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Los Angeles Angels - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
97-65
1st Place
AL West

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 19, 2007

2006 Record - 89-73, 2nd Place AL West, 4.0 behind the Athletics
2006 Runs Scored - 766
2006 Runs Allowed - 732
Pythagorean Projection - 84-78



The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have spent the last 12 years spending money rarely but wisely on free agents and cultivating a talent rich minor league system. It is rare to have both, and the results have been sublime - eight winning seasons, two division titles, three playoff berths, and a World Series Championship. Over the course of these years, the Angels have cultivated Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Jarrod Washburn, the Molina Brothers, Chone Figgins, David Eckstein, Ervin Santana, John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, Jered Weaver, Brendan Donnelly, and Troy Percival, while signing or otherwise acquiring Bartolo Colon, Adam Kennedy, and Vlad Guerrero.

The Angels would seem to have one of the best run franchises in Major League Baseball. Which begs the question - how did they allow themselves to be bamboozled by Gary Matthews, Jr.?

Matthews' soon-to-come success ranks somewhere right above Javy Lopez, but still somewhere below Adrian Beltre on the Most Predictably Bad Free Agent Signings of All Time. Now that Matthews' name has come up as part of the not-dying-but-only-getting-bigger performance enhancer scandal, the Angels will have one more reason to regret the signing of Matthews come October.

The only thing good to say about the Matthews signing is that it takes attention away from the signing of Shea Hillenbrand.

Catcher
2006 Starter - Mike Napoli, Jose Molina
Projected 2007 Starter - Mike Napoli, Jose Molina

Like his brother, Molina is an all-defense-no-hit catcher. At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Napoli, who debuted last season at the age of 24, is an offensive monster who hit a meager .228 but posted a shocking .360 on-base percentage. The sky would seem to be the limit with numbers like those. Throw in his 16 homeruns and 2 GIDP in 99 games, and the Angels may have a bona fide star in Mike Napoli.

First Base
2006 Starter - Kendry Morales, Robb Quinlan, Casey Kotchman
Projected 2007 Starter - Casey Kotchman

Morales, Quinlan, and Kotchman were all studs in the minor leagues, and Kotchman appears to have the first base job for now. Lost in all of the Gary Matthews, Jr., hooplah is the Angels acquisition of Shea Hillenbrand, whom the Angels really don't need.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Adam Kennedy
Projected 2007 Starter - Howie Kendrick

The Adam Kennedy Era comes to an end, but the Howie Kendrick Era looks like it is going to be a good one. Kendrick has spent the last four years lighting up every level of the minor leagues - his career minor league state line is 361/401/570/971. At 5'10", however, one should expect his minor league homeruns to turn into major league doubles, and his OPS will decline a bit. In a 72-game test drives with the big club last season, he held his own, getting 21 doubles and stealing six bases in six attempts. His 9/44 BB/K ratio, however, needs help, and his range at second base looked very poor in only 28 games there. They aren't playing this guy for his defense.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Orlando Cabrera
Projected 2007 Starter - Orlando Cabrera

Cabrera rebounds from a couple of bad seasons last year, and at age 31 looked somewhat refreshed for the Angels. He hit 45 doubles, stole 27 of 30 bases, and led the team in runs scored with 95. More importantly, he walked 51 times, the second most of his career, and also posted his second highest OBP of his career. On defense, he continues to get older, but remains a solid shortstop.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Maicier Izturis, Chone Figgins, Dallas McPherson
Projected 2007 Starter - Chone Figgins

One of the tragedies of the Matthews signing is that Chone Figgins is pushed from centerfield to third base, which is really not where Figgins should be playing, and it pushes Maicier Izturis out of the lineup completely, which is a shame because he is a solid hitter, though not a very good fielder. After slipping a bit in 2006 as the leadoff hitter, Figgins starts the season in the nine-hole while Matthews leads off.

Left Field
2006 Starter - Garret Anderson
Projected 2007 Starter - Garret Anderson

In the spring of 1999, Scott and I were still living in the dorms on the campus of Tulane University. I swore up and down that Garret Anderson would be awesome in 1999, while Scott swore that Anderson was garbage. Anderson rewarded me with 21 homers, 80 RBI, and a .303 average. In 2000, we did the same dance, and Anderson rewarded me with 35 homers, 117 RBI, and a .286 average. This continued for a few more years, and every year Anderson made me look good - 123 RBI in 2001, 56 doubles in 2002, 201 hits in 2003. By the time Anderson suffered through an injury plagued 2004, I had won all the battles and the war was over.

Angels Fun Fact
Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon are the only players to have played for the California Angels, Anaheim Angels, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Truth be told, though Anderson had success on the face of things - he also managed 183 or more hits every year from 1997 to 2003 - Anderson has never been as good as I thought he would be. Anderson is a classic 1980s era slugger in the mold of Andre Dawson, Joe Carter, and Dale Murphy - his homeruns, RBIs, and hits have never been accompanied by impressive walks totals or impressive slugging percentage. In 2000, on his way to 35 HR, 40 doubles, 92 runs, and 117 RBI, Anderson managed only a .307 on-base percentage, got caught stealing six times in 13 attempts, and grounded into 21 double plays.

