Los Angeles Angels 2023 Season Preview
Every year, the opening to my Los Angeles Angels preview is the same. It is sad, unfair, incredible, awful, criminal, terrible, horrible, inexplicable and downright pathetic that Mike Trout has only played in three playoff games. He’s not the best player in baseball anymore because his teammate Shohei Ohtani is, but Trout debuted in 2011, is now on the wrong side of 30 and has all of 15 plate appearances in the playoffs to his name.
In fact, since Trout’s debut season, the Angels have had eight losing seasons and are now on a streak of seven in a row. They’ve finished 21, 21, 23, 35, 10, 18 and 33 games out of first place. To be fair, the Astros have been incredible in that span, but the Angels went 73-89 last year and had the MVP runner-up in Ohtani and the 10th top-10 finish in MVP voting for Trout in his 12-year career.
Will the additions of…*checks notes*...Hunter Renfroe, Tyler Anderson, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela and some relievers move the needle enough to put two of the best players we’ll ever see into the postseason?
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 Los Angeles Angels Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 10, click for updates)
World Series: +5000
AL Pennant: +2200
AL West: +850
Win Total: 81.5 (-120/100)
Make Playoffs: Yes +175 / No -205
Los Angeles Angels Offense
I guess it’s only fair to point out that Trout missed 43 games last season and only had 499 plate appearances, but then it’s also fair to point out how his 178 OPS+ was on par with his league-leading numbers in 2012, 2015 and 2016. His career high in homers of 45 back in 2019 would have been broken last season had he stayed healthier. All he did was hit 40 in his 119 games. He didn’t even have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and tied for third in homers.
We did find out that Trout is dealing with a degenerative back condition called costovertebral dysfunction. From August 19 through the end of the season, he slashed .308/.370/.686 with 16 HR in 173 plate appearances, so he was just fine. It may impact his later years, but it seems like he and the Angels are managing it well now.
The Angels will reach a fork in the road in July because of the status of Ohtani. He is an impending free agent and will be the league’s first $500 million free agent in all likelihood. Angels fans nearly got a big boost this offseason when Arte Moreno put the team up for sale, but he didn’t find a buyer or got cold feet and has taken the team off the market. He’s never been afraid to spend, he just hasn’t done it wisely. The Angels certainly have a number in mind for Ohtani, but it’s hard to do with Trout’s huge contract.
Also, it takes two to tango and it sure seems like Ohtani is going to hit the open market and be courted heavily by the Dodgers and Mets, who have no problem throwing fun coupons around. As a hitter, Ohtani posted a .273/.356/.519 slash with a 142 wRC+, so he was 42% above league average offensively. I’ll get to the pitching side later, but he should win MVP every single season. We’ll probably never see this again.
If the Angels are out of it (and history tells us they probably won’t be a strong contender), they’re going to have to decide whether they want a king’s ransom by July 31 for Ohtani or play out the string with him and hope for the best. Being locked in a division with the Astros, Mariners and an improved Rangers bunch makes me think they have to trade him and not just let him walk for nothing. Personally, I’d have done it last season and stocked what is annually one of the worst farm systems in baseball, but I don’t have to worry about fan backlash or other PR concerns.
In any event, with Ohtani and Trout healthy to start the year, there is some hope. Taylor Ward was Troutian for the first two months of the season before he regressed hard in June, July and August. He finished the season on a high note with a strong 174 wRC+ in September, so maybe that’s a good sign of things to come.
We’re into Year 4 of Anthony Rendon’s seven-year, $245 million contract and now into the expensive years with $38 million owed annually through 2026. He’ll turn 33 in June and he’s said to be healthy, but this has been one of the worst contracts in baseball over the last two seasons, as he has played just 105 games. Anything he gives the Angels is a big plus, but I’m not anticipating much. For the sake of Angels fans, I hope he proves me wrong, but my breath is not being held.
To be honest, I think the same is true of Brandon Drury. He was a really marginal player for a long time, a replacement-level player at best, before posting a 131 wRC+ as a Cincinnati Red last season. The problem is that Drury hit .298/.354/.561 in Cincinnati, which has one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. He batted .195/.263/.299 in at Petco Park, with the bulk of that coming after the trade to the Padres.
Renfroe is a decent addition and I’d expect more from Jared Walsh after a breakout 2021 and a really putrid 2022. The lineup has the potential to be above average because of Trout and Ohtani, but those two guys were great last season and the Angels were still 21st in wRC+ with a 93 mark. Among 205 hitters with at least 400 plate appearances, Trout was fourth, Ohtani was 18th and Ward was 25th in wRC+. That tells you just how bad everybody else and this season profiles to be mostly the same.
Los Angeles Angels Pitching
The Angels actually made some really big strides on the pitching side last season. For a team that finished 16 games under .500, the Angels were ninth in ERA and 17th in FIP, due in large part to a high walk rate. It is also worth noting that this group was sixth in starter ERA and 10th in FIP, so the bullpen didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The relief corps finished 27th in FIP.
The Angels made a little bit of investment in the bullpen and signed the aforementioned Tyler Anderson to slot into the rotation, but there are a few concerns heading into this season. It was initially reported that the Angels were going to go with a six-man rotation at the outset, which would include five left-handed starters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with lefties and the mix for the Angels is such that there aren’t a ton of similarities between the guys, but the most prominent bats for the Astros, Mariners and Rangers are right-handed. We’ll see if that is still the plan or not.
There are also a lot of pitch-to-contact guys. Given the shift rules, generating strikeouts will be more important than ever. Ohtani certainly gets his fair share of punchies, but Patrick Sandoval is the only other guy that can post over a strikeout per inning. The uptick in K% from Reid Detmers last season was a bit of a surprise to me, but the silver lining is that the increase took place in the second half. There may be more sustainability to it than I originally thought.
