Well, this is it. Opening Day 2017 is here and the Angels are embarking on what will be a season of uncertainty following an abysmal 74-88 campaign in 2016. Ravashed by catastrophic injuries to their pitching staff, last season was a lost cause as the club lost Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano all to UCL tears, with the last two needing Tommy John Surgery. Richards avoided the procedure and is coming back strong. And that’s an important factor.
The injury plague didn’t stop there either. Tyler Skaggs spent much of the first half getting his arm strength in tact for consistent outings every fifth day. He finally worked his way back and was decent. Then, Matt Shoemaker had a scary moment when he was hit in the head with a line drive and required brain surgery. On top of that, Huston Street spent most of the season on the DL. Joe Smith struggled through injuries then was traded. And even Cam Bedrosian was lost for the season down the stretch with a blood clot in his arm.
Talk about pure bad luck. It was the worst time for that to happen to the Halos. The team had just come off a 2015 season where an 85-77 record caused them to miss the playoffs by one game. And that was after a 2014 season where they had the best record in the Majors. It was a case of having unfinished business, but the wheels fell off, thus salting the wounds.
Now, the Angels are ready to prove they can bounce back. But will they?
Harold Reynolds gave his early take on the Angels back in December
General Manager Billy Eppler got about as creative as any GM has for the Angels in one offseason. He took advantage of some situations where players became expendable due to payroll, or just a team being crowded in a specific area. This led to the Detroit Tigers doing a salary dump and dealing outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Halos. Later on, Eppler swooped in to snag infielder Danny Espinosa after he was pushed out of a deep Washington Nationals infield — this was the same way Yunel Escobar was acquired. Ben Revere signed a one-year deal with a chance to fill in all three outfield positions on off days and should injuries occur. Martin Maldonado was added from the Milwaukee Brewers to bring back that good defense at catcher that the Angels were so notorious for ten years ago. And for infield depth, Eppler signed Luis Valbuena, which opened a fight for playing time at first base.
One had to wonder about pitching though. An approach that’s been slowly developing around Major League Baseball is the use of multi-inning relievers, something that used to be the norm but was abandoned as bullpen roles became more specialized. However, with starters burning out earlier, and even dropping like flies at times to major arm injuries (Tommy John Surgery included), a market for swingmen is resurfacing. And the Angels made sure they cashed in on that by bringing in Jesse Chavez, Bud Norris, and Yusmeiro Petit. J.C. Ramirez also fits that mold, and is one of the few carryovers from last season’s bullpen. The team also re-signed Andrew Bailey, who seemed to revive his career as the closer at the end of last season.
Pitching is going to be the biggest question mark. Will it translate? Will it falter again? Will these guys bounce back? Will having a bunch of swingmen help keep starters fresh and to limit the damage in late innings for the closers? We’ll have to see.
Until then, here’s a preview of the Angels opening day lineups:
Below are the 162 game averages of each starting player, pitcher, and reliever over the last three seasons. Players with less than three years experience will just have career averages listed. Bench players will just have their overall three year averages because 162 game averages would give a full season projection to a part time player. Name, position, and three-year averages WAR are in bold.
