Opening day is finally here, and the Los Angeles Angels are among the teams hoping to contend for the second wild card spot in the American League. Expectations are high for an Angels team which had an eventful offseason, so here’s a look at their opening day roster.
STARTING PITCHERS (2018 Steamer600 Projections)
Andrew Heaney (8.08 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, 4.33 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 1.8 fWAR)
Shohei Ohtani (11.12 K/9, 3.59 BB/9, 3.56 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 4.1 fWAR)
Garrett Richards (8.26 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.3 fWAR)
J.C. Ramirez (6.65 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 4.63 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 1.4 fWAR)
Matt Shoemaker (7.87 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 4.35 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 2.3 fWAR)
Tyler Skaggs (8.09 K/9, 3.18 BB/9, 4.22 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 2.2 fWAR)
Opening their season is 29-year-old Garrett Richards, who’s made just 12 starts in the last two seasons, but has a career 3.53 ERA and solid peripherals. Richards will be joined with other talented yet injury prone starters including Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs, and the Angels hopeful that the 6 man rotation should keep the staff healthier. Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani also figures to play a big role in this rotation, having recorded a career 2.52 ERA over 5 seasons in the Japan Pacific League. Also featured in the rotation are decent starters Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramirez, who put up ERA’s of 4.52 and 4.15 in 2017. Overall, the Angels rotation should above average, with potential to be elite if high upside high risk arms like Richards, Skaggs, and Heaney manage to stay healthy.
RELIEF PITCHERS (2018 Steamer600 Projections)
Jose Alvarez (7.98 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 3.91 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 0.2 fWAR)
Luke Bard (8.68 K/9, 3.97 BB/9, 4.05 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)
Cam Bedrosian (9.57 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, 3.72 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 0.4 fWAR)
Jim Johnson (7.89 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 4.00 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 0.2 fWAR)
Ian Krol (8.24 K/9, 3.97 BB/9, 4.09 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 0.0 fWAR)
Blake Parker (10.20 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 3.48 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 0.7 fWAR)
Noe Ramirez (8.56 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, 4.28 ERA, 4.60 FIP, -0.1 fWAR)
On the surface, the Angels bullpen appears to be one of the clubs bigger weaknesses. However, Fangraphs projects the bullpen to put up an overall ERA of 4.09, which is slightly better then last years AL average of 4.11. Though they lack a big name closer, Cam Bedrosian and Blake Parker quietly pitched at a high level last season, and should be among the Angels best relievers. Jim Johnson has the biggest salary of anyone in this bullpen, and he should also be a solid relief option. Lefties Jose Alvarez and Ian Krol should also factor in as both as specialists and middle relief options, where Noe Ramirez should also contribute. Also in this bullpen is rule 5 pick Luke Bard, who spent last year as a minor leaguer in the Twins system.
CATCHERS (2018 Steamer600 Projections)
Martin Maldonado (.223/.290/.370, 77 WRC+, 1.7 fWAR)
Rene Rivera (.230/.286/.377, 76 WRC+, 1.4 fWAR)
Unexceptional catchers Martin Maldonado and Rene Rivera figure to be the Angels regulars behind the plate, having combined for 2.1 fWAR in 2017. Carlos Perez could also get into the mix, as he’s projected to put up 82 WRC+ and 1.8 fWAR by Steamer600, though his poor performance last season is a factor in his starting this season in AAA.
INFIELDERS (2018 Steamer600 Projections)
3B: Zack Cozart (.255/.322/.425, 101 wRC+, 3.7 fWAR)
2B: Ian Kinsler (.255/.317/.413, 97 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR)
1B/3B: Jefry Marte (.234/.301/.404, 90 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR)
DH: Shohei Ohtani (.261/.339/.464, 116 WRC+, 1.5 fWAR)
1B/DH: Albert Pujols (.254/.308/.440, 98 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR)
SS: Andrelton Simmons (.269/.323/.396, 95 wRC+, 3.7 fWAR)
1B: Luis Valbuena (.228/.321/.427, 102 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR)
Perhaps the weakest link on the Angels roster is at first base. Luis Valbuena and Albert Pujols should get most of the playing time, though they combined for -1.2 fWAR in 2017. Even though they’re expected to play better this season, first base is still a weak point on this Angels roster. They were also weak at second base last season, with Danny Espinosa, Brandon Phillips, and Kaleb Cowart combining for -0.5 fWAR. Ian Kinsler may no longer be the player he once was, but he still represents a notable improvement over the sub-replacement level production the Angels had last season. Baseball’s most underrated shortstop returns for the Angels, and although Andrelton Simmons should regress to the mean after a career year in 2017, above average overall production is still expected. Replacing Yunel Escobar at third base is converted shortstop Zack Cozart, who signs after having a career year last season in Cincinnati. As is the case with Simmons, some regression towards his career norms should be expected, however Cozart should still produce at an acceptable level overall. Jefry Marte rounds out the infield, expected to come off the bench with passable production, and could end up with regular playing time if Pujols continues his decline. Lastly, Shohei Ohtani is expected to see plenty of playing time as a DH and pinch hitter, and though his projections are optimistic, scouts fear he’s not quite ready as a big league hitter, having never faced big-league quality pitching and having put up an unimpressive slash line of .125/.222/.125 in 32 spring training at-bats.
OUTFIELDERS (2018 Steamer600 Projections)
RF: Kole Calhoun (.258/.337/.429, 108 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR)
CF: Mike Trout (.308/.434/.609, 176 wRC+, 7.9 fWAR)
LF: Justin Upton (.248/.331/.472, 115 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR)
OF: Chris Young (.239/.313/.415, 97 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR)
Baseball’s best player returns as the Angels center fielder, where Mike Trout is expected to continue producing at an all time level. Beyond the usual adoration of Trout, it should be interesting to see if he can replicate what was quietly his best at the dish in 2017, when he produced a career high 181 WRC+. Justin Upton joins Trout in the outfield, coming off his best season by fWAR since 2011. Some regression to the mean is expected, but Upton is still expected to produce at a solid level. Inversely, Kole Calhoun is expected to improve on the worst season of his career when he put up a 98 WRC+ and 2.2 fWAR in 654 PA’s. Joining the above as 4th outfielder is Chris Young, who looks to improve on a poor season with the Red Sox in 2017.
Overall, this improved Angels roster should look at contending for the American League’s second wild card spot, along with teams like the Twins, Blue Jays, Athletics, and Mariners. In terms of a projection, 84 wins seems realistic, though this could reasonably increase with better then expected rotation health, trade deadline acquisitions, or general overperformance.