Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #2: Los Angeles Angels

Greetings! Trout, Pujols, Hamilton... and what else do you need?

Projected Starters - Chris Iannetta (C), Albert Pujols (1B), Howard Kendrick (2B), Erick Aybar (SS), Alberto Callaspo (3B), Mike Trout (LF), Peter Bourjos (CF), Josh Hamilton (RF), Mark Trumbo (DH)

This offense is going to be tremendous if everything goes right. Mike Trout was the best player in baseball last year (yes, he should've been the AL MVP), sporting a crazy 10.0 WAR, a .326/.399/.564 slash line, 30 homers, and 49 steals in 639 plate appearances. Read that line again. Did I mention that he's an absolutely elite defender, too? There will probably be some power/batting average regression, but even if he hits .295 with 20 homers, he's a top-5 player in baseball because of his legs and defense. Albert Pujols is the best right-handed hitter that I've ever seen, and while he's aging a bit, he still responded with a .285/.343/.516 season with 30 homes last year despite a terrible April/Early May. He is no longer the best player in baseball, but I think he's "safe" for 30-35 homers with a high OBP and above-average defense at 1st base. Josh Hamilton was violently overpaid (IMO), but the guy can flat-out play and if he's your 3rd-best hitter, it's almost comical. In 2012, he hit 43 homers, reached 100+ runs, he upped his walk-rate to over 9%, and he's moving to an outfield corner, which helps his defensive output. There's certainly some risk with Hamilton, but in the early stages of the contract (i.e. 2013), I think I'd project 35-40 homers with a .280-.290 average and .340-.350 OBP, and that's obviously valuable. After the big three, there's a drop-off, but there are still quality guys in the majority of spots. Kendrick and Aybar form a wildly underrate middle-infield tandem, and while neither guy is a star, they're both well-rounded and valuable. Kendrick is a lock for .280-.295 average with decent power (10-12 homers) and quality defense, while Aybar can really run and play defense at short with a non-zero bat. Trumbo is the wild-card for me, as he hit 32 homers last year and ended with an OBP (.317) that won't kill you. The issue with that is that the OBP/batting average peripherals indicate that it may not be repeatable, and while the power is certainly legit, it's tough to play it out if he can't reach a .300 OBP (like he failed to do in 2011). Peter Bourjos is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball, and he's back with a chance to play every day in CF. For reference, he was 7th in the entire MLB in UZR last season... and he did so in under 200 plate appearances! The guy is ridiculous on defense, and if he can even approach his 2011 numbers at the plate (.327 OBP, 12 homers, 22 steals), he's a 3-4 win player. Callaspo is a glove guy at 3rd base, but he does have back-to-back 2.5+ WAR seasons and he posted a .366 OBP in 2011. Catcher is the big "weakness", as Iannetta is the default starter, but even with his issues, they could do worse. There is some pop there, but it'll come with a low batting average and there are questions about his defense. On the bright side, he's got a career 13.6% walk rate (which is excellent) and he'll get on-base at a decent clip.

Projected - Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton

Weaver has been one of the top-10 pitchers for about three years, and he's a monster. With that said, his strikeout rate (K/9) plummeted to 6.77 last season, and as a result, his peripherals suggest that his 2.81 ERA was pretty lucky. Even on the downside, though, Weaver is a big-time pitcher and a #1 starter you feel good about. CJ Wilson was a different pitcher in each half of the year last year. Before the All-Star break, he posted a 2.43 ERA in 111 innings, but after the break, he was reportedly injured and finished with 91 innings and a 5.54 ERA. I think Wilson is more like the first-half guy, and if I had to predict a stat line, I'd say 200 innings of an ERA between 3.35 and 3.55 and 180 strikeouts. He's solid. The rest of the rotation is kind of "meh", but the key is unquestionably Tommy Hanson. The former Brave was an uber-prospect (top-5 in baseball) and he arrived with 2 great seasons in Atlanta (both with a sub-3.40 ERA) before the wheels came off a bit. He's got a history of shoulder issues that saw his velocity slip and, as a result, this led to a performance drop. I think he's an asset for LA, but it's unclear whether he's the 4.50-ish ERA guy he was last year or whether he can regain the form prior to that. That's something to watch. Vargas is an innings eater (back to back 200 IP seasons) who won't impress (ERA around 4), but he's absolutely fine as a back-end guy. Blanton has been pretty unlucky in recent years by the peripherals, but he's certainly not any better than a 4.00+ ERA guy, and LA acquired him simply to give them some innings of league-average production.

Projected - Ryan Madson/Ernesto Frieri (closer), Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Jerome Williams, Garrett Richards

There is a closer battle going on for the Angels, but they really can't lose. Ernesto Frieri was electric last season, striking out over thirteen guys per 9 in 54 innings and posting a 2.32 ERA. He wasn't given the job, however, as LA inked Ryan Madson coming off of elbow surgery. As of the moment, Frieri is the guy simply because Madson hasn't returned fully yet, but if they hand him the job (and he's healthy), Madson will be good. He was last seen as a 32-save guy for Philly in 2012, but the more impressive thing is that he has 5 straight years with an ERA of 3.26 or below, and he's good for about a strikeout per inning as a reliever. Either way, they'll be fine as long as one of them is healthy. After that, Jepsen and Downs were both very good last year, and Burnett arrives from Washington after being an awesome set-up man for the Nats last season. Williams and Richards will be used as long men (as both are really starting pitchers), and this is a deep 'pen.


As you can by the fact that they are #2 in my rankings, I'm all-in on Los Angeles. I think they have the best offense in the American League (even better than Detroit), and I'm really high on the bullpen once everything comes together. If Hamilton gets injured and Trout regresses significantly, this projection will obviously look high, but I don't think that both of those will happen, and this my favorite American League roster for 2013. In a playoff series, I'd probably take Detroit for their better starting pitching, but over the long haul, I like the offense and bullpen of LA, and they get the nod.


96-66, 1st in AL West

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