Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

30 Teams: Los Angeles Angels

By Mike Moritz

2003 was the last year that manager Mike Scioscia and his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had a sub-.500 record. The year before (2002), they beat the San Francisco Giants in the World Series in seven games and in 2003, they won just 77 games. However, after that Scioscia led the Angels to six straight years of at least 92 wins and an American League West Division title in each of the six years. Then, when 2010 came around the Angels had already lost Vladimir Guerrero to the division rival Texas Rangers, John Lackey to the Boston Red Sox and Chone Figgins to another division rival in the Seattle Mariners. The Angels lost a total of 10.8 WAR from these three free-agent losses. In an attempt to make up for the losses, GM Tony Reagins brought in Hideki Matsui and right hander Joel Pineiro. 

It was not quite enough to fill in for the losses. Pineiro had a nice year last year, the first of his two-year, $16 million deal. He had a 3.84 ERA and FIP, 2.01 BB/9 in 152.1 innings in 2010. Matsui also had a solid year, the only year of his one-year, $6.5 million contract. He had a .274/.361/.459 slash line and 21 homers. Those two added up for just a 4.4 WAR.

But the 6.4 WAR that they lost in total was not the only loss of the season. 

We all remember the infamous broken leg that Kendry Morales suffered on his walk-off grand-slam against the Mariners. The May 29th incident put Morales on the DL for the rest of the season and ended his short season with a 1.4 WAR in just 211 PA. I am pretty interested in Morales, as a lot of his stats were pretty different from his huge 2009 to 2010. First off, he shaved off almost 5% of his strike out rate, from 20.7% to 16.1%. But with that, his walk rate also dropped from 7.4% to 5.7%. But this is what gets a little more interesting: his line drive rate was up by 4.1% (16.8% to 20.9%) and his ground ball rate went north almost 6% (42% to 47.9%). But perhaps his most notable change is his fly ball rate. It dropped a full 9.8%. Yes, a  9.8% drop, from 41.1% to 31.3%. I am not making a projection for him but I will go ahead and say that I do not completely trust Morales. His big second half in 2009 was a huge reason for 34 homer, .306 average campaign. In his 2009 second half, he hit .327 with 21 homers and after his weird statistical shifts that I just explained, I just don't know what to expect from him. But if I was forced to project something from him, it would be closer to 'decent' than to 'good' but he probably will not be a bad player. (NOTE: Something interesting to consider is that Morales's fly ball was down by a lot and his ISO dropped from .263 to .197 but his HR/FB ratio was up from 18.1% to 21.6%)

I can not finish this post without mentioning the complete and utter brain fart by GM Tony Reagins when he traded catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells and his HUGE salary. Wells will make $23 million in 2011, and then $21 million in 2012... and 2013... and (say it with me now) 2014 and the Angels are taking on the whole salary. Every penny. And in terms of actual talent, this is how Mike Napoli and Vernon Wells compare to each other in WAR:
Granted Napoli has not played as long as Wells but if you follow Napoli's line all the way to the end of the graph, he is right next to Wells.

(In courtesy of fangraphs.com)

Granted Napoli has not played as long as Wells but if you follow Napoli's line all the way to the end of the graph, he is right next to Wells. So essentially, the Angels gave up a solid player in Mike Napoli and Jaun Rivera for extremely similar value to that of a 31 year old Vernon Wells plus $86 million over the next four seasons. 

I explained the Dan Haren trade in a previous post that you can view here.

With Dan Haren in the rotation for a full year (pending injury), the Angels look to have a very solid pitching rotation:

1) Jered Weaver 
2) Dan Haren
3) Ervin Santana
4) Joel Pineiro
5) Scott Kazmir

With the exception of Scott Kazmir, that is a great rotation. With Haren in Angel Stadium, his home run happy repitoure might be a little better but even if it isn't, Haren is obviously still a great pitcher. And to go with Haren, Jered Weaver is the reining strike out king. That has to be one of the best one-two pitching punches in baseball and maybe the most underrated, too.

Peter Bourjos is already known for his stellar defense in the outfield (15 DRS and 16 UZR in just 51 games, which is 44.7 in 150 games) and should be playing center field. Though with Wells and Hunter on the corners (Left field and Right field), the outfield is still a little be questionable. Luckily, with Matsui now in Oakland, Bobby Abreu can move to DH so that at least saves some bad defense (-8.3 UZR in 2010

Hank Conger is the Angels third best prospect, a catcher with good power potential and should hit for a good average. He has a great, smooth swing and has a very short path to the ball. The question  that still remains is whether or not we will be able to stay behind the plate. In AAA last year, Conger hit .300/.385/.463/.374 and 11 homers.

Mike Trout was rated the 2nd best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. We all know a lot about Trout. He is a center fielder with a good arm, BLAZING speed and great power. He should hit for a great average and should also steal a boat load of bases. Trout also showed a great plate approach with his 12% walk rate from last year. He also stole 56 bases last year and that kind of speed will be very valuable for his defense.

Take a look at Reed MacPhail's Top 10 Angels prospects on fangraphs.com.

The Angels look to be OK this year. They should be in contention for the AL West division but I am not so sure that they can snag it away from the Rangers and, now, the Athletics. 85 wins is my projection.

(Statistics in courtesy of fangraphs.com and espn.com)

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