Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2009 Season Preview

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2009 Season Preview

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

 

Key Additions:

Bobby Abreu (OF), Brian Fuentes (CL)

 

Key Subtractions:

Mark Teixera (1B), Garrett Anderson (OF), Francisco Rodriguez (CL), Jon Garland (SP)

 

A look at the lineup:

An Angels line up that is full of power with a little speed sprinkled in. The Angels will look for another big year from Chone Figgins in respect to setting the table for the likes of Vladdy, Hunter, Abreu and Napoli.

 

This squad should fit Scioscia well, as he likes to get out and run and be aggressive on the base paths. He should be able to use the speed of Figgins, Aybar, Kendrick, and get the most out of heads up base runners like Abreu and Rivera.

 

Catcher: Mike Napoli is now entering his fourth season with the big club. He’s shown a ton of promise. But never amassed more than 268 at bats in a season, even with those numbers limited by injury, in 252 career game and 714 career at bats, Napoli has crushed 46 home runs.

 

Of his 177 career hits, 81 have been for extra bases. Last year, Napoli batted .273 which was 25 points higher than his career average. He was fourth among Major League catcher in home runs, first in slugging percentage and fifth in on base percentage among catchers with more that 200 plate appearance in 2008.

 

Defensively, he is a low spot on an otherwise solid defensive Angel’s squad. Last year Napoli managed to post only 3 errors in 493 total chances, but he gave up 52 stolen bases on 63 attempts for a caught stealing percentage of 17.5 percent.

 

First Base: Here is one of the biggest question marks of the season.

 

The Angels aren’t going to make up for the production loss or the gold glove caliber defense that they got from Big Tex last year. The position is a complete mystery to most. It looks like in his fourth year with the Angels, Cuban Kendry Morales is going to have the job to lose coming out of spring training.

 

Morales has had a few cups of coffee with the big club, and his three previous seasons in Triple A with the Salt Lake Bee’s has show consistent offensive output. Although the power numbers leave something to be desired for a corner infielder, we should see a fairly effective transition to the majors.

 

In the field the former outfielder seems to be learning and developing everyday with the glove at first base.

 

Second Base: After three years in Angel red Howie Hendrick might have the fans seeing it, if he takes multiple trips to the DL again. A .306 hitter in his young career, Kendrick has all the tools to be a great table setter for the Halo’s this year.

 

Especially, in front of what is looking to be a powerful middle of the line up. Although not exceptional range, Kendrick does a solid job defensively, couple that with what projects to a mid to high teens number in stolen bases and many are expecting a break out season from Kendrick.

 

Shortstop: The other half of the Angels young, injury prone double play combination is Erick Aybar. Again more speed in the Angels line up and we know how Mike Scioscia loves to get out and run. Not as much offensive potential as Hendrick, but much the same story.

 

Still very young and his development has been stunted by injury. This is also the year that the Angels will take a good hard look in what they have in Brandon Wood. The prospect managed to crush 31 minor league dingers last year, and then added five more in the majors in 150 at bats. Still only 24 Wood will probably be able to steal some at bats if he can improve his plate discipline, he batted .200 with four walks in 150 at bats last season. He also managed 43 strikeouts and only 30 hits.

 

Third Base After seven seasons in the majors, and playing more that 140 games in three of the last five, Chone Figgins worked his way from super-sub, to everyday third basemen.  He is again going to be expected to set the table for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

 

With his blazing speed he averages 50 stolen bases out of 66 attempts per 162 games over his sever years in the big leagues. He also averages 179 hits and 65 walks per 162 for a .356 OBP. That being said, even with all his speed and being in a prime run scoring position in the line up Figgins has only cracked 100 runs scored once in a his career.

 

That coupled with his decline in runs produced in each of the last four years since his career high of 113 in 2005, you may see Figgins moved out of the top spot in the line up at some point this year. But his glove should keep him solidly in an everyday roll. Last year among third basemen with 100 or more games played in he ranked ninth in range factor with a 2.65 and second in fielding percentage.

 

Left: Although the Angels weren’t overly active in free agency they went out and secured a replacement for the departed Garrett Anderson. In many respects, Abreu is a slight upgrade. Both men hit for almost the exact same average with Abreu at .296 to the .293 posted by Anderson.

 

Abreu leads Anderson by a moderate to slight margin in every offensive category including, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homeruns, RBI, OBP, Stolen bases, Stolen base percentage, SLG percentage, and total bases. In the field Abreu has played a more coveted defensive position in right field most of his career. But should make the transition to left without a problem, and give the Angels the kind of intimidating arm in the outfield that they lack when Vlad has a day off to DH.

