The Los Angeles Angels made the biggest splash of any team in the league this offseason, bringing in superstar slugger Albert Pujols and ace lefty C.J. Wilson.
Now, all they have to do is live up to the lofty expectations people have for them.
It's a given that the Angels will at least win more games than they'll lose this season, but the real question is how good this team will be in 2012.
That's exactly what we're here to discuss. Read on.
2011 Record: 86-76
Key Arrivals (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports): 1B Albert Pujols (FA), LHP C.J. Wilson (FA), RHP LaTroy Hawkins (FA), LHP Brad Mills (FA), C Chris Iannetta (FA).
Key Departures: C Jeff Mathis (to Toronto), RHP Tyler Chatwood (to Colorado), RHP Fernando Rodney (FA), 1B Russell Branyan (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- Jered Weaver (18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP)
- Dan Haren (16-10, 3.17, 1.02)
- C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94, 1.19)
- Ervin Santana (11-12, 3.38, 1.22)
- Jerome Williams (4-0, 3.68, 1.36)
- Garrett Richards (0-2, 5.79, 1.64)
C: Chris Iannetta (.238/.370/.414)
1B: Albert Pujols (.299/.366/.541)
2B: Howard Kendrick (.285/.338/.464)
3B: Alberto Callaspo (.288/.266/.375), Mark Trumbo (.254/.291/.477)
SS: Erick Aybar (.279/.322/.421)
LF: Vernon Wells (.218/.248/.412)
CF: Peter Bourjos (.271/.327/.438)
RF: Torii Hunter (.262/.336/.429)
DH: Bobby Abreu (.253/.353/.365), Kendrys Morales (N/A), Mark Trumbo
Closer: Jordan Walden (R) (5-5, 32 SV, 10 BLSV, 2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP)
Scott Downs (L) (6-3, 1 SV, 26 HLD, 3 BLSV, 1.34, 1.01)
LaTroy Hawkins (R) (3-1, 20 HLD, 2.42, 1.24)
Hisanori Takahashi (L) (4-3, 2 SV, 7 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.44, 1.22)
Rich Thompson (R) (1-3, 3 HLD, 1 BLSV, 3.00, 1.22)
Bobby Cassevah (R) (1-1, 6 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.72, 1.18)
Trevor Bell (R) (1-1, 1 BLSV, 3.41, 1.43)
Brad Mills (L) (1-2, 9.82, 1.91)
Kevin Jepsen (R) (1-2, 2 HLD, 1 BLSV, 7.62, 2.31)
Michael Kohn (R) (0-1, 7.30, 1.87)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The Angels' rotation is absolutely loaded.
At the top, the Angels have the luxury of having two co-aces in Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, who finished second and third in the American League in WHIP in 2011.
Both of them are just plain hard to hit, and Haren in particular just doesn't make mistakes with his pitches. You can see that reflected in the AL-high 5.82 K/BB ratio he posted in 2011.
Behind the two of them, newcomer C.J. Wilson is as good as it gets for a No. 3 starter. He's not a guy you'd want to start in a Game 7 situation, but he'll do just fine throughout the course of the regular season. He's topped 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, and he did himself a huge favor by cutting down on his walks and upping his strikeouts in 2011. His K/BB was 1.83 in 2010; it was 2.78 in 2011.
Ervin Santana is no slouch either. He's not as consistent as the top three guys in the Angels' rotation, but he's a great No. 4 starter. He'll give the Angels 200-plus innings and keep his ERA in the low 3.00s. There are a lot of teams out there who could use Santana as a No. 1, never mind a No. 4.
With these four guys leading the way, the Angels are going to be just fine as far as their starting pitching is concerned.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Angels finished second in the league with a bullpen ERA of 3.52 in 2011, but that's more than a little misleading. As solid as the Angels' bullpen was, it also blew 25 saves, tied for the most in the American League.
Jordan Walden was the main culprit. He saved 32 games and was named an All-Star, but he also tied for the major league lead with 10 blown saves. That's not a category that any closer wants to lead.
Still, Walden has great stuff, including a fastball that will touch 100 miles per hour. He can only improve on his 2011 performance.
The rest of the bullpen is largely unchanged with the exception of LaTroy Hawkins. He had a 2.42 ERA pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, but I'd be worried about him. He's not consistent year in and year out, and he was god-awful the last time he pitched in the American League.
Even if Hawkins does struggle, though, the Angels have enough options to cover for him. This is a solid bullpen.
Scouting the Hitting
In 2011, the Angels were a decent offensive team.
In 2012, they should be a great offensive team.
