In their first full season since 1996 without Anaheim in their name, the LA Angels finished 80-82 and second in the American League West. Fun fact, the Angels returned to their original name in 2017, which was changed from LA to the California Angels after the 1964 season.
The Angels were exactly what their record said they were as they hovered around .500 for the majority of the season. It hurt that center fielder Mike Trout missed a significant chunk of the season with a torn UCL in his thumb, but shortstop Andrelton Simmons stepped up and became a major contributor in his place. As a result, the Angels boasted two positions ranked first and second in WAR in all of Major League Baseball. (Simmons finished behind Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.)
Despite solid numbers from Trout, Simmons and C.J. Cron, the Angels were one of the worst offensive teams in the AL. They finished in the bottom two in team batting average and had the worst slugging percentage in the league. But for all their struggles to get on base, they made up for it with aggressiveness on the base paths and led MLB in stolen bases with a grand total of 136 swipes on 180 attempts.
Pitching wasn’t too big of an issue for the Angels. However, having healthy pitchers was an issue. Ricky Nolasco was the only starter to work his full load with 33 starts. Aside from Nolasco, 12 other pitchers started games for the Angels, including closer Bud Norris with three starts of his own. Collectively, the staff did well to keep from walking too many batters and keeping runners off the bases, but it did give up a lot of home runs.
Even with Simmons as a solid defensive anchor at shortstop, second and third base were major issues. The Angels finished worst in MLB in position WAR at second and second-worst in the AL at third. Both positions have been upgraded with the acquisitions of second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop-turned-three-bagger Zack Cozart.
With moves to acquire Kinsler and Cozart, the Angels have already made significant improvements offensively and defensively. Of course, we can’t forget the major signing of international superstar free agent pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who is projected to be a two-way player. The addition of Ohtani should help the Angels with another strong righty in the rotation. Batting Ohtani could get tricky, but Albert Pujols was listed with the lowest WAR of all designated hitters in MLB in 2017, so he could get some solid run at the plate in Pujols’ place to prove himself as legitimate two-way player.
With the offseason improvements the Angels have made (and a healthy Trout), I would expect them to increase their win total by 10 games. A 90-win Angels team would easily make the playoffs as a second Wild Card, but they still won’t contend with the Astros, as the richest of the rich have only gotten richer this winter.
Photo by Brigham Berthold