Los Angeles Angels 2020 Preview
With a disappointing 72-90 finish in 2019, the Los Angeles Angels made some big changes during the offseason. They fired manager Brad Ausmus and brought back former bench coach Joe Maddon. General manager Billy Eppler added new arms to the rotation and more offense to the lineup. The following preview highlights the changes made in preparation for the 2020 season in hopes of ending the Halos postseason drought.
2020 Offseason Overview
As previously mentioned, the biggest change for the Angels will be the return of Maddon. Despite his leading the Cubs to a World Series win in 2016, the team failed to renew his contract. Maddon brings a 1,252-1,068 regular-season record along with a 32-35 postseason record.
In addition to Maddon, the Angels made some significant changes to their starting pitching core. The team is still recovering from the tragic loss of Tyler Skaggs during the 2019 season, but the team cut their losses by unloading their failed 2019 signings, including Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill.
Starting in early December, the Angels traded four pitching prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for Dylan Bundy. Next, they signed Julio Teheran to a one-year, nine-million-dollar deal. Teheran, a seven-year veteran from the Atlanta Braves, will add more durability to the starting rotation. At the end of the 2019 season, he stands as one of only six pitchers to record over 170 innings each season.
While the Angels missed out on the top free agent pitchers, they made a big splash in signing Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract. Rendon hit 34 home runs and netted a 7.0 fWAR last season leading the Washington Nationals to the World Series. The addition should charge the Halos lineup and move the team closer to a playoff run.
One difficult change comes with the loss of fan favorite Kole Calhoun in right field. Calhoun failed to make a compelling case to take his $14 million option with drops in his batting average at .202 and .232 over the last two seasons. Furthermore, Angels outfielder prospects Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh are moving closer to making the MLB roster.
2020 Angels Offensive Preview
Probably the biggest highlight of the 2019 season was the re-signing of Mike Trout to a 10-year contract. Trout will continue to be the main focal point for the Angels offense; however, he should get some help in generating runs this season with the addition of Rendon. Shohei Ohtani will continue to hit due to his designation as a two-way player. Finally, Tommy La Stella will hope to continue the 2019 success that won him an All-Star spot. His 2019 numbers included a career-high 16 home runs in 292 at-bats before fracturing his tibia.
Additionally, Angels fans may finally see the fruits of Eppler’s draft preferences in picking high-risk, high-reward athletes. Enter Adell, MLB.com’s number six prospect in baseball, who has excelled in the Angels farm system. He averaged an .878 OPS with 35 home runs over his three seasons in the minor leagues. Adell could add some significant offensive power to the Angels lineup. Fangraphs 2020 ZiPS offensive projections for the 60-game season places him fourth overall on the roster with a .776 OPS and 57 hits on 209 at-bats.
With Trout, Ohtani, Rendon, and potentially Adell drawing the most attention to the lineup, the key to the Angels offense may fall to two other hitters: Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton. Both players experienced injuries in the 2019 season, but Simmons enters the final year of his contract. His defensive numbers remain high (Ultimate Zone rating at 10.4 and defensive runs saved of 12). On offense, though, OPS fell from .754 to .673, weighted Runs Created from 76 to 42 and WAR from 5.4 to 1.7.
However, Simmons hopes to bounce back from injury and make an argument to owner Arte Moreno for a long-term deal. Upton experienced a more significant drop in both offensive and defensive performance, as his WAR fell from 3.1 in 2018 to -0.2 in 2019.
Angels 2020 Defense Preview
Albert Pujols, nearing the end of his contract with the Angels, will share first base with Matt Theiss and potentially Jared Walsh. The versatile La Stella will continue to DH and provide relief where needed in both the infield and outfield.
Now for the bad news from 2019: Angels starting pitching. Angels starters averaged a league-worst 5.64 ERA (compared to the 4.76 league average) with no one exceeding more than 18 starts. When management failed to sign Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler, durability became a top priority, leading to the Teheran and Bundy acquisitions.
With Ohtani continuing his role as a two-way player, Maddon stated the Angels would utilize a six-man rotation. Andrew Heaney, the Opening Day starter, will look to bounce back from a shoulder injury and return to his 2018 career-high 180 innings pitched.
Success for the Angels may hinge on the ability to grow the young crop of Halo arms. Griffin Canning experienced success last season and will be looking to capitalize on the delayed 2020 start after recovering from an elbow injury over the spring.
Other young guns include Jose Suarez, who struggled with a 7.11 ERA in 19 games, and Patrick Sandoval, who only appeared in 10 games. Outside of Canning, Suarez, and Sandoval, a crop of other potential arms to the rotation include Dillon Peters, Matt Andriese, Jaime Barria, and Felix Pena. All starters appeared in the 2018 season and experienced challenges contributing to the second-lowest pitching WAR in the majors.
The 2019 Angels bullpen could be characterized by two words: underrated and overused. Hansel Robles stepped into the closer role last season after the failed Cody Allen experiment. He finished the season with an impressive 2.48 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 23 saves.
Ty Buttrey threw 42 innings, posting a 2.57 ERA and 50 strikeouts over the first half of the season. Those numbers worsened in the second half to a 5.93 ERA and only 34 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Cam Bedrosian faced a similar fate. His overuse resulted in a 4.76 ERA in the month of July, increasing his average for the season.
Should the Angels experience better production and consistency from starters in 2020, Robles, Buttrey, and Bedrosian should fare better. Additionally, Noe Ramirez, Justin Anderson, Luke Bard, Taylor Cole, and Keynan Middleton stand to make up the rest of the relief corps.
Angels 2020 Season Bottomline
Depending on the success of the starting pitching and injuries, the Angels remain well-positioned for a postseason run. They have one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball and should be able to put runs on the board.
Maddon comes in with an expectation to win with Eppler entering the final year of his contract. Baseball analysts continue to cite the Angels as a surprise contender with the 2020 condensed format. However, as with all the teams, Maddon will need to focus on club discipline in adhering to the COVID-19 protocols. Key players, including Trout, have expressed concern about the season with COVID-19 risks. Emphasis on health during the 2020 campaign will be a top priority for all teams.
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