Los Angeles Angels
2018 Record: 80-82
Fourth place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.15 (19th in MLB)
Team OPS: .726 (16th in MLB)
What Went Right
Mike Trout did typical Mike Trout things, mostly being awesome while missing out on the playoffs once again. It was hardly his fault, of course. It actually looked promising early on, as the Angels went 13-3 to begin the year, but they couldn’t maintain that pace. Trout at least has a quality wingman in the lineup now with Shohei Ohtani, who surprised with the bat by putting up a monster .285/.361/.564 batting line with 22 homers over 367 plate appearances. He was also mostly as-advertised during his limited time on the mound. We'll get to where that went south in our next section. Andrelton Simmons turned in a comparable follow-up to his breakout 2017 campaign. Justin Upton saw a drop in his overall numbers during his first full season with the Angels, but he still reached 30 homers for the third straight season. Rookie Jaime Barria was a pleasant surprise for the rotation, posting a 3.41 ERA over 26 starts. Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs made it through the season mostly healthy while at least being league-average. Blake Parker and Jose Alvarez proved valuable out of the bullpen again while Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey were intriguing in-season additions.
What Went Wrong
You’ll be shocked to learn that injuries derailed the Angels’ chances. As noted above, Shohei Ohtani was surprisingly productive with the bat, but we didn’t see nearly as much of him on the mound as originally hoped. He was limited to 10 starts (with a 3.31 ERA and 11.0 K/9) due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and eventually required Tommy John surgery in October. He’s not going to pitch in 2019. Ohtani wasn’t the only Angels pitcher who needed the surgery, as Garrett Richards, Keynan Middleton, J.C. Ramirez, and John Lamb all fell victim this year as well. Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano also missed time with injuries. Signed to a three-year, $38 million contract over the winter, third baseman Zack Cozart struggled with a .658 OPS over 58 games before having season-ending shoulder surgery in late-June. Kole Calhoun really scuffled outside of a monster July. Albert Pujols put up a weak .245/.289/.411 batting line (92 OPS+) before undergoing knee surgery in late-August and is a liability as a regular moving into his age 39-season. He still has three years and $87 million remaining on his contract. After the Angels’ third straight losing season, it was announced that Mike Scioscia will not return as manager in 2019.
**Mike Trout is spoiling us, you guys. While he’s unlikely to win his third AL MVP Award (Mookie Betts is the favorite), he quietly had his most productive season at the plate, posting a 1.088 OPS. His 199 OPS+ was the highest mark in MLB since Barry Bonds in 2004. Trout missed some time in August with a wrist injury, but he still slugged 39 homers while posting a monster .312/.460/.628 batting line over 140 games. He also surpassed 100 runs scored for the sixth time in the last seven seasons while going 24-for-26 in stolen base attempts. He “only” drove in 79 runs, but that statistic is often circumstantial and we shouldn’t read too much into it. Simply put, Trout is the undisputed best player in the game and the safest fantasy option on the board. He should continue to be treated as such in drafts next spring.
**After signing with the Angels, Shohei Ohtani carried greater expectations on the mound than he did at the plate, but things didn’t exactly work out as expected. Ohtani certainly showed electric stuff as a pitcher (3.31 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings), but he ended up making just 10 starts due to ulnar collateral ligament damage in his elbow. He opted for Tommy John surgery after the season and won’t be back on the mound until 2020. That’s the bad news. The good news? Ohtani exceeded all reasonable expectations at the plate, batting .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers in 367 plate appearances while also stealing 10 bases. His 152 wRC+ ranked eighth among all MLB hitters with at least 350 plate appearances.
Ohtani had some issues with strikeouts, especially against lefties, but he drew plenty of walks and ranked among the league’s best in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. In short, there’s reason to believe in the power production. And while we won’t see Ohtani on the mound next year, it’s possible he could be cleared to see significant time out of the DH spot. That’s an exciting prospect from a fantasy perspective, even though he only qualifies out of the utility spot as a hitter. Be sure to track news of Ohtani’s progress from Tommy John surgery, but with his power/speed potential, he could very well be a top-100 player in drafts next spring.
