The Los Angeles Angels won 98 games last season, tied for the most in the major leagues. However, they faced the wrong team at the wrong time in the postseason, and were swept out of the ALDS by the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals. While the end of the year was a disappointment for a team that has had its eye on a championship for the past few years, their 20-win improvement from 2013 was the biggest positive jump in baseball.
The 2015 season is following a similar pattern so far, but the end result is far from certain. The Angels' offense is a year older, and well off the 4.77 run-per-game pace that led the American League last season. Their pitching has been among the best in the league, but some advanced metrics suggest that their solid team ERA may not last.
To get some inside info on how these Angels compare to their 2014 counterparts, we exchanged questions with Josh Mayhood, the managing editor of Halos Heaven, SB Nation's excellent Angels community. Be sure to check out Halos Heaven for all the great news and analysis Josh and his staff are providing on a daily basis.
1. Last season, the Angels won 98 games and had the best record in the American League. However, they were a relatively pedestrian 25-20 through their first 45 games. This season, they are 23-22 and already 5 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. How does this year's Angels team compare to last year's? Do they have another division title in them?
The interesting comparison about this team is that while they do have a similar record right now as this time last season, last year's team had a huge run differential while this year's is pitiful. There have been a lot of one and two run games, and the Angels are getting killed in that department. I like to think that they have a run in them, but my gut says this isn't the year for them to win the AL West. I hate saying that, but they haven't shown us fans that much so far this season, and I don't want to hang on desperately to the hope that Houston will cool off and flounder, only to be totally disappointed.
2. Throughout 2012 and 2013, Tigers and Angels fans bickered over who was the more valuable player: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. Miggy got the best of Trout in both MVP votes, but Trout finally struck gold with his first MVP in 2014. Just how good is Mike Trout? Are there any weaknesses in his game?
You know, some of us at Halos Heaven still daydream about a world where things went differently, and in 2007, the Angels trade for Miguel Cabrera. That would have been nuts. Anyway, Mike Trout is insanely good. He's incredibly exciting to watch, and he has many methods of making you scratch your head while saying "How'd he do that?" His acrobatic slide into third base last Friday is a perfect example.
Trout's main weakness was/is high and in fastballs. Even to the casual fan last year, he was striking out a lot more than in previous seasons. There was an excellent piece about this on Fangraphs recently, and it showed that he may have fixed his one problem this season. That's scary to think about.
3. The Tigers and Angels both have their share of bad contracts on the books, and the vultures are circling around both teams as they make one last gasp for a World Series title. Who has the Angels' worst contract? How do they stay competitive for the next 5 years?
Albert Pujos is signed through 2021, and at that time is going to be making $30 million for the season. This saddens me, and his deal is probably their worst contract right now. Pujols just isn't Pujols any more, and the most they will probably get in return is a .280 batting average, 100 RBI and 25 homers. Also, they will get a ton of double plays and trips to the disabled list. I try not to think about this. One could argue that Josh Hamilton is the worst contract, since the Angels are still paying over $20 million per season for the next few years, and he is playing for the Texas Rangers. However, I have learned to not think about Josh Hamilton. Makes life easier.
4. Michigan native Matt Shoemaker took the American League by storm last season, allowing a 3.04 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 136 innings. This year, Shoemaker has struggled, allowing a 6.29 ERA and 5.80 FIP in his first eight starts. What happened?
I'm not sure what happened to Ol' Shoey, but many people thought last year's output was unsustainable, and I guess they are being proven right now. Shoemaker has had a tougher time locating his slider and has been hit hard in the process. Even in the three-or-so games where he has looked as solid as 2014, he barely gets run support from the team, so the dude is having a tough go of it so far. He was lights out on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, after two horrible starts on the road on their last trip, so the optimist in me is leaning on that being a turnaround game. It probably won't be, but one can hope.
5. The Angels' farm system has consistently been rated as one of the worst in baseball over the past few years -- we know what that's like -- but they still have been able to produce solid players like Shoemaker, C.J. Cron, and especially Kole Calhoun. Are the Angels better at a specific aspect of scouting or player development than the world gives them credit for? Who else do they have coming through the minor league pipeline?
The Angels have had luck with college players, primarily, and as of recent years it's been a bare cupboard save for some good college level hitters that they've invested in. The problem is that in order to right the farm system ship and balance out the position player prospects with good prospect arms, they have gone super heavy on pitchers in the past few years. The Angels have some guys right now that we're excited about (Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, and especially Sean Newcomb) but now they are going to go after some bats, and go after them hard, because the big league club has pitching galore, but little help in the scoring runs department. I expect them to focus on this aspect in the upcoming draft.
6. This is a loaded question, so let's keep it limited to on-field performance: are the Angels a better or worse team without Josh Hamilton?
I hated the Josh Hamilton signing from the very beginning, so his on-field performance with the Angels was like rubbing salt in an open wound every night. So much money, so little in return and the only blame can be with the front office. That being said, the Angels are worse off right now. Even going by last year's dud of a season for Hamilton, I would still take that production over Matt Joyce right about now. Left field has been a black hole all season, and getting rid of Hamilton didn't do the position any favors.
Once again, a big thank you to Josh and the rest of the Halos Heaven staff for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out Halos Heaven all season long for more Angels news and analysis!