LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.
Team Synopsis: Los Angeles Angels
2013 record: 78-84
2013 runs scored: 733
2013 runs against: 737
2013 pythag. record: 81-81
Pitching ended the Angels season prematurely in 2013, as the rotation got bombed in spring training and never quite got settled, not that the bullpen was much help. But it’s easy to forget how loaded the Angels lineup is. The 2013 Angels were both a horrible disappointment, and one of the best offensive teams in baseball.
No team has a better batter WAR projection than the 2014 Angels. One of the key themes among the best teams in the AL is that they don’t have 5+ WAR stars on their roster, with the Tigers are the main exception. This is not an issue with the Angels (or the Mariners). The Angels have the best player in baseball: 22 year old Mike Trout. And if they can get a full season of Jered Weaver, the Angels can make the postseason.
Who is having a good spring?
C Chris Iannetta has the best batting line for any of the Angels this spring at .385/.556/.769. 2B Howie Kendrick and SS Grant Green are off to nice starts. And Mike Trout’s unimpressive 1.000 spring OPS just raises questions if he can do it in the playoffs. On the pitching side, they’ve gotten quality innings from left-handed starters Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, and C.J. Wilson.
Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Angels
They can really hit. They were able to upgrade the rotation without cashing in the final two years of 2B Howie Kendrick’s deal. They were able to upgrade it without trading SS Erick Aybar. They acquired Grant Green, another MIF, for Alberto Callaspo at the deadline last year. And with Iannetta and Hank Conger behind the plate, it gives them multiple options with a bat to play catcher. The Centerfielder is Trout, so the Angels can hit throughout the lineup.
There’s going to be a rebound season coming for 1B Albert Pujols and OF Josh Hamilton. Those are long, expensive contracts, but both guys can still help a team win.
The Angels also play good defense. They got away from this in the more recent Mike Scoscia years, but this team can go get the ball with the best of them.
Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Angels
The Angels treated the rotation as the one group they most needed to upgrade this offseason, which means last year’s awful bullpen is still a work in progress. The Angels’ pitching is good enough to compete in the AL West right now given their lineup, but they’d be a severe underdog against the Rays, Red Sox, or Tigers, and a slight underdog to the Royals in any five or seven game series. They need to add arms and if they’re in it at the deadline, will have to find a way to.
The Angels built a great farm system over the years, but it’s been depleted to the point where it’s only contributions are a college outfielder or power bat every couple years. GM Jerry DiPoto has made it a point to trade for young middle of the diamond players, because his system is not producing them anymore and Aybar/Kendrick are set to hit free agency at the same time after 2015.
Arms are expensive when you don’t develop them and need them to compete, and the Angels tied up most of their future salary in Pujols and Hamilton. Whatever is left is going to Mike Trout.
The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Angels is 38.7, 6th in the American League. Their 25.9 Batters WAR projection is best in the AL. Their 12.8 Pitchers WAR projection is 12th in the AL. Cool Standings projects the 2014 Angels to win 86 games, a 8 win improvement over last season. Mike Trout is the Angel with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 8.0. Jered Weaver is the pitcher with the best average projection at 3.1 WAR.
The Angels vs the rest of the AL West
The AL West is a below average division, and the weakest of the AL divisions in 2014. This despite having four above average teams and an “improved” Astros team. This is the case because no teams in the AL West are a lock to win 90 games. According to Cool Standings, the division winner is projected to win 86 games. It’s a true four team race in 2014. The Astros will not participate.
LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Los Angeles Angels
Of all the teams in the AL West, I like the Angels chances the most. The competition is more numerous than it is fierce. And so while no team in that division has a good shot of winning it, the Angels have the best chance. They’ll make the 90 win plateau this year, barely, at 91-71.
That will be mostly Trout driven, with help from Aybar, Kendrick, Pujols, and Hamilton. The pitching will make a contribution, but it is only good enough to not drag them down. And if Trout spends any time at all on the DL, this is a bad team. But given his health and presence in the lineup, he can bring the Angels to the postseason in 2014.
