Angels Leaning which Way?
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Now that we have a sense of the Angels playoff odds (16.2% as of July 10th, 2021), we need to identify their strengths and weaknesses heading into the Trade Deadline. Additionally, it is important to identify a likely list of buyers and sellers, which we will scrutinize at the end of this Trade Deadline Series installment.
One of the best methods to identify weaknesses, from the author’s perspective, is to simply examine team offense, defense, and pitching production, to-date, for the 2021 season. Based on actual results, peripheral statistics, and Statcast information, any fan can glean how well a team and any individual player has performed over a specified time period. This information, combined with team finances and player contractual obligations, can point and hint to the areas that a GM like Perry Minasian will focus on when discussing potential trades, whether the team is buying or selling.
So to start we will first look at the Angels offense, focusing first on a statistic called weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which is an excellent catch-all number that shows how a team and individual players perform below or above League-average offensive production. This statistic quantifies run creation and normalizes it, so we can compare players who play in different ballparks and even different eras.
wRC+ vs. Left-Handed Pitching
The graphic below shows all MLB teams wRC+ versus left-handed pitchers:
As you can see, the Angels, to-date, have performed well against left-handed pitching to the tune of a 115 wRC+, good for 3rd overall in MLB. Players like Upton, Ohtani, Gosselin, Rojas, Stassi, Ward, Trout, and Fletcher have all had good success against lefties this year. This is clearly an area of strength for the Halos and a less likely area that Minasian would focus on to improve.
wRC+ vs. Right-Handed Pitching
The graphic below shows all MLB teams wRC+ versus right-handed pitchers:
Against the other side of the mound, the Angels are still above average (106 wRC+), but not quite as consistently good as they are against LHP. The Halos big bats, Trout, Ohtani, and Walsh are destroying RHP on a regular basis with guys like Stassi, Rendon, Upton, and Ward contributing, too. Because the Halos are ranked 7th in MLB, this, too, is an area that Minasian might pay less attention to, but, if the front office does bring in another bat, it would probably be a player that can hit right-handed pitching.
Now that we have covered offense, we can move on to the pitching side. Here we will focus on a statistic called strikeout percentage minus walk percentage (K%-BB%), which is also a solid, effective number that shows how a team or individual pitcher performs over a specified time period. This statistic is good because it quantifies a pitchers ability to strikeout and walk batters on an individual basis, rather than a rate statistic, giving a purer view of effectiveness regarding how often any particular pitcher puts opposing players on-base.
So with that, let us examine how the Angels pitching staff is performing against both sides of the plate.
K%-BB% vs. Left-Handed Hitters
The graphic below shows all MLB teams K%-BB% versus left-handed hitters:
Here we can see that the Halos have been a bit below average, ranked 18th, overall, with a K%-BB% of 12.9%. Guys like Iglesias, Quintana, Sandoval, Mayers, Watson, Cobb, and Claudio have all had varying measures of success, whereas the rest of the team has been roughly average (Ohtani) or worse (Bundy and Cishek, for instance). If Minasian plans to pick up more pitching, it may be prudent to target a guy who can punch out left-handed hitters.
K%-BB% vs. Right-Handed Hitters
The graphic below shows all MLB teams K%-BB% versus right-handed hitters:
On the other side, the Angels have performed a touch better, ranked 16th, overall, with a K%-BB% of 15.3%. Names like Iglesias, Ohtani, Heaney, Mayers, Cobb, Canning, and Bundy have performed at a varying, but solid, clip. Again, if Minasian focuses on bringing in pitching, a guy who can get right-handed hitters out would probably be even more useful and, in fact, a starter or reliever that can punch out hitters on both sides of the plate would do wonders for the rotation and/or bullpen.
Finally, this analysis would not be complete without taking a glance at team defense. Here we will use FanGraphs Defense (Def) statistic which provides an above or below average examination of how a team or an individual player at any specific singular position impacts runs saved or created. The Def statistic is simply fielding runs above average plus a positional adjustment. In the graphic below, team Def is shown, which is a conglomeration of all Angels players in comparison to other teams.
Team Defense Utilizing FanGraphs ‘Def’ Statistic
The graphic below shows all MLB teams composite defensive scores:
As you can see, the Halos have been systemically bad on defense in 2021, which is a marked departure from previous seasons. The Halos are ranked 29th in MLB, overall, with a composite ‘Def’ score of -20.9! Even noted, stalwart defenders like Iglesias, Fletcher, and Lagares have not performed to their normal levels. Names like Upton (LF), Ward (RF), and Suzuki (C) (Pujols too) have been a drain on run prevention, but it is not just them, the whole team appears to be struggling in some form or fashion. If the Angels do become buyers, expect Perry to upgrade where he can, to improve this situation, and hope that the normally good defenders pick it up and execute better on the field.
