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Heinous Crimes - A Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim preview

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A look ahead at the first opponent on our west coast road trip

Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Sorry, man.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what it looks like to truly carry an offense?

PICTURED: Row 1: An Angels player; Row 2: Another Angels player; Row 3: Nice stats, I bet he plays for the Angels; Row 4: Just your typical Angels player; Row 5: They used to be called the “California Angels”; Row 6: An angel in the outfield; Row 7: ONE OF THE BEST PLAYERS OF ALL TIME; Row 8: Hey, weren’t you just in Row 4?; Row 9: A fallen angel


NOT PICTURED: Ben Revere, Luis Valbuena, a useful supporting cast, Cliff Pennington

Well, wonder no more. The Los Angeltrout Trouts of Troutaheim have had a rough go of it this year, with nearly the entire lineup experiencing down seasons and a list of pitching injuries so deep that even the Texas Rangers are all like, “Damn, be careful over there.” This team is far from contention, but they haven’t totally bottomed out yet because Mike Trout is a superhero. The greatest baseball talent of this generation hasn’t been used to win playoff games, he’s been used to elevate otherwise unimpressive rosters to something respectable-ish. Imagine being Trout, coming into each new baseball season of his finite (but impressive) peak, spinning the wheel, and seeing this:

Sucks, right?

Well OK, maybe it’s not terrible. At least he never has to worry about this:

This year’s Angels roster is just more of the same. It’s flawed and banged up, but it’s not exactly putrid. They have the makings of a good defense, particularly up the middle. Catcher Martin Maldonado is a strong framer and good enough at everything else. Andrelton Simmons is probably the best defensive shortstop in the game, and his double-play partner Danny Espinosa has long been well-regarded in the middle infield. With Trout manning center, Kole Calhoun in right, and converted center fielder Cameron Maybin in left, the Angels should be above-average in the outfield as well. And over at third base is Yunel Escobar who’s, well, nevermind, he’s a total butcher. Still, on the whole, the defense should generate value.

The real issue is on the other side of the ball, and it’s exactly what you saw above. No one should particularly scare you besides Trout. Albert Pujols provided some lineup protection in years past, but he’s had unprecedented (for him) contact issues this season and at age 37, we might be witnessing the beginning of the end. Simmons, Escobar, Maybin, and Maldonado are all light on power. Espinosa can run into one, but that’s only on the rare occasion that he actually hits the ball. First baseman C.J. Cron has above-average pop (despite that ugly .031 ISO shown above), but refuses to draw walks. That leaves Calhoun, who’s a good, well-rounded offensive player, but hasn’t finished in the top 50 in wRC+ since 2014 and has been flat-out bad this year, particularly of late. Trout needs more help than this.

The pitching staff is probably even more suspect given all the bodies on the disabled list. Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano are all hurt and nowhere close to returning. That means four of the best five starting pitching options for the Angels are unavailable and the fill-ins are suspect at best. Even Matt Shoemaker, the fifth guy in the hypothetical “full strength” rotation, has pitched like a fill-in. Part of that can be attributed to Shoemaker’s puzzling increased slider usage; the pitch has little horizontal bite and has never been an effective offering.

Against all odds, Ricky Nolasco made another Opening Day start this year. He arrived in Los Angeles after a weird midseason swap with the Twins for Hector Santiago. As could be expected from a former Twin, Nolasco has good control. He’s upped his strikeout game a little this year thanks to his splitter, but he remains quite blastable. Including minor league rosters, hard-throwing journeyman J.C. Ramirez has played on nine teams in the past three years. Before this year, he hadn’t started a professional game since doing so at Double-A in 2011, but he has suddenly found his groove. Part of the reason seems to be that he’s shifted heavily to his breaking pitches this year; a whopping 60 percent of his offerings have been curveballs or sliders in 2017.

Okay, so maybe not all Twins castoffs have good control. Alex Meyer never really got an extended look with the Twins because he has no clue where the strike zone is. Meyer has some swing-and-miss stuff, as only 60% of plate appearances result in contact against him, so that’s something, I guess? There’s effectively wild, but Meyer is in effect, just wild. You could do worse than righty Jesse Chavez to eat innings when you’re in a pinch, but you’d rather not count on him as a key rotation piece. That description could fit four of the starters discussed here.

The Angels’ bullpen is really banged up as well. Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Huston Street, and Mike Morin all would ordinarily take on important roles and none are available. Things have gotten so bad that they’re using Bud Norris — Bud Norris! — to close out games lately. Norris has actually had some success in short relief, as his strikeout rate has soared since converting to a cutter-heavy approach. Elsewhere in the bullpen, Blake Parker has racked up strikeouts and David Hernandez somehow hasn’t issued a walk yet. There’s some respectable relievers here but overall it’s not a unit to be feared.

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The Angels are a laughably stuck team with few levers that they could pull to help themselves out going forward. They have some money coming off the books after this year, but not enough to make a real difference. They have one of the very worst farm systems in baseball. They’re not good as it stands and are mostly a veteran team with little upside. And finally, they have a once-in-a-generation talent on their team who might have to wait for a new decade and/or a new uniform to actually win a playoff game. It’s high time that the Angels paid for their heinous crimes against Mike Trout. A sweep at the hands of the White Sox wouldn’t cover it, but it’s a start.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Monday, May 15: Jesse Chavez vs. Mike Pelfrey

Tuesday, May 16: J.C. Ramirez vs. Derek Holland

Wednesday, May 17: Matt Shoemaker vs. Miguel Gonzalez

Key Personnel

Probable Lineup Pitching
Probable Lineup Pitching
1. Yunel Escobar - 3B SP1. Ricky Nolasco - RHP
2. Mike Trout - CF SP2. Matt Shoemaker - RHP
3. Albert Pujols - DH SP3. J.C. Ramirez - RHP
4. Kole Calhoun - RF SP4. Jesse Chavez - RHP
5. C.J. Cron - 1B SP5. Alex Meyer - RHP
6. Cameron Maybin - LF CL. Bud Norris - RHP
7. Andrelton Simmons - SS RP1. Yusmeiro Petit - RHP
8. Danny Espinosa - 2B RP2. Blake Parker - RHP
9. Martin Maldonado - C RP3. Jose Alvarez - LHP