Remember how poorly the 2016 season went? You know - the one that saw the Angels losing more games in one season than they have since Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia took the reigns? The Angels had big glaring holes in 2016 that were exacerbated by a string of injuries that highlighted the already obvious lack of depth across the roster.
Let’s take a look at how we look depth-wise in 2017 vs. 2016. It’s also only January, so I’d be surprised if Billy Eppler is done building the roster and he likely has some more pieces (hopefully pitching) that he is working on.
Starting Pitchers 2016
Going into the 2016 season, the Angels had a pretty solid looking starting rotation with Skaggs and Tropeano waiting in the wings, but the depth was lacking and injuries quickly took their toll, forcing Billy Eppler to scrape for bottom droppings in order to make it through the season. CJ Wilson was there but not listed above since he started the season on the DL and never threw a single pitch - but he WAS technically part of the potential depth for 2016.
Starting Pitchers 2017
While there are still some questions marks like “Can Richards make it through the season with no elbow problems?”, along with how well Chavez will pitch, there is a huge increase in the amount of depth here with guys who’ve logged big league innings or who are ready to go. JC Ramirez may land on the roster as a reliever, but the Angels said they would stretch him out as a starter in spring training. Vicente Campos is also lurking, but he’s on the DL and since I didn’t include Wilson above, it seems fair to not include him in the depth here. If you look at the last column, you can see how much work Eppler has done to build out this depth. It’s not a depth full of top tier prospects - but it IS depth, and that is important to make it through a 6-7 month schedule.
Pitching injuries didn’t just hit Angels starters last year as there are about 9 months of cumulative DL time among the 7 opening day bullpen guys last year. The AAA cavalry didn’t do so well either, and most of them never threw any big league innings. Mahle lasted a while despite his struggles and Achter managed to stick for most of the season but other that that, depth was an issue in the bullpen as well. Losing Satterwhite was a mystery to me since he had a 1.80 ERA over 25 innings along with a 1.08 WHIP. He signed a minor league deal with the Orioles for 2017.
A huge question mark hangs over Huston Street who is coming off 1.5 season of some pretty poor pitching. Fortunately, Bedrosian came into his own last year and Andrew Bailey proved to be more than capable. There are concerns around many of these other guys and some unknowns with the minor league depth pieces. The bullpen may be in a slightly better place that it was going into 2016, but not by leaps and bounds. That being said, Eppler did do a decent job finding new bullpen pieces as 6 of the above players didn’t start 2016 with the Angels.
Position Players 2016
The Angels were 13th, 13th, and 15th among AL Teams in terms of Offensive WAR & OPS at second base, pinch hitting, and left field. A revolving door in left field was part of the result, as was the disappearance of Johnny Giavotella from the lineup later in the season. Lack of bench pieces was of course a huge factor in the weak output from pinch hitting.
The position player reinforcements were also all duds aside from Jett Bandy, who is now gone, and Jefry Marte who put up the 6th best WAR on the team despite much fewer plate appearances. Cron, Soto, and Simmons all spent time on the DL and Choi spent time being completely baffled at the plate and in Left Field. Speaking of left field, that Genty/Nava platoon turned out to be one of the worst moves the Angels have made in the past few years.
Position Players 2017
How did Eppler fix the weak spots in 2017? He added upgrades at second base and left field in a big way as well as adding bench depth and speed. The verdict is still out if Maldanado will be an upgrade behind the dish over Bandy. The only other move I’d like to see here is saying goodbye to Pennington and giving Marte as much playing time as possible so he can try to prove 2016 was no fluke.
Pujols may miss the start of the season but it’s not even a big deal given the lineup that Eppler put together. This new combination of players is better, faster, has more power, AND is more versatile to help cover spots in case of injuries. It’s clear the biggest improvement Eppler made since last season was with position players.
The depth and improvements among position players will be much more evident in the following tables. I sorted the players by WAR/600PA since some of these guys didn’t play full season. I also only included players with a 1.0 WAR or greater and with at least 100 PA. The 2017 table is with 2016 WAR numbers (not a projection).
The difference is pretty obvious, and pretty striking. You also notice that old man Pujols didn’t event make the list and that’s because he didn’t even have 1 WAR last season. Ben Revere is also missing since he had a negative WAR in 2016.
The Angels have had a pretty good off season so far, and there is no doubt we will see a much improved team in 2017 - especially if the pitching can hold together or at least be average.