Better Know A Rival: Los Angeles

Notice: I make no guarantees as to the accuracy of the names contained in this post. I'm working off best guesses and limited research, here, so I'll probably make a few mistakes. Those'll be dealt with in the comments.

Status: Division favorite

Threat Level: High

Projected Offense:

C: Napoli
1B: Kotchman
2B: Kendrick
SS: Izturis
3B: Figgins
LF/RF: Matthews Jr.
LF/DH: Anderson
CF: Hunter
RF/DH: Guerrero

I can't tell you how many times I've looked at this unit over the winter. And every single time I look, it seems a little bit worse.

This isn't to say that the Angels' offense is bad. It isn't. It's better than ours. But last year's 822 is a run total they're not likely to reach in 2008. The only real question here has to do with the size of the drop-off.

There's nobody awful here. Altogether, you've got a collection of ~average hitters dancing around a superstar maypole. Given their positions, the biggest offender is likely to be either Anderson or Matthews, but GA is coming off an .828 OPS, and the Angels will have Rivera and Willits as insurance in case they need spot starts or fairy dust. Willits may not have any ability, but a lot of pitchers don't have any control, so it's pretty easy to post a good OBP as long as you never swing the bat.

My two big question marks are Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick. Kotchman was well on his way to a breakout season before he suffered a concussion on June 16th, after which his batting line was never the same. And Kendrick - while absurdly talented - had a ridiculous 223-point separation between his BABIP and his LD%. If Kotchman can chip in 20 homers while Kendrick's batted balls catch up to his stats, they'll be good sources of much-needed support. But if Kotchman fails to take the next step while Kendrick's stats catch up to his batted balls, then the Angels will find themselves in a pickle, looking for help from people who can't provide it. These guys will go a long way towards determining just how close of a race we're going to get.

I think this offense ends up somewhere in the mid-700's. Call it 770 with downside. There's talent and a bit of depth, but there's also age and regression to the mean, two of the more powerful forces in the Major League universe. Me, I feel like they're still a bat away. That Matthews contract isn't doing them any favors. The lineup's all right, and it'll score some runs, but it wouldn't take much for things to really go south. Note: as Mariner fans, we should all be hoping that Erick Aybar and Jeff Mathis each have the Spring Training of a lifetime.

Projected Pitching:

SP1: Lackey
SP2: Escobar
SP3: Weaver
SP4: Garland
SP5: Saunders or Santana

The Angels haven't allowed 750 runs in a season since 2000, and that seven-year streak doesn't appear in jeopardy. This is a pretty good staff from top to bottom.

From an xFIP perspective, it isn't great. The fearsome top three look like #2, #3, and #4 pitchers, respectively. But none of Lackey, Escobar, or Weaver have paid much attention to their xFIPs for quite some time. What's their secret? How are they able to so consistently defeat their peripherals?

They seem to have figured out some trick to pitching at home, that's how. Pretty much all of the Angels have. Over the last eight years, Angel hitters have posted ~equivalent home run rates at home and on the road, but once in Anaheim, the pitchers have lowered their road rates by 15%. That's a massive edge, and one that allows the guys at the front of this rotation to beat their peripherals and put up some shiny ERA's. I don't know what the Angels are teaching their pitchers, but they're teaching it well. This is what I call a true home field advantage.

The ass end of the rotation isn't much to look at, but Saunders is fairly safe, and Garland can soak up a ton of innings. Santana and Moseley work fine as the 6/7 starters. They'll be stressed a little bit in the early going as it looks like Escobar's going to miss most/all of April, but Escobar always misses a little time, so this isn't a new phenomenon, and the Angels should be able to weather the storm. Barring catastrophic injury, there's basically zero chance of this pitching staff turning into a glaring concern.

With that said, it's not out of the question that this group undershoots what people expect. Weaver continuing his regression would go a long way towards weakening the team strength. Garland, like Silva, has a lot of blow-up potential, even though he, like Silva, will be pitching in a friendly environment. And Santana's coming off his own summer of agony. The Angels are set up fairly well, but they can't make any guarantees. There's no shortage of things here of which they should be wary.

The bullpen's fine. Francisco Rodriguez still scares the crap out of me.

Defense:

Bad.

Overall:

The Angels are the favorites to win this division, but they're the weakest of the AL's Big Five. Each of the other four do at least one thing really well. The Angels don't, and while their pitching staff is good, it has a lot more downside than upside. They're kind of the Joseph Michael D'Albora to the AL elite's Baldwin brothers.

Honestly, the more I look at this team, the more flawed it becomes. Not as flawed as us, but flawed enough to be within reach. Without some major steps up, they just don't seem capable of running away from the pack. I'm going with 88-92 wins and a sprained neck from constantly having to look over their shoulder during their daily jog. Here's hoping they trip.

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