2008 in Review
Paul Bourdett, Senior Writer
The Angels won more games than any team in baseball in 2008, and a large part of that success could be attributed to their golden arms.
Despite the season-long absence of a wing-clipped Kelvim Escobar, and a month-and-a-half-long stint in purgatory for John Lackey, Anaheim's "Rod" and "staff" were a comfort to the rotisserie faithful.
Ervin Santana (16 W, 3.49 ERA, 214 Ks) and Joe Saunders (17 W, 3.41 ERA) bestowed upon owners the sweetest of benedictions, Jered Weaver soared to new heights (152 Ks), and even Jon Garland got a chance to spread his wings (14 W).
The bullpen was a fantasy Shangri-La of sorts as well, with rookie Jose Arredondo's bursting through the pearly gates (1.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 55 Ks in 61.0 IP), Scot Shields' ascension to the top of the leaderboard (tops in the majors with 31 holds), and Francisco Rodriguez' glorious entry into the record books (62 saves).
Offensively, several Halos fell from the heavens in '08, with Chone Figgins (.276 BA, 72 R, 34 SB) and Vladimir Guerrero (27 HR, 91 RBI) the biggest transgressors (their sins were only multiplied by their early draft selections). In addition, blind faith in Gary Matthews, Jr. (.242 BA, 8 HR, 46 RBI) and Howie Kendrick (92 games) was most likely rewarded by a Lucifer-like fall from roto grace.
On a positive note, former "Arch-Angel" Mark Teixeira hit .358 with 13 HR and 43 RBIs in 54 games after rejoining the team in late-July. His hot streak couldn’t save the Angels from playoff damnation, but it sure did answer a few fantasy prayers.
The "Big A" (Angel Stadium of Anaheim) plays pretty neutral, although lefties may lose some home runs to the 19-foot wall/scoreboard in right field.
Kendry Morales and the newly-acquired Bobby Abreu are the only left-handed "power" bats on the squad, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them trade in a few long balls for a friendly game of pepper.
There isn’t a more iconic character in Anaheim than Mike Scioscia (with the exception of Mickey Mouse, of course). In fact, there's a 30-foot mural of the former Dodgers catcher atop the entrance to the team's stadium. Four division titles and a World Series Championship in the last seven years might have something to do with that.
The Angels skipper brings a dash of National League flavor to the Junior Circuit, turning water into wine via the stolen base, sacrifice bunt, and suicide squeeze.
Figgins, Kendrick, and the shortstop combo of Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis all excel in these underappreciated facets of the game, and there's a trickle-down effect on the big boppers in the lineup, who will often find men in scoring position when it’s their turn at bat.
Fantasy general managers with the need for speed can also turn to "Sosh" for salvation. His team was second in the AL with 129 stolen bases last year, and nine of his players stole five or more bags.
Figgins owners are the obvious beneficiaries of Scioscia's love for larceny, and even catcher Mike Napoli got into the habit with seven swipes.
The system is a great fit for Bobby Abreu, and it's possible he reaches 30 SB in 2009.
- KEY ADDITIONS: Brian Fuentes (RP), Bobby Abreu (OF)
- KEY LOSSES: Mark Teixeira (1B, NYY), Francisco Rodriguez (RP), Garret Anderson (OF, FA), Jon Garland (SP, ARI)
16 outfielders are getting the call before Vlad Guerrero in recent mock drafts (ADP: 41.51). Considering his floor (.300-25-90-5-85), that's value personified.
Say what you want about Bobby Abreu, but his season averages since becoming a full-time player in 1998 are quite angelic (.302 BA, 22 HR, 96 RBI, 28 SB, 105 R). He'll be turning 35 years old next month, but even his worst numbers over the past decade (.283-15-79-22-98) make him a valuable asset.
Mike Napoli's 20 HR and 49 RBIs in 227 AB are even more impressive when you realize he was dealing with a shoulder injury for much of the year. He’s available as late as the 17th round in the latest mocks—not bad for a backstop who can hit 25-plus home runs with his eyes closed.
There wasn’t a body part Figgins didn’t hurt last season, and personal issues weighed heavily on the Angels leadoff hitter in ‘08. Still, the pint-sized third baseman has stolen at least 34 bases in five consecutive seasons, and has scored at least 81 runs with a .290 BA in three of the past five campaigns.
Howie Kendrick’s knack for injuries is about the only thing holding him back from stardom. After all, he’s a legitimate .300 hitter, with solid power and speed, at a shallow position. The “what if” he represents warrants at least a 10th-round selection.
Torii Hunter isn’t spectacular, but he’s consistent. He may miss a few games here and there, but you can pencil him in for a .275 BA, 20 HR, 75 RBI, 15 SB, and 80 runs scored.
With the exception of July, Juan Rivera was irrelevant in 2008. With Matthews Jr. down, though, at-bats are now Rivera's to lose. An everyday job would make him a solid fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed formats, but the potential for a logjam in both the outfield and at DH relegates him to mono-league duty.
If you’re looking for a backup middle or corner infielder with wheels, look no further than Maicer Izturis. He’ll qualify at 2B/SS/3B entering the 2009 season, and has the speed to reach double-digit steals. Just know that he’ll probably wind up on the short end of a platoon with Erick Aybar.
Kendry Morales has huge cleats to fill replacing Mark Teixeira at first base, and his lack of major league experience makes him a huge gamble in mixed leagues. That said, he's mashed on the minor league level (.332/.373/.528), and his potential to hit for average and power makes him an intriguing AL-only option.
