The 2020 season was another lost one for the Angels, who finished below .500 for the fifth straight season. It culminated with the firing of former Angels general manager Billy Eppler following the final game of the season. By all measures, this past half-decade has been disastrous for an Angels team that has employed the best player in baseball in Mike Trout.
But it’s not an entirely bleak situation for the Angels. A core of Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, and David Fletcher is a legitimate group to build around. There are also a handful of other Angels players who performed well in 2020 and will likely have big roles heading into 2021. Following are six Angels players who had great performances this season. The question is: are these players legit or nah?
Dylan Bundy: Legit
If you’ve followed my work or my social media feed, you’ve probably seen my various endorsements of Dylan Bundy. Back in February, I wrote about why Bundy was a prime breakout candidate for the Angels. After his first three starts with the Angels, I broke down his incredibly-strong start to the season. Bundy didn’t slow down the rest of the way, finishing the season with a 3.29 ERA and 2.0 fWAR in 65 2/3 innings.
As you can probably imagine, I’m all in on Dylan Bundy. There’s nothing in his profile that suggests this performance was a fluke. Bundy set career-best marks in ERA (3.29), FIP (2.95), strikeouts (27 percent), walks (6.4 percent), home runs (0.69 HR/9), and basically every other statistic. Despite a career-low fastball velocity (90 mph), Bundy dominated by simply throwing the heater less and the slider (25 percent) and change-up (21.3 percent) more. Entering his final year before free agency as a 28-year-old in 2021, Bundy isn’t just a legitimate frontline starter but also one the Angels need to sign to an extension ASAP.
Jared Walsh: Legit
This is probably the hardest Angel to evaluate heading into 2021. On one hand, Walsh was undeniably awesome in his memorable 2020 season. In a 32-game sample, Walsh crushed baseballs to the tune of a .293/.324/.646 line with nine home runs, a 155 wRC+, and 0.9 fWAR. Combine Walsh’s power (see his 450-foot grand slam) with strong contact skills (above-average 22.8 percent whiff rate) and the performance is tantalizing.
On the other hand, only nine other players outperformed their wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) based on their xwOBA (Expected wOBA) more than Walsh. In simpler terms, based on Walsh’s exit velocity, launch angle, walks, and strikeouts, Walsh drastically outperformed his wOBA (.386) based on what his xWOBA (.337) was. A .337 wOBA is still quite good (equivalent to a 110-115 wRC+) but there is likely some strong regression coming.
You probably didn’t need some fancy stats to tell you that Walsh won’t run a .293 batting average and slug .646 next season. But even if he doesn’t do that, it’s pretty clear that Walsh is much better than anybody possibly anticipated. Walsh looks like a capable defender at first base who has some serious thump and bat-to-ball skills at the plate. I’m not a believer in Walsh performing as one of the best hitters in baseball but I’m on board with Walsh as a legitimate everyday option for the Angels in 2021.
Mike Mayers: Legit
Raise your hand if you had Mike Mayers winning the AL Reliever of the Month in September or finishing as a top-10 reliever by fWAR (0.9)? Plucked off waivers from the Cardinals last November, Mayers was undeniably the best Angels reliever in this shortened season. As is the nature with relievers, volatility is everpresent with someone like Mayers, who never showed this type of production at any point in his career. In 30 innings this year, Mayers had a 2.10 ERA, struck out 43 batters, and walked just nine batters.
Mayers added a new cutter to the mix, sparking a breakout that is believable based on many of the underlying numbers. Mayers ran a whiff rate in the 91st percentile. His expected ERA was in the 97th percentile. From a sheer bat-missing and throwing-strikes perspective, Mayers was superb. If there’s one cause for concern, it’s the subpar exit velocity allowed (37th percentile) and hard-hit percentage (44th percentile). Mayers had issues with hitters squaring him up in the past so that could continue to resurface in the future.
