Thursday, October 27, 2005

2005 AL West in review: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
95 – 67, 1st in AL West

761 Runs Scored
643 Runs Allowed

Pythagorean W-L Record: 93-69

Team Batting in the form of Player-Seasonal Notation (total team hitting stats divided by 9)

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

BAVG

OBP

SLG

625

169

31

3

16

81

50

94

18

6

.270

.325

.409

That is, the 2005 Angels fielded a team a little like having nine Aaron Rowands on offense.

Team Pitching in the form of something similar to Player-Seasonal Notation

Starter (average stats of top five starting pitchers)

W

L

IP

R

ER

ERA

H

K

BB

HR

13

8

189

82

76

3.64

192

130

48

19

Reliever (all other pitching stats divided by six)

W

L

SV

IP

R

ER

ERA

H

K

BB

HR

4

4

9

86

38

35

3.74

76

79

34

10

A representative pitcher for Los Angeles is perhaps Gustavo Chacin, of Toronto.

Ownership

The Angels are currently one of the “big market” teams, willing to spend money hand over fist behind Arturo Moreno’s desire to build a winner in Anaheim. I should point out, having lived in SoCal and attended games at the Angels’ stadium (both when it was the “Big A” and after its transformation into the “Big Ed”) that Anaheim is nowhere near Los Angeles. Very UNLIKE when I used to attend games there, apparently the stadium is finally filling up…the Halos drew over 3.4 million fans to the ballpark in 2005, second only to the Yankees in the AL. So perhaps it doesn’t matter quite so much what they call themselves, as long as the team wins.

In any case, the payroll for this team (I’m taking all my payroll figures from a single site, Hardball Dollars, which is Russell Schwager’s attempt to keep the first such site, Dugout Dollars, up to date) in 2005 was $99.69 million. Coming off the books this year are $18.82 million sucked up by free agents (notably the $10 million cap number counted for the $9.75 million paid to Tim Salmon in ’05). Meanwhile, a number of prominent players are eligible for arbitration this offseason, so it will likely be the case that players such as Brendan Donnelly, John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, and Scot Shields eat into that free money.

It is not out of the question that the Angels owner might be willing to increase the payroll toward the increasing luxury tax cap for 2006 of $136.5 million, especially given their share of the windfall from the expected $450M sale of the Washington Nationals.

Front Office

Bill Stoneman, GM (signed through 2007, with a contractual agreement to serve as “consultant” from 2008 to 2010). Since 1999, he has directed the team to annual prominence; while previous Angel GM Bill Bavasi often gets credit for much of the World Series title of the 2002 team, in fact Stoneman was the man who acquired about half of the players on that team, while scouting director Bob Fontaine was responsible for the other half. Only bit player Shawn Wooten was directly a Bavasi acquisition.

Stoneman has quietly continued to marshal the talent of the team, and scouting director Eddie Bane has added such high-profile young talent as Jered Weaver.

Manager

Mike Scioscia (signed through 2007, with a team option for 2008)

Scioscia has adapted quite well from solid backstop to solid manager over the last few seasons. I am generally skeptical regarding meaningful differences between managers at the major league level (although there are always a few exceptionally good or bad ones who stand out from the pack), but if I had to guess, I would say that Scioscia is in the upper half of baseball managers, and is therefore a strength for the team.

Coaches—all signed through 2006

Joe Maddon (bench coach)
Ron Roenicke (third base coach)
Alfredo Griffin (first base coach)
Mickey Hatcher (hitting coach)
Orlando Mercado (bullpen coach)
Bud Black (pitching coach)

Maddon has been mentioned as a potential managerial candidate with several other teams this off-season.

Ballpark

The “Big Ed,” a.k.a. Angel Field of Anaheim (in contrast to all those other Angel Fields out there), was built in the mid-1960s, and has hosted baseball since its opening in 1966. A baseball-only, open air, grass facility, it has played as a slightly pitcher-friendly park for both hitters and pitchers in the last three years (with general park factors of 93, 99, and 96 for hitters, and 94, 99, and 96 for pitchers from 2003-2005; a park factor of 100 is neutral, with lower figures favoring pitchers, and higher numbers favoring batters).

Defense

Defense is notoriously difficult to gauge, particularly via statistics. The 2005 Angels defense turned exactly 70% of batted balls that were not home runs into outs. The league average was 69.6%, which puts the defense at just a hair above average overall in that category. Up the middle, both Adam Kennedy and Orlando Cabrera minimized errors but got to considerably fewer batted balls than the league average 2b-SS combination. Meanwhile, Bengie Molina was solid behind the plate, as was Vladimir Guerrero in right field. Minus defenders include Garret Anderson in left field, which might mean that he should move full time to DH in 2006, since Juan Rivera displayed superior defense in limited time in left. Chone Figgins was above average at every position he played in 2005; given the makeup of the Angels payroll structure, it seems that he might find a home in center field going forward, but perhaps not before Steve Finley plays out his contract.

