Angels 2021 Season Preview
The 2021 season should provide the Los Angeles Angels the best opportunity to make the playoffs as we preview their offensive and defensive tools. Last year, even with the expanded playoffs, the Halos failed to make the postseason. They stumbled out of the gate early and never recovered. By the end of August, the team ranked in the bottom half of the league with a 12-24 record. A poor performance from Shohei Ohtani on both sides of the ball, the continued decline of Justin Upton, and a disappointing debut from Rookie Jo Adell all contributed to their 2020 woes.
The team posted better numbers in the month of September with some signs of growth going into the offseason. Dylan Bundy proved to be consistent and top of the rotation starter. Rookie Jared Walsh posted surprising offensive numbers with Anthony Rendon and David Fletcher providing consistency in the infield and lineup.
Similar to the 2020 offseason, the Angels failed to sign a big-name starting or relief pitcher. Billy Eppler’s failure to land quality-starting pitching led to his departure as team General Manager. In his place, Perry Minasian made several trades and a few signings to help improve the Angels roster, but the team’s success will hinge on production from those already on the roster.
2021 Offseason overview
Julio Teheran joined the ranks of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill in the latest of failed Angels pitching signings. Fortunately, those were all one-year contracts. Still, the Angels required significant improvement in the starting rotation. Minasian didn’t deviate too far from Eppler’s pitching strategy. A year after the team acquired Dundy from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade, Minasian traded prospect Jahmai Jones for Alex Cobb. Further, he signed his own resurrection project with Jose Quintana in hopes of a career rebound.
With the departures of Andrelton Simmons and Jason Castro, the Angels needed to find replacements. Minasian signed free agent Kurt Suzuki to a one-year contract to join Max Stassi in competition for the starting catcher spot. There was some speculation the Angels would look to sign a free agent at shortstop. Instead, they made another trade with the Baltimore Orioles for Jose Iglesias.
The acquisitions of Suzuki and Iglesias filled the holes in the infield, but the Angels still needed to address the outfield. Adell and Brandon Marsh will start the season in the minors creating the demand for a veteran player. Minasian continued his trend of acquiring players in the last year of their contract by trading with the St. Louis Cardinals for Dexter Fowler. The move united Fowler with manager Joe Maddon where both were on the Chicago Cubs World Series championship team.
2021 Angels Offensive Preview
The Angels lineup ranked 11th in the league in WAR last season. Rendon, Mike Trout, and Fletcher led the Angels in WAR followed closely by two surprising hitters: Walsh and Stassi. Walsh posted a 0.971 OPS with only a 13.9 percent strikeout rate. His 0.646 SLG led the Angels roster. Meanwhile, Stassi was fourth on the team in total RBI despite only having 105 PA. Given their 2020 offensive success, Walsh and Stassi should challenge Albert Pujols and Suzuki for starting roles.
The additions of Fowler and Iglesias should contribute to the offense. The Halos will hope the reunion between Maddon and Fowler can replicate his success in Chicago. As a Cub, he posted a career-high wRC+ of 129 in 2016. His time in St. Louis was inconsistent resulting in him only appearing in 31 games last season. While Fowler’s career numbers have declined, Iglesias’s numbers have been on an upward trend. Last season, he hit a career-high AVG of 0.323 with a 0.956 OPS.
Much of the Angels offensive success this season may depend on the contributions by Ohtani and Upton. Ohtani posted career-low numbers with a 0.190 AVG and an increase in his K% to 28.6 last season. He only hit for seven HR the entire season over 175 PA. The one positive of Spring Training so far has been Ohtani’s bat. He leads the team with five home runs and looks much more comfortable at the plate.
Also seeing a better Spring Training, Justin Upton will look to turnaround his Angels contribution. Since resigning with the Angels, Upton’s offensive numbers have declined significantly with a K% of 30.5 in 2019 and 0.204 AVG last season with WAR’s of -0.3 and 0.0 over the past two years. Even if Upton can return to his 2018 season level where he hit 30 HR and generated a 2.9 WAR, that would be a big contribution to the Angels offense.
Angels 2021 Defense Preview
The Angels infield ranked in the bottom half of the league in UZR, Def, and ErrR last season. Much of their troubles came from injuries and lack of depth. Replacing the injury-prone Simmons with Iglesias should provide more consistency in the infield with Rendon and Fletcher. Given Walsh’s success at the plate and at first base, he should see more playing time over Pujols.
