Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Angels

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won the American League Western division three years on a row while outperforming their Pythagorean expectation by a combined 20 games. This has tended to generate a lot of hot air. Are they just lucky? Does Mike Scioscia have some managerial secret? Are they good at situational hitting? These concerns distract from the obvious: the Angels have had very talented teams, and still do.

The outfield is a good-hitting, poor-fielding group. Juan Rivera, (along with Chone Figgins, Kendry Morales, and Torii Hunter) had a career year in 2009, and while I think he’s far from a +15/150 fielder, he isn’t helpless out there and can still hit after missing almost two years due to injury. Bobby Abreu‘s power has dissipated at an alarming rate, but he remains an on-base machine. His defense is terrible, but he isn’t in the same league as Jermaine Dye and Brad Hawpe… yet. Torii Hunter doesn’t get enough attention… that is, attention for how overrated he is (particularly in the field), but he’s an above-average player. As a whole, this a decent group, if older and (in the cases of Abreu and especially Hunter) overpaid. Depth is also a concern, given the group’s age and history; if one of the three has a serious injury, that could lead to far too much playing time for Willie Bloomq–, I mean Reggie Willits. Or worse, Terry Evans. I suppose designated hitter Hideki Matsui could see some time in the outfield but that seems… sub-optimal.

If the outfield is aging and overpaid, the Angels are getting great value from their underrated group of home-grown, cost-controlled infielders. It’s unlikely that first baseman Kendry Morales will have another +28 season at the plate in 2010, but after finally getting a chance, he’s shown he’s an above-average player. Erick Aybar‘s bat is also due for some regression, but he has a tremendous glove at shortstop. Remember a few years back when Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood were slated to be destroy the league infield, with Wood hitting 30+ homers a year from shortstop and Kendrick being a second base version of Tony Gwynn? Well, that didn’t happen. But Kendrick is a plus bat and glove at second, and Wood is finally getting his chance at third base. If any of the three should stumble, Macier Izturis is a plus bat and glove who is good enough to start for almost anyone. Mike Napoli may not be much with the glove at catcher, but he more than makes up for it with a bat that might be the Angels’ best.

While the Angels’ 2010 rotation doesn’t feature an obvious ace, it’s not as if the departed John Lackey had pitched like one since 2007, anyway. It’s a big advantage to be able to go four-deep with good starting pitchers, and Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, and newcomer Joel Pineiro are all various degrees of above average. Concerned fans should look to the bullpen, once a great strength of the team. Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney are a less-than-intimidating 1-2 “punch” at the back end; Jason Bulger might be the best choice for high leverage situations.

The losses of Chone Figgins and Lackey hurts the Angels a bit, but not terribly given the relative quality of their replacements and the $120 million combined for which Figgins and Lackey signed. The starting lineup has no holes. There are depth concerns, and the bullpen isn’t what it was, but many teams have those problems. The main problem the Angels have is that the other three teams in their division are no longer floundering. As will probably continue to be said ad nauseum, the AL West projects as the most closely matched division in baseball. It would be foolish to count a good team like the Angels out, but for the first time in years, they aren’t the obvious favorite.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

10 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Angels”

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  1. marshen says:

    Juan Rivera had a career year in 2010?

    With the return of Scot Shields to the bullpen and Kevin Jepsen’s outstanding arm, the Angels bullpen is in better shape than ever. Jepsen and Shields will be the go-to guys in high leverage situations.

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  2. Steven Ellingson says:

    Yeah, there’s a couple 2010’s that need to be replaced with 2009s. Unless of course you have ESPN.

    (see what I did there?)

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  3. that guy says:

    “It’s a bit advantage to be able to go four-deep with good starting pitchers”

    Is it a big advantage or a bit of an advantage?

    I’m stilling holding out hope that Brandon Wood becomes a world class masher.

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  4. Brandon says:

    LOL, come on Klaassen. Hitters in their 20s HAVE TO REGRESS? Kendrick and Wood havent played a healthy season and you are already projecting them? Kendry Morales actually hit better as the league adjusted to him and his secondary stats seem to imply that he can sustain his production. When Kendrick came back healthy after the break he hit something like .355 for half a season with a peak at some midlevel power (15 HR). Aybar’s contact vs balls landed for hits was VERY average and there is almost nothing that implies he is due for a regression.

