The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won 98 games during the regular season and failed to win a single game in the playoffs. The Angels were swept by the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals and went into the offseason much earlier than they anticipated. A season full of impressive records and statistics went up in smoke in a hurry and the Angels were left to wonder what could have been.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a shock that the Angels were trucked in the playoffs. After all, the Angels padded their record by going 57-21 against teams below .500. They were 41-43 against teams .500 or better. Staff ace Garrett Richards suffered an ugly knee injury on August 20 and missed the rest of the season. The Angels bounced back to win that game and improve to 76-50. They were just 22-14 the rest of the way, including a 10-game winning streak in early September.
The Angels are kind of a rare breed in today’s Moneyball generation. They led the league in runs scored and finished second in hits, but they finished eighth in walks and fourth in home runs. Having the best player on the planet, Mike Trout, certainly helps. How sustainable is what the Angels do? They are often thought of as a model baseball franchise, but the 2014 season was their first playoff appearance in five years and they were swept out of the first round.
Lofty expectations are once again placed on the Angels, who saw an upper 80s win total last season after a 78-win campaign in 2013. Oddsmakers at Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno posted the Angels at 87.5 and then Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas upped the ante by placing an 89.5 on the Angels. BetOnline came out at 86.5.
Key additions: Andrew Heaney, Matt Joyce, Josh Rutledge, Roberto Baldoquin, Cesar Ramos
Key losses: Howie Kendrick, John Buck, Ian Stewart, Joe Thatcher, Hank Conger, Kevin Jepsen
The biggest move of the offseason was the trade that sent Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for Andrew Heaney, who had been acquired in the Dee Gordon trade with the Marlins. The deal was a breath of fresh air because it was a player-for-player, old school deal that should benefit both teams. It remains to be seen how much it will benefit the Angels, who gave up their second-most valuable player by fWAR last season.
Josh Rutledge will be the replacement for Kendrick and he had a nice season in Colorado, but any player that leaves Coors Field’s incredible hitting conditions faces a pessimistic outlook and that’s especially true when that player goes to a place like Angel Stadium. Most of the other losses were of the depth variety, but the Angels are taking a chance on Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who will start in the low minors.
Some big contracts handcuffed Jerry DiPoto this offseason because four contracts make up over 60 percent of the Angels’ guaranteed payroll. Josh Hamilton makes $25.4M this season (and $32.4M in 2016 and 2017), Albert Pujols makes $24M this season (and goes up by $1M each year through 2021), C.J. Wilson makes $18.5M and Jered Weaver is signed for $18.2M. That explains why the Angels were willing to give up Kendrick for Heaney so that they could infuse some young, cost-controlled starters into the rotation.
Why bet the over?
Mike. Trout. Mike Trout is the best player in the game and has put up historic numbers in his first three seasons in the Major Leagues. The Angels have been a franchise since 1961. Mike Trout is 10th in franchise WAR by Baseball-Reference’s calculation and will probably move up to sixth by the end of the season. He’s an incredibly gifted player with four of the five tools. Interestingly, Trout took a step back last season and won the AL MVP award anyway. A power bump from Trout led to more strikeouts as pitchers worked up in the zone more frequently to try and take away the weapon of Trout’s speed. As a result, he struck out more, walked less, but hit nine more home runs.
Defensive metrics soured on Trout last season as he posted his first negative fielding value. Projecting Trout for this season is actually kind of difficult because his baseline numbers aren’t what the baseline numbers are for any other player. If the 2014 version of Mike Trout is what the Angels get, he’s still an elite player. If the Angels get a return of Mike Trout’s 2013 season plus the power boost, he’s in another stratosphere. Trout hit nearly 40 more fly balls and 46 fewer ground balls last season. That affected his batting average negatively. Any complaint of Trout’s numbers of just nitpicking because he’s an elite hitter, but there’s room for improvement this season and that’s scary.
He didn’t put up the numbers that he did in his younger days, but Albert Pujols returned to form as best he could. Pujols was limited to 443 plate appearances in 2013 and posted a .258/.320/.437 slash line with a 112 wRC+. It was the worst season of his career. He was 12 percent better in 2014 and hit 11 more home runs with a .272/.324/.466 slash line. He’s not the player that the Angels thought they were getting, but he’s still a better hitter than what most lineups have to offer in the middle of the order.
