Are the Angels Overrated?
When you hear the word overrated attributed to the Angels after the kind of franchise changing off-season they had, on the surface It's hard to see that word without scoffing at the notion. It's completely understandable because on paper, this team looks like a World Series contender. After all the good vibrations of the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings had died down, I really started examining this team front and back. When everything was added up, there are too many holes to ignore.
Let's start with the opening series against Kansas City. As a team the Angels combined to hit .289/.333/.410/.738, 11 R, 28 H, 24 K's/7 BB's, 41 TB, 8-27 RISP in 100 AB's, while Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales, and Vernon Wells combined to go 13-47, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 11 K's/2 BB's. Meanwhile, starters Jared Weaver, Dan Heren, and Ervin Santana combined to give up 10 ER, 22 H, 17 K's/3 BB's, 4 HR, 4.73 ERA in 19 IP, while Kansas City's starters combined for 4 ER, 12 H, 12 K's/5 BB's, 2.04 ERA in 17.1 IP.
I know what you're going to say. It's the opening series. No one should be surprised to see Kansas City's starting rotation dominate in the manner they did. Let's see their rotation dominate this lineup past Memorial Day when the Angels are in mid-season form. That's fair, you're right. I cannot forget that it really took until the first week of June last season before this lineup really started clicking, so if you're going to give me that argument, fair enough.
If you're not convinced by the opening series, let's look at the structure of this lineup that's built around Albert Pujols. Specifically Torii, Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales. While Hunter and Wells' production numbers were decent in 2011, 48 HR, 148 RBI, 140 R, 262 H, in 1090 AB's, their on-base numbers were indicative of their declining age (Hunter is 36 and Wells is 33), .240/.292/.420/.712. Now add another year on to the equation, let's not forget that Kendrys Morales hasn't played in two seasons and there is a more than good chance that Pujols could be left on an island to slug this team to .500 by himself.
The other issue I have is the crowded outfield caused by Hunter and Wells contract issues. Because of the money that is still owed to Hunter (1 year, 18m) and Wells (3 years, 63m), young prospect Mike Trout, the best outfielder the Angels have in their organization, found himself starting the season in AAA because the money is forcing them to make moves that are not the best for the team. Factor in Bobby Abreau's 9 million dollar salary figure, Mike Trout probably wont see the majors again until July, which would mean Trout will have similar numbers to what he had in 2011.
For this isn't an offense issue, a starting pitching issue, hell, it isn't even a bullpen issue. Athough that is hard to ignore, this about the Angels deciding to punt away it's defense for the right to obtain Albert Pujols. I'm not suggesting that was the wrong thing to do because let's face it - ten times out of ten, you will make that move if you feel like it gives you a better chance to win a World Series. My problem with the Angels is they clearly didn't think this one through before pulling the trigger.
Signing Pujols forced the Angels to move Mark Trumbo to 3B in order to keep his bat in the lineup. The only problem is Trumbo has never played 3B in his life. Meaning Kedrys Morales was relegated to the DH spot, pushing Bobby Abreau to the fourth outfield spot essentially squeezing Mike Trout off the 25-man roster. Again, I'm not faulting Jerry Dipoto for signing Pujols, but to not adjust the roster to accordingly to fit Pujols in without disrupting the defense was just plain irresponsible.
On top of the newly created roster congestion and defensive liabilities, the Angels failed to address their biggest need; their bullpen. Outside of Jordan Walden and Scott Downs (11-8, 2.21 ERA, 28 ER, 88 H, 102 K's/41 BB's, 33 Sv in 114 IP combined), the Angels had season long problems finding consistency in pitching combinations. Outside of Mike Scioscia's regular bullpen contributors, nine different pitchers made at least 10 appearences out of the bullpen, combining for a 4.73 ERA in 276 IP.
Their soulution to their middle relief problem? LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen.
When I use the word overrated, I'm not using it to predict a 90 loss collapse for this team, but mearly as a way to say they are not what people expect them to be. There are still very good pieces on this team that will not allow them to fall that far down in the standings. Let's face facts, any team with Albert Pujols in it's lineup will be able to score runs. It's the secondary pieces not named Howie Kendrick that really have me concerned because consistensy in scoring runs within that corps will be a year long issue.
The good news for Angels fans is the rotation is a top three American League rotation. Because of that, the Angels will be in every game through the seventh inning. Meaning they will give the offense every opportunity to put up the numbers needed to win. But as we saw in the opening series when Heren and Santana failed in reaching the sixth inning in each of their starts, there are no guarantees this bullpen can keep leads in tact. As a result(?), it could cost them at least ten extra wins. If you had predicted 94 wins for the Angels this season, it most likely be 84 wins when it's all said and done.