The season is upon us with Opening Day coming your way tomorrow.
The Angels are looking to finish above .500 for the first time since 2015 and win their first playoff game in over a decade. Projections are mixed on how the 2021 version of the Angels will do. PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus provide an optimistic outlook with an 87-win season and Wild Card appearance. Fangraphs projects an improvement (84 wins) but not quite enough for a playoff appearance. Others, such as the ATC projections, have them finishing below .500 yet again.
Once again, there is a wide variance of results for an Angels team with plenty of firepower at the top but questionable depth throughout the roster. In this article, we’ll look at all of the positions on the Angels team, ranking them from best to worst based on the Fangraphs Position Power Rankings. We’ll rank the positions based on where they finished for each position rather than total Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Below, you’ll find the Angels positions ranked from best to worst along with their placement on the lists and projected WAR.
Center Field (1st; 7.4 WAR)
Is this really a surprise? Mike Trout doesn’t just have the best projection on the Angels; he has the best projection in the entire league yet again (7.5 WAR). That shouldn’t be a surprise since he’s led the league in practically every meaningful category since his 2012 rookie season. Trout’s reign as the clear-cut best player in the sport could end in the next few years with an abundance of elite talent (Betts, Tatis Jr, Acuña Jr, Soto) but he’s holding firm for now. Trout will once again lead the Angels (and probably the sport) in WAR yet again. If Trout gets hurt, the club would obviously be in a dire spot to replace his production.
Third Base (3rd; 5.6 WAR)
Anthony Rendon is the best player the Angels have paired with Mike Trout and the duo didn’t disappoint in the truncated 2020 season. After a slow start in the batting average department, Rendon was a monster the rest of the way and finished with his usually strong triple-slash line (.286/.418/.497). Set to turn 31 in June, there could be signs of slowing down in the next few years but Rendon has not shown any yet. This is a legitimate star who would be the best player on a handful of other teams in baseball. Were Rendon to get hurt, some combination of Jose Rojas, Luis Rengifo, and Taylor Ward could take some reps at the position.
Designated Hitter (9th; 1.1 WAR)
This ranking is a bit misleading because 1) the universal DH was (stupidly) not implemented for both leagues this year and 2) Shohei Ohtani’s anomaly of a 2020 performance is weighing down his projections. Now, that second reason could be used for plenty of players who endured weird seasons in a weird 2020 season but it’s especially applicable for Ohtani. The two-way star was hampered yet again by injuries and was not able to replicate his strong 2018-2019 performance. Based on the early returns this spring, Ohtani’s power and plate discipline are back and better than ever before. Obviously, the Angels run into problems on the days Ohtani pitches (which could be a lot), mainly due to Albert Pujols providing sub-replacement level production. I’ll take the over on the Ohtani projection but the depth behind him is not particularly encouraging.
Catcher (11th; 2.3 WAR)
Max Stassi had a legitimately awesome 2020 season that was backed up by plenty of measures. Even if he regresses to a league-average line, he has a shot to produce like one of the better catchers in the sport thanks to his elite pitch framing. Kurt Suzuki is a competent option behind Stassi who has been an above-average hitter for each of the past four seasons. He’s a bad defender who is 37 years old so there is some risk but he’s a fine option for this season. The Stassi/Suzuki duo is a borderline top-10 unit that has a decent depth option in Anthony Bemboom.
Shortstop (12th; 2.7 WAR)
José Iglesias is about the closest comp you can find to Andrelton Simmons. While Simmons was a much better player at his peak, the current versions of these two players provide similar skill-sets: superb defense at a premier position with a swing-happy approach at the plate that leads to below-average offense. In other words, the Angels are watching a very similar player man the shortstop position for the 2021 season. Iglesias obviously won’t replicate his .373 batting average from 2020 but he did make some real changes with a career-best 36.5 percent hard-hit rate and 100th percentile expected batting average. It’s not as sexy in a crazy time for shortstop talent but Iglesias is a reliably durable and productive player. The depth is there, too, with David Fletcher more than capable of handling everyday shortstop duties.
Second Base (13th; 1.9 WAR)
Count me in as taking the over on David Fletcher’s 2.1 WAR projection this year. Fletcher has produced at a 3.83 WAR/162 game clip so far in the majors and has shown real changes in each season. He’s improved his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in each of his three MLB seasons. While the upside is capped by his low power output, he’s the game’s premier bat-to-ball hitter and a well-above-average defender at second base. I’d expect something closer to 3 wins than 2 wins. The options behind Fletcher are not great but a combination of Jose Rojas, Luis Rengifo, and Franklin Barreto would at least be interesting.
