StrategyMarch 20, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Angels

By Ray Flores

In today’s “30 Teams in 30 Days” segment, we travel about 40 miles down I-5 from downtown Los Angeles into the heart of Orange County to cover the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was another ho-hum season at “The Big A” as the Angels captured another American League West division crown, but the year wasn’t without its milestones. Francisco Rodriguez became the majors’ single-season record-holder in saves in his walk year, while the Angels front office bucked their conservative reputation by trading for Mark Teixeira in the middle of the season. Even though the pieces to the puzzle all fit together in their run to the World Series, it once again ended in another Division Series exit to the Boston Red Sox. Apparently “The Big A” wasn’t big enough to keep its two marquee stars, as K-Rod cashed in on his record-setting season by signing with the Mets, while the attraction of Disneyland down the freeway wasn’t alluring enough to persuade Big Tex from trading his halo for Yankee pinstripes. The Angels’ front office had been resolute in light of those significant changes by moving quietly to retool this Angels ball club into one that can contend beyond the division again.

For a closer look at the Los Angeles Angels and the rest of the AL West, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn AL West Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Mike Napoli.273.374.5863920497227 
1B Kendry Morales.213.273.393738061 
2B Howie Kendrick.306.333.4214333711340 
SS Erick Aybar.277.314.384533397346 
3B Chone Figgins.276.367.3187212234453 
LF Bobby Abreu.296.371.4711002010022609w/NYA
CF Torii Hunter.278.344.46685217819551 
RF Vladimir Guerrero.303.365.5218527915541 
DH Juan Rivera.246.282.4383112451256 

Unsettled: Shortstop. The Angels are chock full of infield utility options and in particular, three’s a crowd at shortstop as Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Wood will battle for playing time. The most enticing fantasy option of the three is Brandon Wood, a once highly-touted power-hitting prospect. Wood struggled mightily in his first couple of years with the big league club, turning in a .191 average in 183 major league career at-bats, which overlooks the 6 home runs he posted on the side. Wood’s lack of plate discipline could very well keep him in the dugout (especially with Mike Scioscia’s emphasis on making good contact), but expect a longer audition for the 24-year-old Wood this season, as he continues to be a work in progress. So far this spring, Wood has been hitting for an excellent average and displaying the kind of power envisioned by scouts and fantasy managers alike. In addition to competing for at-bats, Wood will have to flash the glove a bit, as both Izturis and Aybar have the inside track on the shortstop job because of their defensive range and their versatility to play on both sides of the middle infield.

Target: Chone Figgins. Injuries as well as prolonged slumps have knocked down Figgins’ value over the past couple of seasons, and he has failed to appear in at least 120 games for the last two years. In spite of the fact that Figgins turned 31 this past January, there’s little to suggest he’ll run less when his primary objective is to get on base and create havoc on the base paths. After all, Figgins still managed 47 attempts resulting in 34 stolen bases in just 453 at-bats in 2008. The good news is that none of the injuries he’s suffered point to any nagging or serious leg problems and in fact, most of his ailments over the last two seasons have been attributed to finger fractures in fielding or in attempting a steal. Currently, Figgins is taken on average as a bookend late-eighth or early-ninth round draft pick, which is a reasonable price to pay on a stolen base specialist who’s a third baseman by trade and can reasonably hit for a .270-280 average. In addition, Figgins is even more valuable in leagues where he has 2B eligibility. Staying away from the fluky injuries will be key for Figgins, but he could be a nice draft-day steal if he lasts close to a full season.

The Rotation

2008 StatisticsW-LERAWHIPKBBIP
John Lackey (R)12-53.751.2313040163.1
Ervin Santana (R)16-73.491.1221447219
Joe Saunders (L)17-73.411.2110353198
Jered Weaver (R)11-104.331.2915254176.2
Dustin Moseley (R)2-46.791.79372050.1

Unsettled: Dustin Moseley. For the time being, the fifth wheel of the Angels’ rotation is likely to be used as an open audition spot between Moseley and a few prospect arms. Nick Adenhart is the big name thrown into this fifth spot, but with Ervin Santana set to open the season on the DL, a spot should open to Adenhart by default. Possibly waiting in the wings to crack the rotation is Kelvim Escobar, whose recovery from shoulder surgery is believed to be nothing short of extraordinary. So far this spring, Escobar has been throwing his full repertoire with no ill effects, and although he won’t be declared fit to open the season on the 25 man roster, the prevailing feeling emanating from the Angels’ camp is that Escobar can make an impact this season.

