Things didn’t go as planned for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season. With a large financial commitment to Josh Hamilton and the second year of Albert Pujols’s mega free agent deal, the Angels were expected to contend in the top-heavy American League West with Texas and Oakland. The lineup expenses prevented the Angels from addressing their pitching and it showed. The Angels spent nearly $1.5M per win last season en route to a 78-84 season. After winning the opener to go 1-0, the Angels were never over .500 the rest of the season.
After starting the season 9-17, the Angels were mediocre for the most part over the final five months of the season. The Rangers won 15 of 19 meetings and the A’s were 11-8 against the Angels last season. With a small run differential by season’s end, the Angels should have finished .500 according to their Pythagorean Win-Loss record. Overall, it was an extremely disappointing season.
Oddsmakers are very bullish on the Angels this season, presumably expecting Danny Glover to manage and Tony Danza to anchor the rotation. BetOnline.ag is showing 86.5 (under -120) after opening at 87.5. BetDSI.eu is still at the 87.5 number, with the under at -125. Bovada.lv is also at 86.5. 5Dimes.eu is at 87 and the over is -130. While oddsmakers are high on the Angels, bettors appear skeptical.
Key additions: Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Joe Smith, David Freese, Raul Ibanez, Brandon Lyon, Fernando Salas
Key losses: Jason Vargas, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jerome Williams
The Angels have added nearly $30M to their payroll for 2014 and have addressed the areas that needed attention. The biggest transaction was the three-team deal between the Angels, Diamondbacks, and White Sox that included Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, and Mark Trumbo. The Angels added rotation depth to a staff that was in dire need of assistance and gave up Trumbo to fill that glaring need.
In another trade, the Angels acquired David Freese from the Cardinals for Peter Bourjos. The hope, of course, is that Freese will replace the power production lost from trading Trumbo. The Angels have a glut of young outfielders, so they’re trading from a position of strength without Bourjos.
Other lineup additions include Raul Ibanez and Carlos Pena. Ibanez will play a bit in left field and get some at bats at designated hitter, while Pena will hope to resurrect his career.
Joe Smith and Brandon Lyon will tremendously help one of the game’s worst bullpens in 2013. Smith signed a lucrative free agent deal to pitch in the setup role in front of closer Ernesto Frieri. If healthy, Lyon will slot into a middle relief role. Also added in the Freese deal was Fernando Salas. Salas will add additional Major League quality depth.
Why bet the over?
There’s no question that the Angels underachieved last season given all of the talent they have. An injury that cost Jered Weaver a handful of starts didn’t help, but there were a lot of other problems with the team. The Angels put a lot of resources into Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, despite their ages, and it backfired in a big way in 2013. Pujols missed the final two months of the season and didn’t perform anywhere near the level that he has been capable of over his career.
Reports have been promising about Pujols in Spring Training. The foot injury that has nagged him for the last few seasons was treated in the offseason and was supposedly at 100 percent back in December. Pujols lost weight and got healthier in the offseason and expects to return to being a huge part of the Angels offense. Even while hurt, Pujols’s plate discipline numbers were near his career averages and he hit 17 home runs in 99 games. His health is a concern and he’s 34, but there are DH at bats available and an improvement even to his 2012 numbers would be a three-win upgrade.
Mike Trout continues to be a god amongst mere mortals on the baseball field. His second consecutive season of 10+ fWAR proved that 2012 was no fluke, and, honestly, how could it have been? He’s an elite player with tremendous plate discipline, good power, great speed, and more tools than a Home Depot. He shows no signs of slowing down and could, presumably, get even better in his third season of facing the same pitchers and maturing as a player.
Howie Kendrick continues to be a consistent player at an offensively-weak position. Kendrick was in the top 10 in wOBA last season, despite walking just 4.5 percent of the time. His .340 BABIP was out of the average range, but was right in line with his career average. He chipped in a little bit more power last season with five more home runs than the previous season and that was in just 122 games. He’s a very versatile player and a bounce back season from both Pujols and Hamilton will likely increase his value to the lineup.
Advanced metrics suggest a bounce back season for David Freese, assuming he can stay healthy. He’s leaving Busch Stadium, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, for Angel Stadium, a park that suppresses lefties, but is pretty fair to righties. Freese should be able to recoup some of the offensive value that he lost last season and that will help to offset some of the loss of Mark Trumbo. Freese should be a more complete hitter, with fewer strikeouts, a higher average, and a better on-base percentage.
Kole Calhoun should get a lot of playing time in one of the corner outfield spots and he’s a bit of a sleeper. He has a good walk, a knack for solid contact, and decent speed. With Grant Green, JB Shuck, and Ibanez, the Angels have some decent position player depth at their disposal.
Health, alone, should make the Angels pitching staff better. The Angels had to use 11 different starting pitchers last season and no injury was bigger than Jered Weaver’s. Weaver missed nearly two months due to a fractured left elbow from a line drive. The loss of Weaver left a thin rotation scrambling to find early season replacements and it really derailed the season before it even started. Weaver was good, as usual, last season with a 3.27 ERA and a 3.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even though sabermetric stats don’t look favorably on Weaver, he’s arguably the biggest exception to a sabermetric evaluation of pitching. He mixes speeds extremely well and his deception leads to a lot of weak fly ball outs. Sabermetric theory says that fly balls are bad things, but not all fly balls are created equal and a lot of Weaver’s are the harmless kind.
CJ Wilson was the only starter to make over 30 starts for the Angels and he turned in another fine year. Expect the same again. Behind Wilson, starts were made by Jerome Williams, Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Barry Enright, Billy Buckner, Michael Roth, and Matt Schumaker. With the exception of Richards and Vargas, to an extent, all of those guys are below average starting pitchers. And it showed.
