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Are the Angels Actually Improved?

Posted By Dave Cameron On January 4, 2013 @ 2:00 pm In ESPN Insider 2013 | 2 Comments

When the Angels became The Mystery Team and signed Josh Hamilton last month, the idea of their new batting order became the thing of legends. Hamilton could slide in behind Albert Pujols, who was already hitting behind Mike Trout, and even guys like Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar, are better than average hitters for their positions. The Angels line-up is going to be very good, and people have even begun to whisper about the team potentially scoring 1,000 runs, a feat which hasn’t been accomplished since the Indians did it back in 1999. But here’s the dirty little secret about the Angels offense; the 2013 version may very well be worse than the 2012 version.

How does a team add Josh Hamilton and get worse offensively? Well, it’s not as far fetched as it might sound on the surface. There are essentially three big factors that could cause the Angels to score fewer runs than they did last year.

1. Hamilton is not actually going to be a big upgrade over what Torii Hunter did in 2012.

If you just focus on home runs — Hamilton hit 43, Hunter hit 16 — this might seem ridiculous. But there’s more to life than home runs, and what Hunter lacked in power, he made up for in singles. Despite having 52 fewer plate appearances, Hunter out-singled Hamilton 126 to 84, and while singles might not be as flashy as home runs, they are useful run scoring tools in their own right. Because of all those base hits, Hunter posted a higher on base percentage than Hamilton — .365 to .354 — and he did it while playing half his games in Anaheim, not Texas.

This is one of the scenarios where park factors actually are a really big deal. During his time with the Rangers, Hamilton had a .406 wOBA at home and just a .365 wOBA on the road. The Ballpark in Arlington is one of the very best places in all of baseball to hit, especially in the summer when the temperature and the humidity rise. While we can’t just expect Hamilton to turn into what he has been on the road now that he’s leaving the friendly confines of Texas, his overall offensive numbers will come down. That’s why we look at park adjusted numbers like wRC+, which account for different offensive environments and put everyone on a level playing field.

Last year, Hunter posted a 130 wRC+, meaning that he hit 30% better than a league average hitter would be expected to while playing half his games in Anaheim. Josh Hamilton’s career wRC+? 135. Last year, he posted a 140 wRC+, but he’s also getting older, and age related decline could easily push Hamilton’s overall performance down to a similar level to what Hunter produced for the Angels last year.

2. The 2012 Angels were remarkably healthy and a little lucky.

The Angels didn’t have to deal with too many injuries last year, and the ones that did arise generally came on the mound. Among the regular position players, only Chris Iannetta and Erick Aybar hit the DL in 2012, and Aybar was only disabled from July 22nd to August 8th. Torii Hunter spent two weeks away from the team dealing with a personal issue, but even counting that, the rest of the hitters stayed active the entire season. The Angels had eight players garner at least 500 plate appearances last year, and that’s something that simply isn’t likely to be repeated again in 2013.

They also had some good fortune when it comes to how often their balls in play went for base hits. They led the AL with a .311 team BABIP, nearly 20 points higher than the league average last year. Some of that is due to having a line-up of speedy players, but even adjusting for the team’s speed, the Angels can’t count on getting the same amount of hits in 2012 as they did in 2013. The main regression candidate — now that Hunter has been replaced, at least — is Mike Trout, who posted a .383 BABIP last season. Even with Trout’s speed, that’s a number that simply can’t be sustained.

Over the last three years, 46 AL hitters have received 1,500 or more plate appearances; 45 of them have posted a BABIP below .350, with Austin Jackson (.370) as the lone exception. Even if you look at elite speed guys, you see that they can’t sustain BABIPs much over .350 for any length of time. Ichiro, for his career, has a .347 BABIP. Michael Bourn is at .343. Carl Crawford is at .328. Trout’s BABIP is going to come down. The only question is how far.

3. They’re also replacing Kendrys Morales with Peter Bourjos.

I like Peter Bourjos more than most, and I think he’s a much better hitter than he showed in limited duty in 2012. But, no matter how bullish you might be on his overall value, there’s no question that replacing Morales’ bat with Bourjos’ is a massive downgrade. Morales posted a 118 wRC+ last year, while Bourjos’ career mark is just 95, making him a slightly below average hitter during his time in the big leagues. Given his high strikeout rate and low power output, being an average hitter is probably his ceiling, as the Angels are essentially hoping he can turn into the west coast version of Michael Bourn, making up for the decent bat with elite defense in the outfield.

Swapping out Morales for Bourjos is probably a bigger offensive downgrade than swapping Hunter for Hamilton is an upgrade. While most of the focus is understandably on the addition of Hamilton, we must remember that the Angels made room for Hamilton by jettisoning Morales. When projecting their offense in 2013, we can’t simply pretend that they’re going to have all their good hitters back and simply added another great hitter to the mix. That’s not a reflection of what has actually happened this winter.

When you add up all the expected gains — likely some improvement from Albert Pujols, perhaps better health from Chris Iannetta, the addition of Josh Hamilton — there are enough positives to expect the Angels to still a have a very good offense in 2013, even with the issues listed above. But they had a very good offense last year — their team wRC+ of 112 was second best in baseball — and improving significantly on that performance is going to be a tall order. Adding Hamilton should allow them to remain one of the best offensive clubs in baseball, but don’t get too carried away with what putting him in right field will do to their offense. If the Angels match their offensive performance from 2012, they’ll be doing well. Expecting them to take a huge step forward is probably unrealistic.


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