**Not surprisingly, Justin Upton saw a drop in production during his first full season with the Angels. While he reached 30 homers, 85 RBI, and 80 runs scored in 145 games, his OPS fell from .901 to .808 compared to 2017. He was really good from May through August, but he bookended his season with disappointing months. Upton hit the ball on the ground more often on the whole, though he remained among some impressive company in regards to his average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, so at least there's a silver lining there. Hitting behind Mike Trout (and Shohei Ohtani) remains a very good situation indeed. Upton is on the fringes of the top-20 fantasy outfielders even though he doesn’t run as much as he did a few years ago.
**In addition to his usual brand of excellent defense, Andrelton Simmons kept humming along with the bat this year, putting up a .292/.337/.417 batting line with 11 homers and 10 steals while establishing a new career-high with 75 RBI. Simmons primarily batted fifth or sixth in the Angels’ lineup, so he was in a good spot to knock in runs. Simmons still owns a walk rate below the league average, but he was the toughest hitter to strike out in the majors this season. And quite comfortably so. Simmons fanned in just 7.3 percent of his plate appearances. The Indians’ Michael Brantley was next at 9.5 percent. Simmons isn’t going to stand out from a counting stat perspective, but the batting average appears safe, so he should continue to be a respectable middle infielder option in fantasy leagues.
**Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Jaime Barria were the steadiest members of the starting rotation in 2018. While Barria had the best ERA of this trio, his secondary numbers (6.82 K/9, 3.27 K/9) didn’t necessarily back that up. I don’t love K/9 or BB/9, but just know that he was below league-average in those categories. Heaney (4.15 ERA) and Skaggs (4.02 ERA) both dropped off during the second half, but they missed more bats than Barria and showed better control as well. Obvious injury history aside, those southpaws should come off the board before Barria in fantasy drafts in the spring.
**Angels manager Mike Scioscia kept us on our toes with the closer role again in 2018. Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian weren’t pitching well out of the gate, so Keynan Middleton saw a bunch of early chances before going down with an elbow issue at the start of May. He returned only briefly before requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery. Parker handled the bulk of the save chances from there, though the Angels surprised many down the stretch by giving some looks to Ty Buttrey, who was acquired from the Red Sox in the Ian Kinsler trade in late July. Buttrey posted a 3.31 ERA and 20/5 K/BB ratio over his first 16 1/3 innings of big league action. In that small sample, the 25-year-old showed big-time velocity and an impressive ground ball rate while inducing lots of weak contact. Parker remains under team control for 2019 and should remain a threat here, but Buttrey has high-leverage spots in his future.
**There should be opportunities for quite a few young position players next season. We’ve already seen quite a few of them — David Fletcher, Taylor Ward, Jose Fernandez, Michael Hermosillo — though Matt Thaiss, and Luis Rengifo are knocking on the door. However, the name to watch in this system is dynamic outfielder Jo Adell. The 2017 first-rounder emerged as one of the top prospects in the game this season while batting .290/.355/.543 with 20 homers and 15 steals over 99 games between Class A Burlington, High-A Inland Empire, and Double-A Mobile. He did it all at the age of 19. Adell has all the makings of a five-category stud and we could get our first look at him in the majors before the end of 2019.
Team Needs: Naming a new manager is the priority right now, with candidates reportedly being screened with a two-hour written exam. ProTip: Don’t try to give your test to a friend waiting outside the window. The Angels apparently have around $30 million to spend this offseason, so that doesn’t give them much wiggle room for the top names on the free agent market. So they’ll mostly be adding around the margins and getting creative on the trade front. Adding rotation depth should be essential given their injury issues. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register recently speculated on the Yankees’ Sonny Gray as a potential trade target, which could make some sense as a buy-low. Also expect some resources to be applied to the bullpen, though the club could look to an experienced option behind the plate to complement Francisco Arcia and Juan Briceno. And even though there are some internal options, it's also possible they’ll acquire an experienced corner infield-type or platoon option given the obvious questions about Albert Pujols.