It's that time of year again!
For the past few months I've been working on these projections for each and every player (including several for players suspected to land here, who later didn't). This year's set looks a slight bit trickier once it comes to the pitching end of things, since so many free agent starters remain on the market and the Angels could still bite on one. But, because of that, I'll start with the infield and work my way, slowly, to the pitching.
My methodology for projections has evolved with each season, and this year is no different. For each player, a combination of factors go into consideration. These include, but are not limited to: career averages, park adjustment from prior teams, age regression analysis, career performance in Anaheim (for those who are new additions), and in some cases, emphasis on growing statistical trends unique to each player.
At the end of my round of projections will be one final post that consummates it all: all projections in one spot, added up to team totals and overall team projection.
We begin these projections with the presumptive starting infield for the Angels, which, at the moment, appears to be Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, David Freese and Chris Iannetta. And, as a reminder and a disclaimer, my projections are not to be taken as a floor or a ceiling for production, but a middle ground--what we should expect from the player should he perform on an average basis.
CHRIS IANNETTA, CATCHER
2013: .225/.358/.372, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 109 OPS+, career-high 115 games played
After being plagued with injury in his debut Angels season in 2012, Iannetta came back durable and ready to play for 2013, setting a new career high in games played and posting the second-highest OPS+ of his career, while splitting time pretty fairly with Hank Conger behind the plate (the duo caught every inning of Angels baseball last season). That platoon situation appears to be the norm for 2014 barring injury, and there's no reason to believe Iannetta, even in this situation, cannot top his 115 games played in 2013.
After crunching numbers and trends, this is what I came up with for Chris Iannetta in 2014.
It looks like a very Iannetta season coming up. He establishes a new high in games played (120) while again posting a 100+ point gap between his batting average and on-base percentage. His plate appearances per game are down from 3.47 in 2013 to 3.36 in 2014, signaling a respective uptick in playing time for Hank Conger. Not much in the way of bold and uncertain stuff here, which I can't say about the next player.
ALBERT PUJOLS, FIRST BASE
2013: .258/.330/.437, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 99 games played, 65 as DH
Easily Albert Pujols' first true down season. Pujols has always had plantar fasciitis, but last season saw it at its worst. Though he attempted to be valiant and play through, even as a DH, Pujols eventually succumbed, with his plantar fascia eventually tearing right off in late July. He's been rehabbing since then and is said to be in "the best shape of his life." The sky's really the limit as far as projections are concerned. After a 2012 marred by a fluky April and an injury-plagued 2013, could 2014 be the first true season when we see the Albert we signed in December 2011? Let's see.
I believe THIS is what the Angels agreed to pay $240 million for. This season sees Albert eclipsing 500 home runs, 1500 runs batted in, 100 stolen bases, 1500 runs scored and 2500 hits on his career, and coming back from injury with a vengeance. And before we go saying, "He's 34 years old, he won't produce like that even if he IS healthy," let's hold on a second. Remember what Albert Pujols' 2012 season looked like post-April? His slash from May 2012 to the end of the season was .297/.357/.553, which is very similar to the .299/.366/.541 he posted in 2011 with St. Louis. It's not ALL that far-fetched to assume that Pujols can increase production by about 3-5% from that line. We're looking at a very likely candidate for Comeback Player of the Year right here.
HOWIE KENDRICK, SECOND BASE
2013: .297/.335/.439, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 122 games played
Howie was well on his way to a career season before freakishly injuring himself in August by tripping over Collin Cowgill trying to catch a ball. He was leading the Angels in average for a good chunk of the season--yes, even over Mike Trout--and was arguably the AL's biggest All-Star snub (his totals pre-ASB were .310/.352/.469, bested only by Cano and Pedroia). After his injury, however, he didn't quite play the same, batting .271/.295/.458 (small sample size alert: 62 plate appearances). His overall totals were still respectable, even if marred by the month he missed. How does his 2014 look?
Nothing we shouldn't really expect, honestly. His walk rate, which has fallen in each of the past three seasons (5.66% in 2011, 4.88% in 2012, 4.48% in 2013), continues to fall here, although not by much, to 4.46%. His 37 doubles would be his most in a season since he hit 41 in 2010, and the 3.8 WAR his most since his All-Star 2011 season in which he posted 4.5. Nothing too uncharacteristic here for Howie.
DAVID FREESE, THIRD BASE
2013: .262/.340/.381, -0.3 WAR, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 138 games played
Although some might say that Josh Hamilton is the biggest question mark on the team, I'd opt to say that that title belongs to Freese. He looks like quite the enigma for the Angels in that his path from here is almost unpredictable. He has played only two full seasons (though parts of three others before then), and those two seasons brought forth drastically different results. 2012 was an All-Star season that saw him go .293/.372/.467 with 20 HR, 79 RBI and his only All-Star berth. 2013...well, you can see, it was not very similar. You could consider his 2011 a full season if you want, in which case it looks similar to his 2012, but only if you wish to give him the benefit of the doubt. He battled a back injury last April and it threw off much of his season. He became a defensive liability for St. Louis, and now goes from World Series hero and postseason legend, to being traded to the Angels with fellow 2011 champion Fernando Salas. Could Freese return to 2012 form? Remain in his 2013 funk? Find middle ground?
A guy with a slash of .278/.351/.413 would presumably be able to post more than a 1.7 WAR. However, this assumes that Freese maintains below replacement level defense at third base--though not at the magnanimously terrible clip of -1.5 dWAR. Something respectable enough to where his overall WAR isn't drawn into the red. Anyway, this slash looks like a middle ground between 2012 and 2013. Some fear that Freese will be just another Alberto Callaspo, though these stats look a lot closer to Howie Kendrick than they do to Callaspo. I initially projected Freese to fall prey to injury again and miss 31 games; however, I'm not a big fan of predicting intangibles, so I instead called a midway point between his games played in 2012 (144) and 2013 (138), his two full seasons. 141 games played still can possibly account for a small injury, though it doesn't necessarily have to do so.
ERICK AYBAR, SHORTSTOP
2013: .271/.301/.382, 93 OPS+, 1.7 WAR
Aybar posted his worst season since 2010, with a new career-low in OBP over a full season. His walk rate of approximately 3.91% was the worst of his career as well. Though Aybar has never been known to be the most patient hitter in the game, he has posted much better OBPs before--including a career-high .353 in 2009, and even a paltry .324 in 2012. Aybar's defense was also at a career low--his 0.1 dWAR was the lowest total he's posted in any full season, and second-lowest of any season period (only his -0.1 in his 2006 cup of coffee was worse). Supposedly a return to some form of grace would be nice, and as much as I'd like to say it can't get much worse, can it?
It's not pretty, but it appears like a return to the Aybar we mostly know. Last season saw him post full-season lows in OBP and stolen bases, and an unwanted career high in GIDP. This season looks like we're getting a return to normalcy, however, in what appears to make his 2013 look more and more like an anomaly. Keeping Aybar out of the leadoff spot might do him even better.