Los Angeles Angels
2016 Record - 74-88
Fourth place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.28 (21st)
Team OPS: .726 (22nd)
What Went Right:
I feel like I should just put Mike Trout here and move on with the rest of the categories, but we’ll expound a little bit. While it might not result in the AL MVP Award, Trout is coming off another amazing season and continues to be the best player in the game. Let’s put this in perspective, shall we? Trout has amassed 47 fWAR (wins above replacement) dating back to 2012. As Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times pointed out last month, this means that he’s 47 percent higher than the next closest position player (Josh Donaldson - 32 WAR) during that timespan. He’s truly a cut above everyone else in the game. As evidenced by the Angels’ record, he can’t do it all. And to be fair, there were some other positives, mostly among the position players. Kole Calhoun showed improved plate discipline while batting .271/.348/.438 and C.J. Cron took a nice step forward by hitting .278 with 16 homers and a .792 OPS over 116 games. Andrelton Simmons was as advertised with the glove and Yunel Escobar did a respectable job as the starting third baseman and leadoff man. Albert Pujols isn’t the force he once was, but he at least made fantasy owners happy by amassing 31 homers and 119 RBI. Matt Shoemaker bounced back with a 3.88 ERA and 143/30 K/BB ratio over 160 innings before he suffered a small skull fracture when he was hit in the head by a line drive on September 4.
What Went Wrong:
A wide range of issues on the pitching side was the major factor behind the Angels’ worst record since 1999. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano both required Tommy John surgery. Garrett Richards was diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow back in May and has been rehabbing the injury ever since. C.J. Wilson’s tenure with the Angels ended quietly, as he didn’t throw a pitch this season due to a shoulder injury which eventually required surgery. Tim Lincecum’s return to the majors was flat out sad. As mentioned above, Shoemaker suffered a skull fracture when he was hit by a 105 mph line drive in September. Jered Weaver led the Angels with 31 starts, but he posted an ugly 5.06 ERA and gave up 37 homers in 178 innings. He intends to pitch next season, but his recent performance doesn’t justify a rotation spot anywhere. Injuries limited closer Huston Street to 26 appearances and he struggled when he was healthy enough to actually pitch. Angels left fielders combined for a major-league worst .584 OPS while their second basemen ranked 28th in the majors with a .620 OPS. They got a .648 OPS (22nd in MLB) out of the catcher position.
*Mike Trout is great. We know that. But was what he did in 2016 enough to remain as the consensus No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts next spring? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Sure, the power was down somewhat from 2015 (29 homers, down from 41 in 2015), but we saw improvements in all other areas. Most notably, he was 30-for-37 in stolen base attempts. This was after he stole 27 bases combined from 2014-2015. Thanks in part to a decrease in his strikeout rate, he had his highest batting average (.315) since 2013 and reached the 100 RBI mark again while leading the majors with a .441 on-base percentage and 123 runs scored. Boston’s Mookie Betts probably has the strongest case to potentially oust Trout from the top spot after batting .318/.363/.534 with 31 homers, 113 RBI, 26 steals, and 122 runs scored this season. He’s really exciting and remains in a great situation in Boston, but he’s not the on-base machine like Trout and there will likely be some natural skepticism about a repeat on the power front. In the end for me, it comes down to who is the safest option. And you really can’t go wrong with Trout after everything he’s done over the past five years.
*It feels like this story has flown under the radar somewhat, but Garrett Richards’ rehab from a torn ulnar collateral ligament has been fascinating to follow. The assumption was that he would undergo Tommy John surgery at the time of the diagnosis in May, but instead he opted for rest and stem-cell therapy. So far, so good. Richards recently pitched in the instructional league without incident and reportedly sat in the 95-96 mph range with his fastball. After passing his final test, he received a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow and will shut things down for the winter before beginning his normal throwing program in January. As of now, the Angels expect him to be ready to go for 2017. Will the gamble pay off? Will Richards become the poster boy for future torn UCL cases? We all know what he’s capable of when he’s healthy, so he’ll be one of the more interesting situations to monitor in the spring.
*I avoided Albert Pujols in most drafts this spring after the plantar plate surgery for his foot, but I’ll admit it, I was wrong about him. The 36-year-old slugged 31 homers this year while driving his most runs (119) since his last MVP season back in 2009. It’s nice to have Yunel Escobar (.355 OBP), Kole Calhoun (.348 OBP), and Mike Trout (.441 OBP) in front of you. To his credit, though, Pujols took advantage of his spot in the lineup. Still, the concerns I had about Pujols remain. His patience has diminished significantly and he owns a .783 OPS over the last four seasons, so he’s clearly not the hitter he was during his peak. Pujols remains in a good situation, but given his age and the alternatives, I don’t feel comfortable putting him among my top-10 fantasy first basemen in 2017. By the way, Pujols still has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract.
*The Angels’ closer situation was a mess this season. Huston Street appeared in just 26 games due to oblique and knee injuries and finished with a rough 6.45 ERA and 14/12 K/BB ratio over 22 1/3 innings. Cam Bedrosian is the heir apparent here, but he went down with a finger injury in mid-August and eventually required season-ending surgery to address a blood clot in a small artery near his right armpit. Fernando Salas temporarily took over the closer role before being traded to the Mets at the end of August, which opened the door for former AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey to take the job by default. Street is under contract for $9 million next season (with a $1 million buyout on a $10 million club option for 2018) and isn’t likely to draw much trade interest, so the Angels will have to hope that he simply can come back healthy and perform. Assuming Street sticks around, my guess is that he’ll begin the year as the closer, but I don’t blame you if you aren’t very excited about that.
*This is the part where we usually talk about prospects on the way, but um, the cupboard is pretty bare here. Barring some sort of franchise-rocking, Herschel Walker-type trade involving Mike Trout (which I’m not endorsing, by the way), don’t look for much in the way of immediate help from the minors.
Key Free Agents: None.
Team Needs: Improved health for their starting rotation is their biggest need. Matt Shoemaker is reportedly symptom-free, which is great news, but getting full seasons out of Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs would be huge for their chances of becoming contenders again. Still, given all of the injury issues this season, adding at least one starter for depth behind Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer would be a good idea. The Angels are still on the hook for Pujols, but they should have some cash to spend with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson off the books. They could apply those funds for upgrades between left field, second base, and catcher.