2012 Outlook: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The 2011 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finished 86-76, staying with the Rangers until late in September.  Starting pitching and defense were the strengths of the team, with the offense rating just below average.  That was partially resolved with the signing of Albert Pujols, but left field, designated hitter, and especially catcher needs more production to compete with Texas.  The pitching is now even stronger with the addition of C.J. Wilson, probably giving them the best 1-4 in the American League.

The biggest name of the offseason landed in Anaheim, with Pujols signing his $240M contract.  His offense did decline last season, but it was still a 148 wRC+, a top 20 mark.  The 5% drop in walk rate looks staggering, but his intentional walks were way down, accounting for over half the drop.  Even if he shows no improvement, the first baseman is by far the best hitter in the lineup, an elite bat missing since Vladimir Guerrero left.  On the other corner, Mark Trumbo will try to convert to third base.  Defensively, his arm is good enough, but his first step and hands are suspect for the position.  Offensively, he has big-time power, but his walk rate is miniscule, especially considering a quarter of his walks were intentional.  If that walk rate can get close to average, he should end up as a good hitter, wherever he is playing.

There are four quality infielders who can man the middle infield positions, depending on Trumbo’s transition to 3B.  The best of the group last year was Howie Kendrick, who amassed over 5 WAR despite poor plate discipline.  His defense rated +15 at second base, much higher than past years, so expect something more in the 0 to +5 range this year.  He also showed more power, pounding 18 HR despite hitting over 50% groundballs.  His strikeouts did increase, so the power may not decrease too much.  I’d expect a 3-4 WAR season from him.  Erick Aybar will man shortstop again, showing a similar power spike to Kendrick.  He also doesn’t walk much, but limits his strikeouts, so he should be able to put up another 3-4 WAR season.  Alberto Callaspo or Maicer Izturis will take over third base if the Trumbo experiment fails.  Callaspo walks as much as he strikes out and has rated well defensively at third the past two years.  Izturis is a nice utility player, showing good defense at third, shortstop, and second.  His offense isn’t anything special, but he doesn’t hurt the club with his bat either.

Speaking of plentiful options, the outfield has five viable starters.  Peter Bourjos will be in center field, where he is among the best defensively and has surprising pop in the bat.  If his plate discipline can improve, he can exceed his 4 WAR expectations.  Torii Hunter enters the last year of his contract hoping to stop his offensive decline, though he should provide 2-3 WAR in right field over the season.  Vernon Wells will likely play left field, only because of his $63M remaining on his contract the next three years.  He walked half as much, struck out more, and stopped squaring up the ball, creating a .218/.248/.412 slashline (77 wRC+).  He should improve a bit, but anything above 1 WAR would be a plus.  Bobby Abreu could see time in the corners if there’s an injury, but his offense is declining fast.  He can still get on base, but his power is dropping fast.  Mike Trout is likely already the second-best player of the group, but with the salaries of the veterans, he will likely start in AAA, only getting time if Bourjos gets hurt.

The offensive black hole that was behind the plate should be better this year.  Jeff Mathis is gone and Chris Iannetta was acquired from Colorado.  Iannetta has shown major home/road splits over his career, but even his road line will provide an improvement to the Angels.  He’s a high-walk, above average K guy with good power.  24-year-old switch hitter Hank Conger will also get at-bats, hoping to improve his BABIP and try to force a platoon situation.  Designated hitter duties will go to either Kendrys Morales or Abreu.  After a monster 2009 season, Morales was having another good season in 2010 before the infamous walkoff injury.  He could provide a decent left-handed bat after Pujols if he can fully recover.

The starting pitching will be the strength of the team.  Jered Weaver leads the staff, posting a 2.41 ERA last year.  However, his 3.20 FIP shows he was lucky and his 3.67 SIERA shows he was really lucky, so expect an ERA no lower than 3.00 in 2012.  His K rate dropped back to his career norms, but he is still a 5 WAR pitcher.  Dan Haren is the co-ace, despite missing bats and inducing groundballs at only an average rate.  His main skill is not walking anyone, only 3.5% of all batters faced.  He also has pitched at least 215 innings each of the past seven years, showing great durability.  Lefty C.J. Wilson was the top off-season arm on the market, getting $77.5M to provide another great arm to the rotation.  His walks came down last year while maintaining a high K rate.  He should provide 4-5 WAR, one of the best #3 pitchers.  Ervin Santana is a very good #4 pitcher, though 2011 was probably a bit misleading, overperforming his FIP by over half a run.  His walk and strikeout rates are average, and he raised his GB rate to average last season.

The #5 spot is quite iffy, with Jerome Williams as the frontrunner.  Garrett Richards will likely get more AAA seasoning and Trevor Bell may be pulled from the bullpen to compete.  The bullpen has quite a few good arms, with Jordan Walden’s 97-98 MPH fastball manning the ninth.  Lefty Scott Downs had a good year, but nowhere near the 1.34 ERA he posted.  Hisanori Takahashi and Rich Thompson will also get some work in the later innings.

The Angels have definitely made the financial effort to compete with the Rangers for the division title.  The addition of Pujols gives them an impact bat, and Wilson gives them another great arm in a shallow rotation.  If the big-money players in the outfield can provide some value, they should win more than 90 games, giving them a good chance to win the division.

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