I’m still buying Mayers even if I admit that predicting reliever performance is borderline impossible. See, Hansel Robles falling off a cliff after an elite 2019 performance. Mayers should be penciled in as a surefire high-leverage innings arm for 2021 but, like with many other relievers, proceed with caution.
Max Stassi: Legit
Max Stassi was a poster boy for the Angels ineptitude in the 2019 season. While he only appeared in 20 games, Stassi had just three hits in 49 plate appearances. His combined 2019 season line with the Astros and Angels was .136/.211/.167. While Stassi proved to be a capable catcher in 2018 with Houston (2.7 fWAR and 100 wRC+), the expectation was that Stassi would be a subpar offensive catcher in a backup role in the 2020 season.
Stassi blew his expectations out of the water, racking up 0.7 fWAR and posting a 139 wRC+ in 105 plate appearances. Stassi hit .278/.352/.533 while slugging seven home runs, just one short of his career-high despite playing in far fewer games. There’s plenty of reason to buy his breakout. I wrote about Stassi in August and how his underlying numbers were very encouraging. Stassi posted a career-best exit velocity (91.6 mph), signficantly reduced his whiffs (26.5 percent), raised his walk rate (10.5 percent), and started pulling more baseballs in the air. Add in the usually strong pitch framing and you had a superb two-way catcher.
Stassi underwent major hip surgery following the 2019 season, leading many to believe that his subpar performance that season could be explained by that injury. Entering his age-30 season next year, there’s concern about a very recent hip surgery and a mixed track record. That being said, the underlying numbers support this breakout and I’m definitely buying Stassi heading into 2021. There’s plenty of risk here, backing the notion that the club needs to add another legitimate catcher, but Stassi should be penciled in as a strong catcher who can handle 75+ games in 2021.
Jaime Barria: Nah
I’m buying Barria as being a useful pitcher for the Angels moving forward. I’m not, however, buying him as a true-talent 3.62 ERA-type starting pitcher. Barria’s career has been up-and-down to this point. Barria performed quite well from an ERA perspective (3.41) in his rookie season but the subpar peripherals were concerning. Barria was dreadful in 2019, posting a 6.42 ERA in 19 games. This year, Barria rebounded in a strong way by posting a 3.62 ERA in 32 1/3 innings.
What makes Barria’s case interesting is how he produced weak contact this year. As I wrote in September, Barria was one of the best pitchers in baseball this season in terms of inducing weak contact. His barrel rate was in the 94th percentile. His expected ERA was in the 91st percentile. As I wrote in that Barria article, Barria thrived on strong command by getting ahead in the count, throwing strikes, and living on the edge of the zone.
So why am I not fully buying in? Barria’s inability to miss bats is a huge concern in an era where so many batted balls are leaving the yard. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, Barria ranked 108th in strikeouts (20.5 percent) out of 158 pitchers. Barria is and never was a pitcher who would generate a ton of whiffs but there’s a smaller margin of error for someone relying strictly on command. I think Barria can be a fine #5 starter or multi-inning reliever but I’m not fully convinced that he’s a legitimately good rotation piece.
Taylor Ward: Legit
Ward was your definition of a league-average player in 2020, which is by no means an insult. Ward posted a .277/.333/.383 line and had an exactly league-average 100 wRC+. Ward did not hit a single home run, after hitting one home run in his 2019 MLB stint. So why am I buying Ward?
I’ll admit that this is a real buy-in on his underlying numbers. By exit velocity (91.1 mph), Ward showed a real ability to hit baseballs hard. By sprint speed (90th percentile), Ward showed the speed and athleticism needed to potentially be a strong defender in the corner outfield positions. Even with a higher strikeout rate (27.5 percent), his whiff rate (23.6 percent) was below the league-average mark, suggesting that his strikeouts will come down in the future. Add in his MiLB track record (he slugged 27 home runs at AAA in 2019) along with his prior prospect/draft pedigree and there’s a reason for optimism.
