Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 81-81
Actual Record: 97-65
BP was off-base on this one, as the Angels exceeded expectations again. Why? And what does the future hold?
Buster Olney of ESPN.com’s Take
What went wrong: Six-and-a-half months of strong, inspired baseball went by the wayside when the Angels really didn’t play up to their own standards in the American League Championship Series. They committed nine errors in the six-game series against the Yankees-six more than the Yankees-and veterans like Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu, who were so reliable during the season, simply stopped producing at the same level. The Angels managed to get past the Red Sox, but they still fell a couple of rungs short of where they wanted to get to on the Major League Baseball ladder.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Angels have a ton of prospective free agents, including Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, and Chone Figgins. It’s evident that the Angels-who have seen John Lackey start each of the last two seasons with forearm trouble-are not comfortable with the notion of giving him a nine-figure deal, so if somebody else is willing to give him an A.J. Burnett-like contract in the range of $82.5 million, well, the Angels will say goodbye. While Jered Weaver continues to improve and Scott Kazmir had moments of excellence after joining the Angels, they really don’t have a lot of number one-type starting pitchers. “They’ve got a number two and and maybe a couple of number threes,” said one rival GM, “but they don’t really have that number one guy.” The Angels will also have to decide whether to re-sign Vladimir Guerrero (it seems unlikely, unless he makes some serious contractual concessions to stay) and Chone Figgins (much more likely, although you couldn’t blame the Angels if they fretted about his repeated October struggles). Some executives with other teams have speculated during the summer that the Angels would be the natural landing spot for Matt Holliday, but to do that, the Angels would have to take a leap of faith that Holliday’s lack of production for Oakland was more about mechanics and the way he was being pitched, rather than the fact that AL pitchers might’ve locked in on a perceived weakness and pounded him with fastballs. One way or another, the Angels need a middle-of-the-order hitter.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
The Angels didn’t simply outperform our pre-season projection. We expected the AL West to be a tight divisional race, and on the basis of runs scored and allowed and how well teams hit and pitched on the year, it was supposed to have been, with the Angels’ final projected total of 87 wins finishing in first, the Rangers with 85 right behind them, the Mariners in third with 83, and the A’s in fourth place with 82. The Angels upset that particular sabermetric apple cart once again, as they managed to outperform their predicted record by 10 games for a second consecutive season, a first in baseball history. Their tally of 34.3 wins above their expected record across the last three seasons has gone from 8.1 games up in 2007 to the all-time single-season record of 16.0 in 2008, to this year’s 10.2 games above, MLB records for one-, two-, and three-year stretches. What made this year’s execution particularly interesting was beyond the normal areas you’d expect to find reasons-for example, they went 27-18 in one-run games-they scored a franchise-high 883 runs while finishing fourth in the American League in team-level Equivalent Average (.266).
But with their rotation bobbing around adequacy and their bullpen ranking a miserable 23rd in the majors in FRA at 4.85, they needed every run to be able to pound opponents to win. When the sketchy pitching was exposed and their reputation for execution turned out to be more media-generated than a matter of actual execution, they gave a much stronger Yankees club a decent run for their money-but no more than that.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
Key Stat: .505
While this year’s bullpen troubles received (and deserved) plenty of headlines, bullpens can frequently be fixed with less-expensive roster tweaks informed by scouting and performance analysis. Fixing a rotation isn’t quite so easy, and that number of .505 is the Support-Neutral Winning Percentage of the Angels’ rotation this year. Being just a few ticks above .500 means exactly what it sounds like-and not the sort of thing you can bank on for continued success when the other teams in the division aren’t patsies. Add in the impending free agency of John Lackey and the uneven performances of holdovers Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir, the Angels don’t just need Jered Weaver to replicate this year’s success, they need unit-wide improvement, especially if the addition of Kazmir prices the Halos out of any big-game hunting of free-agent starting pitching.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
ESPN.com Rumor Central
Free agency: Don’t be surprised at all if the Angels let both Figgins and Lackey walk. Keeping the two for a combined $150 million isn’t just a frightening prospect, it looks even worse when you consider maybe the most valuable offensive player on the team last year made $5 million. That was Abreu-and he is said to be looking for, at the least, a two-year deal. Considering he can both still cover some ground in the outfield and DH if need be in place of a likely departed Guerrero, we’d be shocked if the Angels don’t make a solid bid for him.
Money: If the Angels let Lackey walk, they could invest the perhaps $60 million they might have been willing to hand him and go in another direction-say, South, by way of Miami. That’s right, the Angels are now being considered a strong entrant in the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes. Scouting director Eddie Bane confirmed to the LA Times this week that the team is definitely going to meet with Chapman after they see him pitch. When you combine what the Angels have coming off the books, they might have the most flexibility of any team outside the Bronx. (Isn’t that always the case?)
Who 2 Watch 4: Trevor Reckling, LHP
During Reckling’s full-season debut in 2008, Midwest League scouts were baffled as to how Reckling fell as far as the eighth round of the 2007 draft. They saw an ultra-athletic left-hander with average velocity but a pair of truly plus secondary offerings in the form of his slider and changeup. After beginning the 2009 season with three dominant California League starts, the Angels moved Reckling up to the Double-A Texas league a month before his 20th birthday, and he finished fourth in the circuit with a 2.93 ERA. The bad news is that he also led the league with 75 walks and 14 wild pitches, but with some refinements in his command and control, he could reach the big leagues as early as next September.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
Signed: 33 of 54
Spent: Just over $6 million
Positive: Mike Trout, CF (25th overall): Trout is a little raw and faced inferior competition in New Jersey, but his upside as a potential power-hitting center fielder is enticing and exciting, and he’s already impressed scouts in the Arizona Rookie League with the way he’s handled the wood bat.
Question Mark: Randal Grichuk, OF (24th overall): Grichuk has plus raw power, but it’s grossly weighted to his pull side, as Keith Law points out, and offers little on the bases or with the glove. The Angels are rolling the dice that his power bat carries him into the big leagues; that’s a major gamble on a first-round pick with the questions surrounding Grichuk.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com
The Bottom Line
The Rangers’ calling card came this year, and, frankly, it told the Angels that the future doesn’t necessarily have them winning titles. Add in the re-tooling going on in Seattle and Oakland, and the division remains a tougher neighborhood than the Halos’ five division wins in the last six years might reflect. Beyond the need to shore up the rotation, there’s also the issue of sorting what to do to keep the lineup firing on all cylinders. While being able to take Vlad Guerrero’s eight-figure contract off of the books helps improve their flexibility, there are issues in terms of Figgins and Abreu possibly leaving. There will be raises through arbitration for Jered Weaver, Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli and Erick Aybar-all this eats into their payroll flexibility. Former top prospect Brandon Wood might help answer some of the needs they’ll have, replacing Vladi’s right-handed power bat in the lineup and Figgins at third base on defense. Beyond sorting out that pitching staff, they need to retain at least one of their top-of-the-order OBP sources just to avoid losing ground in the lineup if they’re going to retain the pole position in the AL West.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .