Saturday, April 02, 2005

2005 Season Predictions - Los Angelos Angels of Anaheim

Okay, now you know it, I'm an Angels fan. Why? Well, it's because when I got the PC game "MVP Baseball 2003" from EA-Sports (yes, that surreptitious advertising, but they deserve it. At least they still make baseball games for the PC), the Angels were the player's default team because they had just won the World Series. So David Eckstein was one of the first players I got to know. So the Angels are my favorite team today, with the Red Sox a close second (Last year sure was good!.
However, in the next days, I'm going to make some predictions which team is going to win its devision and why. I'm starting with the Halos and by taking a close look at each position and how it compares to last year:

1B - Darin Erstad (Backups: Casey Kotchman, Kendry Morales)
Last year, Darin Erstad played 125 games at 1B, hitting .295, .346, .400 and won a gold glove (This would be great if he was a shortstop or second baseman). If he can stay healthy (A big IF), there's no reason why he shouldn't repeat this line. Actually, I don't understand why the Angels didn't move him back to centerfield, where his defense is much more valuable than at first base, but maybe they'll do it when Steve Finley's contract runs out and Kotchman or Morales are ready to take over first (Kotchman only hit .224, .289, .276 in 38 games at 1B). Erstad will bat leadoff this year and I think this will actually help his numbers, giving him fewer opportunities to produce "productive outs".
Compared to last year: Even

2B - Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy
Since Kennedy will begin the season on the DL, Chone Figgins will be the starting second baseman instead of the UEBER-utility-man. While their offensive values are nearly the same (Figgins: .296, .350, .419; Kennedy: .278, .351, .406), Kennedy's defense is much better. This may be because Figgins had to play at several position last year, which gives hope that playing 2B regulary will help him. Also, I expect Scioscia will hit Figgins second, where he and Erstad will put much pressure on the oppenents pitcher early with their speed (Ok, I was wrong with that, but I wrote this a while ago. Also, I still think it would make sense). All in all, with Kennedy expected back after some weeks, 2B won't be weaker than 2004.
Compared to last year: Even

3B - Dallas McPherson (Backup: Robb Quinlan)
It will be difficult for Dallas McPherson to follow in Troy Glaus' footsteps, but Glaus only played 58 games last year (and only 19 at 3B) and hit .251, .355, .575 and he was replaced for the most time by Figgins. Robb Quinlan played some 3B and hit an excellent .344, .401, .525, but only in 160 AB, so he certainly won't repeat that and he also got defensive issues. Tangotiger projects .266, .339, .447 for McPherson, but only 199 AB. I agree with the line, but I think he will play more if the Angels don't fall behind in the standings. Defensivly he seems to be adequate, so after all the changes at the position last year, he probably won't be a downgrade at least (Figgins had 11 errors in 92 games at 3B). McPherson ist the biggest unknown in the Angels lineup and his performance might determine whether the Angels have a good or a great offense. McPherson could be the AL rookie of the year, but he could bust, too.
Compared to last year: Worse

SS - Orlando Cabrera (Backup: Maicer Izturis)
I have always been a big fan of David Eckstein and his hustle and I really don't understand why the signing of Orlando Cabrera is such a big improvement. Eckstein hit .276, .339, .332 last year, while Cabrera hit .264, .306, .383. So Cabrera hit for more power, but he not exactly a power thread and his OBP is way too low. Only if he can repeat the .294, .320, .465 he hit in Boston or his 2003 season in Montreal (which I doubt), he's a real upgrade offensivly. However, his defense seems to be superior to Eckstein's by a larger margin, so I guess this is a real upgrade after all.
Compared to last year: Slightly Improved

CF - Steve Finley (Backup: Jeff DaVanon, Erstad?)
Last year's CF Garret Anderson played only 112 games and hit a modest .301, .343, .446., something Finley should be able to repeat (2004: .271, .333, .490). Some people say Finley isn't an adequate defender anymore (he still won a gold glove - weren't Edmonds and Jones playing in the NL last year???), but I think he will be better (quicker that is) and more experienced at this position than Anderson, so this change should be a defensive improvement after all.
Compared to last year: Slightly Improved

LF - Garrent Anderson (Backup: Jeff DaVanon)
Anderson returns to left field where he replaces the infamous Jose Guillen. Anderson needs to have a season a little above his average to compensate for the loss of Guillens production (.294, .352, .497), which is possible. But injuries slowed Anderson down last year and it remains to be seen whether he's 100% healthy. Defensivly, Anderson is the better fielder while Guillen had the better arm. If we count in the improved clubhouse chemistry after Guillens departure, let's call it even.
Compared to last year: Even

RF - Vladimir Guerrero (Backup: Juan Rivera)
The 2004 AL MVP returns to the right field of Angel Stadium. Guerrero hit .337, .391, .598 during his MVP campaign, but this was actually just an average season for him. So, there's no reason why he shouldn't repeat that.
Compared to last year: Even