Garret Anderson has always done the big things, but apparently didn't get the memo about the little things. Anderson has had a solid major league career, but has never gotten as much credit as he might have in the 1980s before the SABRmetric revolution really took hold. Anderson is on the downside of his career now, and 2007 could very well be his last season as a full-timer in left field. He is hitting .500 this spring, indicating that he may have a little something left in his bat, and Angels fans will certainly be hoping that he will.

When Juan Rivera returns, Anderson will slide to DH, and the Angels lineup will be hugely improved.

Center Field
2006 Starter - Chone Figgins, Darin Erstad
Projected 2007 Starter - Gary Matthews, Jr.

The hilarious thing about the Matthews signing is that the Angels are going to pay $10 million per year for a 32-year old veteran who had a breakout season in 2006, when they already had a 28-year old who had a breakout season in 2006 in Juan Rivera, who had a better season than Matthews while playing with the Angels. Of course, Rivera was badly injured in the off-season and may not be back until June 1st, but still - the point is that there were many options as good as Matthews for about $1 million.

Here is a fun nugget for you, by the way - of all the parks in the American League, Matthews posted his second worst OPS of 2006 in Angels Stadium, a robust .621.

Gary Matthews Jr. Prediction - 78R, 12 HR, 76 RBI, .280/.320/.430/.750

Right Field
2006 Starter - Vlad Guerrero, Juan Rivera
Projected 2007 Starter - Vlad Guerrero

Matthews signed with the Angels in a market-up year, while Vlad signed a few years ago in a market down year. The result? Vlad makes about 1.5 times what Matthews makes, and Vlad is about 10 times the player. Guerrero will be 31 this season, his 12th, and is beginning his climb up the career leaderboards. In interestingly, he is probably three or four good seasons away from becoming the greatest player in franchise history, a title currently disputed between Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, and Brian Downing. That would make him the greatest player in the history of two franchises - the Angels and the Expos/Nationals.

Designated Hitter
2006 Starter - Tim Salmon, Juan Rivera, Vlad Guerrero
Projected 2007 Starter - Shea Hillenbrand

A team loaded with first base and third base prospects should not be signing overrated, aging first base/third basemen for $6.5 million.

2006 Front Three Starters - John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar
Projected 2007 Starters - John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar

You simply can not avoid getting excited about the Angels pitching. Lackey has spent four seasons showing that he could be durable, pitching 198.1 or more innings each season while improving each year. At 28, he is the team's ace. Ervin Santana pitched 204.0 innings in his second major league season, and improved upon his numbers as a 22 year old rookie in 2005. He is on track to have a breakout year in 2007. Kelvim Escobar is the veteran of the staff at a mere 31 years old, and pitched 189.1 innings of 121 ERA+ 147/50 K/BB baseball last season, which is very good, and excellent for a three-spot pitcher.

2006 Rest of the Rotation - Jeff Weaver, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Bartolo Colon
Possible 2007 Starters - Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Bartolo Colon

The bottom part of the rotation has some very talented pitchers nursing injuries, and Joe Saunders. Jered Weaver went a combined 17-3 in the majors and minors last season, with 198 strikeouts in 200 innings. Like Santana, Weaver will be 24 this season, and despite nursing a biceps injury should be very good in his first full season of action. Bartolo Colon stole the Cy Young Award from Johan Santana in 2005, and paid for it by getting injured for most of 2006. The Angels expect him back by May, at which point Saunders will either be sent down or put in the bullpen. He was a good, not great, pitcher in the minor leagues, which probably means he is a solid guy to have in the number five spot in the rotation. If both Colon and Weaver can't start the season, Nick Adenhart and Dustin Moseley may find themselves in the big leagues sooner than expected.

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, J.C. Romero, Brendan Donnelly, Hector Carrasco, Kevin Gregg
Projected 2007 Relievers - Rodriguez, Shields, Carrasco, Justin Speier, Darren Oliver

J.C. Romero slipped last season, as his ERA balloned from 3.50-ish in 2004-2005 up to 6.70 in 2006. So, the Angels dumped him and stole Justin Speier from the Blue Jays for $18 million over 4 years. Brendan Donnelly has also slipped, so the Angels shipped him to the Red Sox. The Angels add Speier to what is one of the best bullpens in baseball. Rodriguez is amazing, Scot Shields is a strikeout machine, and Hector Carrasco has pitched better the last two years than he did the previous ten. The Angels have also added Darren Oliver, who had his best season in a decade in 2006, his first as a full time reliever. This pen is not as strong as it was in the Percival-Donnelly-Weber-K-Rod-Shields days, but it is very strong nonetheless.

Outlook for the Season

The key for the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 is obviously pitching. The Angels have a surplus of starting pitching and relief pitching, and should be dominant at both. If they can get their injuries under control, the Angels could be the Detroit Tigers of this season, following their pitching staff all the way to the World Series while their questionable hitting does just enough to get them there. In a year in which the Athletics finally look ready to tumble, the Rangers still barely have any pitching at all and can't know what to expect from their hitters, and the Seattle Mariners seem to be a year away, the Angels should be the team to beat in the AL West.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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