Monday, March 23, 2009

Guide Preview: Los Angeles Angels

It may be unbelievable, but we're now in the sixth and final week of the guide previews. For the past five weeks, we've gone through the entire National League and most of the American League. It's been rather fun. I've read the preview mags probably closer than I ever have before, and it's definitely helped me to know the league better than ever. I know the previews may have slowed down the other content on this blog a little bit, so I apologize for that. It takes a little while to put these together sometimes, and I can't always write 2 or 3 posts a night. I hope the guide previews and the other content that I was able to get up in the meantime were worth reading.

Anyhow, we're down to only one division to preview: the AL West. Other than the Angels, who have been playing at a high level for years now, it's been a pretty topsy-turvy division for a while now. But those Angels fans have to be happy. They won 100 games last year, and there's little reason to doubt that they won't win the division for the fifth time in six years this season, even without Mark Teixeira or Francisco Rodriguez. Now if only they can get past the first round.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Last Year: 100 - 62, 1st Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News11
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Angels ran away with their division last year, winning 100 games and beating the second-place Rangers by 21 games. The squad was led by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez. And even with that squad and with a double-digit lead in the division at the time, the team felt it was necessary to trade for Mark Teixeira at the deadline. It worked, in that they made it to the postseason, but they still weren't able to advance past the first round. K-Rod and Teix have since left for New York's greener pastures, but the Angels still feel pretty confident about their chances this year.
"Francisco Rodriguez set the all-time major league saves record last year while playing with the Angels, then left as a free agent to join the Mets. Worse, for an offense that struggled at times last year, first baseman Mark Teixeira accepted an enormous offer from the Yankees. Teixeira had been acquired last summer to beef up the Angels' lineup, and his departure left the team considering several other options.

With the Angels' terrific balance, however, they should be able to weather any defections. The team didn't lead the league in any specific categories, but was at the top or in the middle in most statistics, with decent hitting, excellent speed, strong pitching and better-than-average defense.

An even bigger plus for the Angels: They play in a relatively weak division, one in which the other three clubs have glaring deficiencies. Los Angeles' overall competence has resulted in four AL West titles in the last five seasons, and there's little reason to think the team can't repeat in 2009. (TSN)"
The club's biggest strength last year was its rotation, with the likes of Jon Garland, John Lackey, Ervin Santana and K-Rod. It was about as consistent of a rotation as you could ask for, and there's not much more that you can ask for in the major leagues.
"The Angels rotation accounted for 73 victories last year, the most in the majors. Of their five primary starters in 2008, all but one (Jon Garland) will return. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders made the All-Star team, and five starters finished with double-digit win totals. This year's fifth spot will likely belong to a young internal candidate, such as Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart or Anthony Ortega. Kelvim Escobar is expected to miss the first half while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. The bullpen will have a different look, now that Francisco Rodriguez is a Met and Brian Fuentes has arrived to replace him. Fuentes saved 111 games for Colorado over the past four seasons. (Lindy's)"
Outside of the pitching staff, the outfield was the Angels' biggest strength last year. Torii Hunter fit in quite well in center, and Vlad Guerrero continued to put up solid, underappreciated numbers. But it's not the outfield that is getting the most buzz coming into the 2009 season - it's second baseman Howie Kendrick, who Athlon dubs the "Difference Maker".
"When a player bats .368, .363, .367, and .369 in four straight minor league seasons, as Howie Kendrick did from 2003-06, you get a pretty good sense he can hit. That remarkable consistency has yet to show up in the major leagues, but Kendrick was showing signs of being a stalwart before he re-injured his hamstring last August. If Kendrick, 25, improves on a .306 batting average and ups his extra-base hit total from 31, he could give a big bounce to an offense that has a lot of aging players whose numbers could be on the decline. Kendrick projects as a prototypical No. 2 hitter, and he could team with Chone Figgins to give the Angels excellent table-setters for Vladimir Guerrero and Co. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

Lindy's points out a couple of intriguing facts about the Angels that may excite fans of the other AL West teams:
"While they have won only one postseason series since their World Series championship in 2002 - and bowed out in the Division Series against the Red Sox for the third time in five years - the Angels have dominated their division as no other team has in recent years. They finished atop the American League West in four of the past five seasons, the most division crowns for any club over that span.
The organization's hallmark is a fertile farm system that has been used more often for promotions than trades. But it is notably weaker now, while the Athletics and Rangers now have two of the best farm systems in the game. Their young talent will start to emerge in the next couple of seasons, so the Angels will have to fight to stay on top."

First things first, I absolutely hate this "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" thing that they've had going for the past few years. I know the city took the team to court a few years back to get them to change it back but lost. I guess that since the "Anaheim" was technically in the name, no matter how lame it is, they weren't in violation of their deal with the city. If I were ShysterBall, I could probably write something thorough and thoughtful about the whole ordeal. Since I'm not, though, all I can say is that, while this whole "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" thing may not be against the letter of the deal, it definitely seems to be against the spirit of it. I wish those things could be reconciled a little more in the courts these days.

Okay, enough about that. I didn't really mean to say much about it except that I prefer to call them the Anaheim Angels (just like I still call it PacBell Park), but it seems fair to use the full name in this preview guide. As for how this season will go, I just can't see how the Angels can lose their hold on the division crown. They won 100 games last year and, though they lost single-season saves record-holder Francisco Rodriguez and half-of-a-season's worth of Mark Teixeira, they're still good for 90+ wins. There's just no other team in the division able to match that. After all, the Rangers were the runners-up last season with all of 79 wins. The division is the Angels to lose, and I don't think Mike Scioscia will let them lose it.

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