Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Team Postmortem: Los Angeles Angels

Record: 78-84, -4 Run Differential

Summary: The Angels' 2013 season was a disaster. An expensive disaster. Sure, Mike Trout is the absolute best player in the game, but the rest of them team tended to be either mediocre, over-paid, or both. The contracts to Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are looking to be an even bigger mistakes than the most pessimistic could have predicted. The starting rotation--outside of, perhaps, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson--was underwhelming. Trout, as talented as he is, cannot win baseball games all by himself. But the devil (in this case, the Angels' GM, Jerry DiPoto) is in the details, so let's take a look.

Truth be told, on the whole, the Angels' offense wasn't actually bad. They scored the seventh most runs in baseball with 733, ahead of the Rangers and behind the Indians. The team hit .269/.329/.414 for a wRC+ of 108 (5th). The Halos also had an excellent 8.4% walk rate (9th) and solid power (.150 ISO - 12th). The caveat here is that the superhuman abilities of Mike Trout skew the results. The Angels' offense produced 26.4 fWAR, good for seventh in baseball. However, if you remove Trout's insane 10.4 and replace him with a merely average 2 WAR outfielder (let's say Carlos Beltran or Michael Bourn), then the Angels are considerably less impressive at 18.0 fWAR (theoretically 20th), putting them in the company of teams like the Brewers and the Mets. While you certainly can't penalize the Angels for having a superstar like Trout, the rest of the offense was less than impressive.

Speaking of Trout, he hit .323/.432/.557 with a wRC+ of 176(!). That 176 was the second best mark in all of baseball; only Miguel Cabrera was better. Trout raised his walk rate from 10.5% last season to 15.4% and cut his strikeouts from 21.8% to 19.04%. He played great defense and stole 33 bases in 40 attempts. He hit 27 home runs. Mike Trout is 21 years old and not even in his prime yet!

The bad news for the Angels' offense was the incredibly disappointing seasons of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Hamilton had his worst season since 2009, hitting .250/.307/.432 with a wRC+ of a mere 104. His ISO was down to .182 after .292 last season. Hamilton was worth a mere 1.9 fWAR, despite being paid $15M and owed an additional $108M over the next four seasons. Albert Pujols was even more depressing. After being one of, if not the, best players in baseball from 2002-2010, Pujols had the worst season of his career in 2013. He hit only .258/.330/.437 with a wRC+ of 111 in 99 games before landing on the Disabled List with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Pujols was worth only 0.7 fWAR despite being paid $16M and having an additional $212M though 2021 left on his contract.

Unfortunately, the Angels' pitching staff did not have a Mike Trout equivalent to raise their collective numbers, which were just awful. They allowed 737 runs, putting them 24th in the majors. They had a 4.08 FIP (23rd) and 4.10 xFIP (27th). Their best starter was C.J. Wilson, who put up a 7.97 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, 3.51 FIP, and 3.93 xFIP, culminating in a 3.3 fWAR, which does not a front-line starter make. Former ace Jered Weaver continued his decline, with a 3.82 FIP and 4.31 xFIP, and only pitching in 24 starts after hitting the DL with a fracture in his left elbow. After, that things get much worse. Garret Richards and Jason Vargas combined for 253.1 average innings.  Joe Blanton put up a 5.66 ERA and 4.89 FIP in 20 starts, and Jerome Williams made 25 starts with a 5.06 ERA and 4.94 FIP. He had a mere 5.84 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9. Tommy Hanson (4.81 FIP, 17 starts) was little better.

Ultimately, the Angels were a bad, overpaid baseball team in 2013. It's hard to imagine them getting much better. The Pujols and Hamilton contracts are looking to be disasters that will drag the Angels down for years. The money owed to them (plus that needed to try to extend Mike Trout in the near future) severely hampers the organization's flexibility going forward, preventing them from making many moves to improve the team. Then again, that might be a good thing when GM Jerry DiPoto does things like trade excellent defensive center fielder Peter Bourjos plus one of their prospects for the mediocre Cardinals' third baseman David Freese and then says, "We feel like we're getting one of the most productive third base bats in baseball over the last three years." Speaking of prospects, the Angels aren't getting any help from the minors any time soon, as they possess the worst farm system in baseball. The window for contention the Angels paid so dearly to open may be closing sooner than they thought, and could stay shut for quite a while--Mike Trout or no.

Team MVP: Who do you think?, 10.4 fWAR

Team LVP: Brendan Harris, -0.6 fWAR

Down on the Farm: Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is it. The worst farm system in baseball. Between trading away talent in attempts to contend and some poor drafting, the cupboard is nearly bare for the Angels. They have few pitching prospects and most of the ones they do have are very young and project to more likely be bullpen pieces. The system continues to get worse as the Angels recently sent #2 prospect Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals (where he'll slot in closer to #10, indicative of the Angels' system) in the David Freese/Peter Bourjos trade.

Kaleb Cowart is a 21-year-old switch-hitting third baseman who was the Angels' #1 prospect going into the season. Unfortunately, Cowart's stint at AA did not go well this season. He hit only .221/.279/.301 with a 65 wRC+. His power evaporated  to the tune of a .065 ISO, after posting .167 and .186 in A+ and A over the last two seasons. He struggled with plate discipline, walking only 7% of the time while striking out at a 22.7% rate. Defensively, he projects to be slightly above average and possesses a strong throwing arm. Cowart is a lock to repeat AA next year and hopefully will fair better at the plate in his second go-around. Unless he does so, his prospect status will take a significant hit.

Taylor Lindsay, 21, is a second base prospect who spent the 2013 at AA. He hit .274/.339/.441 and a wRC+ of 119. Lindsay also hit 17 home runs, a career high. However, he doesn't project for big power, but is more of a gap-to-gap hitter. While he may have decent offensive potential, his defense is a significant question mark. His glovework is rough and his range is mediocre. He could develop into an average regular, but might be more of a utility player.

Offseason Outlook: The Angels entered the offseason needing a third baseman, and already they have certainly acquired...  a guy. Who plays third base. So, mission accomplished.

It's a shame that Freese isn't actually very good. It's also a shame that the Angels gave up an excellent defensive center fielder and a prospect to get him. Of course, what the Angels really need this offseason is pitching. Starting pitching and lots of it. Unfortunately, the Halos don't have much room to manuver, don't have the money to sign any high-priced free agent starter, and don't have the assets to trade for a David Price. With a lot of the value signings like Josh Johnson and Dan Haren already off the board, the Angels will be left looking at a guy like Scott Kazmir or rolling the dice on Phil Hughes. Of course, who knows, Jerry DiPoto may end up doing something insane like sending Chris Ianetta plus a prospect to Boston in exchange for Ryan Dempster. Why not?

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