    The biggest problem with the current Angels prospects is they are all “post-hype” prospects and people are talking about them like mid-level guys. Morales was like the 5th best hitter in all of the AL last year with great fielding. Kendrick suffered from severe bad luck (balls in play vs those that fell for hits ratio along with his injuries).

    Additionally the best arm in our whole bullpen was not even mentioned in this article in Kevin Jepsen who is clearly going to be the closer and has shown a very elite bullpen arm.

    Just seems like a lazy post as you just peg every prospect for regression and in ZERO cases do you offer a reason.

    So here is your chance to tell me why.


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    • Thanks for commenting. I know you aren’t one of those “anyone who doesn’t say my team to win 95+ games and that all the prospects will work out is stupid and biased!!1111one” fans, so I won’t treat you like one.

      I was actually quite complimentary of most of the Angels fairly young infield, particularly Aybar and Kendrick. Just so you know, the projections I lean on the most are the CHONE projections, done by Sean Smith, a big Angels fan. I also look at ZiPs. I don’t got into every player in detail in the blog post, but for example, I didn’t say that Kendrick would “regress,” and, in fact, I think he’ll hit better this season than he has during any of his previous stints in the majors. I don’t get into half-season splits and stuff, that’s just what an informed look at the numbers and projections say. Did I misuse a phrase? I usually mean “plus bat” as a compliment, maybe I don’t understand what it means. Aybar’s a great defender, I just don’t think his 2009 batting line will hold up. That’s okay, he’s s shortstop. And so on.

      When I mention “regression” and talk about projections in general, the thoughts behind it are here (although they aren’t novel):

      Thanks for the comment

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  5. ineedanap says:

    “Jason Bulger might be the best choice for high leverage situations.”

    Kevin Jepsen.

    “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won the American League Western division three years on a row”


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  6. Alireza says:

    Lets not forget that Joe Saunders was completely left out of that rotation. Saunders’ bad spell last season was directly correlated to a tight shoulder that he pitched through after the Angels saw their rotation devastated by injury and tragedy. I know he is a sexy choice for major regression, but I personally see him as a Mark Buherle-esque guy who busts projection systems wide open, especially because he can dial up plus left-handed velocity when he wants to.

    Also, UZR is definitely not the be all, end all of defensive metrics. Torii Hunter, once again, did very well in Plus/Minus. There is no doubt that he doesn’t throw as well as he once did, but there is no actual indication outside of UZR and UZR alone that he doesn’t still get to balls, especially ones that are headed over the wall. Further, I don’t see why people still think Juan Rivera must be a worse fielder than his numbers. This is a guy who has done nothing in his career but play an above-average corner outfield, showing a strong arm and good instincts. He even played a passable emergency CF until that terrible broken leg robbed him of what speed he had. Most seem to forget that his last full, healthy season in 2006 was as good or better than his 2009. 2007 was lost to that broken leg and 2008 was lost to incredibly irregular playing time due to an OF logjam.

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    • Thanks for the comment.

      In a short blog post, I can’t cover every player. Saunders is a decent pitcher, and he’s great for a back-of-the-rotation guy. I just think the other guys are better.

      UZR is as good as anything publicly available, and it’s also free. Yes, Plus/Minus is just as good, and while Hunter fares better in that system it hardly says that Hunter is really good. Remember how we need to use multiple years of data for all defensive stats? Yes, according to plus/minus Hunter was +4 runsin 2009. He was -4 runs in 2008, average in 2007, and -1 runs in 2006. that’s better than he does in UZR, but that’s hardly the “standout defender” that he’s hailed as. That’s generously average, at best. Maybe that catch in the All-Star games is still carrying over, and UZR just doesn’t get it…

      As for Rivera, it’s hard to tell — that’s why we regress. Very few players are +15 at their primary position. Rivera might be that good, but he rarely had been before his injury, and coming off of it and with a few years under his belt, it’s unlikely. It’s not that I don’t think he can field, I just don’t think it’s likely he’s a good as he was last season. And that would be true for any slow player who put up a season of +15 fielding in his 30s after coming off two injury-plagued seasons. but who knows, maybe I’m wrong.

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