DH - Jeff Davanon, Chone Figgins, Robb Quinlan, Juan Rivera, ...
Last year's most successful DH was Andres Galarraga (.300, .364, .600) in 10 AB. :)
Tim Salmon hit .253, 306, .323 in 186 AB, while Troy Glaus was responsible for 207 AB and a .251, .355, .575. Other DHs were Guerrero (49 AB .265, .333, .449), Guillen (39 AB .270, .386, .459), Davanon (66AB .273, .351, .485) and Quinlan (13 AB .154, .267, .154) (I probably forgot one or two though). If Jeff Davanon plays DH against right-handers only (he hit .279, .360, .436 against them and only .239, .349, .380 against southpaws over the last three years) and Quinlan platoons with him (Unbelievable .390, .456, .644 against lefties, although in only 59 AB) until Kennedy takes over 2B and Figgins joins the DH club, I think the DH will produce more AVG and OBP this year, though it might be difficult to repeat the slugging Glaus provided. Also, Rivera might break out after leaving the Expos (where he batted .307, .364, .465). I'm not really sure whether it's a good thing to have that many options or not.
Compared to last year: Even

The Bench
As you can see above, the Halos still have a strong bench with Figgins, Davanon, Quinlan and Rivera. Behind them, Kotchman (and Morales?) are eager to get more big league experience. Still, the Angels are probably better off if the bench plays less than in 2004, since this means that the starters stay healthy. But with this bench, health problems won't immediately hurt the team's playoff chances and this is certainly a big strength of this club.
Compared to last year: Even

The Starting Rotation
Bartolo Colon was hindered by ankle and lower back problems and his 5.01 ERA was a whole run higher than his career average, but he still managed to win 18 games. He seems to be in better shape this spring (ok, that might have been a spoof) and is much likely to improve his ERA and hopefully be the ace of the stuff. With a good season and an ERA of under 3.50, this team is good enough to give him the wins he needs to have an outside (=really, really small) chance for the Cy Young.
Kelvin Escobar was the most consistent Angels pitcher in 2004. He led the staff in ERA and Ks, but low runs support left him with a mediocre 11-12 record. Since this was his first year as a full time starter (he had 26 starts in '03) and that he's only 28, there's still room for improvement. I expect his 2005 campaign to be even better than last year's. If he get's the run support, he also is an outside (see above) Cy Young candidate.
John Lackey (14-13) and Jarrod Washburn (11-8, 25 G) had nearly indentical ERAs last season, with 4.67 and 4.64 respectivly. But while Lackey was a real hometown hero (his home ERA is 1.80 points lower than on the road over the last 3 years, 3.53), Washburn was the Halos' road warrior (his ERA was one run lower on the road, 3.55). So Scioscia needs to find a way to start Lackey at home and Washburn on the road as much as possible and he'll have a pretty good tandem at #3 & #4 :). Still, Lackey and Washburn can hardly be worse than last year, ERA-wise, so I'm confident they will both improve.
Paul Byrd replaces Aaron Sele and Ramon Ortiz and their 9W, 5.03 ERA and 4W, 5.47 ERAs respectively, as starters. So if Byrd stays healthy and makes 28 starts or more, the Angels will most likely have a better #5 starter.
All in all, I think the rotation will be better than last year and collect at least 72 wins (compared to 68 in 2004).
Compared to last year: Slightly Improved

The Bullpen:
The Angels lost Troy Percival to free agency, but while most Angels fans (including me) probably are sad to see him go, Percival is clearly declining. Though his 2.90 ERA was decent and a half run lower than his 2003 ERA (3.47), his OPS against rose from .573 to .610 to .682. (On the other hand, Percival had a 1.67 ERA and .196 BAA after the break). Still, with all the injuriy concerns surrounding Percival, letting him go probably was the right decision.
The new closer will be Francisco Rodriguez. So far he has shown he can handle high pressure situation and he already collected 12 saves last year while Percival was out. The only concern is he might be overworked after pitching in the Carribean Series (Does not seem so).
Brendan Donnelly will the new setup-man. He had a rough year in 2004 with a broken nose and other injuries limiting him to 40 games. His 3.00 ERA was a bit high, but 12 K/9 make me confided he hasn't lost anything.
Scot Shields gives the team a quality long-reliever who will get his share of wins and he can get a strike-out when needed.
Esteban Yan and Kevin Gregg will get a spot start once in a while and Gregg will then take his chances to also break the all-time record for wild pitches in a game.
This is a pretty good bullpen, with only one major weakness: no lefthander (Did Jake Woods make the team now?). But that's no change to last year, though, so:
Compared to last year: Slightly worse

Conclusion:
The Angels improved at shortstop and centerfield while losing production at 3B, their rotation should be a little stronger while the bullpen looks just little weaker than last year. So, I think they will win a few games more than they did in 2004. Last year, the Angels won their divison dispite injuries at 1B, 2B, 3B, CF, DH, their only left-handed pitcher AND with their ace having a 5+ ERA. This year, the A's lost two thirds of their Big Three, Texas is likely to decline after overachieving last year and Seattle signed Beltre and Sexson, but has a long way to go after a 99 Loss season. So, the Angels are the obvious pick to win the divison.
Unfortunately, the Angels will most likely play the Yankees or the Red Sox in the Divison Series and that's where the lack of a situational southpaw is really going hurt them. Moving Jarred Washburn to the pen is no solution, as we've seen last october.
For the Angels to advance further, Colon and Escobar have to dominate, Lackey has to find the postseason magic of 2002 again and Guerrero, Anderson, and someone else has to produce. Or (and that's more likely) Randy Johnson and Mussina/Pavano and Curt Schilling are all down with injuries come october.

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