Los Angeles Angels
2019 Record: 72-90
Fourth Place, AL West
Team ERA: 5.12 ERA (25th in MLB)
Team OPS: .746 (18th in MLB)
What Went Right
In a shocking development, Mike Trout had another amazing season while his teammates largely failed to keep pace. Unfortunately Trout’s season ended a bit early to a foot injury, but he’s now led the AL in OPS in three straight seasons and four out of the last five. He’s alright. Shohei Ohtani was productive in his return from Tommy John surgery, slugging 18 homers with 12 steals over 106 games before undergoing knee surgery in September. Kole Calhoun had a nice walk year, blasting a career-high 33 homers with a .792 OPS. Tommy La Stella was a great story during the first half, earning his first All-Star selection while batting .295/.346/.486 with 16 home runs over 80 games. We weren’t able to see if he could keep it going, as he suffered a fractured tibia and only made it back for the final weekend of the season. David Fletcher was a contact machine while hitting .290 with a .350 on-base percentage. Claimed off waivers from the Royals after Justin Upton’s toe injury, Brian Goodwin surprised with 17 homers and a .796 OPS. There were also some bright spots on the pitching side, as rookie right-hander Griffin Canning showed promise in the Angels’ rotation and Hansel Robles was excellent after taking over the closer role.
What Went Wrong
It was a tough year for the franchise, both on and off the field, which resulted in manager Brad Ausmus being fired after one year on the job. The Angels tried to shoot for upside with their rotation, giving Matt Harvey a one-year, $11 million deal and Trevor Cahill a one-year, $9 million deal, but they combined for a brutal 6.47 ERA over 160 innings. Harvey was let go just after the All-Star break and his future is in serious doubt at this point. Not surprisingly, Angels starters ranked 29th in the majors with a 5.64 ERA. Justin Upton didn’t make his season debut until mid-June due to a sprained toe and struggled with a .725 OPS over 63 games before being shut down in September with patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Ankle issues limited Andrelton Simmons to 103 games and he regressed with a .673 OPS (80 OPS+) at the plate. It was another lost year for Zack Cozart, who has appeared in just 96 games since signing a three-year, $38 million contract with the Angels in December of 2017. Tragedy struck at the start of July when Tyler Skaggs passed away from what was eventually determined to be an accidental drug overdose.
*Whether Mike Trout will win his third AL MVP Award is in question about his season-ending foot surgery and Alex Bregman’s impressive finish to the season, but what isn’t in doubt is that he remains the best player in the sport. The 28-year-old slugged a career-high 45 homers over 134 games and probably would have won his first home run crown over Jorge Soler if he finished the year healthy. Still, it was another amazing year, as he led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS while batting .291/438/.645 with 104 RBI and 110 runs scored. The only downer from a fantasy perspective was that he finished with 11 steals, his lowest total since having the same number in 2015. He’s obviously capable of bouncing back, but it’s eventually going to be hard to count on that. One could argue that Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuna, Jr. are making a case for the top spot in fantasy drafts next year, but Trout is so darn consistent that he’ll likely go off the board first in most leagues once again. And that’s totally fine.
*Shohei Ohtani didn’t throw a pitch in 2019 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he still made an impact with the bat. Aided by a monster June, the 25-year-old compiled a .286/.343/.505 batting line with 18 homers, 62 RBI, 12 steals, and 51 runs scored over 106 games, still showing the elite average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage he did during his first season stateside. Ohtani scuffled a bit after the All-Star break and his season ended sooner than expected, as he required surgery in September to address a congenital issue with his left kneecap. It was announced at the time that the timetable for a full recovery was 8-12 weeks, so he won’t be able to resume throwing sessions until then. That puts him on pace for December, which should give him enough time to get ready to resume being a two-way player in 2020. Chances are Ohtani will be more of a wait-and-see option as a pitcher in mixed league drafts based on how he looks in the spring, but he has the ability to be a top-100 overall player as a hitter even if he sits a couple of days a week. Ohtani now owns an .883 OPS (135 OPS+) with 40 homers and 22 steals over 210 games in the majors.
