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2011 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
All's Wells That Ends Well Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
February 13, 2011

Vernon Wells

Like the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had big plans for the offseason that never went into motion.  They watched Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and Adrian Beltre opt to sign with other clubs, and as you might expect from a team that missed the postseason for the first time in four years and sported a losing record for the first time in seven years, they panicked, trading two serviceable players for the privilege of paying Vernon Wells $86 million dollars.

The shocking part is not that the Angels are overpaying an outfielder; they do that all the time.  What's shocking is that they could still be a very dangerous team despite this blunder.

2010 Standings - AL West
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Texas Rangers 90 72 .556 0 51-30 39-42 787 687 .562 62-49 28-23
Oakland Athletics 81 81 .500 9 47-34 34-47 663 626 .526 57-60 24-21
Los Angeles Angels 80 82 .494 10 43-38 37-44 681 702 .486 57-54 23-28
Seattle Mariners 61 101 .377 29 35-46 26-55 513 698 .363 47-65 14-36

The addition of Wells does not help them.  Looking at just the 2011 season and ignoring finances, I do believe that the Angels are a better team with Vernon Wells than they were with Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.  But this ignores the fact that Hideki Matsui also left via free agency.  The best-case scenario for the Angels is that Wells matches Matsui's 2009 production and that Wells manning left field improves the outfield defense, shifting Bobby Abreu to DH and allowing defensive wonder Peter Bourjos to patrol centerfield.  But even that scenario fails to replace the production that Napoli and Rivera provided last year.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Vernon Wells OF
Scott Downs RP
Hisanori Takahashi SP
Departed Pos.
Mike Napoli C/1B
Juan Rivera OF
Hideki Matsui DH
Kevin  Frandsen UT
Scot Shields RP

Fortunately, the Halos can expect Kendry Morales to play in more than 51 games this year, and they can also expect Abreu to hit better than .255.  Along with Wells and Torri Hunter, they form a quartet of hitters in the middle of the lineup who should do a lot of damage.  Unfortunately, the rest of the lineup ranges from questionable to downright deplorable.

With the departure of Napoli, Jeff Mathis takes over the primary catching duties.  While this represents a very significant defensive upgrade, it's hard to ignore Jeff's .199 career batting average. The left side of the infield doesn't look much better, with some combination of Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, and Alberto Callaspo ready to end rallies at the bottom of the batting order. 

RoY Candidate
Mark Trumbo
Went .301-36-122 in AAA, but needs a spot to open at 1B, DH, or OF
Cy Young Candidate
Jered Weaver
He deserved more consideration than he received last year
Centerfielder Peter Bourjos and second baseman Howie Kendrick do have some offensive upside, but they are no sure things.  Bourjos, the team's likely leadoff hitter, had just a .237 OBP in 51 big league games last season, but it was .364 in 102 games with Salt Lake.  Many expect the 27-year-old Kendrick to finally have a breakout season, but his batting average has declined for three straight seasons now and his walk rate remains quite low.  There is a decent chance, however, that some of his 41 doubles from last year turn into homers in 2011. 

Jered Weaver

So why are the Angels a potentially dangerous team with so many holes in their lineup?  Mostly because their starting rotation has some serious upside.  Consider the best seasons of their front five:

Jered Weaver 2010: 13-12, 3.01 ERA, 233 K
Dan Haren 2009: 14-10, 3.14 ERA, 223 K
Scott Kazmir 2007: 13-9, 3.48 ERA, 239 K
Ervin Santana 2008: 16-7, 3.49 ERA, 214 K
Joel Piniero 2009: 15-12, 3.49 ERA, 105 K

Are all five of these hurlers going to pitch to their potential and post earned run averages under 3.50?  Of course not.  But their ages range from 27 to 32 and none of them is more than two or three years removed from their best season.  On top of that, their defense should be much improved this year.  With Mathis and Boujos moving into full-time roles at the all-important catcher and centerfield positions, plus Wells replacing Abreu's lazy defense in left, the Angels could move from an average defensive team in 2010 to one of the best in the AL this year.  Particularly important is the Napoli/Mathis dynamic in handling the staff; last year, Napoli had a 5.11 catcher's ERA in 66 games behind the dish while Mathis boasted a 3.67 cERA in 62 contests.  Basically, these five pitchers have shown the ability to dominate under favorable conditions, and they will be pitching in about as favorable of conditions as you can get outside of Petco Park.

Angels Team Capsule

2/13/11 - So Scioscia Is For Real - Every year, Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions calculates a team's Efficiency Wins, or the number of wins a team should tally based on their runs scored, runs allowed, and the components of runs scored and allowed. For each of the past three seasons, the Angels have outperformed their Efficiency Win total by more than any other American League team. A +9 mark last season followed a +7 mark in 2009 and a +14 mark in 2008. It has gotten to the point where you can't just dismiss the Angels as a team blessed with good fortune. Mike Scioscia is doing something to get the most out of his team and proving it as a repeatable skill to the tune of ten wins per season.

In the bullpen, the Angels might not miss the loss of the underappreciated Brian Fuentes all that much.  They've replaced him with Scott Downs, who has quietly been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball over the past four years.  Kevin Jepsen took a big step forward last year and should be entering his prime.  23-year-old Jordan Walden ranks among the most exciting young relievers in the game after fanning 23 batters in 15.1 innings late last year.  Michael Kohn ranks right there with Walden, given his 204 strikeouts in 135 career minor league innings.  The presence of Downs, Jepsen, Walden, and Kohn give the Angels insurance in the likely event that Fernando Rodney looks more like he did in 2010 than he did in 2009, when he improbably ranked second in all of baseball in Linear Saves.

The Angels have even more insurance in Matt Palmer and Trevor Bell.  Palmer has been capable as reliever and serviceable as a starter in an emergency.  A former sandwich pick, the 23-year-old Bell was equally decent in both roles last season and should only improve.

Final Word

Like the rest of the AL West, the Angels have strong pitching and defense, but suspect hitting.  Their offense will be difficult to upgrade midseason, since their weakest offensive links come at positions for which offense is most scarce.  That rotation has the chance to be as good as any in the American League, however, which should keep the Halos competitive in another three-team race.

Of course, if manager Mike Scioscia does the unthinkable and installs Vernon Wells into centerfield instead of Peter Bourjos, then all bets are off.

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