2019 Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels
By Max Smith

2018 Record: 80-82 (4th in AL West)

2018 Payroll: $173,784,989 (7th in MLB)

Projected 2019 Lineup

  1. OF Kole Calhoun, .243/.324/.410, 1.9 WAR
  2. OF Mike Trout, .300/.441/.600, 8.4 WAR
  3. OF Justin Upton, .243/.327/.453, 2.3 WAR
  4. 1B Justin Bour, .246/.337/.446, 0.8 WAR
  5. DH Albert Pujols, .249/.299/.422, -0.1
  6. SS Andrelton Simmons, .277/.328/.399, 3.9 WAR
  7. C Jonathan Lucroy, .254/.318/.381, 1.4 WAR
  8. 3B Zack Cozart, .243/.315/.401, 2.9 WAR
  9. 2B David Fletcher, .272/.312/.374, 1.6 WAR

DH Starting in May: Shohei Ohtani, .273/.354/.516, 2.5 WAR

Projected 2019 Rotation

  1. Andrew Heaney, 178.0 IP/3.97 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 2.5 WAR
  2. Tyler Skaggs, 157.0 IP/3.97 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
  3. Matt Harvey, 153.0 IP/4.70 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
  4. Jaime Barría, 105.0 IP/4.94 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 0.3 WAR
  5. Trevor Cahill, 116.0 IP/4.11 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 1.3 WAR

Offseason Recap

It was a quiet offseason in sunny Anaheim, as last winter’s splashy moves of Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton and Zack Cozart were reinforced with a mixture of depth options and health-dependent long shot contributors. The biggest change of all occurred in the dugout, where former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus replaced Mike Scioscia, giving the Halos their first managerial change since the turn of the millennium. The Angels will hope that Ausmus, armed with a roster not headed for quite as steep of a decline as the Tigers’, provides better results.

On the offensive side, the main editions were Justin Bour, Tommy La Stella and Jonathan Lucroy. While Lucroy (as well as the teams that have taken a chance on him the past two years) is still looking for him to rediscover his pre-2017 form, the total disappearance of his 2016 power stroke has been holding the formerly elite catcher back. Bour and La Stella meanwhile will serve moreso as depth options, with Bour holding down first base until Shohei Ohtani’s return at DH in May moves the artist formerly known as Albert Pujols out of the DH role.

Pitching-wise, the Halos added some interesting names to a staff devoid of them. Yet names do not equal production, and in the cases of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill they do not equal health. It’s been a long time since Harvey’s days as the “Dark Knight of Gotham”, but he will be looking in Anaheim to salvage a career that once seemed so promising.

In the bullpen, long time Indians closer Cody Allen has come on board and will look to return to the form of his 5 straight sub-3.00 ERA seasons, rather than the 4.70 ERA of 2018. If his K/9 climbs back towards 12, and if his unusually high 4.43 walk rate goes back down, the Angels might have found themselves an above average closer.

2019 Season Preview

The Angels 2019 mission will remain the same as last year’s: overcome a weak pitching staff and ride elite offensive star power to an admittedly unlikely on-paper Wild Card appearance in an Astros-dominated division and overall top-heavy American League.

In 2018 that did not work out, as the Halos finished third in the AL West and a win away from .500. Yet, it does not seem like the Athletics will repeat their miraculous 97 wins. If this is indeed the case, the door to the one-game playoff might be cracked open.

Let’s start with the bad, though. Should the Angels in fact make a Wild Card Game appearance, a key question arises: who takes the ball? Would it be Andrew Heaney? Tyler Skaggs? No matter who they start, the rotation is uninspiring and will hold this team back. No starter is projected to post an ERA below 3.97, and eating innings will be their main focus in a year without an ace. That ace would have been Shohei Ohtani, yet after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason, he will not see any time on the mound until 2020. Beyond that, Cam Bedrosian and a hopefully resurgent Cody Allen anchor a bullpen that was 23rd in WAR in 2018.