*Well, Justin Upton sure was a mess this year. In between the toe issue which delayed his season debut by over two months and the knee injury which ended his season, Upton posted his worst across-the-board numbers since his 43-game showing in his age-19 season with the Diamondbacks in 2007. Now 32 years old, Upton struck out more than ever before this year and while he boosted his fly ball rate to 45.9 percent, his 17.9 percent infield-fly ball rate was tied for 18th among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances. His .215 batting average was not a case of bad luck. We’ve probably seen his best years already, but I still think there’s room for optimism after a full offseason of rest. He’s still in a good spot behind Mike Trout in the order and the price tag should be more reasonable than it has been in a number of years.
*Tommy La Stella, really? After hitting 10 homers over 947 plate appearances between 2014-2018, the 30-year-old surprised everyone by slugging 16 homers over 321 plate appearances this year. It’s easy to cite the juiced baseball as the factor which threw everything out of whack. That’s a fair argument, especially when La Stella didn’t see a huge increase from his career fly ball rate. However, La Stella made contact at an elite rate — only four players with at least 300 PA ranked higher — and he also saw a dramatic increase in his hard-hit percentage, per FanGraphs. It’s really a shame the fractured tibia prevented an All-Star appearance and a chance to keep things going over the final three months. He’s going to enter 2020 as a big wild card, but the good news is that he probably won’t require a high draft pick.
*It’s just a matter of time before top prospect outfielder Jo Adell makes his way to the majors. The 20-year-old got a late start on the 2019 season due to a Grade 2 right ankle sprain and a Grade 1 left hamstring strain, but he still ended up hitting .308/.390/.553 with eight homers and six steals over 43 games in Double-A before a late-season promotion to Triple-A. He scuffled a bit there and figures to repeat the level to begin 2020, but he’s knocking on the door regardless. With his across-the-board skills, he’ll probably be stashed in most fantasy drafts next spring.
*After logging a career-high 180 innings in 2018, there was some hope that Andrew Heaney would be ready to take the next step this year. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, he didn’t make his season debut until May 26 due to elbow issues. The southpaw was largely up and down after that before hitting the injured list again with shoulder inflammation, but he had his best stretch in August — including a pair of double-digit strikeout games — before posting a 7.66 ERA in September. All in all, he posted a 4.91 ERA in 18 starts. The home run ball really hurt him, as he allowed 20 in just 95 1/3 innings, but it’s hard to give up on his ability to miss bats. Only 20 pitchers (min. 90 IP) had a higher strikeout percentage and only 11 had a higher swinging strike percentage. He’s going to be well worth another late-round gamble in 2020.
*Hansel Robles has been quite the find for the Angels. Since being claimed off waivers from the Mets in June of 2018, he’s posted a 2.64 with 111 strikeouts and 31 walks over 109 innings. He saved 23 games with the Angels this past season and went 15 straight appearances without giving up a run at one point. With increased fastball velocity and an uptick in changeup usage, he saw a big increase in swinging strikes and displayed the best control of his career. In the “Year of the Home Run,” he gave up just six of them in 72 2/3 innings. He also had the best pitcher intro video of all-time. Robles should begin next season as the Angels’ closer, likely in the 10-20 range among fantasy closers.
*With a solid four-pitch mix, Griffin Canning was a source of hope in the Angels’ rotation this year. Yes, his 4.58 ERA doesn’t show it, but he fanned 25 percent of the batters he faced (9.56 K/9) with a swinging strike percentage of 13.8 percent. Just to put things in perspective, only 16 pitchers with a minimum of 90 innings pitched ranked higher. Canning dealt with some elbow inflammation down the stretch, but if healthy he looks like an excellent potential value pick for next year. He is a fly ball pitcher, though, so home runs could continue to hurt him.
Team Needs: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Gerrit Cole would look great with this team. The Angels can’t keep squandering the biggest advantage in the sport, specifically having Mike Trout on their roster. They also need a manager, though that appears a possible fait accompli with Joe Maddon in the mix.