Recapping 2018: Los Angeles Angels Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Los Angeles Angels Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA

After the past four seasons it’s easy to forget that the Los Angeles Angels were a team to be outright feared for much of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Recency bias shows a team mired in mediocrity despite the presence of a star so bright that other galaxies become pulled into his orbit. Those glory years were built on the back of a youth brigade and a rally monkey, but eventually you gotta feed the monkey, man. Sir. Pegged to 2018 dollars you can see a gradually rising budget routinely pushed to the limit, and despite those figures continuing their ascent, team success became fleeting. Having a new manager in town might help lift some of the malaise, but the battle is fought on the field. Last year’s Angels were a good, but flawed team, which is mostly what you’ll find in this middle tier of teams. Sober analysis shows where their faults lied last year, but the better question is, “What are they going to do about it?”

The offense was certainly not to blame as the club was routinely an above average outfit, often wildly so. Slumps came and went early on, but the last two months do show a lot less to have been excited about. Getting off to a hot start in what proved to be an ultra-competitive division had spirits high before the required pace became unsustainable. Most of the infield got hurt, traded or both, and this was especially tough for Andrelton Simmons who was off to an incredible start before missing time with an ankle injury and then mostly not looking right at the plate after he came back. Kole Calhoun also missed time amidst one of the crazier seasons you’ll find. So did Mike Trout, though he was exceptional, as always. The bubble gum depth popped, and took down a promising season with it. However, this all pales in comparison to the gross end reached by Luis Valbuena this past week as cowardly thugs robbed him of his life. Condolences to the families of both he and Jose Castillo.

Another year where Mike Trout was amongst the very best players in the game, and in which he won neither the Most Valuable Player award nor a playoff game. We’re witnessing greatness, and somehow he still is just so incomprehensibly underrated. Baseball’s tribalism often only spreads to the limits of the village, but come on, people, we’re blessed to be able to watch Mike Trout try to find ways to get better. This past season might have been his best yet as I had him with roughly 60 runs just from the bat driven by both outstanding walk rates, but also prodigious power, while still striking out around the average. He hit righties better than lefties. Outside of a wrist issue that led to a poor stretch and didn’t get better until he hit the disabled list, he was consistently extremely good. Often even off the charts good. You can see how the wrist issue hampered his exit velocity later in the year even after he came back and acted like he never left. It’s possible he could be even better next year. Can’t wait to find out.

Mike Trout

Trout wasn’t the only legendary fish in these dangerous waters even if he was the largest. Swimming alongside was Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton with these three, perhaps, forming one of the best outfields in the game at some point in the future. When he came over there were a lot of folks quick to tell you why he couldn’t hit. Or pitch. Turns out he’s pretty good at both even if we won’t see the latter this year. He increasingly got better as the year went along even in the face of his torn ulnar-collateral ligament, which seems to have done very little to hamper his offensive game. He strikes out fairly often, but does walk at a good enough level to offset some of the damage. He also hits the ball really, really hard, and he seems to do a good job of getting it off the ground, too. Hard to believe he’ll make the league minimum this year. Ohtani makes a great foil for Justin Upton, who is long past the days of having to prove what little brother could do. Unlike Ohtani, Upton is making a lot of money, and he has a long history of being a very capable offensive contributor. Last year was more of the same as he was the one guy that stayed on the field racking up tons of plate appearance and rarely doing so at a bad clip. Like Ohtani, he similarly strikes out at a fairly high rate, while also walking enough to offset, and the power he generates is what turns that tread water into a geyser of production.

