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American League Two-a-Days: Los Angeles Angels of Southern California but Specifically Anaheim

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 Projections

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.

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