Blog: Halos Heaven
A year ago, the Chone Figgins turning into Brandon Wood, and Vladimir Guerrero turning into Hideki Matsui. The Angels are returning a lot of the same bats they had last season, and last season, those bats powered the team.came close to scoring 900 runs. That's not going to happen again, barring some kind of miracle, but from an offensive standpoint, this is a good lineup. And it makes sense, too - while we don't encourage this sort of analysis around these parts, the only two names that've changed among the regulars are
No one in the group is an elite-level slugger - there's not an A-Rod or Pujols to be found. However, where the A's, for example, have one bat you can safely call above-average, the Angels might have five or six, depending on how well you think Matsui's going to age and adjust to the ballpark. Hunter, Rivera, and Napoli provide power from the right side. Matsui and Abreu provide some power and on-base ability from the left, and the 26 year old Morales slugged .569 as a switch-hitter. That's a tough core of the order for any pitcher to fight through.
And it's not like things get a whole lot easier outside of the middle. Neither Kendrick nor Aybar draw many walks, but they're threats to bat .300 with a few dozen extra-base hits. Then there's Brandon Wood, who's finally getting a regular gig after beating the crap out of the PCL.
On Wood - I do want to emphasize that I'm not a big believer. Though he's only 25 and has undeniable power, he's taken advantage of a hitter's haven in Salt Lake, the Angels' AAA affiliate. Since 2007, when he first arrived in AAA, Wood's hit .306/.383/.577 over 605 at bats at home, and .259/.318/.500 over 598 at bats on the road. That's a nasty, nasty split, and while Wood took a step forward in the contact department a year ago, his strikeouts and splits remain major red flags. It's worth noting that his OPS over 236 big league plate appearances is .535, with seven walks and 74 strikeouts. Wood has potential, but he is far, far, far from a guarantee.
Still, as much as I wonder about Wood, he's their ninth regular, so to speak. The Angels could use a good season from Wood, but they don't necessarily need it, because they're solid everywhere else. Even allowing for some BABIP regression from Morales, Hunter, and Aybar, and accounting for a bunch more perplexing playing time for the mysteriously employed Jeff Mathis, this team is going to score runs unless some things go very wrong.
What could go wrong? Another way the Angels are different from the A's is that the Angels aren't as deep. Izturis is a starter-quality backup all over the infield, but he's only one guy, which could pose a problem if Wood underachieves and Kendrick's injury problems come back. There's not much behind him. And in the outfield, while Hunter has apparently recovered from the groin problems that plagued him throughout 2009, he, Rivera, and Abreu are all on the wrong side of 30, and the first line of depth is the adorable but delicate Reggie Willits. Bourjos is a good prospect who isn't far off, but he's not ready to be an impact player. Oakland is average and deep; LAnaheim is above-average and topheavy. This isn't a team that's really prepared to handle major injury.
Any team would be hurt by a major injury, though, so it's important not to make too much of that fact. The Angels' entire infield is young, and Kendrick kept himself together last year. And the outfield, while old, isn't exactly falling apart. The thin depth, then, is just something of which to be wary. It could come into play, but it very well may not, at least not to a great degree.
How about the defense? Well, they're not quite the M's or the A's, but even with Bobby Abreu slated to play every day, they're not a disaster. Aybar is exactly as good as you'd think he would be, Morales is agile for a first baseman, and Rivera's numbers are surprisingly good. A recovered Hunter could regain some of his lost range. We'll see how Wood does handling third, but Izturis is a very capable backup, and overall, this is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of an average unit. The Angels haven't completely sacrificed defense for offense.
If you kind of blend name value with a recollection of recent history, that seems like a really strong rotation. Weaver's the staff ace! Pineiro had a breakthrough 2009! Saunders is 48-22! Santana was one of the best starters in baseball in 2008! Kazmir was the ace of all those teams in Tampa!
Forget it. The Angels could have a really strong rotation, but this is a big area of concern. Or at least, it ought to be. Weaver's a good pitcher. Maybe not a true "ace" like a Felix Hernandez or a Jon Lester, but he's a good bet to make 30+ starts and post an ERA around 3.75-4. It's behind him that we find all the question marks.
Pineiro was legitimately good in 2009, and ST results (42 outs on the ground, 13 outs in the air) suggest that his sinker remains alive and well, even in Arizona. However, he struck out just 10.6% of non-pitchers, which is a dangerously low rate for anyone. While the potential's there for him to match Weaver, he's more downside than upside.