Shohei Ohtani (Batting)

Justin Upton

So far we have seen a trio of very good to exceptional hitters that mostly met their expectations on balls in play, but the next group featuring Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols show what happens when guys that are another step down don’t come anywhere near to their average or better expectations. Calhoun looks like a guy who was playing hurt for much of the season, while Pujols is constantly hurt and utterly bereft of athleticism at this point. His nagging injuries have nagging injuries, but he’s still doing a good job of putting the ball in play, and occasionally with enough velocity that it clears an infielder or gets through them. It’s no mystery why Pujols would underperform his ball in play data, but Calhoun showed an even larger shortfall while still being in the prime of his life. The beginning and the end of his season should be immediately forgotten for sanity’s sake, but the middle showed what the player is capable of when he’s hitting the ball hard and getting it off the ground. This looked like a miserable season for Calhoun, but tucked within was a solid two month stretch where things felt relatively normal.

Kole Calhoun

Albert Pujols

Floating around average production was the infield trio of Andrelton Simmons, Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart. Simmons was off to a fantastic start before an ankle issue derailed the promising season. Putting the ball in play a ton is a valuable skill, but all those grounders were probably agony to beat out for a player that didn’t really have an alternative as walks or power aren’t really in his toolbelt. Instead we’re left with dreams of Simmons someday hitting that well for a full season to go along with his stellar defense. Perhaps that would leave him as the latest great to beat out Trout for the MVP? It was right around this time last year when the Angels signed Zack Cozart and traded for Ian Kinsler. Neither would last through the season with Kinsler eventually moved on to a third team within a year, and Cozart back to a somewhat familiar place on the disabled list. Neither was all that missed as their flyball-heavy approach works a lot better when it is coming off the bat with some heat. Kinsler noticeably fell off by exit velocity, while Cozart never got there leading to their better stretches coming in around the average rather than well above as expected. This feels like the one area where the team didn’t do enough to prepare themselves for the season to come as their hopes these two could make it through the year never really had a chance.

Andrelton Simmons

Ian Kinsler

Zack Cozart

When the patchwork became exposed the underlying depth proved unable to fill the breach with both David Fletcher and Jefry Marte failing to establish themselves once pressed into regular duty. They might as well have been generic cutout NPCs included to add realism, but eventually their loop becomes obvious. Marte was the low-OBP masher that can get into a ball when he makes contact, while relatively never walking to ensure slumps find their true bottom. Fletcher was the slash and dash guy that saw some initial success, but once pitchers realize they can go after him a lot of that production dries up. He ran a fairly high launch angle, but this looks like a byproduct of some pop ups and shallow fly balls that can sometimes fall in front of defenders. Until they realize they can play in.

David Fletcher

Jefry Marte

If the hitting wasn’t the problem for a team that lost more than they won it should be fairly easy to figure out where things went awry. Thing is, they were mostly fine early on when the team was still neck and neck with the other good clubs in their division. Then things started to go amiss. From that 2500 or so batter mark to the end of the season the team rarely saw good pitching for long. There were brief forays into the better than average area, and they did linger around that average for a good deal, but there was just too much poor performance commingled in that put too much pressure on the offense to be at their best every night. A proposition virtually any team would find difficult to weather. Part of this fall off was due to injuries to Garrett Richards who finally get the surgery he needed years ago, but waited until his walk year to get it for some reason. He wasn’t alone as JC Ramirez and Keynan Middleton also fell victim to the pitcher plague. The rookie revelation Shohei Ohtani delayed his own Tommy John surgery until after the season curtailing his own bright start in the bigs. Matt Shoemaker’s lingering forearm issues portend a similar fate. Blake Wood and Nick Tropeano also missed some time. What looked good on paper never really got a chance, but pitcher injuries should be the expectation.

A big issue for the club was having only three pitchers face at least 500 batters. That meant a lot of other guys getting stretched past points where they might still hold effectiveness, and those that were capable seeing curtailed production. This meant that the best performers on the club were relievers like Taylor Cole, Justin Anderson and the recently traded Jose Alvarez. Cole was electric in a fairly short stint, but we can dig a little deeper on the other two. Anderson got better as the year went along after some initial poor puck luck, though walk issues were prevalent throughout the year. The big strikeout rate helps, and so does his ability to keep his hardest contact down. You can get a sense for why the team wanted to move on from Alvarez who showed a wonderful start, but couldn’t keep it up. An eventually pedestrian strikeout rate came with too many walks, though he did show a nice drop in his exit velocity midseason even if he gave it back again.

