2010 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

  • Tuesday, March 23, 2010 6:20 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 97-65, 1st in AL West. Pythagorean record of 92-70.
Key Additions: SP Joel Pineiro, OF/DH Hideki Matsui, RP Fernando Rodney
Key Losses: SP John Lackey, OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Chone Figgins, RP Darren Oliver, OF Gary Matthews Jr.
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 78-84, 4th in AL West. CHONE – 81-81, tied for 2nd. CAIRO – 80.7-81.3, 3rd.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.45 FIP (21st in MLB), 4.54 for starters, 4.27 for relievers
2010 – The Angels should be able to overcome the loss of Lackey. Piniero is unlikely to repeat his 2009 performance but still should be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, and the team should get a boost if Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana provide full, healthy seasons. Brian Fuentes had 48 saves last season, but that doesn't make him a great closer.
Hitting: 2009 – .346 wOBA (3rd in MLB)
2010 – The big question is if Brandon Wood can fill the void left by Figgins, but the Angels also need Howie Kendrick to step up and Kendry Morales to maintain his new-found productivity. The Halos also must hope that the aging offensive core of Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Matsui holds up.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 13.3 (10th in MLB)
2010 – Hunter's defensive prowess is nowhere close to his reputation, and Abreu is a liability in right. Things look brighter in the infield, although losing Figgins hurts.

Reasons to Watch
1. Brandon Wood: It appears that the longtime top prospect will finally get a shot to hold down the everyday third base job this season. Wood, who will turn 25 in April, has struck out a third of the time in his 236 MLB plate appearances thus far, while putting up a line of .192/.222/.313. He does have tremendous power, however, as his slugging percentages of .595 and .557 the last two years in Triple-A indicate. This could be the year Wood puts things together, or it could be the year he takes a step closer to becoming the next Dallas McPherson.
2. Howie Kendrick: Kendrick has been a frustrating player to watch for Angels fans and fantasy owners alike. He has a career minor league line of .360/.403/.569, but in four big league seasons, he's been basically a league-average hitter. Injuries have certainly played a role, as last season's 400 plate appearances were a career-high. But Kendrick also just hasn't performed up to expectations, and it's possible his free-swinging style will prevent him from reaching his potential long-term. At 26, he should be about at his prime, so now is the time for Kendrick to bust out.
3. Joel Pineiro: What Pineiro accomplished last season is hard to overstate. Working with a completely revamped Dave Duncan-instilled approach, Pineiro led the majors in walks per nine innings and ground ball rate, while finishing fifth in home runs per nine innings. This was largely due to a new two-seam fastball, which got a ton of ground balls. 2009 was likely a perfect storm for Pineiro, but as long as he is able to maintain his new approach while detached from Duncan, he should continue to find success.

Paint By Numbers: On the other end of the spectrum from Pineiro, you have Jered Weaver, who finished just behind Ted Lilly for the major league lead in fly ball rate last season, at 50.4 percent. Not surprisingly, Weaver also gave up 26 home runs, but he still notched a solid 4.04 FIP. ... Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis combined to strike out 176 times last season. But at least Napoli hit 20 homers and slugged .492. Mathis hit five long balls and slugged .308. ... To say last season was a breakout year for Kendry Morales would be putting it mildly. From 2006-08, Morales hit 13 home runs in 407 plate appearances. In 2009: 34 in 622.

Blog Jog: Angels catching prospect Hank Conger offers this Spring Training journal entry at Angelswin.com. ... Rob Neyer on Wood's potential starting job. ... Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles looks at the remaining roster questions. ... Orange County Register beat writer Bill Plunkett relays Torii Hunter's reaction to former teammate Joe Mauer's huge contract extension.

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5 Intriguing Players To Watch In '10

  • Friday, February 12, 2010 4:54 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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We’re now just five days away from pitchers and catcher reporting to Spring Training, and in honor of that, I’ve compiled a list of five intriguing players whom I will be following with great interest this season.

Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds -- Bruce is an immensely talented, 22-year-old left-handed batter. His first two big league seasons, comprising 839 plate appearances, have been rather bizarre, however. While missing some time due to injury, Bruce has put up a line of .240/.309/.460, while pounding 43 homers. As detailed in this piece on FanGraphs, Bruce has put up a stunningly low .262 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), compared with the league average of around .300. While it is possible for a few individual hitters to consistently put up BABIPs that vary wildly from the norm, it’s certainly reasonable to think Bruce has been unlucky thus far and is due for a major upswing in 2010. Both the Bill James and CHONE projection systems have Bruce’s BABIP returning to the normal range, with his OPS rising into the high 800s and his wOBA into the .370s, making him a well above average hitter. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

Brad Lidge, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies -- Relief pitchers are notoriously fickle, as the small number of innings they pitch can lead to wild fluctuations in performance due to sample size issues. But Lidge has taken the Jekyll and Hyde act to a different level, particularly the past two years. He was dominant in ’04-’05, putting up FIPs of 1.97 and 2.13. In ’06-’07, he was decent but not great, with FIPs of 3.79 and 3.88 and 14 blown saves. He was then spectacular during Philly’s 2008 championship run (2.41 FIP, 0 blown saves) and a complete disaster last season (5.45 FIP, 11 blown saves). Chances are, he will come back better than last season but not as good as two seasons ago, perhaps doing something comparable to his ’06-’07 campaigns (CHONE predicts a 4.10 FIP). But you never know – we could get another appearance from Unhittable Lidge or Meltdown Lidge.