I’m not sure what type of role Ward will carve out but I’m a believer in some of the tools he’s shown in the majors. Heading into his age-27 season next year, Ward may settle in as a strong utility player who has an outside shot for a legitimate everyday role if the tools he’s flashed are real.
*All GIFS courtesy of MLB*
If all can perform anywhere near what they did this year, they would certainly impress me. Of course over a longer period of time would bring regression but if ward and Walsh hit around .270 or more I would be excited. I’d accept Stassi hitting .240, he’d still be one of our better catchers in a while. Bundy and Barria turned heads this year, more so Bundy.
Lazy future comps.
Bundy = Jake Arrieta
Walsh = Brandon Moss
Barria = Ryan Vogelsong
Stassi = James McCann
Mayers = David Robertson
Ward = Isiah Kiner Falefa
Arte still owns the team and Eppler was the GM so I refuse to believe any of these players were any good in 2020. There was only Mike Trout and David Fletcher and we are wasting their primes. Both players need to play every game and both players need to lead off. Maddon is stupid and only plays his homies.
The whole enlightened contrarian thing is so tired. We get it dude, Arte and all the people Arte is responsible for hiring have nothing to do with the team’s mediocrity. The Dodgers are just randomly successful and deep every year to no credit of their own in the same way we are randomly bad to no fault of Arte or his hand-picked GMs and star players.
Nobody is bad at their jobs and nobody is good at their jobs. We are just on a bad string of dice rolls that we can’t control and for SOME reason other organizations seem to have better luck on a consistent basis.
Legit= We can expect future performance similar to 2020
Nah= We shouldn’t expect repeats of 2020
Still, I think all of the above are future contributor. Even with regression Walsh/Stassi/Mayers are useful big league pieces that good teams always have.
I love articles like this, thank you for posting.
IMO, the key thing to remember is that we need our system to produce all types of players – the stars and good players, sure, but the backend and utility players are important to produce, too.
In that regard, I am buying Barria as a nifty SP4/SP5 pitcher. That’s not super exciting, but on a team with a number of bloated/large contracts, we need good, cheap young talent to fill out our squad. So in that regard, I think Barria can nicely fill in the back-end of our rotation.
Ward, to me, can be a pretty decent utility player. He has a good eye and is improving his contact rate, and he profiles as someone who can be pretty decent defensively. Winning teams have guys like this on their bench, who they expect to play anywhere from 3-5 times a week at various positions. To me, Ward should likely be our opening day RF next year and hold the position until either Adell or Marsh show they are truly ready, and once they are, Ward can take his spot on the bench, playing multiple times per week while playing RF/LF/3B, etc.
I agree with you on Barria but with Ward being a #1 draft pick I was hoping for a lot more than a bench player
He was a late pick, who we all also know shouldn’t have been a first rounder. But if he winds up being a Chris Taylor type player (at different positions) then that’s real value. If he gets 400 ABs per season and boosts that .OPS+ by even five or ten points that’s a pretty good outcome.
But thats the point he was a wasted 1st round pick
So you are disappointed in a wasted pick, as though a wasted pick should be better? Ward’s fine for what he is. What you are hoping for is a time machine that allows the Angels to pick a different player in the 1st round, and Ward in round 2 or 3.
At the time it was the general consensus around here that he was not a 1st round pick
Not just around here. Industry consensus.
Let’s not forget too the org drafted him as a defensively gifted catcher. Settling in as a 4th OF on a franchise overflowing with outfielders is not a win even if there is some relief he may not be entirely wasted. It’s like buying a Playstation 5 off eBay, receiving a PlayStation 3 and convincing yourself it worked out because it can turn on and play games.
BuT i ThOuGhT a LaTe RoUnD dRaFt PiCk WaS gEnErAlLy A cRaP sHoOt.
*cough* sorry.. did anybody see anything?
