Better Know A Rival: LAnaheim Angels

actually frowning

A year from now, when I run this series again, I'll be able to write about the Houston Astros. Now, I can't predict what things are going to look like in a year. The Astros might be all right. I might be dead. This site might not exist. A year is a considerable amount of time, during which paths can deviate from what was expected. But the likelihood is that I'll be alive, this site will be alive, and the Astros will be bad. It will be nice to write about, and read about, a team in the division that's worse than the Mariners.

No such team exists in the AL West in 2012. The Oakland A's are close, but right now they look about even. The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels look very much not even (with the A's and the Mariners). You can never know how things will play out, of course, and it wouldn't be impossible for the Mariners to win the division and for the Rangers and Angels to fall on their faces, but at this writing the AL West has two tiers. The Rangers and Angels will battle for first, and the A's and Mariners will battle for third.

This is the Los Angeles Angels preview, and the Los Angeles Angels are annoying. For all of the reasons you already know, and for the fact that they just had the dream offseason. The Angels were disappointed with their 86-76 finish last year. So they brought in a better general manager, and that general manager went about signing one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and the best starter on the free-agent market. He made those moves in the same morning before I woke up. The Angels also traded up from Jeff Mathis and will get a big hitter back from injury. Getting the hitter back isn't a lucky break or anything - it was an unlucky break that he was out for so long - but the Angels are in a position now where they almost have too much. Too much talent, and too much money.

Let's read about the Los Angeles Angels. And then let's try to forget about the Los Angeles Angels and pretend that the Mariners and A's are the only teams that exist. For the next week, that might as well be true.

Starting Lineup

C Chris Iannetta
1B Albert Pujols
2B Howard Kendrick
SS Erick Aybar
3B Alberto Callaspo
LF Vernon Wells
CF Peter Bourjos
RF Torii Hunter
DH Kendrys Morales

OFFENSE

I'd kind of forgotten that the Angels had trouble scoring runs last year. They play in a run-suppressing home environment, sure, but they finished tenth in the American League in runs scored, well behind the Indians and just ahead of the White Sox. I guess that's what happens when you get a sub-.300 OBP out of catcher, first base, and left field. Mathis was a disaster. Wells was a more productive yet still bigger disaster.

BOOM. Albert Pujols. And Kendrys Morales, and Chris Iannetta. If you want to improve your offense, it's hard to go wrong with an Albert Pujols. All of a sudden, Mark Trumbo and his 113 OPS+ is a utility player. Bobby Abreu and his .353 OBP is openly complaining that he won't get enough playing time. The Angels had an okay lineup, but now they have a good lineup, and while Wells is an obvious question mark, he probably won't run another .214 BABIP, and Mike Trout is on the way. So, the Angels can count on Wells to bounce back to some degree, and if he doesn't bounce back enough, they can give his job to the best or the second-best prospect in the world.

It's a good time to be an Angels fan. Maybe Howie Kendrick - actually, no, it's Howard Kendrick now. Gotta sound more dignified and wise. Howie Kendrick became Howard Kendrick, but Bobby Abreu's still Bobby Abreu. Maybe Howard Kendrick gives back some of his power gains. Maybe Bourjos' strikeouts catch up with him. Maybe Pujols will still be good but not quite Albert Pujols, and maybe Morales has problems with consistency. The Angels haven't built an offensive juggernaut.

But the Angels have built an offensive weapon, and park factors will make the difference between their offense and the Rangers' offense look bigger than it is. Vernon Wells can't keep this group from being good on his own, and it has the potential to be great.

DEFENSE

Hey by the way, Albert Pujols also plays a mean first base. The 2011 Angels scored well in defensive metrics, and they didn't do much to make themselves worse. I don't know about Trumbo as a third baseman, but it's not like Trumbo will be the regular third baseman. Bourjos is my favorite guy out of all of them to watch, because he runs like he's being chased by Dee Gordon. You watch Franklin Gutierrez glide around the outfield and it looks so natural. With Bourjos, it doesn't look natural, because he's white, so he always captures your attention. He's a gifted one. Trout can play the field very well, so he'll help in some capacity if and when he's in the Majors. In general, this is not a team weakness.

Pitching Staff

Rotation

SP Jered Weaver
SP Dan Haren
SP C.J. Wilson
SP Ervin Santana
SP Garrett Richards

Bullpen

RP Jordan Walden
RP Scott Downs
RP LaTroy Hawkins
RP Hisanori Takahashi
RP Jason Isringhausen

STARTING ROTATION

There's a chance that that fifth slot will go to Jerome Williams instead of Garrett Richards. There's a chance that that fifth slot will end up being kind of split between Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards. Recall that not long ago a poll of Mariners players determined that Jerome Williams was just as hard to face as Jered Weaver. No matter, though - it isn't the fifth slot that will define this rotation. It's the first four slots, or, realistically, the first three slots.

The first three slots are fantastic. Weaver's one of the best starters in the American League, Haren's one of the best starters in the American League, and Wilson's one of the best starters in the American League. Remember how much fun it was to watch Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, and Erik Bedard? And I guess Doug Fister too. The Angels have built that, only their talent is more proven, and they're going to give their starters offensive support.

Ervin Santana's a confusing pitcher, mostly because his 2008 season doesn't make sense, but as a fourth starter? You're not going to find many better fourth starters, as every so often Santana will look like an ace.

FanGraphs recently ranked the Angels as having the best starting rotation in baseball. That was based on projections, and projections can be wrong. Also, there's the ever-present chance of injury, and the Angels don't have tremendous depth. They're not the Rays or the Rangers in that regard. With that said, the Angels are prepared to deliver a lot of hurt. It's not a terrifying rotation, because no one's overpowering in the way that Justin Verlander is overpowering. It's an enviable rotation.

BULLPEN

This offseason I was a little confused by the Angels' rumored insistence on finding support for Jordan Walden, because Jordan Walden was and is good. But the Angels rightly steered clear of a big-money closer and settled for an impossibly still-effective LaTroy Hawkins and an impossibly still-effective Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen struck out nearly a batter an inning last season! Jason Isringhausen pitched last season.

Walden and Downs aren't baseball's premier late-inning shutdown duo, but they're fine, and the rest of the bullpen is fine. The Angels should not have too much trouble in the bullpen, unless members of the bullpen do unpredictable things, which members of bullpens do all the time. I'm not sure why I even bother writing this section. "The bullpen should be all right but bullpens are by and large unpredictable so the bullpen should be awful or great or in between."

OVERALL

The Texas Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions, while the Los Angeles Angels are two-time defending playoff-missers, just like the Mariners. We're not so different! Except for our differences. The Angels decided they didn't like missing the playoffs and added Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson with Kendrys Morales already on the road back to health. Even excluding Chris Iannetta, the 2012 Angels will be like the 2011 Angels with three more good players. That's a hell of a boost. Maybe you didn't like the Pujols contract in the long run. Maybe you didn't like the Wilson contract in the long run. In 2012? They'll be huge helps in 2012, and if the Angels are worse than the Rangers, it isn't by much. The AL West has drawn comparisons to the AL East. This is not a mistake. The Angels are half of a two-headed monster, and the two-headed monster is hungry.

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