Bullpen (15th; 2.6 WAR)
The Angels have completely remade a bullpen that looks unrecognizable from a year ago. The Opening Day roster will likely feature seven new relievers, with only Mike Mayers as a returning member of the 2020 squad. Félix Peña’s injury and Ty Buttrey’s demotion opened up room in a bullpen that already had plenty of spots open. The Angels responded by acquiring Steve Cishek, Tony Watson, and James Hoyt in a matter of hours on Monday night. With Chris Rodriguez slated to join the bullpen as well, this group will have a very different look in 2021. The potential is there for this group to outperform this projection. Raisel Iglesias is a legitimately great reliever, several of the new relievers have a long track record of production, and Rodriguez has some real MLB swing-and-miss stuff. As usual, there is plenty of variance with this bullpen but the unit has undergone some positive changes that may lead to a better performance this year.
Rotation (17th; 11.1 WAR)
This would be the best rotation performance from the Angels in years. The club hasn’t reached 11.1 WAR since the 2014 season (11.2 WAR), which may or may not coincidentally be the last time the club made the playoffs. This isn’t the first time a projection system has liked an Angels; the club had similar rankings in 2020 (21st) and 2019 (18th). As usual, this rotation’s performance will likely come down to health. If this club was able to magically have healthy performances from their staff, it could be a legitimately solid rotation that supplements a very strong position-player unit. Given the injury history of several starters, however, that’s a very unlikely scenario. The Angels playoff fortunes likely rest on the competence or lack thereof in the rotation.
Left Field (23rd; 0.9 WAR)
Justin Upton has been both injured and bad for much of the past two seasons. A hot ending final month of 2020 and a strong Spring Training this year have alleviated some of the concerns but the red flags are still there. At 33 years old, Upton’s best days may be behind him but the hope is he can squeeze out a few more above-average seasons at the plate. It’s probably foolish to expect the old Upton will return but there’s perhaps a 25 home run season with an above-average batting line in there. If things go south for Upton, the club will likely resort to Juan Lagares and Taylor Ward in the short-term. The club is probably hoping Jo Adell and/or Brandon Marsh force their way onto the roster and make meaningful MLB contributions by the end of the season.
First Base (26th; 0.6 WAR)
The Angels are really placing their hopes in Jared Walsh producing this season. After crushing his way to a 7th place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, the hope is he provides real, everyday production at a position of need for the Angels. Walsh showed real changes last year with above-average contact skills and some real power, lending hope to the idea that he can be a strong short-term option at the position. Just like at DH, Albert Pujols is dragging down the position in a real way and the club is better off using him sparingly in 2021. Unfortunately, based on the early returns of Spring Training, Pujols looks like a guy who will receive plenty of playing time. Jose Rojas, a feel-good story who will make his MLB debut with the Angels, could steal some time here with a strong showing early in the season.
Right Field (29th; 0 WAR)
The Dexter Fowler experiment might be a short one for the Angels. After producing at a replacement-level for the past three seasons, Fowler has put on an ugly showing in Spring Training with a .588 OPS and just one walk compared to 12 strikeouts. Luckily, the Angels might’ve struck gold with Juan Lagares, who was signed as a minor-league free agent but has absolutely torched baseballs this spring. It’s beyond just the 1.030 OPS this spring that you should be encouraged by; it’s the fact that it’s backed up by real changes, namely some power that he’s never shown at the MLB level. With above-average defense and this newfound power, Lagares could be the everyday guy in short order. If both of these guys flounder, Taylor Ward could slide in until the aforementioned Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh are ready to go.
*Header photo courtesy of the Angels Twitter*
Please tell me we don’t plan to have any contribution from Jay. He is far down the depth chart, imo, behind Schebler and playing Ohtani in the OF after his 6 innings of starting.
Probably won’t see much if any Jay, but you will see Fowler, which is a travesty in itself.
Iglesias had a 60 game fluke year last season.
PTP is making the same dumb mistake that his predecessor made with guys like Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey. Iglesias is the same age as Marcus Semien and was signed for one year and we didn’t have the prospects to get Lindor from Cleveland because I figured out unlike most Halos Heaven members that the last GM was grossly incompetent at scouting & player development. It’s his fault that Shayne Beebir was pitching at the Big A parking lot and still Eppler whiffed on him. Maybe if he was a OF he might have noticed him….LOL!!!
Have you seen his defense though?
Can he pitch?
I know I shouldn’t care, but I enjoy Fangraphs and would like to continue to do so. But the disrespect of Mr. David Fletcher has vexed me greatly. How dare you, Fangraphs.
It’s more about their algorithm. When I read their writers mention Fletcher, they always seem to think he’s better than Steamer or Zips.
Yep. It’s hard for projections to account for guys like Fletcher, who seemingly make the absolute most out of their skill-set.
Will be great if the corner outfield spots and 1B can over perform. If they do that and we have an average rotation and average bullpen – taking on the Astros for 1st may just be a reality.
