2016 MLB season preview: Los Angeles Angels
This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 24: the Los Angeles Angels.
2015 Record and Finish:
85–77 (.525), third place in American League West (11th overall)
2016 Projected Record and Finish:
72–90 (.444), fourth place in AL West
The Case For
Any team that has Mike Trout is bound to stumble upon some degree of success, but the presence of one phenom on a roster is never enough to carry an entire team (see: the 2015 Nationals). The four-time All Star has put in MVP-caliber work every year since his first full season with the Angels in 2012—including his lone win in '14—but postseason success in that period has been sparse to nonexistent. In 2014, Los Angeles finished with baseball's best record but was swept out of the ALDS by the Royals—its only trip to October so far with Trout. Last year, the Angels finished with the best record of teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and a wild-card berth dangled just out of their grasp until the season’s final days. Trout, catcher Carlos Perez and then-third baseman David Freese all did their part by hitting over .300 in the season’s final month, but the rest of the starting lineup hit a collective .233, and the Halos missed the second wild-card spot by just one game. The theme of Trout receiving little backup at the plate was present throughout the Angels' entire season, and that will be the crux of whether Los Angeles can max out its present potential in 2016.
Despite Trout’s best efforts, the team’s season slash line of .246/.307/.396 sat at the bottom of the AL, and Los Angeles' 4.1 runs per game ranked 20th. The Angels will need more consistent production from prolific but aging first baseman Albert Pujols, who hit .244/.307/.480 in 2015 but reminded us he isn’t an old man quite yet by clubbing 40 home runs in his climb up the all-time leader board. In the best case scenario for the Angels, new additions Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar turn in career years at the plate; Pujols defies age and injury once again; Kole Calhoun, Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry do an above-average job at flanking Trout in the outfield; and the rotation behind righty ace Garrett Richards keeps the Angels in games. But without making many improvements in the areas they were lacking—catcher, second base, leftfield, designated hitter—it will be tough to contend in the AL West against the offense-heavy Rangers, the rebuilt Astros and the overhauled Mariners.
The Case Against
The prognosis looks grim for Los Angeles. Missing a playoff berth by so little was disheartening, but the Angels may not even come that close this year. Acquiring a second baseman, corner outfielder and starting pitcher could have turned this team into a powerhouse, but instead, the Halos will be entreating the baseball gods with prayers for uncharacteristically productive seasons from every player on their roster just to give them hope for a wild-card spot.
At second base, the Angels will stick with Johnny Giavotella despite his middling offense (96 OPS+) and awful defense (-12 Defensive Runs Saved) last year. In left, the duo of Nava (.194/.315/.245 in 166 plate appearances for the Red Sox and Rays) and Gentry (six hits in 26 forgettable games for the A's) will form arguably the least productive platoon in the majors. Barring a miracle or a midseason change, those positions will be persistent black holes for the Angels' offense—and that doesn't include the equally problematic options at designated hitter (C.J. Cron, 106 OPS+), catcher (Perez, 82 OPS+) and shortstop (Simmons, 86 OPS+). As it stands, Trout, Calhoun and Pujols are the only above-average regulars in Los Angeles' lineup; they will have to carry an incredibly heavy load.
Things aren't much better on the mound. The Angels' pitching hung near average in 2015 with a 3.94 ERA, and no significant acquisitions were made to improve the ailing starting rotation, most of which will be found in the training room rather than on the mound come Opening Day. Their starters (3.98 ERA) did a good job of limiting hits (.247 opponent's batting average) but gave away the second-most free passes in the AL (303 walks). The bullpen was average (3.86 ERA), though it benefited from a nearly full season from closer Huston Street, who was shut down in September with a groin injury, missing the final nine games of the season. Street has a long and unpleasant history of injuries, and the Angels' bullpen behind him would struggle to pick up the slack if he goes down for any significant length.
X-Factor: Andrew Heaney, SP
With C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs already set to begin the season on the disabled list (Wilson is out indefinitely with a shoulder problem and Skaggs is recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Jered Weaver potentially not far behind as he deals with degenerative changes in his vertebrae, the stage has been set for Heaney, a 24-year-old lefthander, to emerge as a leader in the rotation. Heaney owns a 4.00 ERA over two career seasons but showed promise in the 18 starts he made for the Angels last year. He finished with a 6–4 record and a 3.49 ERA, and his 1.7 WAR was just a tenth of a point behind those of Richards and All-Star Hector Santiago in the rotation. He will likely follow those two in the order again, and the Angels will rely heavily on him to pitch up to his prospect potential while the rest of their pitching staff mends.
Number To Know: 5.5
That's how many miles per hour Weaver has lost off his fastball since his rookie season. His diminishing velocity was a concern going into last season, and it remains a problem entering this season. Weaver's ERA has gone up every year since he finished second in Cy Young voting in 2011, and his average fastball velocity has correspondingly decreased; he finished last year with his fastball clocking in at 84.9 mph and his ERA at 4.64. According to FanGraphs, only five other non-knuckleball pitchers who have thrown more than 150 innings per season over the past 14 years have had a slower average fastball velocity than Weaver did in 2015. As he sluggishly brings up the rear in the starting pitching parade, he will need to find new ways to outsmart hitters, as blowing balls by them seems to no longer be an option.
Most Overrated: Craig Gentry, OF
"You've got a fifth outfielder you're considering to be an everyday player. At that position you're expecting power numbers. He has not performed at that level."
Most Underrated: Kole Calhoun, RF
"He just keeps getting better. Playing with the best player on the planet, I think people miss how much damage he’s doing there next to Trout."