The Angels have wasted the early part of Mike Trout’s tremendous career. They have not won a postseason series in over a decade, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2014.
This offseason Los Angeles shuffled around their front office, canning GM Billy Eppler and bringing in former Braves executive Perry Minasian. In Eppler’s five years at the front-office helm, the Angels had the big win of locking up Trout, but they could never put a competitive team around the recently-consensus best player in baseball.
You’ve probably noticed that our team previews have been posted in order of worst-projected winning record to best-projected record, and presently we’re very much in the middle-of-the-pack.
Per FanGraphs’ odds, the Angels are projected as a mid-80s win team, with about a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Astros are the clear-favorites in the AL West, with the Angels and Athletics jockeying behind the favorite for a wild card spot.
Team projections in the mid-80s are often the most unreliable, as a few bad bounces, and a team’s under .500 in a wasted year, and a few good bounces can lead to 90 wins and an improbable playoff run.
The lineup is mostly the same as last year, though a full season out of former All Star Anthony Rendon, and a hopefully healthy Shohei Ohtani complement Trout quite well, regardless of whether or not Ohtani remains a two-way player. There’s upside in the lineup as it’s highly unlikely that some of the Angels’ players will be as bad as they were in COVID shortened 2020 — particularly, Justin Upton and Jo Adell were absolutely horrendous last year (as was Albert Pujols, but that’s a known commodity at this point).
Upton has not been a solid player since 2018, when he posted a 121 wRC+ en route to a 2.9 fWAR season. Since then, he’s missed time (both due to injury and due to the shortened-season) totaling -0.3 fWAR in 105 games in the last two years combined.
Despite much fanfare to rookie Jo Adell joining the team last year, he wet-his-beak in 38 games, and was so bad, he still managed to cost the Angels at least one win. His 29 wRC+ was atrocious. A meager .161/.212/.266 slash line was among the worst of any starter in the game, with a strikeout rate nearing 42 percent; Adell simply looked overmatched at the plate nearly every time he stood up to bat.
The last two seasons the Angels’ offense has been middle-of-the-pack or better in the American league. Despite getting negative production from Adell, Upton, and Albert Pujols, last season Los Angeles still managed to finish fourth in the American League in wRC+ (109) and sixth in total lineup fWAR, at 8.6 wins.
Coming into 2021, the pitching has been revamped. The starting rotation has been bolstered by adding veterans Alex Cobb and Jose Quintana. The depth is helpful, but the team still lacks a true number-one starter. Last season LA pitchers were bottom-five in the AL, with an ERA at 5.09 and bottom-five in home runs, hits, and earned runs. The situation was truly untenable against the top-dogs of the AL.
Going into the season, the rotation includes the aforementioned veterans Quintana and Cobb, unproven Griffin Canning, who has never thrown more than 90 Major League innings in a season and perhaps Ohtani. The front-end is anchored by serviceable, though not star-studded talent in Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney. While Bundy and Heaney would be nice pieces behind a strong number one or two, the two do not inspire the confidence that the Angels could stop a losing streak if they just got to the front of their rotation.
The addition of new closer Raisel Iglesias should help a bullpen that led the majors in blown saves last year (a remarkable 14 blown saves in 26 chances). Behind Iglesias is Mike Mayers, who had a good year last season in 30 innings. His K-rate was much higher than it had been with the Cardinals (from 2016 through 2019) and he cut his walk rate in half compared to 2019.
Behind those two relievers however, the Angels may struggle pretty mightily. Alex Claudio is their lefty specialist, though he has not been that effective 2018.
The Angels made some roster adds this offseason, but it’s probably not enough to make them contenders in 2021. Several of the additions look like band-aids for a team that doesn’t look ready to compete any time soon.
Los Angeles has already wasted the first half of Mike Trout’s career due to their lack of success, let’s hope they don’t blow the second half as well.