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Reasons for optimism about the Angels offense

Anthony Rendon fills what was a huge hole in Anaheim

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, Halos Heaven. My name is Eric Stephen, and I will be writing here occasionally about the Angels.

My official title is producer for the California communities, but that’s just a fancy way of saying I’ll be writing a lot about baseball. My history is mostly Dodgers-related, having run True Blue LA for just shy of a decade, along with some general baseball writing at SB Nation dot com. In my new role, I’ll be getting back to my roots, which means Dodgers writing again, but I’ll also be writing about the Angels as well.

SP.0328.ANGELS.STADIUM.GF–– Spring Training atAngel Stadium in Palm Springs: a manicured diamond. LA
Old Angel Stadium in Palm Springs shared a parking lot with a library. Very quaint.
Photo by Gail Fisher/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

I’ve been in Southern California my entire life, growing up in Palm Springs, followed by college in San Diego, and now in West Covina, almost equidistant from Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium.

Writing about the Dodgers for so long, one of the most surprising things I noticed was how many Dodgers fans had animosity for the Angels, and vice versa. This was new to me, since I grew up liking both teams. I had both Dodgers and Angels games on television, and happily watched it all. It was easier to like a team from each league back then because I am old, and grew up without interleague play. Allegiances were much simpler to separate then.

The Angels were also close to home for me quite literally, with at least a portion of their spring training in Palm Springs every year when Gene Autry owned the team. One of my best friends was a batboy for the Class-A Palm Springs Angels, so I saw a lot of their games, back when Garret Anderson and Troy Percival were young minor leaguers. I even played some Little League games in that same stadium.

I wish I still had this Angels batting helmet.

The first autograph I ever got was from Rod Carew. Technically, it was my older brother who got Carew to sign something for me after he spotted the future Hall of Famer at Orange Mall. What I’m trying to say is I’m no novice to the Angels, even though I haven’t covered them much in my baseball writing days.

There’s a lot to like about this Angels team, from the best player in baseball to arguably the best third baseman in baseball, and incredibly exciting and unique phenomenon that is Shohei Ohtani, currently the only player who satisfies MLB’s new “two-way player” rule.

I hope to find stories about these Angels that are compelling and fun, and hopefully entertaining for you all to read. Now, on to some content...

The Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, the reigning American League MVP who would headline any offense. Yet despite Trout’s greatness, the Angels have ranked seventh, eighth, 11th, 10th, and 12th in the AL in runs scored over the last five years. It’s not a coincidence they have not finished with a winning record since 2015.

Angels offensive ranks

Year Runs/game OPS+
Year Runs/game OPS+
2015 4.08 (12th) 97 (11th)
2016 4.43 (10th) 100 (7th)
2017 4.38 (11th) 92 (13th)
2018 4.45 (9th) 99 (9th)
2019 4.75 (t7th) 98 (8th)
Ranks among 15 American League teams

But there’s plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding the Angels offense in 2020, and not just because Shohei Ohtani is only 25, healthy and looks totally yoked.

The big fish

It’s hard to understate just how huge an impact Anthony Rendon will make. He’s arguably the best third baseman in baseball — if he’s not at the very top, he’s right behind — and has been one of the best players in baseball for awhile. Rendon’s fourth in the majors in fWAR (24.2) the last four years.

Rendon was at his best in 2019, hitting .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs, 44 doubles, and 80 walks. Angels third basemen combined to hit just .243/.306/.345, last in the American League in OPS, slugging percentage, home runs (13) and doubles (23). Halos at the hot corner had a 92 wRC+, compared to a 154 wRC+ for Rendon.

His projections for 2020 are a sight for sore eyes.

Anthony Rendon projects with 2020 foresight

Projection system 2B HR BB BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Projection system 2B HR BB BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Marcel 39 27 65 .301/.386/.549 0.934 ----
Steamer 37 28 75 .284/.374/.507 0.881 133
ZiPS 35 26 68 .276/.363/.499 0.862 127
Source: Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

So the Angels are getting a big boost from Rendon, which gives an idea why they ponied up seven years and $245 million to land him.

The rest of the offense

Last year the Angels had a roughly average offense, posting a 98 OPS+ and 99 wRC+. They were tied for seventh in the American League scoring 4.75 runs per game, and that was with Justin Upton missing nearly three months with a broken toe and Andrelton Simmons was limited to just 103 games with ankle and foot injuries.

Upton is projected for a 107 WRC+ in 2020 by both ZiPS and Steamer, which is important for an offense that can use all the help they can get. Simmons isn’t projected to be an above-average hitter, though he posted a 102 wRC+ in 2017 and 108 in 2018 when he was healthy. Simmons’ excellent defense is enough to have him in the lineup no matter what he hits.

Angels catchers last year hit .221/.293/.344, 12th in the AL in slugging and 13th in OPS. Jason Castro might not have been a headlining acquisition, but he hit 13 home runs in only 275 PA last year, and his .212/.306/.380 ZiPS projection is at least incrementally better than what the Angels got in 2019. All the better if Max Stassi can avoid going 3-for-42 as he did with the Halos last year.

The biggest prize is Jo Adell, a consensus top-6 prospect in baseball who is expected to join the outfield at some point in 2020. His projected hitting (.272/.323/.451) and defense has him projected for the fourth-highest fWAR on the team by ZiPS (2.7), behind only Mike Trout, Rendon, and Simmons. Not bad for someone who turns just 21 in April.

Those improvements and expected better health are reasons for optimism. FanGraphs projected standings have the Angels scoring 5.14 runs per game this season, sixth-best in the majors.

Whether that’s good enough for the Angels to improve from 72 wins to a postseason berth remains to be seen. A lot depends on the pitching, which we’ll look at in a future post, but on offense at least there are reasons for optimism in Anaheim.