I get being frustrated that a first round pick didn’t work out, but even if he settles in as a 4th outfielder type, he could still end up better than 90% of players who were drafted 26th overall. The late first round doesn’t have sure things. Only three players drafted 26th overall have put up a career bWAR over 5.5: Alan Trammell (HOF and legitimately great), Dave Henderson (really good, but the cause of a lot of my personal heartache), and Dan Plesac (who was a good LH reliever for a really long time).
Of the 56 players taken 26th overall, here are some facts:
-only 27 of the 56 have even made the majors.
-of the 27 who played in the majors, only 10 had at least 500 ABs
-of the 27 who played in the majors, only 8 pitched in more than 17 games.
In short, that means that only 1 in 4 played the equivalent of 1 full season.
Also, Ward was an underslot pick (he had the lowest signing bonus in the top 35 and the 3rd lowest of the first round (42 picks).
By going underslot on Ward, they were able to go overslot on Jahmai Jones in the 2nd round (Jones was the 70th overall pick and got $1.1 million, but was picked near players who got about $800K) and David Fletcher in the 6th (6th round picks were in the 200-300K range and Fletcher was the last pick of the round and got $407K). Yes, the Taylor Ward draft pick helped enable the Angels to get Fletcher.
I agree with you, but given how much money we have allocated to several players, in the end, I’ll happily take as many good, young, useful players as we can get, whether they were drafted in the 1st round or 38th (!).
Ward took a positive step forward this year. It’s possible that he isn’t done growing either. Maddon and our coaching staff clearly had a pretty positive impact on various young players, and I would expect to see some continued growth on the whole this offseason, as well as next spring.
Still, if this is all Ward ends up becoming, it’s still rather useful for us. I like him as a temporary fill-in in RF next year, as I think he actually plays pretty decent defense out there.
Great work as usual. Bundy over 162 games will be interesting to see, as his changeup command and struggle with lefty-heavy lineups started to show in his last few starts. Overall though, I would be stunned if he regressed into the 4-ERA territory. Mayers isnt a 2 ERA guy but will be very serviceable
I feel that Ward is a nah due to him having to decide between avg or pwr
Yeah Ward strikes me as a guy that will need everyday ABs on a crappy rebuilding team to determine what he actually is. Maybe that’s what we are in reality, who knows.
Your analysis is being based off of 60 games against the Nl west and Al west, a true test will be if we get back to a full season against the full league not just the worst of the west
The sample is obviously very small and the circumstances make it even more difficult to evaluate.
True but I’d say the NL and AL West competition was by and large pretty stern, representing half of the remaining playoff teams. Bundy might get hammered in a couple band boxes in the East next year but he might also get some complete game gems against the KC’s and Pirates of the world.
How does 60 games in COVID modified season make any performance “legit” or “nah”, especially for a rookie like Walsh?
Bundy is probably the closest to “legit”. The rest are “nah”.
I’ll fully admit that the circumstances of this season and the smaller sample make everything difficult to evaluate. Butttt this is the only sample we have for determining the 2020 performances so I made my best observations. In the event that there is a full 162-game season next year, I’ll be watching all of these guys closely.
Barria = Legit, sometimes a pitch to weak contact pitcher will win you games. Stassi = Nah. Ward= Nah, but maybe he could be traded for more bullpen fodder.
Yeah I’m certainly interested in Barria if he gets a full season next year. The back-and-forth results make him tough to evaluate.
Handling all of this in one post like a boss. Well done.
Meyers is a stud with his new pitch.
I like pitch to contact guys and believe there’s an art to pitching that is difficult to quantify. That said, balls are leaving the yard at unprecedented rates. I still think there’s room for a guy like Barria as long as his walk rates are low enough. Solo bombs rarely beat you on their own.
Stassi and Walsh should show offensive regression but still look like regular MLB players. Stassi’s at bats look completely different this year.
Ward is AAAA at this point. League average is the beginning point of depth.
I’ll fully admit that the Ward evaluation was a huge buy-in on the underlying numbers. It’s a smaller sample but the combo of hard contact, strong whiff rate, and strong speed is definitely encouraging.
