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.