The Angels shouldn’t be good. Mike Trout aside, this isn’t a loaded lineup. When your third-best hitter is Kole Calhoun, you may be in some trouble in the short term.
So imagine my surprise when FanGraphs tells me that the Angels are projected to win 84 games and be in the Wild Card hunt this year. There is the obvious caveat that the site has yet to integrate the ZiPS projection system, and their current standings projections are driven by Steamer. Plus, Baseball Prospectus pegged the Angels to finish 78-84, which seems eminently more reasonable. One can imagine that ZiPS will agree.
And yet: Steamer kind of loves the Angels. Why? Their roster has black holes at catcher, first base, third base, and left field. The middle infield looks great, but only on the defensive side of the ball. Albert Pujols will likely be better than people assume, but just-above-average offense from the DH position isn’t exactly lighting up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Nay, it all seems to come down to the pitching staff. Matt Shoemaker seemed to recapture his 2014 form last year, tossing 160 innings and posting a 3.63 Deserved Run Average. Garrett Richards will be back after using stem cells to heal his ulner collateral ligament rather than Tommy John surgery, and is expected to return to his steady-Eddy form from his his 2014 peak.
Perhaps most notable projection from that rotation is that of Tyler Skaggs. The injury-riddled southpaw is estimated to post 2.5 fWAR over 149 innings, somewhat extraordinary given his history. And yet, there it is.
As tempting as it is to see the Angels rotation as a sliver of light amid the darkness, it also feels like five figures traced in smoke. PECOTA, which uses DRA instead of FIP in its projections, still sees Skaggs as somehow a two-win player in only 150 innings, but takes a more pessimistic view of Shoemaker and Richards, tagging each for less than two wins. We haven’t even addressed the presence of Ricky Nolasco, either, who will be league-average and not much more, even in the best case scenarios. That’s probably fine if he’s your #3 starter, and damn good if he’s your #4. But a lot has to go right with the rest of the pitching staff for Nolasco not to be pushed into a more demanding role.
And what of that bullpen, who, on paper, could have a lights-out back end with Cam Bedrosian and Huston Street? Both are coming back from injury, Street with the added insult of being generally terrible last year. Bedrosian should be fine and will likely win the closer job, but his track record is less proven. Street is league-average by DRA, and given his struggles last year, is not likely to improve. PECOTA pegs both for less than half a win this year.
So, is Steamer getting a little hot for the Angels? Probably. That said, there are a lot of tantalizing bits and bobs scattered throughout the pitching staff. Shoemaker at times looked like a genuine ace last year. Richards is a proven article when healthy. Skaggs is... something, and according to the projections, a promising something. Street and Bedrosian could help lock down games. Maybe through all that smoke, a couple shafts of light really are ready to punch through.