Could the Angels Surprise Us All This Year?
Over the course of the past couple of months, the Angels have made significant strides to improve the team's defensive metrics and go into the season with competent defenders around the diamond in an effort to try and stay relevant within an increasingly tough AL West division.
Last season, the Angels finished tied for 9th in the league with a total of 97 errors over the span of 12,792.0 innings. That tied them with the Philadelphia Phillies and two teams that the Angels play very frequently throughout the regular season, the Oakland Athletics along with the Texas Rangers. In addition, the Angels ranked 26th in the league with 1,483 assists in that span and a total fielding percentage of .983.
In an effort to improve upon those defensive numbers, Billy Eppler & Company went into this winter knowing that they would likely have to look at second class players who could give them the best chance to win. After all, the Angels were still restrained when it came to payroll at the start of the winter as they're still paying, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, $26.4 million dollars this year.
One of the first moves that Eppler made was acquiring outfielder, Cameron Maybin, from the Detroit Tigers in exchange of right-handed pitching prospect, Victor Alcantara. Maybin was a solid outfielder last season as he finished the year with only 4 errors in 775.1 innings of work in centerfield with Detroit. In addition, he hit .315 in 349 at bats last season which when you mix that with his veteran leadership, he is an obvious upgrade over 23-year old, Jefry Marte, who would have been the Angels everyday leftfielder prior to the Maybin trade.
After trading for Maybin, Angels General Manager, Billy Eppler, continued by making a trade with the Washington Nationals for Danny Espinosa. Espinosa will play second base on an everyday basis, but also has the capability of playing shortstop as needed. Espinosa made 18 errors last season at shortstop with the Nationals in 1,358.0 innings, while Cliff Pennington, who would have been the team's everyday second baseman and someone who can play multiple other positions, only made 2 errors over the span of 448.1 innings. Granted, it's a much smaller sample size compared to that of Espinosa's.
Eppler continued to change the defensive metrics of his team by adding free agent outfielder, Ben Revere, catcher, Martin Maldonado, from the Milwaukee Brewers and free agent third baseman, Luis Valbuena. Revere gives the Angels a reliable fourth outfielder, while Maldonado is a better defensive catcher compared to the Angels catcher of last year, Jett Bandy, and Luis Valbuena provides the team with more depth as well as someone who had very good offensive and defensive metrics last season.
Although the Danny Espinosa acquisition is questionable for a team looking to improve it's defense, Espinosa is going to make some incredible plays this season along with shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, up the middle. That is one of the reasons why the Angels might surprise many this coming season.
Furthermore, the team has well known, Mike Trout, holding down the fort in centerfield, a very underrated rightfielder in, Kole Calhoun, and you can't forget about designated hitter, Albert Pujols, either. Pujols finished last season at 36 years old with 159 hits, 31 home runs, and 119 RBI in 593 at bats.
If you combine good health of the Angels impact players with improved defensive metrics and a healthy starting rotation, the Angels could certainly surprise many of us and end up better than many think. While it probably won't be enough to lock down a playoff spot, the Angels are finally headed in the right direction after being stuck in the middle the past couple of seasons.