Justin Anderson

Jose Alvarez


Moving on to a couple of the short timers we see a couple of bright spots that certainly weren’t locks to be useful coming into the season. Everyone knew the promise, but few saw it translating this quickly for Shohei Ohtani. The torn ulnar-collateral ligament that he tried to pitch through eventually cut his season short, but prior to that he showed plenty to stay excited for if and when he can get back on his mount. The walks were a touch high, but striking out over 30% hides many sins. He overperformed his roughly league average production on contact, but Ohtani answered many questions even if some new ones have developed. The spotlight never really approached lukewarm for Felix Pena, and a rough first half to a season might have buried his chances on a team that didn’t succumb to so many injuries. However, given the opportunity he was able to find a way to limit the walks that were plaguing him early and paired with that a consistently higher strikeout rate. The launch angle average came down slightly, which was a good thing considering how much of his hard contact was in more of the liner zone than the grounders that are more likely defended.

Shohei Ohtani (Pitching)

Felix Pena

Even the guys you would consider traditional starters didn’t escape some missed time, which has been fairly routine for both Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney in the past. Skaggs was really quite good until fatigue or injury tanked the end of his season. You can see that show up in his dramatically increased launch angle and fairly significant pick up in his walk rate. His performance looks pretty well pegged with that walk rate so you’re looking at a pretty good arm when he’s able to dodge the freebies. This was a relatively healthy year, and if he can do the same next year the Angels might be looking at their best starter. Fighting him for that crown will likely be Heaney who was also a fairly good starter last year who looked even better by his actual results, especially early on when he was showing some ridiculous actual production. He doesn’t consistently sit down as many as Skaggs, but he’s usually doing so at an average or better rate. The real gains showed up in his gradual improvement in limiting the walk. Part of this is his large platoon splits that force him to work around righties, but then right the ship against lefties. Sometimes you play with fire, and sometimes you get burnt, but the rest of the time you’re just warm.

Tyler Skaggs

Andrew Heaney

The guy that used to wear the best pitcher on the staff crown was Garrett Richards who finally succumbed to Tommy John surgery and has recently signed with the San Diego Padres for his rehab year and whatever else comes. He was again pretty good, but did show some slippage as the year wore on. Underperformance had his casual line looking a lot prettier, but that’s hard to believe with the dwindling strikeout rate and increasing launch angle. It’s hard to watch a guy pitch through an issue this prevalent so in some respects it’s good to see he’ll get some time off to get everything right. While not a starter, Noe Ramirez was a guy that gave similar production as Richards, but out of the bullpen. His season started a lot better than it ended and the big reason was due to increased exit velocity over the course of the year. When he’s striking out 30% or so he’s a fairly useful guy, but once the walks caught up any edge was mitigated.

Garrett Richards

Noe Ramirez

One guy who presented as something of a bright spot was Jaime Barria. He was quite good over the second half of his season with a lot of that owed to a dramatically lower and sustained exit velocity against. Without further research it’s possible he was tipping pitches early on or wasn’t pitching competitively enough in the zone until a demotion in early June shocked the system a bit. He’s going to put the ball in the air more often, but a lot of that is in safe places that lead to easy outs. The strikeout rates weren’t mindblowing, but they were around the average, and when he was walking guys at higher rates it didn’t seem to hurt his production all that much. I’d guess Barria will break camp with a rotation spot next year and should be a nice piece now that he has started to adjust to the highest level.

Jaime Barria

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Cam Bedrosian

Jim Johnson

 

Martin Maldonado

 

 

 

Blake Parker

 

Nick Tropeano

 

 

Luis Valbuena