I’m probably Ward’s biggest fan here. He’s a Central Valley guy so I’m pulling for him. Plus he was incredibly nice to my friends at Spring Training (like good Valley guy).
I took a closer look at his hard hit rate this year and it was nice. I’d love you to be right here.
Yes, pitch to contact guys who can keep the ball in the yard are pretty valuable.
Mike Mayers isn’t legit……..see Hansel Robles & Parker Bridwell
Quit falling in love with flukes people. If Billy Beane doesn’t believe in them then you shouldn’t either!!! 💪
Lots of relievers have developed new pitches and changed the trajectories of their careers. The league will have a chance to adjust to this new pitch and that will determine his long term fate.
^What Jeff said. As I mentioned in the post, it’s hard to trust any reliever, especially in a shorter sample. That said, adding a new pitch and striking out that many batters is certainly appealing.
blake treinen…….oakland a’s closer in 2018.
a pumpkin again.
I would buy Barria over Ward. Ward has been around, but I don’t see him as more than a AAAA player who they really really want to make it (for some reason). If this is his prime 27 year, I am not sure there is more than league average bat to get – so absent a return to C, there are better bats to put in the 4th OF/roving INF slot. Barretto, Walsh, Rengifo all have more potential, and there are prospects nipping at Ward’s heels.
Barria was messed around with last year (at least most of the comments here seem to suggest so). So, maybe he doesn’t become a strikeout king, but I think the still young Barria should be in the mix for the back of the rotation. I think he sticks, even when we bring in some FA (fingers crossed).
Yeah I’m certainly fine with Barria as a #5 option or multi-inning reliever. I’m just not sure I buy him as a sub-4 ERA type of guy, although he has done that in two of his three MLB seasons.
Only 27 qualified pitchers were under 4 this year (and only around 35 in 2019). If Barria’s line this year (and 2018) is real, I would be over the moon, but if his current lifetime ERA of 4.5 is his future line, we should take that and run. It would make him a better bet in the rotation than Heaney.
Hey Brent – Do you think Ward back behind the plate is an option?
I think it’s certainly possible but I’m not sure I’d expect it after all of the moving around he has done. I’d just try him as a super utility guy and see if the bat is real.
Given that Maddon even trotted him out at 2B, I think super utility is the rout he’s going. His versatility pairs well with Fletcher/Rengifo/ Barreto. Maddon’s gonna have a lot of flexible options.
Then we should’ve just signed Chris Taylor or Nick Castellanos…..Que No?
Just like I thought at the other place, when I used to post their images and not their names. Chris Taylor played 2B recently while Castellanos can play at 3B or RF…….yeah I know he’ll never be Roberto Clemente or Brooks Robinson however.
Chris Taylor is in arb right now, or rather an arb buy out contract, we can try to sign him after the 2022 season (I think?) when he’s actually a free agent. Castellanos and his inability to play any position is exactly what Maddon seems to avoid most of the time and signing him (or Taylor) for 10M a year defeats the purpose of having cheap, young, versatile players. That’s why we want Ward (or someone) to play that role out of our system.
We want pitching. If Fletcher/Rengifo/Ward/Walsh and maybe Barreto can even partially mimic what the Doyers get from Taylor/Hernandez/Muncy for a very low cost it mitigates the Trout/Rendon contracts down the line. If one of or both Adell/Marsh pan out it does so even further. THAT, other than developing arms which takes time, is how we get the money to pay a couple good pitchers….. if we can talk any of them into forgoing the glory of South New Jersey or West Florida swamps to play here.
Though I’ve spent a good chunk of time in South Jersey…. it’s actually pretty nice.
But why would we pay for Castellanos when we can play Ward (in a supportive role) for league minimum? Budget says see if we can run with cost-efficient contract-controlled players, and then pay for the pitching we don’t have in the pipeline, no?