The Angels rotation will likely keep Richards in play as a guy who induces a lot of ground balls with decent control and will add Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Richards throws hard at 95 with some cut and sink to his fastball. Santiago showed some strikeout ability for the White Sox and pitched well all things considered. In U.S. Cellular Field, Santiago’s problem was that he was a fly ball pitcher and the ball carries well in the summer. Angel Stadium suppresses home runs with pretty big gaps and a high wall in right center, so Santiago should do better in a better environment. Skaggs is the upside pitcher of the group. The Angels are getting a guy with good strikeout rates in the minors and will give the Angels a rotation with three lefties. That’s a rarity in today’s MLB and it could certainly play to the Angels favor.
The Angels bullpen posted the fourth-worst ERA and third-worst FIP in the second half of last season. There are some talented guys that miss bats, but also struggle with command. It was a very young bullpen, so consistency was definitely an issue. The free agent signing of Joe Smith adds that consistency. A steady reliever for years with the Indians, Smith and his sidearm style add another dimension to the Angels bullpen. He, along with Dane de la Rosa, will bridge the gap to Ernesto Frieri and strengthen this group. Fifteen different relievers made 10 or more appearances for the Angels and almost all of them struggled for long stretches.
If Brandon Lyon makes the bullpen, he, along with Smith, will add a much-needed veteran presence to this group. The return of Sean Burnett from surgery could also help the bullpen. He was great in 2012 and an injury-shortened 2013 was not much of an indicator of performance
Why bet the under?
While a power drop was inevitable from Josh Hamilton because of the move from hitter-friendly Arlington to pitcher-friendly Anaheim, nobody expected Hamilton to be as bad as he was. Hamilton was woefully bad against left-handed pitching, after holding his own previously in his career. Hamilton saw slash line drops of 35, 47, and 145 points in his overall numbers. Even though he showed more value as a fielder, he was worth 2.3 less fWAR in 2013 as opposed to 2012.
It’s possible that Hamilton is showing signs of age. The drop in power coupled with high swing-and-miss and high chase rates over the last two seasons could signal a player going through a drop in bat speed. It’s no secret that Hamilton has quite a past that aged his body and going from the top, to the bottom, back to the top, and now somewhere in the middle is a lot to endure. He’ll turn 34 this season and it’s rare to see players bounce back significantly at that age.
Like Hamilton, Pujols is getting older. The foot injuries may not be a thing of the past despite what Pujols says. Once games start and he’s out there on a daily basis, a return seems likely. Pujols has played through various ailments over the last few seasons and he turned 34 in January. The big jump in expectations from 74 wins last season to the 87 needed to win this play would require Pujols to return to being a three or more win player. His defense is getting worse and his chase rates are climbing.
While there’s hope for a David Freese bounce back season, he’s going to a tougher league and still going to play the majority of his games in places like Anaheim, Oakland, and Seattle. His batted ball splits indicate that his 20-homer season in 2012 is the anomaly, not the norm.
The Angels walk above league average as a team, but most of that can be attributed to Mike Trout and Chris Iannetta, one of the team’s two catchers. The average walk rate for a hitter is 8.5 percent of his plate appearances and only Pujols was above that number of guys still with the Angels. They’re a BABIP-driven offense and that’s always hard to pin down. Guys like Howie Kendrick have consistently posted well above average BABIPs, while Erick Aybar’s has bounced around a bit.
Not to mention, the Angels are one of the oldest lineups in the league. Freese, Kendrick, Hamilton, Aybar, Pujols, Ibanez, and Iannetta are all over 30 with a lot of years in the game for some of those guys.
There’s a common sense element to betting the under as well. Angels position players accumulated 26.4 fWAR last season. Mike Trout amassed 10.4 fWAR by himself. That’s nearly 40 percent of the fWAR from position players. With a team that’s so dependent on one player, an injury to him makes reaching a number this high almost impossible. It wouldn’t even take a season-ending injury like an ACL tear. Something as simple as an oblique strain or a sprained wrist that could keep Trout out for a month or more would significantly impact the Angels during his absence. Unlike the Tigers, who still have an elite pitching staff even if Miguel Cabrera were to go down, the Angels would likely be irreparably damaged if they had to endure a long stretch of the season without their superstar.
The rotation is better, but still has the potential to struggle. Four of the five projected starters are expected to have above average walk rates and that puts pressure on the defense. As a trade-off, four starters project to above average strikeout rates. That will run up pitch counts and force the Angels into an improved, but not particularly deep bullpen. The depth behind the top five guys is very questionable. The bullpen still has concerns, even with Smith’s addition, especially with the young guys they had in high leverage spots last season. Will they be as effective the second time around?
Pick: Under 87.5 (-125, BetDSI)
Of all the teams I’ve written about so far, I’ve had the hardest time writing about the Angels. Outside of Trout, there is very little intrigue on the team. The reason for the under is that it’s hard to see this team staying healthy enough all season long to win 88 games. The talent is there and the rotation is certainly more interesting than last season, but Aybar, Kendrick, and Pujols all missed time for various injuries. Hamilton was healthy but regressed a lot, specifically in the power department. The Angels still have the “old school” philosophy with Mike Sciosia at the helm, as they don’t walk, put the ball in play, and utilize small ball and situational hitting to score runs. The Angels led the league in sacrifice flies and were fourth in sacrifice bunts. It works, but it’s also predicated on getting hits to set up those situations since the Angels have so many free swingers.
Ultimately, this is a talented team without a lot of depth that is going to have to stay healthy to compete. Recent history has shown that they won’t and Mike Sciosia may even spend time on the hot seat this season since the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. That’s a distraction that a veteran ballclub may not appreciate.
Even though there’s been movement on the under and it’s likely the right side, it seems that there are better wagers on the board that are more worthy of your betting dollar.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.