Pitching

The pitching staff is in good shape, as only Paul Byrd and the somewhat less expendable Jarrod Washburn are departing via free agency. Rumors suggest that Byrd would sign another one-year deal, but I have no idea why this would interest Stoneman. The 2005 staff put up a 3.95 Run Average (and a 3.68 ERA), both good for second in the AL behind the Chicago White Sox.

With Washburn departing, the only lefty likely to open 2006 on the major league roster will be Jake Woods. Beyond Washburn, there are no particularly attractive left-handed starters on the free agent market, and if the Angels choose not to resign Jarrod, that might free up some money to upgrade at another position.

Hitting

The Angels offense, in fact, could use some outside help, as it was their pitching that really carried them to the AL West crown in ’05. Despite having All-World slugger Vlad Guerrero in the heart of the lineup, several regulars contributed to a pedestrian 4.7 runs scored per game, seventh in the AL. Other than Bengie Molina (departing via free agency), only Vlad had a truly above-average offensive season in 2005. Particularly problematic was the 40-year old centerfielder, Steve Finley, whose .222/.271/.374 line in 432 plate appearances certainly didn’t earn his $7 million salary. The Angels will pay him that much again at age 41 in 2006.

Aging

The bulk of the returning Halos are still in their prime years, with only Finley, Bartolo Colon (33 in 2006) and Brendan Donnelly (34) aging past 32. Age should not be much of a problem in 2006, as the Angels continue to seek to win now.

They will do so with a few young prospects, as well, several of whom got at least a cup of coffee in 2005. Dallas McPherson (who will have to improve on defense to stay at third base), Maicer Izturis, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, and Ervin Santana all have yet to reach 25, while K-Rod is only 23 years old despite being eligible for salary arbitration this offseason. (Do you suppose that Doug Eddings is simply karmic retribution for the Angels cheating to get K-Rod on the 2002 postseason roster?)

Consequently, the Angels will want to avoid blocking Kotchman and Mathis at first base and catcher, while Ervin Santana looks ready to replace Paul Byrd in the rotation.

Positions and Player Movement

Long-term Contracts
The Angels enter 2006 with the following players already signed as terms of long-term deals from previous off-seasons:

Kendry Morales (2010)
Orlando
Cabrera (2008)
Esteban Yan (2006)
Steve Finley (2006, option for 2007)
Garret Anderson (2008, option for 2009)
Darin Erstad (2006)
Kelvim Escobar (2006)
Bartolo Colon (2007)
Adam Kennedy (2006)
Vladimir Guerrero (2008)

Not yet eligible for arbitration

Robb Quinlan
Casey Kotchman
Jake Woods
Dallas
McPherson
Ervin Santana
Maicer Izturis
Kevin Gregg
Chone Figgins

Arbitration-Eligible

Brendan Donnelly
Scot Shields
John Lackey
Francisco Rodriguez
Juan Rivera
Jeff DaVanon
Jose Molina
Josh Paul (probably non-tendered)

Prospects

The Angels farm system is strong, despite recently contributing a number of players to the major league roster. In particular, middle infielders abound, most of whom can hit. Some of the top current prospects, as judged by minor league guru John Sickels, include:

SS Erick Aybar
1b Kendry Morales (long-term contract)
2b Howie Kendrick
RHP Jered Weaver
C Jeff Mathis
RHP Steve Shell
2b/SS Alberto Callaspo
SS Brandon Wood

Free Agents

Bengie Molina
Tim Salmon
Paul Byrd
Lou Merloni
Curtis Pride
Jarrod Washburn
Jason Christiansen

Roster Construction

My best guess as to the makeup of the 2006 Angels (including their 2005 stats and Win Shares/Win Shares Above Bench data from THT):