Saunders, as we know, collects some truly uninspiring peripherals, and while it's important to note that he pitched through much of last season through shoulder tightness, it's not like he was wowing anyone in 2008. He's a back-of-the-rotation starter. Santana hasn't shown the velocity he had in 2008 and projects to look a lot more like the 2006/2007 edition. Kazmir's lost the stuff that gave him 10+ strikeout rates and has been experimenting with new pitches to give him better results and better health.
None of these pitchers is *bad*. Know that. All five of them deserve to be in a Major League rotation. It's just an unimpressive collection of arms, and you have to figure that Kazmir and Santana are injury concerns, if not Saunders too.
And who's the depth? Reckling's the big prospect, but he's a ways off. The sixth starter is Matt Palmer, who isn't good, and then you've got Ortega and O'Sullivan, who the Angels would also prefer to not see very often. Trevor Bell's a decent prospect who's knocking on the door, but both his repertoire and results are generic.
The Angels have been getting a lot of attention for having a solid rotation 1-through-5. Don't buy into the hype. There's potential in there, and everything changes if Santana magically re-discovers what once made him sensational, but there's an awful lot riding on Joel Pineiro's hittable sinker. Let's just say that this unit isn't LAnaheim's strength, and leave it at that.
Between 2008-2009, Brian Fuentes' strikeout rate dropped from 32% to 19%, and he lost a couple ticks on his fastball. Given his propensity for allowing the fly ball, it's easy to see why his is among the more unstable closer roles in the league.
Top to bottom, this is an iffy group. We all know Fuentes' story, and CHONE projects all of Rodney, Shields, Bulger, and Jepsen to finish with BB/9 rates over 4. And though Stokes and his mid-90s fastball are around, he hasn't done anything in 190 big league innings, so you can't count on him for a breakthrough.
Is it a nightmare? No, that isn't a fair conclusion. Shields is a long-time dependable reliever looking to rebound from knee surgery that cost him the bulk of 2009. Bulger and Rodney have both demonstrated that they can strike batters out. Jepsen has closer stuff and keeps the ball on the ground. Aside from Fuentes, this is a bullpen that throws really, really hard, and hard-throwing relievers are intimidating.
Of note is that Fuentes is the only lefty, as the Angels, like the M's, will roll without a setup southpaw. Jepsen and Stokes, however, are the only guys with big platoon splits, and Shields will likely remain the top option against tough lefty bats.
This bullpen will walk enough batters to make the late innings stressful, and they'll whiff enough batters to make the late innings a frequent success. It is, however, a bullpen that appears a good distance behind both ours and Oakland's in overall ability. The Angels could badly use Fuentes returning to form, at least a little bit.
Among the depth, I like Rich Thompson the most, as his fastball/curveball combo allow him to pitch effectively against both righties and lefties. His curve gets a ton of break, and a year ago he had great success in both AAA and the Majors. Rafael Rodriguez is another name to keep an eye on - he isn't as impressive as Thompson, but he gets groundballs and can span multiple innings.
Lost in all the attention going the' way is the fact that the Angels, while clearly diminished, are still going to be fielding a quality team in 2010. On paper, based on the 25 players likely to see the most playing time, closer might be their only glaring weakness, and their offense should give a lot of pitchers a lot of trouble. The Angels are solid, and you could make a very convincing argument that they're just in front of everyone else as the favorites.
The issue is that they've been pulled back to the pack, and theirs isn't a roster equipped to deal with much in the way of injury or underperformance. There's talent in a lot of the starters, but there isn't much behind them, and the pitching staff is littered with question marks. Would I take that team over a lot of other rosters in baseball? Certainly. But I wouldn't take it over Texas', and I'm not sure I'd take it over Seattle or Oakland's, either.
The Angels are likely to be in the mix all season long, but they're going to be in a dog fight. We're all going to be in a dog fight.
Why You Should Root For Them If The Mariners Drop Out
The Angels are an impressive organization, and maybe the best-managed team in baseball. And they've quietly but effectively changed their whole identity. They used to be known as a team who'd pitch, catch, run, and annoy. Now they're set up to slug. It's been a remarkable transition, and uh Jesus Christ I'm struggling here. Nobody affiliated with the Angels has ever physically abused you in front of your friends or family.
Why You Should Root Against Them If The Mariners Drop Out
If I have to explain this to you then you're like the worst Mariner fan ever.