Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Angels.
The Big Question: Can the Angels slug their way to an AL West title?
With the addition of outfielder Josh Hamilton, signed to a five-year, $125 million contract, the Angels now have four players (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Hamilton) projected to hit at least 25 home runs with at least a .790 OPS according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system. Trout, on the heels of an historically-great rookie season in 2012, is expected to be the most valuable of them all, shocking no one.
The Angels will be relying heavily on that offensive core as their starting rotation after ace Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson is questionable at best. Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, and Tommy Hanson are each expected to post an ERA above 4.00 according to ZiPS. Weaver, with three consecutive top-five finishes in AL Cy Young balloting, should once again be expected to dominate the competition leading an otherwise motley crew.
The bullpen is a parade of question marks. Will Ryan Madson be healthy enough to assume the closer’s role at some point in April? With a bad elbow, Madson has yet to face live competition in the Cactus League and is highly unlikely to be ready in time for Opening Day. Ernesto Frieri, a 27-year-old who saved 23 games for the Angels last year, will be the interim closer. Behind Frieri are Scott Downs and Sean Burnett, two solid lefties who should hold down the seventh and eighth innings. Aside from them, however, middle relief could potentially be a problem for the Halos.
What else is going on?
- The Angels decided to move Trout to left field, giving Peter Bourjos the everyday job in center field. The move was debated throughout the off-season, with some saying that Trout is just as capable as Bourjos as evidenced by a lengthy highlight reel. Moving from center to left hurts Trout’s value, at least when it comes to Wins Above Replacement, as center fielders are credited 2.5 runs and left fielders are debited 7.5 runs (net difference of ten runs, or 1 WAR) in positional adjustments. Last year, Trout posted baseball’s first 10-WAR season since Barry Bonds in 2004, according to Baseball Reference.
- Albert Pujols is trying to bounce back from what was the worst season of his career in 2012. Though, to be fair, “worst” for him constituted 4.6 WAR, which would be a career-best for many other players. Rumors of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated if you believe in the middle four months of his season. Between May 1 and August 31, Pujols posted a .962 OPS with 29 home runs in 445 plate appearances.
- The left side of the Angel infield is quietly pretty good. Neither shortstop Erick Aybar nor third baseman Albert Callaspo will wow you with offensive production, but slightly above-average defense and base running turns them into a nice combination.
Prediction: First place, American League West.