If all of those things happen, the Angels feel like a lock for the playoffs.
I assume that generally the projection systems are very good for a multitude of reasons. However, it just seems nearly impossible that such a system can avoid underrating someone like David Fletcher, who doesn’t seem to light up any of the categories that can scream “All-Star” but is just consistently good. I don’t want to “eye-test” this, but that’s almost what it seems like. After Ohtani, Fletcher is probably the most unique player on this team, and Ohtani’s WAR can be projected fairly easily by separating the two components and nailing his distribution usage.
All this to basically say I feel Fletcher over 1.7 fWAR is a pretty good certainty.
I’m right there with you on Fletcher. Nothing to me suggests that he’s going to finish around 2 WAR rather than 3-4 WAR.
By the way – I think predicting Heaney at 3 WAR is a huge reach. He has compiled 5.3 WAR over his whole career. I would be surprised if he ends up at 2.
I could make an argument that Cobb is more likely to end up with negative than positive WAR. look at his last 3 seasons.
Bottom line – it’s not just the health of the pitching staff. It’s performance and some luck. This easily could be a 8 or 7 WAR staff as much as it could be a 14. It’s a true wildcard.
Agreed. Take 1.5 from him and slide then to Fletcher. Same net WAR, more likely distribution. Same with sliding one from Cobb to DH.
Agreed with Heaney. FG projections love him because Heaney perennially has awesome peripheral numbers that suggest more is on the way. Unfortunately, Heaney’s had far too many injury issues, problems against righties, and home run issues to fully reach that next level.
Great recap. I’m also on the over for Fletcher and Ohtani.
The corner outfield spots look grim but 4 months of Marsh should help one of them. The defense out there will be really bad.
As usual, let’s pray for pitching health.
I’m on the over for Trout, Ohtani, Upton and David Fletcher, and no way does Stassi have a better WAR than Fletch. Also I’m on the over for Bundy, Canning, Sandoval and Cobb.
That one was interesting to me. Basically Stassi would be a top 5-10 catcher if he got more playing time? We will see!
Part of it is the catching crop is uhhhh…. really bad! But Stassi frames incredibly well and those changes at the plate in 2020 look pretty real. I’m fascinated to see what he can do with these changes over 100-ish games.
I’m good with the prediction of 80 to 88 wins which would translate to 28 to 36 team WAR. I think this write up is in line with the higher end but it’s still within range.
The perfect scenario is Upton/whoever in RF performs just well enough to hold the fort down and Adell/Marsh come up as real MLB options later in the season.
That’s a bag full of 36.1 in WAR. If correct, what would that translate to in terms of overall record?
Is a Replacement player a league average player? If you fielded a team of all league average players, it seems to follow that at the end of the season, such a team would finish 81-81. If the Angels have a projected 36 team WAR, does that mean they should finish 36 games above average, with a 117-45 record?
That can’t be right. How can I still not understand WAR?
I think league average translates to something like 74 wins. Even so, 36 WAR would be 110 wins. That can’t be right either.
Even if League Average was 64 wins, 36 WAR would mean a 100 win season. Again we must be missing something.
League average should be 81.
For WAR calculations, if you filled a team with all replacement level players (ie 0 WAR players) it would be expected that you would win 52 games (ie 52-110). You can look it up too.
Okay just looked it up. A team full of League Replacement players would be expected to net you 52 wins.
So 36 WAR would net you approximately 88 wins.
To demonstrate it’s not perfect, Baseball Reference calculated the 2018 Angels team at a total of around 36 WAR for the season and that team won 80 games.
I am comfortable with a prediction of 80 to 88 wins for the 2021 Angels.
80-88 wins is a pretty big range. You’ve left a lot of room for error, and thus have greatly increased your odds of being “right.”
I’d say that is more or less cheating in this game. If you want to say 85-86 etc I’d take it, but 80-88?
Come on. You can do better than that.
Oh that wasn’t my prediction. That was taking 36 WAR and adding it to the 52 wins of a league average team. Which resulted in 88 wins.
By comparison the 2018 team had 36 total WAR by player and won 80 games.
I was saying if you make those the goalposts and take the article’s 36 WAR prediction – the 80-88 win total is in the ballpark. It’s also indicative of how the season could be a good one or a meh one depending on lots of variables.
Personally, I think this is a 84-85 win team. Again that falls within those goal posts.
Sorry for any confusion.
The 1961 Angels were an all replacement player team, and they went 70-91.
So it’s not perfect by any means. Lots of other variables.
Nice article. I think it’s a little rich in the C and SP departments but then again I see us getting more from RF (after Fowler demotion) and 1B (hoping Walsh can excel and/or Pujols doesn’t something)