Joel Piniero, RHP, Los Angeles Angels -- It’s not often that a pitcher, at age 30, completely reinvents himself. But that’s exactly what Piniero did last season with St. Louis, leading the majors in ground balls per balls in play thanks to a new two-seam fastball. He also managed to walk just 1.14 batters per nine innings. It’s unlikely he can duplicate that feat, which would make his bottom of the barrel strikeout numbers less palatable. Nonetheless, it will be fun to see if Piniero’s transformation is mostly permanent and he becomes a stellar back-of-the-rotation starter for the Angels, or if he regresses severely now that he’s back in his old division.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs -- It’s hard to overstate how terrible Soriano’s 2009 was, as he hit .241/.303/.423. Combined with a -10.8 UZR in left field, that line pushed Soriano’s wins above replacement (WAR) into negative territory. His -0.7 mark was fifth-worst among qualified players in 2009. Of course, it must be noted that Soriano played much of the season with a balky knee that eventually required surgery. If he’s healthy in 2010, a bounceback is a near certainty (CHONE projects 1.8 WAR). On the other hand, Sori is 34, so you have to wonder how much is left in the tank for a guy who has five years and $90 million left on his contract. This season could give us a significant clue.

Ben Zobrist, IF/OF, Tampa Bay Rays-- Take a look at FanGraphs' 2009 WAR leaders for position players. You might be surprised to find out that the No. 1 guy on the list wasn't Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer or some other highly recognizable star. Nope, it was Zobrist, a little-known 28-year-old playing his first full big league season. How did he do it? Walks (91 of them, leading to a .405 OBP), home runs (27 of them, contributing to a .543 SLG), some luck (a .330 BABIP) and great defense (a 16.0 UZR in 91 games at 2B and an 11.5 mark in 59 games in RF, most notably). The question regarding the versatile Zobrist isn't so much if he can duplicate his 2009 season -- he almost certainly can't -- but rather if he can get somewhere close. The CHONE projection system suggests it's not likely. It has Zobrist's OBP falling to .368, his SLG falling to .463 and projects him to be good for 3.8 WAR. That's still quite good, but it wouldn't get Zobrist back atop any leaderboards. Then again, you never know. He could always surprise us again.

Tomorrow: 4 Series To Mark On Your Calendar

Assessing The Free Agent Leftovers (Part II)

  • Wednesday, January 20, 2010 5:39 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Yesterday I took a look at the best position players still available on the free agent market at each position. Today, the pitchers get their turn.

Starters – With a few of the top free agent starters already signed, Joel Pineiro stands at the head of the remaining class. Last year was a bizarre sort of breakout season for the journeyman right-hander, who completely remade himself as a pitcher under the tutelage of Dave Duncan. With the help of a biting two-seam fastball, Pineiro led the majors in ground balls per balls in play. He also walked barely more than one batter per nine innings, the best rate of any starting pitcher, which helped offset his lack of strikeouts. It’s tough to imagine Pineiro won’t slide backward somewhat next season, but he should still be a solid pitcher going forward thanks to his newfound approach and arsenal.

After Pineiro, the rest of the interesting options fall into two basic categories. The first is the wild cards. These are guys who have the potential to deliver big-time results but also could easily spend a good chunk of the year on the disabled list. Leading this particular pack is Ben Sheets, who didn’t pitch at all in 2009 and has started 25 games or more just once in the past five seasons. Still, when Sheets is on the mound, he is an elite pitcher, and he’s only 31. He recently threw for scouts from about 20 teams and apparently looked impressive.

Teams looking to buy a lottery ticket but who miss out on Sheets could go with Erik Bedard, who is coming off a torn labrum and has started a total of 30 games the past two seasons. To be fair, he does have a 3.24 ERA in those two half-seasons combined. Bedard likely will not be ready to pitch until at least May and possibly later, so any team signing him would have to take that into account. Other risk/reward options include Pedro Martinez, who pitched pretty well down the stretch last year for the Phillies but could hit the proverbial wall at any point, and Chien-Ming Wang, who put up a 9.64 ERA in an injury-plagued 2009 but is a few years removed from consecutive 19-win seasons.

More conservative shoppers could choose to go with somebody from the other group of free agent starters. These are guys from whom you know what you’re getting: lots of innings at decent-to-mediocre effectiveness. Make no mistake though – there is plenty of value to be had from this formula as long as you don’t overpay. Leading this crew is Jon Garland, who has started either 32 or 33 games in eight straight seasons but done so with an ERA under 4.20 just twice. Expect a lot of innings and a lot of hits. There’s also a pair of lefties: Doug Davis, who walks far too many batters, and Jarrod Washburn, who came back down to earth hard after a great start to last season.

Relievers – There are still some serviceable bullpen guys left out there, even if we don’t count Octavio Dotel, who apparently is close to signing with the Pirates. At the top of the list is Kiko Calero, who put up a 1.95 ERA while striking out more than a batter an inning last season for Florida.

Another solid middle relief option is Chan Ho Park, who has resurrected his career in the bullpen. Last season, Park notched a 2.52 ERA when used as a reliever, and his mark in 2008 was 3.84. There’s also Kevin Gregg, who had a rocky season as the Cubs’ closer but is due to bounce back, as he almost certainly won’t give up 1.7 home runs per nine innings again.

Other righties to keep an eye on include the side-winding Chad Bradford, the 41-year-old Russ Springer, the 40-year old David Weathers and useful swingman Jeff Weaver. There are also some decent “lefty specialists” out there in the forms of Joe Beimel, Ron Mahay and Will Ohman. Another interesting left-hander is Mark Hendrickson. Teams keep flipping him between the starting rotation and the pen, but maybe somebody should just keep him in relief. His ERAs out of the bullpen the last three years are 3.44, 3.03 and 3.69.