The Los Angeles Angels look like what would happen if you spent 75% of your fantasy budget on stars and had to scrounge to fill out your roster. This is a team with two seven-fWAR players and a chance for more. It’s also a team that might be starting Tommy La Stella at first base and also might need Tommy La Stella to pitch, and I’m only half-joking.
The big acquisition this offseason was Anthony Rendon, poached from the Nationals on a record deal in free agency. Between him and the perpetually otherworldly Mike Trout, the Angels can make a reasonable case for employing two of the five best players in baseball. Rendon just hit .319/.412/.598 en route to his third consecutive season of at least 6 fWAR; Trout hit .291/.438/.645 and flirted with nine fWAR. Add two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who didn’t reach his 2018 offensive heights but still hit .286/.343/.505 whilst recovering from Tommy John surgery, and that’s an incredible base on which to build an offense.
Now for the bad news. Andrelton Simmons continues to play high-end defense, but his offense slipped badly in 2019, and he regressed to just .264/.309/.364, and at 30, it’s fair to wonder if his 2017-18 production levels are behind him. A good offense could carry his bat, given his still superlative glove, but the Angels are unfortunately not that. The team’s fourth-best hitter is probably right fielder Brian Goodwin, who surprised last year with a .262/.326/.470 batting line (109 wRC+) filling in for the injured Justin Upton, but whether he can repeat that performance in a true everyday role is an open question.
The aforementioned Upton collapsed last year at age 32, hitting a putrid .215/.309/.416 in an injury-ruined, -0.2 fWAR season. Steamer thinks Upton will rebound to at least above-average production (a 107 projected wRC+) as the everyday left fielder, but that would require him to stay healthy. Albert Pujols hasn’t posted even 1 fWAR since 2015 or league-average offense since 2016, and might end up at first base full time if Tommy La Stella plays second. La Stella broke out last year (.295/.346/.486) in a half-season at age 30, but is probably stretched with full-time at bats. The team is probably better with La Stella at first and David Fletcher (.290/.350/.384, 99 wRC+) at second, but even though most of Fletcher’s value comes from his defense, the team plans to try him in right field so as to keep Pujols in the lineup.
All of this is to say that the Angels, a team with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, may well run out a lineup most days with only four above-average hitters by wRC+. The team really could have used Joc Pederson.
Unfortunately, the Angels’ starting rotation is, to put it mildly, thin. Ohtani will return to a mound in May, most likely, but in his first season back from Tommy John surgery is unlikely to be a top-of-the-rotation force. The Angels’ nominal number one starter instead projects to be Andrew Heaney, who threw 95 1⁄3 innings in 2019 with below average ERA- (109) and FIP- (101) figures. Heaney has potential, but counting on him for a full season’s worth of innings is a fool’s errand.
Unfortunately, he’s the team’s best starting pitcher other than Ohtani. The team’s number-two starter is Julio Teheran, who hasn’t posted a FIP- lower than 100 since 2016...and he spent all of that time in the National League with Atlanta. Now he has to face designated hitters in a division with Yordan Alvarez, Khris Davis, and Joey Gallo. Behind Teheran is former Oriole Dylan Bundy, who went 8-16 with a 5.45 ERA in 2018, and 7-14 with a 4.79 ERA in 2019, and peripherals that weren’t much better.
If there is upside to this rotation, it will be found in the 23-year-old Griffin Canning, who pitched 90 almost exactly league average innings in 2019 with good strikeout numbers (25.0% K%, 7.8% BB%, 17.2% K-BB%), and probably has some upside beyond that. Unfortunately, Canning has never thrown more than 110 innings in a professional season. Youngsters Felix Pena and Jaime Barria are around to compete with erstwhile Rays swingman Matt Andriese, but none of those guys will deliver 200 innings of even league-average production.If there’s a silver lining to the pitching staff, it’s that new catcher Jason Castro is a good pitch framer. This team could really have used Ross Stripling.
If there’s good news, it’s in the bullpen, which eschews the stars-and-scrubs construction of the rest of the team in favor of good old-fashioned competence. Closer Hansel Robles is a good pitcher. Setup pitchers Ty Buttrey and Kenyan Middleton are good pitchers. Noe Ramirez and Cam Bedrosian are good pitchers. In short, the bullpen should be good, and filled with good pitchers. Given how often the Angels’ starting pitchers will be making short outings, the bullpen will be getting an awful lot of use.
So what are the 2020 Angels? Hope springs eternal, but it’s hard to see the Angels making a real playoff run. For starters, the Angels share a division with the Astros, Athletics, and Rangers, all of whom are better teams. Even if Rendon and Trout each post a 10-WAR season, they can’t outslug a starting pitching staff this flawed. If Griffin Canning breaks out and Ohtani returns in May as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter, the Angels could make a run at a Wild Card spot. But until then, the Angels will spend another season in 2020 wasting the prime of the greatest player any of us will ever see. At least Trout will have another elite player to keep him company this time.