 

Center Field: The Angels have their big free agent signing from 2007 patrolling Centre. At 31 years old last year Torii Hunter did what Torii Hunter does last season. He won a Gold Glove, and struck out more than 100 times.

 

What the numbers don’t tell you is his Gold Glove was only accompanied by the 10thbest range factor among centerfielders with more than 100 games played and that his replacement in Minnesota led all center fielders in total chances, put outs, range factor and was fourth in assists at his position with nine.

 

Although, posting a sparkling 1.000 fielding percentage the numbers seem to show that at 32 years old Hunter is going to play out his huge deal on the down side of his career. At the plate Hunter produced his lowest Totals in Homeruns, RBI in a non injury shortened season. Although his average was up from previous years, as was his on-base percentage. But when looking at a guy hitting in a run producing spot the fall in his SLG percentage is disappointing.

 

Not quite the center fielder he once was, Hunter needs to have a better year and prove this isn’t a trend.

 

Right Field: After 13 years in the Major was is left to say about The Impaler? You know what you’re getting .310/30/110.

 

I realize the stat line is a little short as Vlad no longer has the legs or should I say knees to be a 40-40 man. But is as feared as any man at the plate. He’ll probably see about see about 100 to 110 games in the field and another 40-50 in the DH spot if the past two to three years is an accurate predictor.

 

That being said, he has been slowed in right by chronic knee pain in the last couple of years seeing his range factor fall below 2.0. Although the arm is still there, it is less of weapon as everybody in the major is aware of it and Guerrero simply can’t get to many balls anymore.

 

He maybe turned into more of a permanent DH if Abreu is slipped to right, or we may see either Juan Rivera, or Gary Matthews Jr. as a viable option in right if either one of them can prove to stay health this year.

 

DH: The DH job looks to belong to Juan Rivera if he can stay on the field. That is a big IF considering Rivera has managed to play in 103 games in the last two years. Now at the age of 30 the Angels are hoping that he can recapture a little of his 2006 magic when he posted 27 doubles, 23 homeruns, batted .310 with an OBP of .362 and slugged .525.

 

That being said I don’t think we should expect Rivera to top 120 starts at DH with the Angels looking to rest Vladimir Guerrero’s knees, while keeping his bat in the line up. Another option  the Angels may look at is to mix Juan into the outfield rotation as he has played all three outfield spots in his career.

 

A look at the pitching:

The pitching again looks to be the strength of this Angels team, with a rotation that features Lackey, Santana (not Johan, the other one that’s pretty good) and Joe Saunders. We will see this group attempt to propel the Angels back to the top of the division.

 

Some of the performances from a year ago are repeatable; some I wouldn’t have as much faith in. To their credit the starting five combined for 73 wins (first in the MLB last year). Although they are sure to miss Jon Garland’s 14 wins and almost 200 innings pitched this year.

 

At age 30, John Lackey should be back and as productive as ever. He did miss the first six weeks of 2008 with triceps issues. But after he came back he produced yet another solid year. He went 12-5 with an ERA of 3.75, average seven plus strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.25 to one K to walk ratio.

 

The concern with Lackey might be revealed by his season split at the all-star game. Even while missing the first month plus of the year he went 6-2 with a sub 3 ERA (2.56) and then turned around and managed a second half record of 6-3 where he ERA ballooned to 4.99, and he gave up 17 of his 26 long balls. Lackey only made 24 starts last year, compared to 2008 when he gave up 18 homeruns in 33 starts, and 2004 he served up 14 in 33 starts.

 

Lackey is starting to look more and more like a quality pitcher prone to the monster inning. That being said, I believe there is no reason to believe that Lackey won’t stay health enough to make his customary 33 starts, and with a winning percentage of more than .670 in three of the last four year(over .700 twice) there is no reason to believe that Lackey won’t continue to win between 15-20 games like clock work

 

In 2008, Ervin Santana finally produced the kind of numbers that Angels had been waiting for since he produced a 16 win campaign in 2006. In 2008 Santana managed to bounce back from a dreadful 7-14 2007. Not just right the ship but show that he has finally got command of the electric stuff that could make him a front line starter in the majors.

 

With a pair of plus plus pitches in his fastball and slider Santana managed a walk to K ratio of 4.55 to one. He also managed almost a strikeout per inning in a year where he produced a yeomen like 219 innings the highest total in his career, and good for ninth in the majors last year.

 

Santana with confidence in that slider has the ability to repeat his 16 win performance if not exceed it. If he starts trying to get hitters out with his developing change up again, a repeat of 2007 isn’t out of the question.

