Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim near Chino About 10 Miles From Yorba Linda Angels 2008 Preview: With A Name Like That, They Have To Be Good

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy

The 2007 Angels scored more runs and allowed fewer than any other team in their division. Needless to say, they were fairly easy winners in an AL West that has become the weakest division in the league. In the postseason they were no match for the Red Sox, but then, who was? The Angels made a couple of major moves over the winter, signing center fielder Torii Hunter as a free agent and trading shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jon Garland.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They did in 2007, yes. However, that comes with some caveats. Their home park, historically fairly neutral, played as a hitters park in 2007, inflating offense by about 5%. The Angels averages over a full run per game more at home than on the road, finishing sixth in the AL in road scoring. Only two teams (see if you can guess which ones*) hit fewer homers than the Angels total of 123. As always, most of the lineup concentrated on hitting for average at the expense of waiting out a walk. That's a good strategy when you hit .284 as a team, and the Angels are very good at challenging opposing defenses by putting a lot of balls into play and running aggressively on the bases. But batting averages tend to fluctuate a lot, and if you have neither excessive power nor the patience to draw a lot of walks, your offense suddenly becomes very empty if the average falls off. In the postseason, the Angels batted only .192, drew seven walks in three games and hit no homers.

3B Chone Figgins
2B Howie Kendrick
RF Vladimir Guerrero
DH Garrett Anderson
CF Torii Hunter
1B Casey Kotchman
LF Gary Matthews Jr.
C Mike Napoli
SS Erick Aybar/Macir Izturis

Manager Mike Scoscia will rotate his outfielders and his DH, partly to relieve wear and tear on the knees of Vlad Guerrero and partly to help cover the colossal waste of money that was the signing of Gary Mathews Jr. Matthews was a terrible disappointment only to anyone who looked at his entire career record as a whole and not his record in one season in the best hitters park in the league. Hunter adds power (only Guerrero hit more than 20 homers for the 2007 Angels) and pushes Matthews into the role of very expensive fourth outfielder. GM Tony Reagins needs to find a way to push him even further, like to the Pirates or the Giants, and give his playing time to Reggie Willits, who put up a .391 on base percentage in 2007. Guerrero, Figgins, Anderson, and Kendrick all can and have hit over .300 in the major leagues, and Kotchman came within two hits of joining them last year.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Despite playing in a hitters park, the Angels actually allowed more runs on the road than they did at home. I have no idea how to explain that. John Lackey was one of the top five starters in the AL, Kelvin Escobar had a very fine season, Jered Weaver was good if not as awesome as many had expected, and the bullpen remained one of the league's strongest. Angels pitchers struck out more batters than any other AL team and walked a below average number.

SP John Lackey
SP Jered Weaver
SP Jon Garland
SP Kelvin Escobar
SP Ervin Santana

CL Francisco Rodriguez
RP Scot Shields
RP Darren Oliver

Lackey has everything needed to remain among the game's best starters. Weaver has everything it takes to join him, even if it doesn't happen this year. Garland is a solid innings eater. Escobar will miss at least the first month and very likely more with shoulder inflamation. Joe Saunders is very capable of supplying league average pitching in his stead. Santana was mentioned as a trade chit over the winter but likely will stay put with Escobar out. Rodriguez struck out 90 batters in 67 1/3 innings last year. Shields had a career high ERA but most of his component numbers remained pretty stable; I would expect him to again be a fine setup man.

Witnesses for the defense

The success of the pitching staff came despite the defense, which was mediocre at best. Figgins is a poor defensive third baseman, and Kendrick will never win a gold glove at second. Anderson was once a fine left fielder but that's no longer the case. Hunter in center and Matthews in left is a defensive upgrade. Willits would also be better in left than Anderson, by a considerable amount. Both shortstop candidates have good glove scouting reports but must show that they can live up to them.

Farm aid

Brandon Wood has been a top prospect for several years now, but the Angels seem to doubt his ability to win a job at the major league level. He will compete this spring for time at both short and third. Although not at the same time. That wouldn't work out very well. He offers plenty of untapped power for a team that could use it. Righthander Nick Adenhart will start the season at triple A but could be ready to take over a rotation spot, if needed, by later this summer. Australian reliever Rich Thompson is ready to add his name to the bullpen mix. Catcher Hank Conger is a fine prospect with strong offensive potential; he's two or three years away from a major league job unless his political talent steers him towards a presidential run.

Watch out for that tree

Anderson, 36 years old this season, is the most likely Angel to fall off quickly. He's not a plus defender and hasn't reached the 20 homer level since 2003. Figgins bases his entire game around speed and singles; at 30 both are going to start becoming shorter in supply.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

A few short years ago the AL West was the strongest division in baseball. It's now arguably the weakest. The Angels are far and away the best team in it; the Mariners are not as strong as their record of 2007 would indicate, the Athletics are rebuilding from the ground up, and the Rangers seem to move in circles. Although the Angels have made a few questionable decisions and show some weaknesses, they also have depth both in the lineup and on the pitching staff. Willits, Wood, and Saunders would be playing regularly this year for the majority of teams in MLB, and the bullpen seems bottomless. Having two or three of the best players in the league at their positions (Guerrero, Lackey, Rodriguez) doesn't hurt either. The Angels should have no trouble in disposing of their divisional rivals, but tougher times face them in any postseason series against serious opposition.

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