Initial Takeaway from the Basic Analysis
So, the first major takeaway from this examination is that team defense has been a real problem. Being next to dead last in all of baseball will spell trouble in terms of run prevention and it does not help that it appears to be team-wide, making it difficult to find a tangible solution.
Upton is still on contract and will be difficult to move, so finding a good defensive replacement is probably off the table, not to mention that any acquisition must have a productive bat like Justin. Ward is young and controllable and he has had a very productive offensive season, so far, making him a good, versatile plug-and-play option for Joe Maddon, so he could be moved, but again you will have to replace the offense, as well as the defense, making him a little bit, less likely trade piece. Kurt Suzuki, signed for his previous offensive prowess, has been a black hole on both sides of the ball, making him the most likely piece on the Angels roster to be upgraded in favor of both better offense and defense. The remainder of the position players are either too valuable (Trout and Walsh for instance), on long-term contracts (Rendon and Fletcher for example), or just seem to be underperforming defensively (Iglesias comes to mind). The most likely positions to upgrade here are at backup catcher or, possibly, a short-term solution or even a callup from our Minor League system, to bolster right field, if Minasian feels defense is a top priority.
Beyond the Halos abysmal team defense, our pitching staff could use a shot in the arm, as well. Clearly some of our starting options have not panned out as Perry Minasian had hoped (Bundy and Quintana are obvious perpetrators) and certain pieces in the bullpen have struggled, as well (Claudio, Watson, and Slegers jump off the page, for instance).
Finding a controllable ace starting pitcher is always the goal, but even a short-term front-end or solid middle-of-the-rotation starter would help the Angels if they do actively compete the rest of this season. Adding another back-end reliever would do a lot of good for the Angels bullpen, too, if they go for it and may be the least expensive route to improving the team, in trade, from a resource expenditure perspective. It would also be useful if any pitcher the Halos acquire can get both left- and right-handed hitters out, as well. Long-term control is even more desirable, but it will cost much more.
Finally, team offense does not appear to be an issue overall. The Angels are well above average in run production, so this may not be the priority if the Halos front office looks to improve heading into the Trade Deadline. If they do upgrade a position player, it will more likely be a guy who can hit right-handed pitching well, as the team is a little less productive against righties than lefties. Again, offense is not the Angels biggest problem, but if you are going to upgrade defensively, for example, you might as well acquire a guy who is better, offensively, against the right side of the mound.
Who are the Buyers and Sellers?
This question is relatively easy to answer by simply examining the FanGraphs MLB Playoff Odds page, again.
Basically any team sitting at approximately 10% or less is probably a likely seller, willing to move players on expiring contracts (i.e. players who are in their final season with their respective team) or, if they are rebuilding, players that are not in their long-term plans (i.e. players with less overall contractual or team control, for instance). Additionally, teams that are around 10%-15%, are probably sitting on the fence, waiting to see if they improve leading into the Trade Deadline, to determine which way they lean. Finally, any team that is above 15%-20% is a more probable buyer and, thus, looking for short-term rentals or players with more than one year of contractual or team control that might be available in the Trade Deadline market. To be clear each team will have unique circumstances, based on which Division they play in, how many teams in their Division are competing, team finances, owner will-to-win, Wild Card standings, and strength of schedule the remainder of the season, that will impact if they buy, sell, or do both.
Based on the assumptions, above, the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Athletics, Mets, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all likely buyers, currently.
In the middle, the Indians, Angels, Braves, Phillies, Reds, and Cubs are in a bit of a gray area and may wait closer to the Trade Deadline to make any moves, assuming they sustain or improve their performance. It is possible they could make a modest improvement leading up to the Trade Deadline to see if that pushes them further up the win curve, as well, before committing further.
The remaining teams, the Orioles, Twins, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals, Pirates, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and, maybe, the Mariners are all probable sellers, barring large winning streaks that put them back into the playoff conversation.
Knowing who is buying and selling will lend itself to our partially-informed, speculative guesses about who the Angels matchup with in potential deals, whether the Halos are buying and/or selling at the Trade Deadline.
Do you think the Angels will Buy, Sell, or do Both? Comment and share your thoughts in the thread!
Up next - 2021 Angelswin.com Trade Deadline Series: Keepers, Assets, and Targets