Do you know who Kole Calhoun is? You should. The Angels offense was able to benefit by having Calhoun in front of Trout and that was a big reason why they were among the league’s best offensive teams. Calhoun posted a strong .272/.325/.450 slash line with 17 home runs and 90 runs scored while batting at the top of the order. Twenty-two of Trout’s RBIs were runs scored by Calhoun. Calhoun has a platoon split, so he’s not the greatest hitter against lefties, but he posted a .793 OPS against righties and a hitter will face a righty over 70 percent of the time on average.
The Angels were hit hard by injuries last season. Josh Hamilton missed significant time and David Freese continued to be hampered by the back injuries that zapped his power after his 20-homer season in 2012. Health is never a guarantee, but both players have some power potential and the ability to post high BABIPs because of how hard they hit the ball. When Hamilton was in the lineup, he was 13 percent better than league average, so there’s still some value there, though not enough to live up to his huge contract.
Chris Iannetta is a fine catcher that doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. Nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances are decided in the batter’s box. Iannetta struck out almost 25 percent of the time but also walked almost 15 percent of the time. Along with working counts and getting on base over 37 percent of the time, Iannetta threw out over 30 percent of baserunners to be one of the bright spots of an Angels team that struggled defensively. There’s surplus value in Iannetta that often gets overlooked because of the big names and huge contracts around him.
Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker were fantastic last season. Richards was limited to 26 starts because of the knee injury and Shoemaker made 20 starts as a starting rotation replacement for Hector Santiago. The Angels were 35-11 when one of these two started a game and nothing stands out that would suggest major regression. Richards played his upper 90s bowling ball sinker into a 51 percent ground ball rate and increased his strikeout rates with better control and some more sliders. Richards may miss the first week or two of the season, barring any additional setbacks, in his return from knee surgery, but he shouldn’t miss more than a handful of starts.
Shoemaker came out of nowhere to be an integral part of the Angels rotation and his excellent control was a big reason why. Shoemaker walked 24 batters in 136 innings and complemented it with an above average strikeout rate. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he relies on a split-fingered fastball that is hard to center on and five-to-six pitch arsenal is good for keeping hitters off balance. Most of what he accomplished last season appears sustainable, so the top of the Angels rotation is in good hands.
Jered Weaver kept defying the aging curve in the face of declining velocity. The crafty righty stayed healthy enough to throw more than 200 innings for the first time in a couple of seasons and the biggest compliment about Weaver is that he won’t kill you. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher in a perfect park to be that and his road ERA is never too far out of whack because of road starts in Seattle and Oakland.
Hector Santiago’s bad luck from the first half evened out in the second half with similar peripherals, which would suggest that he could be a solid back of the rotation starter this season. He’s durable and most fourth and fifth starters around the league are below average, so the fact that Santiago can pitch at a league average or better level is valuable.
The Angels bullpen started out as a weakness last season, but some acquisitions during the season and some gambles from manager Mike Scioscia paid off. Huston Street was acquired from the San Diego Padres and did well in the closer’s role as he found himself in yet another good pitcher’s park. Joe Smith continued to be an elite setup guy and former closers Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli were effective. The righty-heavy Angels pen should be good again this season.
Why bet the under?
Well, for starters, the number is too high. The Angels have only exceeded 89.5 wins once in the last five seasons and a large portion of their team is on the wrong side of 30. Basically, all of their high-priced contracts are on the backs of guys that are declining in either skills or production. Josh Hamilton had a shoulder procedure a couple weeks ago that will set him back during Spring Training. Albert Pujols will never fully be healthy due to the plantar fasciitis that he has played through for the last several seasons. C.J. Wilson is a shell of the pitcher that he used to be. Jered Weaver’s rabbit’s foot is going to fall out of an unnamed orifice at some point and his declining skills will catch up with him. Really, I don’t need to go on further because this is one of my strongest plays in this win total series, but I will.
The Angels made a mistake trading Howie Kendrick. They didn’t make a mistake in what they got in return because Andrew Heaney has #2 starter potential in a place like Anaheim, but Kendrick was a hugely valuable part of this team. He consistently hit well above average for a second baseman with a .292/.332/.424 slash line and has provided as much defensive value as he has offensive value. The Angels were -16 defensive runs saved last season and their most important pitcher, Garrett Richards, is a very heavy ground ball guy. Kendrick’s absence is going to hurt the team in more ways than one.