Pos

Player

2005 Major League Stats

Age

PA

BAVG/OBP/SLG

WS

WSAB

Starters

C

Jeff Mathis

22

3

333/333/333

0

0

1b

*Darin Erstad

31

656

273/325/371

15

3

2b

*Adam Kennedy

29

445

300/354/370

17

8

3b

#Chone Figgins

27

706

290/352/397

22

9

SS

Orlando Cabrera

30

578

257/309/365

14

4

LF

*Garret Anderson

33

598

283/308/435

16

6

CF

*Steve Finley

40

432

222/271/374

6

-2

RF

Vladimir Guerrero

29

581

317/394/565

27

16

DH

*Dallas McPherson

24

219

244/295/449

6

2

Bench

C

Jose Molina

30

197

228/286/348

7

3

IF

#Maicer Izturis

24

208

246/306/346

6

2

IF

Robb Quinlan

28

141

231/273/403

1

-1

OF

Juan Rivera

27

373

271/316/454

9

3

OF

#Jeff DaVanon

31

264

231/347/311

4

0

(* = left handed hitter; # = switch hitter)

Starting Pitchers

Age

IP

ERA

WS

WSAB

RHP

Bartolo Colon

32

222.7

3.48

19

12

RHP

John Lackey

26

209

3.44

17

10

RHP

Ervin Santana

22

133.7

4.65

7

3

RHP

Kelvim Escobar

29

59.7

3.02

5

4

P

(LHP Jarrod Washburn?

30

177.3

3.20

15

9)

Bullpen

RHP

Francisco Rodriguez

23

67.3

2.67

11

6

RHP

Scot Shields

29

91.7

2.75

12

7

RHP

Brendan Donnelly

33

65.3

3.72

7

3

RHP

Esteban Yan

30

66.7

4.59

3

0

RHP

Kevin Gregg

27

64.3

5.04

2

-1

LHP

Jake Woods

23

27.7

4.55

1

0

I would be surprised if the organization deems Mathis (who hit .276/.340/.499 in the PCL with the 2005 Salt Lake Stingers in 469 plate appearances before being promoted in September) unready for the Show, given the impending departure of the elder Molina and the ineptness of Josh Paul. On the other hand, the PCL is a notorious hitter’s league, and those stats may translate poorly to the majors (particularly given the low raw BAVG). There are a couple of intriguing free agent catchers out there (notably, Ramon Hernandez), but I do not believe that Bill Stoneman will be seeking to block Mathis’s ascent to the majors.

Meanwhile, one solution to the declining 41-year-old Steve Finley as an everyday centerfielder might be the return of Darin Erstad to center, at least most of the time. That would open up first base for a player like Casey Kotchman, who can actually hit like a first baseman, while improving the outfield defense at the same time. Of course, the fragile Erstad would probably shatter into hundreds of pieces if that happened, so it is an unlikely solution.

The final rotation spot could be anything from the top free agent pitchers (A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood seem to be the class of the year’s free agents), to resigning Washburn (who earlier wanted to ink a long-term deal, and who is entering his age-30 season), to…moving Scot Shields back to the rotation. With their hitting depth in the minors, I suppose the Angels front office could also work some kind of trade deal, but a frontline lefthander would be very costly.

In the longer term, the team has Anderson, Cabrera, and Vlad (oh, and Kendry Morales) signed for at least the next three seasons. They keep Colon (and possibly Finley) through 2007. That is, there are very few dead albatrosses here. I suppose GA could be worth less than he’s making by the time he’s 36-37, but otherwise, only Steve Finley’s deal is burdensome, which was equally true the moment he signed the contract last offseason. If Stoneman can plan correctly, this Angels team might be able to avoid a massive rebuilding project as the current team ages.

In the shorter term, and without having undertaken any real statistical projections, I would guess that the 2006 version of the Angels will look a lot like the 2005 version, with a rookie catcher breaking in behind the plate, possibly a new member of the rotation, and Steve Finley strategically being played little enough that he does not reach 600 plate appearances (to prevent him from gaining the ability to rake in a third season of $7 million in 2007). Rivera proved capable in center this year, as did Figgins. Therefore, we might see a decline in pitching (simply on a regression to mean basis), continued solid defense, and continued middle-of-the-league hitting ability that fails to really support the pitching. Indeed, if Oakland, Texas, and Seattle can make enough progress over the winter, there is some chance that we’ll have a really interesting 2006 pennant race, because this Angels team is solid but not spectacular, and will thus have difficulty dominating the division. I doubt that they win 90 games in 2006 without inking at least a solid starting pitcher, and adding hitting somewhere (which could either come from abnormally good performances from this year’s substandard performers like Erstad, Cabrera, and Finley, or else by replacing Erstad and Finley from within by letting Kotchman and Rivera play, or even by dipping into their talented minor league system).

To sum up: I don’t think that the Angels will chart a new course this year, even though they likely have the funds to do so. They might well be in the hunt for such attractive free agents as Burnett and Millwood, or Ramon Hernandez or even someone off the board like Johnny Damon, but generally I expect a quiet offseason in the OC.

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