This will be the first in a series of previews on the A’s direct competitors, and the two other teams in the AL West. (See what I did there?) First up are the hated slegnA.
First, let's look at their roster moves over the offseason based on the 40-man.
- Signed OF Josh Hamilton to a 5-year/ $125M contract.
- Traded for LHP Jason Vargas.
- Signed RHP Joe Blanton for 2 years/$15M with a 2015 club option.
- Traded for RHP Tommy Hanson.
- Traded for LHP Brandon Sisk
- Signed LHP Sean Burnett for 2 years/$8M with a 2015 club option
- Signed RHP Ryan Madson for 1 year/$3.5M
- Signed INF Bill Hall to an MiLB deal. Makes $500K if he makes team.
- Signed INF Luis Rodriguez to an MiLB deal.
- Claimed OF Scott Cousins off of waivers from Mariners
- Claimed SS Tommy Field off of waivers from Twins
- Traded away 1B/DH Kendrys Morales as part of Jason Vargas trade to Mariners
- Traded away RHP Jordan Walden as part of Tommy Hanson trade to Braves
- Lost RHP Zack Greinke to free agency (Dodgers)
- Lost RHP Dan Haren to free agency (Nationals)
- Lost RHP Jason Isringhausen to retirement
- Lost INF Maicer Izturis to free agency (Blue Jays)
- Lost OF Torii Hunter to free agency (Tigers)
- Traded away RHP Ervin Santana as part of deal to acquire Brandon Sisk
- Lost C Bobby Wilson to waiver claim (Blue Jays)
- Lost LHP Hisanori Takahashi to free agency (Cubs)
- Lost RHP Latroy Hawkins to free agency (Mets)
Summary and projections
The Angels lost a significant portion of their starting staff from last year. Depending on how you look at it, losing an inconsistent Ervin Santana and a balky-backed Dan Haren is either a net negative for losing that talent, or a positive in that they can at least sign pitchers who have a history of health. Indeed, if one can say nothing else about Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, it's that will likely provide 30-35 starts of league-average performance. Losing Greinke, however, is obviously a serious blow for them and there is no softening it. The acquisition of Tommy Hunter will likely create a fifth starter battle between him, Jerome Williams, and Garrett Richards, with the loser heading to the bullpen as a longman. That said, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are better than that trio and are, unfortunately, as good as any other 1-2 combination in the league.
Their ZiPS projections essentially echo these sentiments. (For my money, ZiPS is the most honest system out there. No, it's not the most favorable for the A's, but it does make realistic assessments of how players ought to regress or improve. You can read a good interview with Dan Szymborski, creator and curator of the ZiPS system, here.) Both Weaver and Wilson project as above-average pitchers, with ERA-/FIP- of 77/87 and 89/94, respectively. You don't need to understand the derivation of these to know what they mean, just know that in this system, lower numbers are better and 100 is league-average.
While ZiPS does use a system for projecting playing time, that's the part of projections that are most random. So, a combination of Hanson, Vargas, Blanton, Williams, and Richards show a ERA-/FIP- 100/104, 111/113, 114/103, 117/111, 136/127. ZiPS are relatively pessimistic here, showing a net below-average for that combination of starters. I'm not falling into the uber-optimistic level of Bill James here, but I do think those 3-4-5 rotation starts will be made by the former three rather than the latter two. Those guys are simply better overall than Williams and Richards.
Moving onto the bullpen, there has been a near-complete makeover. Gone is the familiar crow-hop of Jordan Walden, and old stalwarts LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen, and Hisanori Takahashi. In their stead are Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson, and the losers of the fifth starter battle, along with last year's holdovers of Ernesto Frieri, Nick Maronde, Scott Downs, and Kevin Jepsen. In the mix as well are MiLBers Sean White, Brandon Sisk, Bobby Cassevah, David Carpenter, and Ryan Brasier. As you may know, bullpens are notoriously difficult to predict due to the inherent randomness of 70-80 inning seasons. For that, then, I like to look at strikeout and walk rates (as a percentage, not per 9):
Frieri: 30.6%, 11.5%
Maronde: 15.7, 7.8
Madson: 22.9, 6.3
Burnett: 20.0, 7.1
Downs: 17.3, 7.3
Jepsen: 19.6, 9.0
Richards: 13.5, 10.2
Williams: 15.3, 5.9
Cassevah: 11.2, 11.2
White: 10.9, 12.8
Sisk: 17.1, 12.1
Carpenter: 17.0, 9.4
Brasier: 16.0, 11.1
If you consider that league-average K% is around 18.5 or so, and BB% around 8.5, that's an interesting group. Frieri, Madson, and Burnett are all above-average; at least with a K-rate into the 30s, Frieri can afford to walk a few guys. Downs, Jepsen, Carpenter, and Williams are relatively average. The other guys probably aren't making the team unless someone goes down. Like Ryan Madson. Else, it's a pretty decent group.
The acquisition of Josh Hamilton and a full year of Mike Trout make this a formidable hitting team. The lineup is relatively set:
It is no secret that the Angels are going to slug their way to their wins this season. Of their top 3 guys (Trout, Hamilton, Pujols) they are projected to have wOBAs of .378, .354, and .335, respectively. And that's not even counting Trumbo, who is projected for a .333 wOBA himself. When a .320 league-average wOBA is considered, it's clear the Angels have two, if not three elite players. In the projections, significant regression is already baked in for Trout, who, even though he is unlikely to repeat his 10 WAR performance last year, is still slated for 8 WAR himself.
Yes, Hunter and Morales departed, but the acquisition of Hamilton (along with Hunter's advancing age), makes up for a good portion. I actually think the Hamilton projection has significant positive error bars there - he could be much better than 3.8 WAR if he can stay healthy and not have a second-half dropoff again. On the other hand, he could suffer from moving to the pitcher-friendly confines of Angel Stadium and be slightly worse than that. Everyone else - Kendrick, Aybar, Bourjos, Callaspo, and Ianetta - are a morass of fringe-average hitters. Make no mistake: the Angels are relying on their big three + Trumbo (to a lesser extent) to carry most of the load here.
Their bench (as opposed to the A's bench), doesn't look that great. Vernon Wells is a joke and is projected for a .308 wOBA. Hank Conger is a below average hitter at .285. Bill Hall might not make the team, and the 25th guy will almost certainly be replacement level.
This is the hardest thing to evaluate with the samples available. Trout and Bourjos are clearly elite defenders, and Hamilton certainly has the capability to be above-average defensively. So, their outfield can be a death-to-flying things arrangement. Everyone else? Pujols, Callaspo, Aybar, and Kendrick are probably a league-average infield. Ianetta is probably a league-average catcher defensively. So, the Angels are relatively sound defensively, and also benefit from a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
For my money, the Angels are the A's biggest threat to repeating as AL West Champions. What they lack in depth they make up for in an elite #1 starter, and two hitters (if not three) who are better than any one hitter the A's have. That said, should Trout drop off significantly, or Pujols or Hamilton be significantly off their career norms, this team could be in real trouble. They are a true stars-and-scrubs team if there ever was one, and if the stars aren't good...
Thanks to Jim (WiHaloFan) for some insight on the bullpen battles out there. Next installment, I'll look at the Rangers.