LiveBall Sports Previews the American League this week.
Team Synopsis: Boston Red Sox
2013 record: 97-65
2013 runs scored: 853
2013 runs against: 656
2013 pythag. record: 100-62
The Red Sox spent all of last season in baseball’s elite class, populated by the Tigers, A’s, Cardinals, and eventually the Dodgers as well. When the other teams faded in the postseason, Boston stood alone as World Series Champs.
There were losses to free agency, but Boston is more or less the pre-season favorite to repeat.
Who is having a good spring?
C AJ Pierzynski, coming over from Texas in free agency replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is hitting .429 this spring. His job is to hold the seat warm for Christian Vazquez, hitting .444. On-base specialist and perennial bubble player Daniel Nava is flexing his muscles with a .684 spring SLG. Mike Carp is slugging over .750 and working at a new position (third base) this spring. Of the Boston pitchers, left handers Felix Doubront and Jon Lester have yet to allow a run in nine combined spring innings. Right-handed journeyman reliever Francisco Cordero is pitching well enough to make the club. He is a non-roster invite.
Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Red Sox
Boston is the most loaded organization in all of professional sports from top to bottom. The major league teams win, the minor league teams win, and the organization wins on the books; the franchise has never been more profitable. They are breaking in a new shortstop, top prospect Xander Bogaerts, as last year’s SS, Stephen Drew, remains unsigned. Some of the top competition, the Yankees and the Orioles, are in decline cycles.
The pitching gets stronger every year with minimal investment. Ryan Dempster opted for retirement instead of a spot on the Red Sox this year. He had lost his rotation spot at the end of last season. This opens the fifth starter role up for either veteran LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Allen Webster a prospect, or RHP Brandon Workman, who did great work out of the bullpen as a rookie. That’s a lot of options for a strong rotation this year. The arms coming out of the bullpen are just as impressive.
Boston will once again run out a deep lineup one through nine.
Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Red Sox
The Red Sox had the best top of the lineup in the AL a year ago with Ellsbury and Shane Victorino at the top, but Ellsbury is a Yankee and Victorino is a year older. Dustin Pedroia has significant home/road splits — he’s basically been a bottom of the order hitter on the road in his career. Big Papi is a year older and has always struggled vs. lefties. As deep as this lineup is, it was better at the top a year ago.
There could be some growing pains with Bogaerts at SS. He is just 21, and the options behind him if he struggles are unappetizing. That means Boston will let him work through his struggles if they come. Same deal in CF with Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over for Ellsbury, although his leash won’t be quite as long. The 3B job that Bogaerts came up and filled in the playoffs remains an issue.
Papi is in a contract year, so prepare for a full year of talk about his future and Ortiz not exactly doing his part to quiet the commentary.
The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Red Sox is 45.1, 2nd in the American League. Their 23.7 Batters WAR projection is 4th in the AL. Their 21.4 Pitchers WAR projection is 2nd in the AL. Cool Standings projects the 2014 Red Sox to win 89 games, a 8 win decline over last season. Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.3. Jon Lester is the pitcher with the best average projection at 3.9 WAR.
The Yankees vs the rest of the AL East
The AL East is baseball’s strongest division in 2014. The Rays and Red Sox are top seven teams, in the elite class of baseball teams, and the Yankees and Blue Jays are anticipated to be top-half teams. The Orioles are probably the best team expected to finish in fifth this season. The Blue Jays are a longshot contender, but the Red Sox and the Rays are the class of the AL East this year.
LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox will get all they can handle from the Rays this year, and might not have enough to hold off Tampa from grabbing the division. But they are stronger throughout the pitching staff, and at least have the ability to develop a better lineup through guys like Bradley and Bogaerts.
Boston, like Tampa, is a smart organization, and I trust them to get the most out of this roster. I’ll take them for 93-69, and another trip to the ALCS.