The addition of Albert Pujols is huge. If he stays healthy, he's going to give the Angels a .300-plus average, 40 or so home runs and well over 100 RBI. The Angels haven't had a hitter like Pujols since Vlad Guerrero was in his heyday.
There are no true superstars to be found elsewhere in the Angels' lineup, but as a whole, it's pretty deep. The Angels will have to live with low batting averages from Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, but they'll at least hit for power. Howie Kendrick is as solid as they come when he's healthy, and Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar swing quality sticks as well.
The question is what are the Angels going to do about the logjam they have at the DH spot? The Angels are hoping Mark Trumbo will be able to transition over to third base, but he seems to be a much better fit at DH. The trouble is that they also have Kendrys Morales and Bobby Abreu to worry about. They're going to need to get at-bats, so Mike Scioscia better get ready for some lineup juggling this season.
Look on the bright side, Angels fans. This is a damn good problem to have.
This was a really, really close call between Weaver and Haren, but I have to go with Weaver here.
Haren is consistent, but Weaver has the ability to be dominant on a given day and stay dominant for weeks. To give you an idea, Weaver posted ERAs in the 1.00s in three separate months. He was practically unhittable in June and July, giving up just 15 earned runs in 88 innings.
Yes, Weaver did stumble down the stretch, but that shouldn't overshadow just how good he was throughout the course of the 2011 season. After a start in early August in which he allowed no runs in nine innings, Weaver's ERA stood at 1.78.
At that point, he was a legitimate threat to Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young race. Weaver will make another run at the award in 2012.
Vernon Wells was simply amazing in his first season after he came over in a trade from the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit 25 home runs, drove in 66 runs and he did it all despite only playing in 131 games. The Angels couldn't have done it without him.
I'm just making sure you're still with me. Scroll down for the real hitting stud.
Honestly, who else could it be but Albert Pujols?
How good is Pujols? He hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI in 2011, and that was his worst season of his career.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, par for the course for Pujols is a season in which he hits .328 with 42 homers and 126 RBI and compiles an OPS of 1.037. His contract may not look so great at the end of it, but for now, the Angels have one of the very best hitters in baseball.
Now, there are a couple of reasons to worry about Pujols.
He's spent time on the disabled list in three of the last six years, and we don't know how he's going to take to a new league with a new set of pitchers.
But as far as concerns go, these are laughable relative to some of the things other clubs have to worry about.
What can the Angels expect to get out of Kendrys Morales?
They probably don't even know. Morales hasn't played since late May of 2010, and he's standing on a left ankle that has been surgically repaired twice.
Judging from a recent MLB.com article, you just get the sense that the Angels are taking nothing for granted with his recovery.
Nevertheless, it's worth it to entertain a simple notion: what if?
In this case, what if Morales is able to return and start hitting like he used to? That would mean the Angels would have yet another guy who can hit .300 and provide 30-plus home runs.
I'm sure the Angels would be just fine with that.
Prospect to Watch
OK, it's finally time to talk about Mike Trout.
If you ask ESPN.com analyst Keith Law, Trout is the best prospect in all of baseball. He can hit, he can run, he can field, he can flat-out play.
But where will he play? The Angels have Wells in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Hunter in right. Trout has more upside than any of them by far, but these are hard guys to demote.
Rest assured, Trout will get his chance. He got his chance toward the end of 2011, and none of us are going to forget how hot he was in August, when he slugged four homers in 25 at-bats. He cooled off after that, but not before the Angels got a glimpse at a future superstar.
It's just a matter of time.
UPDATE: March 3
The Los Angeles Times has reported that Trout is not going to start the season with the big club unless there's an injury. Not a surprise.
What the Angels Will Do Well
The Angels aren't going to have to worry about their starting pitching this season, and they should get consistent production out of their offense. Pujols will make a huge difference, and he'll make everyone around him that much better.
Good starting pitching? Good hitting? Hard to ask for more than that.
What the Angels Won’t Do Well
There are two things I worry about. Firstly, I don't think the Angels are going to be an elite defensive team. They'll be solid enough, but they're going to have some liabilities in the field, especially if they end up using Trumbo at third base.
In addition, things could get ugly if Walden doesn't as the team's closer. He needs to be better at closing games. The same is true of the rest of the bullpen.
The Angels are a rock-solid team. There are better offenses and better fielding teams out there, but the Angels have one of the best rotations in the majors, and they have more than enough offense to support it. They're going to win a lot of games this season.
But they won't finish ahead of the Texas Rangers.
I'd say more about that now, but those questions will be answered when we get to my Rangers' 2012 season preview. Stay tuned.
Projected Record: 96-66, wild-card berth.
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Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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