With the baseball season quickly approaching, I thought I’d give this type of segment a try. Depending on how it goes, I may decide to do football as well when August rolls around. 30 MLB clubs in 30 days. My rules for when teams get to go are simple, it’s alphabetically in order of location. And yes, we’re starting with Anaheim because the Angels play for Anaheim, not Los Angeles of Anaheim. That’s stupid. Plus if you translate from Spanish, their name is The Angels Angels of Anaheim. Yes that was stupid to do but so is calling your team a city of a city. So enough bitching, before I get to the Angels, I want to bring to light the changes to pace of play that Major League Baseball has announced a few changes, the one major one being the limiting of number of mound visits per game. There used to not be a limit except that the pitcher had to be pulled if they were visited by a coach twice in one inning, but now they’re only allowed to be visited by coaches and players 6 times per 9 innings with an extra time being granted for extra innings. There are a couple of exceptions, for example if it is clear to the umpire that the pitcher and catcher were not on page with the last pitch, the catcher can ask for a mound visit that the umpire can grant without it counting against them so that he and the pitcher can get their signs straight. This change is long overdue because too many visits can cause a game to absolutely DRAG. Still no pitch clock but I’m still not sure how you’d be able to enforce that so I’m not bitching. Now, on to the Angels.
Record: 80-82, 2nd in AL West, 21 games behind the Houston Astros, 5 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the 2nd Wild Card spot
Notable Offseason Additions: P/OF Shohei Ohtani, 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Zack Cozart, OF Chris Young, 1B Chris Carter
Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B CJ Cron, RP Fernando Salas, OF Ben Revere, 2B Brandon Phillips, RP Yusmeiro Petit, 3B Yunel Escobar, CP Bud Norris
Best Position Player: CF Mike Trout
Best Pitcher: Garrett Richards
C-Martin Maldonado, Carlos Perez, Rene Rivera
1B-Albert Pujols, Chris Carter
2B-Ian Kinsler, Jefry Marte
3B-Zack Cozart, Luis Valbuena
LF-Justin Upton, Chris Young
SP-Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramirez
Bullpen-Blake Parker (CP?), Jim Johnson (CP?), Cam Bedrosian, Alex Meyer, Blake Wood, Noe Ramirez, Jose Alvarez, Kenyan Middleton
Manager: Mike Scioscia (18 seasons with Angels)
Hitting Coach: Eric Hinske
Pitching Coach: Charles Nagy
1st Base Coach: Alfredo Griffin
3rd Base Coach: Dino Ebel
Bench Coach: Josh Paul
I included an additional position of “Wildcard” for Ohtani mainly because we’ve never really had a player quite like him. A guy who can hit 100 mph as a pitcher and hit over .300 as a hitter, the biggest story following the Angels this year will likely be him. And that’s saying something, especially considering the best baseball player on the planet plays centerfield in Anaheim in Mike Trout. Ohtani’s usage in Anaheim will be one of the more interesting tasks that manager Mike Scioscia has had in his tenure as Angels manager, his 18-year term is the longest among active managers. Ohtani has also battled injuries during his time in Japan so I wonder if being a two-way player has anything to do with that. I think that if things start compounding on him and he struggles, then Scioscia will can the experiment and relegate him to whichever he is performing best at, or wherever the Angels need him most.
The Angels seem to be gearing up for a run at a World Series based on the series of moves they made in the offseason. It started with the signing of Ohtani, then they acquired Ian Kinsler in a trade with the Tigers and signed Zack Cozart away from the Reds. On paper, their lineup is as imposing as they come, even with Albert Pujols’ albatross of a contract. Here’s a look at what the Angels could be rolling out there when opening day against the Indians comes.