Ohtani racked up 5.6 fWAR as a pitcher, giving him 9.4 fWAR overall as a two-way player. He threw 166 innings with a 2.33 ERA and a 2.40 FIP. The Angels won’t be re-signing him, so they don’t really have to worry much about his health, unless they’re planning to trade him in July. The six-man rotation will really spread things out and limit how often Ohtani pitches, but he should be elite when he’s out there. He improved his K%, BB% and HR/FB% from 2021 to 2022 and I think his baseline is closer to 2022 than what we saw in 2018 and 2021 as a result.
The guy I love in this rotation is Sandoval, but he was so good last season that we probably won’t get a ton of betting value. He had a 2.91 ERA with a 3.09 FIP over 148.2 innings. Like so many Angels prospects over the last decade, health is the big question, as his 27 starts nearly doubled what he had over three MLB seasons prior to that. He still has some platoon split concerns against right-handed batters, but I’d expect him to keep working to optimize his arsenal, which we saw last season with a big increase in sliders.
Detmers, who no-hit the Rays on May 10 last season, worked 129 innings over 25 starts. I think his low .277 BABIP was a little fortunate and I tend to agree with the projection systems that put his ERA back in the 4.10 range from last season’s 3.77. His biggest attribute last season was preventing the long ball, which gave him more chances to pitch out of trouble. He also saw an uptick in K% pitching from the stretch with men on base, which is something of an anomaly. I’m not buying a lot of stock here in what projects to be an average pitcher.
In fact, I kind of like Jose Suarez’s profile more, especially because he was awful in the first half with a .365 wOBA against in 45 innings, but had a 2.81 ERA with a .264 wOBA against in his final 64 innings. He cleaned up his walk rate and command and also had a surprisingly high K% against righties.
The Anderson question is a burning one. On one hand, seeing him have success outside of Coors Field makes sense. On the other hand, the Dodgers are an elite defensive team with one of the best front offices in baseball. His 2022 breakout season included the best Hard Hit% of his career since 2016 and he maintained his high swing-and-miss rate that keeps him ahead in the count to limit walks. I’m just naturally going to be skeptical of a 32-year-old having a career year that was BABIP and LOB% induced with career-bests in both.
I don’t think this is a bad rotation, per se, but I think there is a lot of potential for it to be average behind Ohtani and Sandoval. If they want to go with a six-man rotation, the options are Tucker Davidson, Chase Silseth and Griffin Canning. The latter two are right-handed, which maybe gives them an edge over Davidson, but none of them move the needle.
This bullpen also looks to be below average again. Carlos Estevez is the early favorite for saves and he’s a guy that leaves the Rockies for greener pastures, but these guys just don’t miss enough bats. I give preference to relievers with high K% in late-game situations because they are usually guys that had control or command problems that moved them to the bullpen. Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera both had bad K/BB ratios last season. Estevez’s K/BB ratios are better in road appearances than at Coors, so there’s hope for him.
It’s just a mediocre group. It’s not an asset and likely more of a liability. Bullpen handicapping is a huge part of my season win total analysis because you simply have to win the games where you have leads. It’s always been said, “If you want to have a bad team, have a bad bullpen.” This could be a bad bullpen again.
This really wasn’t a 73-89 team last season. The Angels were 33-48 on the road, despite just a -36 run differential. They were 18-28 in one-run games. They were 39-53 in the first half, but 34-36 in the second half. They weren’t as bad as the final record would indicate, so the leap to their season win total number isn’t that crazy.
By BaseRuns, the Angels were a .500 team at 81-81. Their eight-win difference between BaseRuns record and actual W-L record was the second-biggest (Rangers). They were 25th in wOBA with men in scoring position. That being said, they were seventh in wOBA against with men in scoring position, so they could’ve been better on offense, but also worse on defense.
Player to Watch
SP Patrick Sandoval: Sandoval has a career SwStr% of 13.8%, which is definitely above average for a starter. He actually saw a decrease from 2021 to 2022, which surprised me because of his pitch usage. For the first time in his career, he used the slider and changeup more than the fastball. And he should. Batters had a 33.6% Whiff% on hs slider and posted a .201 BA with a .261 SLG and a 44.5% Whiff% on his changeup with a .215 BA and a .288 SLG. Compare that with a 12.9% Whiff% on the fastball and a .372 BA against with a .558 SLG. I’m hoping we see even fewer fastballs this season and an uptick in curveballs, where he has a 87th percentile spin rate.
Los Angeles Angels Season Win Total Pick
What indication do we have that the Angels are going to figure this thing out? They’ve had seven straight losing seasons. They’ve gone 150-174 in the last two seasons with arguably the two best players in baseball. Why would this season be the one in which they figure it out?
I’m also not sold on keeping Phil Nevin around as manager. I wasn’t a big Joe Maddon guy anyway, but the Angels were 46-60 under Nevin, who is on a one-year deal, which always creates a very uncomfortable situation. Between Nevin’s one-year deal and the Ohtani cloud, there is a lot hanging over this team for this season.
Last season represented the fewest runs the Angels had scored in a 162-game season since 1992. They’re banking less on newcomers and more on better health because payroll flexibility appears to be limited to some degree. There are two superstars and a collection of average and below average players here. The problem with investing in the Angels’ season win total under is that those two stars could do some real heavy lifting and get just enough help to make this team dangerous.
My strategy here is to keep an eye on the in-season win total markets. If the Angels start slow, it’s likely a hole that they can’t dig out of and Ohtani will be traded. There may be a buy point on the under as the season rolls along, so I’ll wait on that rather than invest now. I still think the supporting cast isn’t very good. This is like if you had George Clooney and Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven, but the rest of the cast was from a neighborhood theater group.
Lean: Under 81.5