 

After bursting on the scene in 2006 with an 11-2 record in 19 starts, Jared Weaver the 6’7 hurler from Northridge, California came back to reality with an 11-10 mark in 2008. He has never logged 200 plus innings in a big league campaign. Now this may read like tough review on a pitcher that many believe to be the future in Anaheim.

 

But the fact of the matter is, that since he burst onto the scene his K’s per nine (7.74 in 2008 vs 7.27 his career average) hasn’t changed much, nor that his strike out to walk ratio (2.82 in 2008 vs 2.82 his career average).

 

Manager Mike Scioscia is looking for Weaver to give the Angels more innings in the big leagues, but with a pitches per inning up over 17 last year and 16.7 for his career it doesn’t look like that can happen. We’ve heard about his maturing, but his 2006, 2008 and career numbers in pitcher per game, per inning and per plate appearance show no difference.

 

I suspect that unless Weaver changes something dramatically and learned to work deeper into games (he averaged fewer than 6 complete innings per start last year) he’ll never fulfill all that promise we saw two seasons ago.

 

Joe Saunders went 17-7 with a 3.41 ERA. But let’s put him on the list of pitchers where those two numbers don’t tell the entire story. Saunders strikeout numbers are less than stellar at 4.68 per nine, and he offers up a free pass for every 1.94 strikeouts. He held opponents to a  batting average of .253 against him, but he is relinquishing and OBP of .308.

 

Although, people point to the fact that he has the intangible ability to get out of jams. That being said, conventional wisdom says he allows too many balls to be put in play and should suffer for it in 2009.

 

The fifth spot in the rotation is a battle between veteran Kelvim Escobar and Dustin Moseley. In Moseley the Halo’s have a pitcher that went 2-4 last year with a 6.79 Era in 12 appearances (10 starts) last year. Moseley has had two other chances to stick with the starting rotation, but it hasn’t happened yet.

 

The other option to fill the last spot is more of a known quantity in Escobar but he won’t be ready until after the all-star break. I wouldn’t be surprised to him usurp the 5th spot in the rotation when he returns.

 

Bullpen:

Jose Arredondo has closer potential stuff and looked to be on his way to securing the job left open by K-Rod’s departure. His ERA was 1.62 and the opponents hit .190 vs Arrendondo in 61 innings. He also averaged almost a strikeout per inning, Scott Sheilds has been a staple in the Angels pen since 2001.

 

Over that time he’s always been able to get the big strikeout, but over the last three seasons his walks per nine has gone from 2.5 in 2006 to 3.9 in 2007 to 4.1 last season. It’s also noticeable his innings are down every year since 2004. Darren Oliver had a great season with the Angels last year, 54 appearances, 72 innings, and an ERA of 2.88 and a WHIP of 1.15.

 

The other big offseason acquisition is Brian Fuentes, brought in from Colorado to replace single season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez. In the past four years Fuenteshas blown three,seven, six, and three per season respectively. In this career Fuenteshas 113 saves in 139 attempts.

 

That compares favorably to K-Rods totals of seven, six, four, and five saves saves blown in the same time frame. For his career K-Rod has 208 saves in 241 attempts. So in conversion percentages Rodriguez is about 86 percent to Fuentes’ 81percent.   The rest of the pen is a complete unknown. Will Moseleyor Escobar end up in the pen? How about Jason Bulger? We expect to see him start the season with the big club. But that’s all I can tell you for sure.

 

Outlook:

The Angels are a hundred win team from a year ago, and their roster looks a lot the same and that could be the problem this year. They lost their closer, a starting pitcher that won 14 games, an MVP and Gold Glover at first base, and their steady left fielder.

 

They brought in Bobby Abreu and Brian Fuentes to fill two of those holes admirably. At the end of the day, there was no way to compensate for the departure of Mark Teixera and couple that with an aging offense and this year we should see significant diminishing returns.

 

They are as good as anyone at the top two in their rotation spots with a pair of potential all-stars. Unfortunately, the rest of the numbers don’t speak so highly of the rest of the rotation. Although, it is still young and has shown promise.

 

The bullpen is an area the Angels have been rock solid in the past year, but staples like Scott Sheilds are starting to show their age. Based on the 162 game averages of the Angels I’d expect them to score about 738 runs (number deprived from the 162 averages of the projected starting line up and using Bill James’s runs created formula), and the rotations fielding independent ERA reads out around 5.98 for 2009.

 

Prediction:

Those numbers don’t impress nor do the moves to try to cover their losses. I see the Halo’s as the second best team in the AL West and finishing competitive in the Wild Card race at 92-70

Find this preview as well as the other 30 major league teams at: www.rbimagazine.com

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