1. Ian Kinsler-2B
2. Mike Trout-CF
3. Shohei Ohtani-DH
4. Justin Upton-LF
5. Kole Calhoun-RF
6. Zack Cozart-3B
7. Andrelton Simmons-SS
8. Albert Pujols-1B
9. Martin Maldonado-C
Whether the lineup actually ends up looking like this is a different story because if I’m Scioscia, I honestly have no effing idea what to do with some of these spots. We really don’t know what Ohtani is capable of at the dish against Major League pitching and batting him third out of the gate like where I’ve got him slated may be a little premature. Also trying to place 5-8 was extremely difficult, Pujols being the most frustrating considering he will be making $27M this season as a 38 year-old who is WELL past his prime but kind of has to be in the lineup because he’s making so much. He’s still dangerous but he’s a far cry from the player he was in St. Louis. I put him 8th trying to ignore his name value, even though that will likely slot him higher in the order. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him batting cleanup just because he’s Albert Pujols. It’s also difficult to place guys like Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, and Andrelton Simmons because I think all three guys are capable of hitting at the top of the lineup. It’s just a matter of getting the most out of them. Calhoun has been a nice complement to Trout in the past whereas Cozart has struggled to remain healthy and one has to wonder if Simmons’ offensive breakout in 2017 was a fluke.
One thing is for certain, though, this team will play defense. They’ve got two guys, Maldonado and Simmons, who rated #1 in the Majors at their position in DRS, with Simmons being #1 overall at any position, former gold glove winners in Kinsler, Pujols, and Calhoun, and Trout may have yet to put a gold glove on his mantle, but he’s one of the best home run thieves in the game. Last season the Angels were 2nd best in the Majors in Fangraphs’ defensive rating as a team, trailing only the Red Sox, and it appears that they have only improved defensively. Which they may need based on the issues they’ve had with their pitching.
The Angels weren’t awful in pitching last season, as their team ERA of 4.20 was 12th in the Majors, but their performance outplayed their talent. Their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, made all of 6 starts last season due to injury (he pitched to a 2.28 ERA in those 6 starts) and he hasn’t pitched a full season since 2015. After him there really isn’t anything on the roster worth getting excited over. Ohtani will be interesting to watch, as I think he’s a better pitcher than hitter, but after him the Angels were sending out Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez primarily. Of that group, only Bridwell had an ERA under 4 (3.64) and that was probably a bit fluky because his strikeouts per 9 was abysmal (5.43). It leads one to believe that his lack of missing bats may come back to haunt him.
Their bullpen had some success last year, but they lost their best reliever, Yusmeiro Petit, to the division rival Athletics. Their closer role isn’t set after they lost Bud Norris to the Cardinals, but they do have some options. Newly-signed Jim Johnson appears to be the favorite, as amongst his competition he’s the only one with significant closing experience and success. He was excellent for a few years with the Orioles before falling off the face of the Earth for a couple years. The other legitimate option is Blake Parker. Parker had a very good 2017, where he pitched to a 2.54 ERA while striking out over 11 batters per 9 innings. If Johnson does win the closer’s job, which I anticipate he does, I expect Parker to be the 8th inning man and he’s a solid option for that.
Overall, I think Mike Scioscia is coaching for his job this year. It’s been 16 years since he led them to their only World Series title in franchise history and as of late they’ve been very inconsistent, as they’ve only made the playoffs once since 2010 (2014, where they got swept by the Royals in the ALDS). If the Angels fail to make the playoffs, I’ve got to imagine that ownership will be weighing their options. Scioscia’s a good manager, don’t get me wrong, but the production hasn’t been there of late. I don’t think they’ll win the division. The Astros are just too good to unseat at the moment. But I do think they’ll be right in the thick of the Wild Card race. Their pitching is going to be critical. They didn’t really do anything in the offseason to bolster their rotation so improving what they have and keeping them healthy is going to be the most important thing in Anaheim. If they can do that, I think they will at least make the Astros sweat because they’re going to hit and they’re going to play the field. But I think they’ll be one of the AL Wild Card teams.
Projected Finish: 86-76, Second AL Wild Card Team
That’s going to do it for the Angels on the first edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I preview the Arizona Diamondbacks, who look to improve on their huge breakout season that saw them win the Wild Card game but fall to the eventual NL champion Dodgers in the NLDS. Let me know what you think of the Angels’ chances this season in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.