Further, the addition of Fowler in the outfield should reduce the team’s ErrR. Adell showed his inexperience in the outfield and will need more time in the minors before becoming a full-time starter. Even Trout admitted to focusing more on improving defensively this season. Further, as Taylor Ward improves his batting, he has proved to be an adaptable player taking time both in the outfield and behind the plate as a catcher.
Starting pitching continues to be the main challenge for the Angels. In 2020, they ranked 20th in the league. However, now with Ohtani fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and preseason conditioning, baseball fans will be looking forward to seeing him make history as a true two-way player. Additionally, Bundy showed he belongs as a top of the rotation starter. He posted career bests in K/9, ERA, and HR/9 last season.
The two new additions to the rotation, Quintana, and Cobb, will be the wildcards. Quintana returns after missing most of 2020 recovering from surgery on a nerve in his thumb. In his eight seasons in the majors, he consistently maintained over 7.5 K/9, over a 65 LOB%, and over a 3.0 WAR. His ERA has increased over the last few seasons, but the Angels infield should provide more support to Quintana.
Conversely, Cobb struggled with consistency and staying healthy across his career. After a strong showing with the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Cobb saw his numbers decline with a rapid increase in ERA, K/9, and overall HR allowed. He showed signs of improvement in the 2017 season and signed with the Orioles in the following offseason. While in Baltimore, Cobb dealt with injuries, increases in his ERA, and drops in SO’s. However, the Angels are betting on Cobb to follow suit similar to Bundy and provide quality starts.
Another key factor for the Angels success will be the growth of Griffin Canning. Entering his third season as a starter with the Angels, Canning shows signs of potential. He holds around 9 K/9 and limits HRs. However, he needs to be able to pitch longer into the game and increase his GB% this season.
In 2020, the Angel’s had one of the worst bullpens in baseball. However, with the addition of Bundy and others to the rotation, several prior-starting pitchers should be able to contribute to the bullpen. Felix Pena, Jaime Barria, and Patrick Sandoval struggled as starting pitchers but posted better numbers in the bullpen.
After moving on from Hansel Robles, the Angels lacked a consistent closing pitcher. The Halos traded reliever Noe Ramirez to the Cincinnati Reds for Raisel Iglesias, who will likely begin the season as the Angels closer. Since moving to the closer role in 2019, he racked up his 100th save during the 2020 season while pitching a 2.74 ERA, 12.14 K/9, and a 1.1 WAR.
One player to watch, Ty Buttrey will look to rebound from a poor 2020 season. After joining the Angels in 2018, Buttrey pitched solid numbers with 11.02 K/9 and earning 4 SV in only 16.1 IP. Last season his K/9 fell to 6.15 and saw an increase in his ERA to 5.81 in 26.1 IP. He needs to regain confidence in his fastball to generate more strikeouts that helped fuel his early success in 2018 and 2019.
Angels 2021 Season Outlook
As it seems every season for the Angels, success will depend on the reliability of the starting pitching. If Bundy and Ohtani are able to stay healthy and perform, Canning, Cobb, and Quintana should be able to generate enough innings pitched to prevent overstretching the bullpen. Angels relieve pitching continues to rank in the top third of the league in IP while the starting pitching ranks in the bottom third.
The lineup should be able to score enough runs, especially if Ohtani’s Spring Training success continues. Walsh, Rendon, Stassi, and Fletcher provided strong offensive support in addition to Trout last season. Further, eyes will be on Upton and newcomers Fowler and Iglesias.
Given the dynamics in the AL West, this could be the Angels best opportunity to make the postseason. The Angels signed Trout in 2019 to a contract extension making him a Halo for life. All baseball fans continue to eagerly await to watch Trout in October and 2021 should be the Angels time to end their postseason drought.
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Shohei Ohtani, Ty Buttrey, Raisel Iglesias, Noe Ramirez, Hansel Robles, Felix Pena, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Griffin Canning, Tommy John, Taylor Ward, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Dexter Fowler, Joe Maddon, Brandon Marsh, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Castro, Kurt Suzuki, Max Stassi, Jose Iglesias, Julio Teheran, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill Jahmai Jones, Alex Cobb, Jose Quintana, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, Jo Adell, Dylan Bundy Jared Walsh, Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher. Billy Eppler, and Perry Minasian.