Target: Jered Weaver. Can Weaver be the next post-hype pitching dandy? Like Ervin Santana a year ago, Weaver is flying under the radar as the former Long Beach State ace is going as a late 16th-round pick on average, according to his median draft position. The simple reason for this may be the perception of Weaver taking a step back in posting a 4.33 ERA last year, as opposed to a 3.91 ERA in 2007. What goes overlooked is Weaver’s K/9 rate of 7.74, having posted 152 strikeouts in a career-high 176.2 innings, an improvement of an injury-plagued 2007 where he only turned in a 6.43 K/9. The only knock on Weaver is he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher by nature, but his ERA isn’t likely to balloon to 4.50 or higher, given that his historical FIP ERA has never been higher than a 4.06 mark. With decent command, Weaver seems to be a good bet for 150 strikeouts and an ERA in the high 3s or low 4s, solid output for a fantasy #4 starter. A 16th-round price isn’t much to pay for a relatively young pitcher with upside to go beyond that conservative projection.

The 8th and 9th Innings

2008 StatisticsSVERAWHIPKBBIPNotes
Brian Fuentes (L)302.731.10822262.2w/Col
Scot Shields (R)42.701.34642963.1 

Chasing Saves: It’s a strange sight to see anyone other than Francisco Rodriguez close out games regularly at “The Big A.” At any rate, taking the Angels’ closer job is former Colorado Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes, who definitely has more than his fair share of closing experience. Fuentes enjoyed an excellent 2008 campaign and arguably his most complete year to date, having posted a K/9 of 11.78 to complement a career-low 2.73 ERA. The odds are rather slim that Fuentes can come close to or matching K-Rod’s saves record, but what should remain constant is the Angels’ involvement in close games, which makes the prospects of Fuentes picking up 40-45 saves a realistic possibility. Expect some correction to Fuentes’ ERA as he transitions into facing American League hitting and perhaps a slight correction to his K/9 rate. Otherwise, Fuentes is an excellent low-risk closer option, who on average is falling to the late-10th and early-11th rounds.

Setting up in front of Fuentes is the reliable Scot Shields. Mike Scioscia is a stickler for plugging Shields in high-pressure situations as early as the seventh inning of ballgames, but given the wear-and-tear on his arm, Shields’ IP has declined gradually since 2004. Jose Arredondo will be entrusted to lessen the incidences of Shields having to come in during such situations. Arredondo himself had a wonderful rookie season, having turned in a 1.62 ERA while vulturing ten wins in the process. Expect the win total to dwindle and some regression in the second time around for Arredondo.

Final Thoughts

The Angels are a pure reflection of their manager Mike Scioscia in that this is a team that prides itself on no-nonsense, steady professionalism and in playing a style of baseball that stresses the fundamentals at the expense of style points. In fantasy terms, that’s exactly who the Angels are: no-nonsense, steady, but lacking that added “wow” factor. Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Torii Hunter are safe bets to produce and for what they lack in added potential, it’s reasonable to invest a draft pick in any of these three for where they’re being drafted on average.

Once the Angels’ big three (and Figgins) come off the board, the picture gets a bit hazy when it comes to drafting an Angel batter. Paying a mid-draft pick for Howie Kendrick to cover a 2B or MI spot is a sobering thought, given that Kendrick has fallen well short of logging in 100 games in each of his first three seasons, leaving his potential as a .300/15 HR/20 SB man to be nothing more than a mirage. Kendry Morales has big shoes to fill, having won the first baseman job by default in Mark Teixeira’s departure. Expect Morales to be another version of Casey Kotchman, who could trade a little bit of his average for a marginal spike in home runs, which makes him no more than a late-round sleeper in deep leagues. Mike Napoli makes for the most promising late-round draft pick on an Angel hitter, having slugged 20 home runs in just 227 at-bats last season. Once again, the expectation is for Jeff Mathis to earn the lion’s share of time behind the dish, as he’s a better defensive catcher and game caller than Napoli. However, Mike Scioscia realizes the Angels need to squeeze Napoli in the lineup for more at-bats. As a result, the DH role could be a merry-go-round between Napoli, Vlad Guerrero, and Juan Rivera. What remains concrete is Napoli’s power potential and even if he’s likely to hit for a fairly low average, his ability to go deep in the counts and draw walks will surely merit more playing time.

I had nothing but praise for Ervin Santana in my 2 Up, 2 Down Starting Pitchers column, but with “El Meneo” set to open the season on the disabled list, you should bump Ervin Santana down a bit in your cheat sheets. An MCL strain could entail continued discomfort for the young ace further down the line, and one would have to think Scioscia will be cautious in not rushing Ervin back into action so early in the season. This makes staff ace John Lackey the steadier bet of the two heading into this season and while a ghastly 4.99 second-half ERA (attributed to a possible drop-off in fastball velocity) is a justifiable caveat emptor, Lackey should remain a solid investment. Besides Santana, Joe Saunders was the other pleasant surprise in the Angels’ rotation last year, but he should be avoided as a mid-to-late 15th round pick (his median draft position). Saunders is a finesse pitcher, reliant on location and guile in lieu of power to get hitters to bite on bad pitches. In short, Saunders could regress to the point where he’s no different from a waiver wire spot starter again.

Yesterday we previewed the Minnesota Twins. Check back tomorrow for our look at the Oakland A’s in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan who firmly believes the Angels should just call themselves the California Angels once more to prove they're indeed a large-market team. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and "Chief Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
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