With a hot March, Brandon Wood will have an outside shot at the starting third base gig. Even if he fails, his SS/3B eligibility makes him worthy of a late-round flier.
Only in a League of Their Own
It’s too bad fielding percentage, range factor, assists, putouts, and sacrifice bunts aren’t standard categories in fantasy baseball; otherwise, Erick Aybar might actually have some value.
Matthews Jr. looks like the odd man out with the Angels recent acquisition of Bobby Abreu. Even if he were to come back healthy, there simply aren't enough at-bats to go around.
Rob Quinlan is a light-hitting first baseman/DH who won't see more than 150 at-bats. Unless you’re playing some variation of “suck ball”, he’s about as valuable as Robert Fick (1B/OF, FA).
Lackey and Santana both have the talent to be fantasy aces, but you shouldn't reach for them based strictly on potential. Grab either of them as your No. 2 in the eighth or ninth round, and you won't be disappointed.
Weaver's 4.33 ERA last season might've been the worst of his three-year career, but a closer look at his numbers reveals he improved in several key areas. His WHIP, K/BB, K/9, and H/9 were all significantly lower than his 2007 peripherals, and he more closely resembled the pitcher who wowed us all in 2006. With the ability to perform like a solid third or fourth starter, he's a true value to be had in the later rounds (ADP: 242.21).
Joe Saunders is apparently the West Coast version of Chien-Ming Wang (SP, NYY). He won't strike many batters out, but he can induce the hell out of a ground ball while racking up Wins. It's unlikely he'll match last year's success, but you almost have to draft him based on the uncertainty.
Exit K-Rod, enter Brian Fuentes. He won't save 62 games, but you can expect at least 30 with a 3.00 ERA and strikeout per inning in '09.
Arredondo will be hard-pressed to improve on his rookie season, but if anyone's got the stuff to do it, he does. If you prefer top-notch middle relievers over mediocre starters, take on chance on this special sophomore.
Scot Shields is the AL-only answer to Arredondo. While he doesn't quite possess the same level of talent (or youth), he's an above-average reliever on a winning team. Solid totals in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP can be expected, and if you're league counts holds, he's one of the best in the biz.
Only in a League of Their Own
Darren Oliver is as solid a mop-up man as there is in baseball, and occasionally he'll look great as a lefty specialist. Unfortunately, that's not good enough to make it onto any fantasy rosters.
THE BATTLE BREAKDOWN
Aybar and Izturis will throw down like vatos locos for their right to shortstop territory, but the odds are in Aybar's favor because of his golden glove.
Brandon Wood's got his sights set on the hot corner, and if he hits well enough in the spring, he could push Figgins off third and into a super-utility role.
Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Anthony Ortega, and Nick Adenhart will all battle it out for the team's fifth spot in the rotation, but ultimately, it should come down to Moseley vs. Ortega. The former has more big-league experience (20 starts between 2006-08), but the latter had an excellent showing at Triple-A in '08 (5-0, 2.42 ERA, 1.32 WHIP). Let's just hope an incoherent Larry Merchant isn't calling this one.
Angels in the outfield include Guerrero, Abreu, Rivera, Hunter, Reggie Willits, and Matthews Jr. Even if you include the DH slot in the lineup, two of these guys will be on the outside looking in. Free RotoExperts registration for a year if you can guess which two.
Gary Matthews Jr. had knee surgery in the fall and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season. He'll also be 35 years old in August, he'll be fighting for at-bats when he returns, and he’ll be doing it with one good peg. Good luck with that.
Knee issues limited Guerrero to 143 games last season (44 games at DH), and he opted for offseason surgery to alleviate the pain. If he's as healthy as reported, look for Vladdy to bounce back from a disappointing 2008.
Mike Napoli spent a month on the DL with shoulder problems last July/August, and went under the knife in late-October to clean things up. He'll be ready for the start of spring training, and may even see time at DH to keep his power bat in the lineup.
Maicer Izturis had surgery last summer to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, and he'll be ready for action after playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Kelvim Escobar had his torn labrum finally taken care of in August, but isn't expected back until some time after the All-Star break.
THE DEEP SLEEPER
It has to be Reggie Willits. The scrappy backup is an afterthought following an injury-laden ‘08, but with Matthews Jr. expected to miss all of April, Willits could see more playing time.
The Abreu signing hurts his long-term outlook, but if Hunter, Rivera, or Guerrero goes down, or the unproven Morales falters, the diminutive outfielder could get some serious burn.
Remember, Willits hit .293 with a .391 OBP, 27 SB, and 74 R in 430 ABs in 2007, and he fits the mold of a Scioscia-type player. Plus, how can you not love a guy who did this?
FANTASY PROSPECT TO WATCH FOR 2009
Brandon Wood has been hyped for what seems like an eternity, and now it’s time to put up or shut up. There are huge holes in his swing, and he probably won't ever hit for a high average, but he is only 24 years old and has shown tremendous power at every level in the minors.
If he can earn a starting job this spring, and hold onto it, he could provide nice home run totals from the shortstop position.
LONG-TERM FANTASY PROSPECT WATCH
Jordan Walden (SP) is the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Angels organization. Using a fastball that clocks in the upper 90's (he hit triple digits on one occasion last year), the 6'5" righty went 5-2 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 50 Ks in 49 IP at High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2008.
The 21-year-old fireballer has all of the physical tools to be a dominating major league starter, but still needs refinement overall. If he can master his secondary pitches, fine tune his command, and develop a workable changeup, he'll have a legitimate chance of making the big show some time in 2010.
BIG FAT CLAIM
Vlad Guerrero will hit .320-30-120-10-90 in '09. Light up the Halo!