Enough of the pitching though, time for the offense. You might think that a “stars and scrubs” approach was limited to fantasy baseball, and the Angels certainly hope that will be the case. But unless Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols, Jonathan Lucroy, Zack Cozart, and David Fletcher either rediscover production of old—or breakout, in Fletcher’s case—that’s exactly what the Angels might be looking at. Luckily, the Angels star power is quite bright and led by one Mr. Mike Trout. A third double digit fWAR season is not out of the question, and neither is a 40 HR/30 SB season.

With center field locked down by the Milville Meteor, let’s look at the other two positions at which the Angels placed top two in positional group WAR aside from their first place finish in center field: shortstop and DH. Andrelton Simmons’ evolution into a consistent 5 WAR player and .292/.337/.417 hitter with double digit home run power has been nothing short of impressive.

Meanwhile, the designated hitter position should only feature Albert Pujols until May, at which point Shohei Ohtani is projected to return to the lineup. That should inherently mean nothing but good things for the Angels, as Pujols is projected for negative WAR. Add in the potential of Justin Bour displaying the 25+ home run power he showed off in a few of his years in Miami, and the future Hall of Famer might be seeing out a lot of his remaining three years (and earning his remaining 87 million dollars) from the dugout.

Shifting away from the infield and DH positions, Justin Upton can be counted on for impressive power and strong all-around offense, which in addition to Trout makes the outfield a strength for the team. Kole Calhoun is unlikely to have another .241 BABIP season, making his 1.9 WAR projection seem far likelier than his baseline 2018 statistics and 0 fWAR suggest. Though far-fetched, a 2019 appearance from MLB’s #14 prospect Jo Adell cannot entirely be ruled out after a hot start to spring training and a hopefully better performance in Double A where he will start the season.

All things considered, the Angels seem closer to a .500 team than a playoff contender. As such, the most interesting non-Ohtani storyline out of Anaheim in 2019 might be whether to consider trading baseball’s best player ahead of his potential 2020 free agency and look to kickstart a rebuild should they be slow out of the gate.

Projected Record: 81-81

Players to Watch

Mike Trout

What is there left to say? The worst Mike Trout has ever been is still 67% better than league average, with 167 wRC+’s (we’re making it a plural!) in 2012 and 2014. Yet in those two seasons, the Milville Meteor posted 10.0 fWAR with 49 steals and 36 home runs with a career high 111 RBI in the Angels only AL West-winning season of Trout’s career. Does that mean Halos fans should be hoping for a “down” year from their star? Honestly, none of it matters, Trout is the best player in baseball and will perform as such. The only concern should be team success ahead of his potential free agency in 2020. So sit back, enjoy, and get your popcorn ready—no matter how the team’s season goes.

Shohei Ohtani

From the best player in baseball to the most fascinating. As mentioned previously, Ohtani, like so many other pitchers these days, needed Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL this winter. Unlike any other pitchers, Ohtani homered twice the night the initial recommendation was made.

Now, plenty has been written about the historic two-way success of the Japanese sensation as a rookie, but even baseball misses out on Ohtani the pitcher in 2019, watching him DH should still be a treat. With a gorgeous lefty power stroke and criminally underrated speed on the bases, Showtime will look to build off a 152 rookie year wRC+. 30 homers are not out of the question and neither are 20 stolen bases. If he improves against lefties (.222/.300/.354, 32% K% in 2018), he and Trout could make for one of the best two hitting combinations in the game.

Zack Cozart

On a roster with defensive wizard turned all-around star Andrelton Simmons, it is the other infielders who will need to pick up the slack. First and foremost, the Angels will be hoping that comes from a healthy Zack Cozart. After a 2017 career year and NL All-Star appearance, the now 33-year old third baseman played only 58 games in his first season with the Halos. Yet in those games, his walk percentage fell back in line with his career average, from 12.2% to 7.5%, leading to a 90 point drop in on-base percentage. Those disappointing trends basically occurred across the board, though, as Cozart’s 2017 began to look like a significant outlier. Yet, it is that production level that the Halos brought him in for, and were he to rediscover the All-Star form, it would go a long way towards an Anaheim Wild Card push. ocked0 L

Categories: 2019 Season Preview

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