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2018 MLB preview: Los Angeles Angels

 

2017: 80-82 (second place in AL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2014

Last World Series Title: 2002

2017 Recap

Although the Angels finished second in the AL West, they were ultimately 21 games back from first place and last led the division on April 13th. Against World Series champion Houston, the Angels went 7-12, and against the Texas Rangers, who won just 78 games, Mike Scioscia’s squad went 8-11.

The loss of Mike Trout, who played in just 114 games because of thumb surgery, obviously derailed this team from getting over the hump. Despite missing nearly 50 games, Trout, who would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, joined Barry Bonds (1993) as the only players to have a season with at least 33 home runs, 20 steals, slugging percentage of .629 and an OPS+ of 187.

The best player in the game, Mike Trout (USA Today)

Trout also finished first in offensive win percentage and OPS, second in offensive WAR and OBP, third in slugging percentage, fifth in at bats per home run, and sixth in walks. Can you imagine the type of numbers he would have put up, had he not gotten injured?

The Angels led the league in steals, which is great, but they also finished near the bottom in a lot of other major offensive categories. As a team, Los Angeles finished 22nd in runs/game, 23rd in OBP, 24th in HR/game, 27th in SLG, 28th in batting average, and 29th in hits/game.

On the plus side, Andrelton Simmons had a career year. The shortstop finished first in defensive WAR, and eighth in overall WAR. “Simba” hit .278 with 14 home runs, 19 steals, and 77 runs scored. He, along with teammate Martin Maldonado, earned a Gold Glove Award, marking the third of Simmons’ career.

Even without Garrett Richards for essentially the whole season, the Angels pitching was not all that bad. Among the 15 American League teams, they had the third fewest walks, and the sixth best ERA. Their bullpen wasn’t too shabby as well, finishing with the fourth most strikeouts and the fifth best ERA in the AL.

2018: Around the Diamond

After finishing near the bottom in almost all the offensive categories, the Angels revamped their lineup, and head into 2018 as a serious playoff contender. This offseason, Los Angeles signed second basemen Ian Kinsler. Kinsler, who struggled last season, hitting just .236 with a .313 OBP, is out of his prime, but can still produce. 2017 was probably his worst season as a pro, yet he still hit 22 home runs and scored 90 runs for Detroit.

The Angels also welcomed in Zack Cozart to play third base. Cozart is coming off a career year with the Cincinnati Reds. He was named an NL All-Star and finished the year hitting .297 with 24 home runs and a .385 OBP. The Angels finished 27th in WAR for 3B, and 30th for 2B so bringing in Cozart and Kinsler is a huge positive.

Maldonado, who played a career high 138 games last season, will remain behind the plate, while Simmons will, of course, still be at shortstop. First base will most likely belong to CJ Cron, a former first round pick who hit 16 home runs in 2017. Luis Valbuena, who hit 22 home runs but batted just .199, will also get reps at the corner positions.

The Angels need Justin Upton to mirror his 2017 stats in order to make a run. (SI.com)

Last August, the Angels traded for Justin Upton, who, last season, hit a career high 35 home runs and had a .361 OBP, which was his highest since 2011. He hit .344 against lefties and 23 home runs against righties. The veteran outfielder also excelled with RISP, hitting .336 with 10 home runs. Because of his stellar season, the Angels signed him to a five-year, $106M deal.

Kole Calhoun, who has had four straight seasons of at least 17 home runs, will remain in right. The Angels also have the best player in the league playing center so this outfield for a full-season will be dangerous.

Unless your Tom Brady, father time catches up to everybody. Unfortunately, the Angels are seeing this with Albert Pujols. Pujols saw his OBP dip below .300 for the first time in his career and had a -2 WAR, the first time his WAR had ever been below zero. Pujols will be the primary DH, but it is assumed he will get less at-bats than previous seasons. Still, the future Hall of Famer hit 23 home runs and hit .324 in high leverage situations.

One player that could also get some time at DH is the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, Shohei Otani, but let’s give him a proper introduction as a pitcher.

On the Bump

Otani is listed as the number one prospect in all of baseball. He is the biggest story in 2018, as he hopes to pitch and occasionally hit in the MLB. His fastball has touched 102, while his splitter and hard slider are devastating strikeout pitches. He does have an elbow injury, but the Angels are not too worried.  In 2017, on the mound, Otani went 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA. The year before, in 140 innings, Otani struck out 174 batters and posted a 1.86 ERA. We will have to wait and see how Mike Scioscia will use him.

Otani has arrived. (DailyNews)

Two pitchers to keep an eye on are Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who both dealt with injuries in 2017. Richards has made just 12 starts over the last two seasons, but is poised for a comeback in 2018. Last season, in 27.2 innings, Richards had a 2.28 ERA and a .904 WHIP. He has shown he can be an ace when healthy, but we will have to see if he can stay on the field.

Shoemaker missed almost the entire second half of 2017 because of a forearm injury. He posted a 4.52 ERA, but is now healthy and good to go.

Tyler Skaggs could be a major sleeper in fantasy baseball for 2018. Skaggs has dealt with injuries throughout the start of his career, but the former first round pick pitched well in the minors and has the stuff to be a quality starter in this league. In 2017, Skaggs started 16 games and posted a 1.388 WHIP. Andrew Heaney, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez, who won 11 games last year, will all be fighting for starts at the end of the rotation.

The Angels hope last year’s bullpen can keep the momentum going into 2018. They brought in veteran Jim Johnson, who could close out some games, but let’s not forget that the Angels had eight different relievers record a save in 2017. Cam Bedrosian looks to be the front-runner to be named the closer.

The Future

Aside from Otani, the Angels have three other members in MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” list. Two outfielders, Jo Adell (No. 62), and Jahmai Jones (No. 93), as well as infielder Kevin Maitan (No. 87). Adell, the Angels first-round draft pick in 2017, had a tremendous start to his professional career. The 10th overall pick hit .325 with 5 home runs in 49 Rookie-Ball games. He is only 18 years old, so give the kid some time to grow.

Jones, whose father and brother played in the NFL, is a raw athlete who has exceptional speed on the base path. In 127 games between A/A+, Jones hit .282 with 14 home runs and 27 steals. Jones is expected to make his MLB debut in 2019.

Kevin Maitan, like Adell, is also just 18 years of age. According to MLB.com, “The Venezuelan teenager had been compared to Miguel Sano and his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones.” However, he had a poor start to his professional career in 2017, batting just .241 with 2 home runs in 42 games.

2018 Prediction: 84-78

The Angels will be right in the hunt for the second Wild Card and should get over the hump in 2018. They are in a tough division, but they have the best player in the league, and have made key additions to the lineup. Otani will be exciting, and if the rest of the rotation can stay healthy, there is no reason as to why this team will not be in the playoff hunt when all is said and done.

Featured image by MLB.com

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