Way Too Early Hot Take of the Week
The Los Angeles Angels will win the AL West.
Almost every year, it seems like the Los Angeles Angels come in with high expectations and manage to finish well below them. After all, the greatest player of our generation, Mike Trout, has only played in one playoff series in his 11 years with the organization. They also have the new face of baseball, Shohei Ohtani, who is revolutionizing the game as both a hitter and a pitcher. The Angels have no shortage of their usual star power, so why should this year be any different?
Here’s what we already know:
Mike Trout is being Mike Trout. In 15 games played, Trout leads the MLB in OBP and OPS, sporting a slashline of .365/.476/.808, which gives him an OPS+ of 276. These numbers will most likely drop, but the takeaway should be that Mike Trout is back and ready to play this year. Barring any major injuries, he looks to be headed towards another 7-10 WAR season.
Shohei Ohtani is a star and is beginning to heat up. He got off to a rough start this year at the plate. However, in his last 7 games he’s started to find his swing notching a 108 wRC+. On the pitching side, his ERA through 4 starts is a 4.19, but an encouraging sign is his FIP, which stands at an impressive 2.10. Ohtani won MVP last season for a reason, and now that he is starting to find his groove, don’t be surprised if he looks just as good as last year.
Anthony Rendon is getting paid the big bucks and he has been… solid. His numbers don’t exactly jump off of the page, but he has a .357 OBP so far this season and an OPS+ of 122. Perhaps he hasn’t met his MVP-level expectations since joining the Angels, but this year he’s been producing. He will be a large factor in the Angels’ success this year.
Here’s what we are learning:
Taylor Ward has star potential. In 11 games this year, Ward has an absurd slashline of .395/.531/.816, giving him an OPS+ of 296. It seems that Ward is finally putting it together after a few uninspired years in the league. If he can consistently produce at a high level this year, it will add yet another scary piece to the Angels’ lineup.
Brandon Marsh is taking the next step. After a slightly below average rookie season, Marsh has significantly improved his level of play this year. Through his first 15 games, Marsh is batting .302/.385/.512, which has produced an OPS+ of 165. Marsh has been a prospect that the Angels have been excited about, and now he is transforming their hopes into reality.
Max Stassi really is an above-average catcher. After signing a large extension, Stassi has come out of the gates looking pretty good so far this year. With an OPS+ of 116 in 12 games, Stassi is producing better than most catchers in the league. The Angels have shown confidence in him in the past and he continues to deliver for them.
Matt Duffy, Tyler Wade, and Andrew Velazquez are all valuable utility guys. Duffy has an OPS+ of 120 so far this season, and Tyler Wade’s blazing speed makes his OBP of .318 a lot more dangerous than it looks. Velazquez has struggled a bit at the plate thus far, but because of his defense, he has a 0.6 WAR already this year. Their defensive versatility makes lineups much easier to create, and their offensive production is a huge added bonus for the Angels. Also, production at the plate from Jack Mayfield has been a pleasant surprise. He has an OPS+ of 140 this year in 10 games with a slash line of .281/.343/.469, which adds yet another worthwhile bench piece into their lineup.
Jared Walsh and David Fletcher should get back to their previous successes. Right now both are struggling, but Fletcher’s approach at the plate makes him a contact threat on every pitch. Once he gets back from injury, he should fit right into the Angels lineup. As for Walsh, last year was his first all-star appearance, but he has struggled a bit to start this year. With all of the success around him, it would make sense that he’ll start to take some better swings and feed off of the good energy from his teammates.
Jo Adell might not be a star just yet, but he’s a solid ballplayer. His OPS+ of 113 so far this year makes him an above average hitter, although some improvement is needed on the defensive end. Regardless, Adell has star potential, and with his teammates playing so well, he’s in an excellent position to learn and grow.
Here’s why they’ll win the division:
The Angels pitching staff has been excellent so far this year. It seems like every year, the Angels’ uber-talented lineups have been held back by their far-from-great pitching performances, but this year, that obstacle doesn’t seem to be stopping them.
The Angels rotation has been great 1-4 thus far. As mentioned above, Ohtani has shown electric stuff in his first 4 starts, and has a 2.10 FIP, which indicates that his ERA will catch up soon. He also already has 30 strikeouts on the season. One of their risky acquisitions from this offseason was Noah Syndergaard, who has been spectacular in his first 3 starts. In 17 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.12 ERA and a 0.824 WHIP. Although injuries have been an issue in the past for him, a healthy Noah Syndergaard would be a huge boost for the Angels. Behind him is also newly-acquired Michael Lorenzen, who has been terrific so far as well. He has a 2.93 ERA in 15.1 innings and 0.978 WHIP to go along with it. He has surpassed expectations thus far, and looks to be on track for a great season as well. The biggest bright spot in the Angels’ rotation has been their 4th starter, Patrick Sandoval. Through 15 innings, he has not allowed a single earned run, and has 20 strikeouts to only 6 walks. Obviously this level of production is not sustainable, but Sandoval has looked fantastic so far. Their 5th spot has been a bit shaky, but the Angels’ rotation has been shut down thus far in 2022.
The Angels’ bullpen has been terrific as well. They re-signed closer Raisel Iglesias in the offseason and he has had an amazing start to his year. He boasts a 1.17 ERA and a 0.261 WHIP, with 4 saves, 10 strikeouts, and 0 walks so far. Newly signed Aaron Loup has done much the same, sporting a 1.04 ERA and a 0.346 WHIP. Another offseason acquisition, Ryan Tepera, has pitched well with a 2.08 ERA and a 0.692 WHIP. Also, in his second season in the majors, Oliver Ortega has been a strong weapon out of the pen. He has a 1.46 ERA and a 0.973 WHIP as well. Through about 8 games for each of these relievers, they haven’t been just good, they have been dominant. Jaime Barria has also been solid so far, and Archie Bradley is a dependable reliever who looks to bounce back after his first few rough innings this year.
The Angels’ pitching has been far better than in years past, and if they can produce at a consistent level for this season, they should have no problem being a contender in the AL West. With Houston losing a few big names and the Mariners and Rangers still looking to build chemistry with their new rosters, the Angels have a clear shot at winning the division. Don’t be surprised if the Angels stay right where they are now, at the top of their division, by the time the season comes to a close.