3B Yunel Escobar .293 BA / .352 OBP / .384 SLG / 105 OPS+ / 1.7 WAR
RF Kole Calhoun .266 BA / .327 OBP / .436 SLG / 114 OPS+ / 4.1 WAR
CF Mike Trout .300 BA / .406 OBP / .567 SLG / 173 OPS+ / 9.2 WAR
DH Albert Pujols .261 BA / .318 OBP / .468 SLG / 119 OPS+ / 3.2 WAR
1B C.J. Cron .267 BA / .308 OBP / .453 SLG / 111 OPS+ / 1.6 WAR
LF Cameron Maybin .275 BA / .337 OBP / .376 SLG / 99 OPS+ / 2.2 WAR
2B Danny Espinosa .221 BA / .301 OBP / ..380 SLG / 83 OPS+ / 2.2 WAR
SS Andrelton Simmons .263 BA / .310 OBP / .344 SLG / 83 OPS+ / 5.1 WAR
C Martin Maldonado .212 BA / .310 OBP / .334 SLG / 75 OPS+ / 0.6 WAR
C Carlos Perez .229 BA / .271 OBP / .335 SLG / 69 OPS+ / 0.8 WAR
UT Cliff Pennington .224 BA / .301 OBP / .311 SLG / 69 OPS+ / 0.7 WAR
UT Jefry Marte .243 BA / .304 OBP / .464 / 109 OPS+ / 0.6 WAR
OF Ben Revere .286 BA / . 316 OBP / .353 SLG / 84 OPS+ / 1.3 WAR
Garrett Richards 17-10 / 219 IP / 3.18 ERA / 3.30 FIP / 1.149 WHIP / 4 WAR
Matt Shoemaker 15-13 / 3.80 ERA / 196 IP / 3.77 FIP / 1.187 WHIP / 2.7 WAR
Tyler Skaggs 10-11 / 4.43 ERA / 196 IP / 3.90 FIP / 1.311 WHIP / 1.1 WAR
Ricky Nolasco 10-15 / 5.03 ERA / 199 IP / 4.14 FIP / 1.398 WHIP / 1.3 WAR
Jesse Chavez 7-10 / 3.94 ERA / 149 IP / 3.98 ERA / 1.330 WHIP / 1.3 WAR
CL Cam Bedrosian 3.77 ERA / 66 IP / 3.30 FIP / 1.484 WHIP / 0.6 WAR
SU Andrew Bailey 4.78 ERA / 65 IP / 4.89 ERA / 1.321 WHIP / 0.2 WAR
SU JC Ramirez 5.13 ERA / 80 IP / 5.10 ERA / 1.425 WHIP / -0.1 WAR
MR Blake Parker 3.72 ERA / 69 IP / 3.23 FIP / 1.276 WHIP / 1.0 WAR
MR Jose Alvarez 3.46 ERA / 66 IP / 3.36 FIP / 1.344 WHIP / 0.7 WAR
SW Bud Norris 11-12 / 4.81 ERA / 155 IP / 4.44 FIP / 1.375 WHIP / 0.5 WAR
SW Yusmeiro Petit 5-6 / 3.88 ERA / 133 IP / 3.67 FIP / 1.141 WHIP / 1.2 WAR
CL Huston Street 2.94 ERA / 66 IP / 42 SV / 3.76 FIP / 1.188 WHIP / 1.9 WAR
UT Luis Valbuena .243 BA / .334 OBP / .442 SLG / 114 OPS+ / 3.5 WAR
The lineup and bench listed in this preview averages out to a 101 OPS+, which is league average. Yet, there is a lot more speed and power added to the lineup, which could account a lot for so many positive three year WAR averages. Look for this team to steal a lot more bases (like they used to), take the extra base a lot (like they used to), and more homeruns, although not a big power team. There should be at least a healthy amount of runs scored by the Angels in 2017.
This is the ace in the hole. The secret weapon. Billy Eppler is a strong advocate of designing a team that centers around run prevention, along with run production that occurs with an ability to beat opposing teams in many different ways.
A pitching staff has only so much ability and control over controlling the other team’s ability to score runs. The defense has to be able to make key plays in addition to routine plays. You need a good arm at catcher. You need lots of range at shortstop. You have to have speed in the outfield.
The Angels have all of this on the defensive end, and more. The pitching staff may not be what makes a safe pick on paper, but this team’s defense can save a lot of hits and runs, and perhaps make the staff look better than they really are. And the important factor on the field is the fact that the Halos may have the best up-the-middle defense in baseball.
This one is going to be all about health and innings.
