an injury occurs. He will most likely stay at shortstop, although he can play second as well. He doesn't have much power, but plays great defense, hits a lot of line drives, and has a great deal of speed when his legs are working correctly. Before a May hamstring injury, Segura was hitting .295/.357/.442 in High-A. With Kendrick signed long term, Segura will eventually take over for Aybar if he can stay healthy.


Record: 98-64
Finish: 1st
MVP: Albert Pujols (7.4)

Final Thoughts

Last season, the Angels seemed to have hit a wall, in terms of winning and popularity. They often played second fiddle to the city rival Dodgers, who were in the midst of a very widely reported ownership disaster, and also got a lot of publicity from Andre Ethier's early hitting streak and unbelievable seasons from Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. But the Angels made their huge offseason splash, sold many season ticket packages, and tons of merchandise. They also signed a major television deal with Fox, worth 3 billion dollars over 20 years. Look for this team to be back in October and dominating Los Angeles once again.

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