Josh Rutledge is a poor defender and his career slash line away from Coors Field is .215/.265/.333. That’s awful. If Rutledge wins the starting job, which he may not because of Grant Green, that likely represents a net loss of around 3.5 wins for the Angels going from Kendrick to Rutledge. Basically, every player in the mix for the second base gig represents a major step down from Kendrick. It seems that the oddsmakers failed to properly account for this.
Injuries are a possibility for every team, but there would be no bigger injury for any team in baseball than if Mike Trout got hurt. The Angels are so dependent on him offensively that they would be completely screwed if he missed significant time. It doesn’t even have to be something like an ACL. It could be something as simple as a strained oblique or a fractured thumb from stealing a bag or getting hit by a pitch. If Clayton Kershaw went down for the Dodgers, it would be horrible for them, but they have starting pitching depth. The same with Corey Kluber for the Indians or Felix Hernandez for the Mariners. Trout is on another level as a position player and any replacement won’t come close. When a team has to win 90 games, which is a .555 winning percentage, there’s not much of a margin for error. It has to be considered given how Trout plays the game with an all-out effort and the freak things that can happen.
C.J. Wilson will throw 175 bad innings again for the Angels because his contract is completely unmovable. Wilson had the second-highest walk rate at 11.2 percent last season and his home run rate went up as his command and control dropped. Wilson really limited the usage of his slider, which could either mean an underlying injury or he’s trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher at 34 years old. Either one is a bad thing.
While Matt Shoemaker’s statistical profile suggests that most of his performance is repeatable, there is one area that concerns me. Shoemaker stranded 75.6 percent of baserunners in his 20 starts. League average for starters was 72.5 percent. It’s not a huge difference, but Shoemaker held hitters to a .208/.251/.332 slash line with a .257 wOBA with men on base. Batters slugged .409 off of him with the bases empty. Shoemaker may just alter his pitch sequencing with men on base, but one has to assume that there will be some regression in those splits and that should lead to a bump in ERA and FIP. It won’t be enough to turn him into a pumpkin or anything like that, but any increase in runs allowed is a concern.
Speaking of LOB% regressers, Jered Weaver falls into that category. With declining velo and a dropping strikeout rate, Weaver stranded 78.3 percent of opposing batters and posted another terrific BABIP because of his fly ball stylings. His chase rate, or outside the zone swing percentage, fell to an all-time low last season by a substantial amount. Hitters are laying off the junk and forcing Weaver to get in the zone because he’s gotten easier and easier to pick up as he ages. One of these seasons, Weaver’s going to completely fall apart. If it’s this season, you’ll be in great shape on the under.
If you rank the Angels relief pitchers by appearances, you have to go down 12 spots to find the first left-handed pitcher. That pitcher is Joe Thatcher, who was released. It worked for them last season, but not having a good lefty in the bullpen has to be a concern. Maybe it didn’t matter last season because the Angels won 30 games by five or more runs and only played 49 one-run decisions, but that’s going to catch up with them.
Pick: Under 88.5
This Angels team is going to be challenged by a tremendously talented Seattle Mariners team and (spoiler alert) the Oakland A’s are a better team than people think. The Angels have some depth problems and a lot of high-risk players on offense. A lot of the depth for the Angels has sharp platoon splits and the wrong injury can really hamper this team.
The back of the rotation is really scary. The Angels may have to use Andrew Heaney pretty quickly this season, but it remains to be seen if he’s fully ready for the big leagues or not. Tyler Skaggs is out for the season following Tommy John surgery.
The biggest thing to me is the drop from Kendrick to somebody else. That’s a 3.5-win drop, and while the Angels won 98 last season, they weren’t going to repeat that and the loss of Kendrick brings them down in a big way. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are on the downsides of their careers and so are Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
This number is way too high because oddsmakers were validated by last season’s number that was too high. The Angels were mediocre against good competition and there should be more parity overall in the AL this season. This is not a 90-win team, and, frankly, they won’t even win the AL West.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
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.
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.