If they get the good Garrett Richards, even the 2014 version, it will be a major bonus. If Shoe can avoid a slow start and keep that splitter going and going, as he did last season when he bounced back, it will save a lot of pressure on the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. If Skaggs can just give 180 innings, and if Nolasco can keep emphasizing his sinker that caused him to be all but dominant down the stretch for the Angels last season, things will go very well.
The amount of swingmen on the staff will also provide a cushion.
Lots of if’s though. Too many. But that goes for the Rangers and Astros as well. There’s not a rotation in the American League West that is good enough to be a safe pick. But the needs the Halos have in their rotation are there. And it can go smoother than expected, or it can fall apart all over again.
Garrett Richards talks about his stem-cell treatment
This is tricky because you have up to three swingmen, a setup man who so far has resurrected himself, and a young closer taking over for the veteran closer on the DL. Multi-innings relievers are quite an asset. But the big concern is the up-and-down careers of many of the current relievers. So it’s a gamble. Just like the rotation, it could be hit or miss. They could shut games down, or blow a lot of leads late.
Angels over/under is toward the end
Let’s Talk WAR
For an Angels team with so much uncertainty, I’m seeing a lot of positive WAR averages here. This doesn’t even include Valbuena. Add the current lineup, bench, and Luis, and you get a 36.8 WAR!
That’s a really, really high number. In fact, it’s beyond where the Cubs were in 2016.
But keep in mind, the WAR listed for the starting players is based on a per 162 game average over the last three years. So we have to take into account off days. And although we can’t necessarily predict injuries, we can anticipate the probability of someone like Escobar playing his usual 130-140 games a season, or even Albert’s age catching up to him and pulling a hamstring.
With these factors in mind, perhaps a more accurate number, based on these averages, would be 28 WAR. Still, that’s very productive.
But why the high WAR in the first place?
Probably because of the amount of speed and power added to the club this winter. This offense will likely steal a lot of babes, take the extra base constantly, hit-and-run, and hit more homeruns, although it’s still not a ferocious power ball club.
Defensive WAR actually plays a key role in this as well. As mentioned earlier, defense will be this team’s secret weapon. Going down the list, there is a good accumulation of dWAR, which combined with oWAR gives the total WAR.
Simmons and Espinosa alone combine for an average of 6.6 oWAR over the last three years.
Then, there’s the pitching end. The pitchers listed above combine for a 16.4 average WAR over the last three seasons. That’s pretty good as well. A top staff is going to be at or near 20, or sometimes higher. Dodgers pitching had a 14 WAR last season.
The interesting thing about this entire team, is that there is a long list of players that are not great, but are good enough to post at least a positive WAR almost all the way across the board. That adds up over the course of a season.
In fact, while putting in each player’s averages over the last three years, it took until J.C. Ramirez to actually find any player who averaged a negative WAR.
So that’s something to look out for. And no matter what happens with the pitching staff, this will be a fun lineup to watch both at the plate and on the field. And they could possibly slug their way through.
MLB Central panel gives their predictions for postseason awards and World Series
What Should Fans Expect?
This is a team that will require a lot of good years out of a lot of players, particularly the pitching staff in order to compete and/or win a playoff spot. The same really goes for any team that makes the playoffs. Few teams are ever filled to the brim with so much talent that they are a lock. And the Angels are not the Padres, who likely have no chance because they don’t have a Trout or a Richards and can’t lure a Valbuena in to give them a lot of depth.
The Halos are a team that can easily win 88 games, or can lose another 88 games. It’s that much of a crapshoot. There’s plenty of upside, but there’s enough shaky ground going in that this team could fall right through at any time. In the video below, Eric Byrnes goes off on that exact point:
In 2017, it’s going to have to be a case of none of us are certain they can win, but they have enough productive players to still make it fun to watch, and we’ll just have to count on health and a lot of good years out of a lot of players at the same time. What can you do? We’ll just have to ride it out and see where it goes.
Now on with the season!