The Angels open the season tonight in Oakland, and with news of the expanded postseason, it almost feels as if anything can happen. Without further ado, here are my extremely vetted, bold predictions for the year. I truly decided to emphasize the bold this year, and I would be happy if I get five of these. Because that’s the point of a bold prediction! It’s no fun to predict things that might possibly happen, because then you’re quite nearly making actual predictions. Go big and go bold. That’s my motto. These are all assuming that the season is completed, as I didn’t want to deal with the minutiae of picking based on a depressing outcome.
1) Griffin Canning finishes the season top-10 in AL Cy Young voting. This is, admittedly, the most far-fetched one, but we might as well start off with a bang. The pitcher wasn’t even expected to be ready for the season, as there were rumors of potential Tommy John surgery, but he managed to avoid undergoing the knife. Canning was excellent in his tune-up against the San Diego Padres, and he claims that he has a new routine to keep his arm fresh and reduce stress between innings. We’ll see what happens, but with that kind of performance and the fluky short season, stranger things have definitely happened.
2) Justin Upton hits for less than .200. This is a rather depressing one, considering he is signed through the end of 2022, and Albert Pujols remains on the roster. However, Upton did not hit that well last season, and Dan Szymborski listed him as a Breakdown Candidate for this season. When he gets a hold of the baseball, he can still blast it. However, Upton has not shown that he can hold off on pitches outside the zone. We’ll see what happens this season.
Corollary to 2: Justin Upton loses his starting job before the end of the season. Whether this will be because Anthony Rendon returns healthy, Tommy La Stella mans second base, and some combination of Albert Pujols, Jared Walsh, and Matt Thaiss competently holds down first, forcing David Fletcher into the outfield, or because Jo Adell forces his way into the lineup and Brian Goodwin is too good to displace, if Upton keeps hitting at the above numbers, he will be replaced.
3) Mike Trout will not win the AL MVP. Trout is currently the odds-on favorite to win the award, as he should be. He is still quite obviously the best player in baseball, but sixty games has a way of doing funky things to teams. Giancarlo Stanton has already hit one home run, which matters a lot more than it does during a normal season. The bookmakers are generally giving 1/1 odds on Trout, but that still means that they think the field has slightly over 50% of a chance of winning. I do too. With the variation and the fact that we don’t know how much time he will miss due to the birth of his child, despite the lack of a need for quarantine, I simply feel it’s not his year. I hope he proves me wrong.
4) Hansel Robles will garner at least 14 saves. Manager Joe Maddon seems to like his roles, and with the Angels (hopefully) taking a step forward, they should win more games this season, leading to more save opportunities. 14 saves projects to 37.8 across the whole 162 game spectrum, good for a top-5 amount in the 2019 season. Robles has been consistently good at his role so far as an Angel, and there’s no reason to think that should change.
5) The Angels will strike out the fewest times in the Majors. This is a contact team. It’s unknown how that will play out in the home run or bust era, especially this season, when driving up a pitcher’s pitch count seems less necessary than ever, but with David Fletcher, Andrelton Simmons, Mike Trout, Tommy La Stella, and Anthony Rendon, the Angels feature many players who do not strike out. Yes, Upton is a barrier, but Kole Calhoun, a minor culprit, is also no longer with the team (sadly). If you’re a fan of putting the ball in play, the Angels may be the team for you.
Corollary to 5: The Angels will see the most pitches per plate appearance in the Majors. They saw 4.00 P/PA in 2019, good for 6th. Not only does the team not strike out, they also foul off a lot of pitches and make the pitcher work. This is definitely doable with the players in the Angels lineup.
6) Shohei Ohtani will finish the season top-5 in AL MVP voting. If all goes well, Shohei Ohtani will get to start ten times, just two fewer times than other pitchers going through a normal 5-man rotation. This difference is lesser than in a typical season. If Ohtani finishes with top or near-top rate numbers, the hitting should easily push him over the top compared to the Cy Young candidates, and hopefully it will put him on par with those in the running for AL MVP as well. Plus, the Angels hitting coaches feel he’s about to wreak havoc with the bat.
7) The most valuable Angels reliever will not be Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, or Keynan Middleton. This trio consists of arguably the three most important relievers for the Angels this season. However, when you look at the numbers and factor in that relievers are always volatile, this one actually makes some sense. Robles has been a fine addition for general manager Billy Eppler, but if he continues to be used solely in a closer role, as I predict earlier, he may not pitch that many innings. Buttrey fell off a cliff in May, and we don’t know that second half of the season was a fluke or if it was his entire career up until that point. 2020 may be a defining year for him to determine the quality of innings he can provide. Middleton is, of course, returning from Tommy John surgery, and although he pitched a little last year, he didn’t seem back to his old self yet. We may have to see an unsung hero from the ‘pen for the Angels to have success.
8) David Fletcher will be worth 1.5 fWAR. Fletcher has already put himself into team folklore, what the Angels Twitter account apparently describes as “Fletchlore”, and he is ready to take another step forward. 1.5 fWAR extrapolated to a 162 game season is 4.05 fWAR, which definitely seems doable for him. Joe Maddon has commented that Fletcher will definitely be an everyday player, and with that amount of time in front of him, he will wreak some damage as the potential leadoff hitter in front of Trout, Rendon, and the rest of the gang.
Corollary to 8: He’ll do it without hitting one home run. Because he’s just that awesome.
9) Anthony Rendon will finish with a 1.050 OPS. Rendon is a cool, calm, collected player, and although he will miss the start of the season with injury, his plate discipline and protection of Mike Trout should be one of the highlights of the season. With a career-high 1.010 OPS last season, leading the league in doubles, Rendon is poised to take another step forward.
10) Andrelton Simmons will not be extended. I actually don’t know whether this will happen or not. There are both good arguments for and against his extension. However, I feel thusly: Anthony Rendon will be entrenched at third base. If David Fletcher takes another step forward and Tommy La Stella continues to produce at his 2019 level, then perhaps even a one-year gap contract doesn’t make too much sense for Simmons, as it would require another season of juggling all of them through the (not nearly enough) positions. Only time will tell what will happen.
Well, that’s the end of me writing off-the-cuff. If you have any bold predictions of your own, drop them below!