By @Hubs, AngelsWin.com Contributor
For the 2022 Season, most pundits put the Angels somewhere in the 82-88 win range, second or third in the division, with the Astros universally the pick across the board to repeat as division winners. If they’re healthy, if they can get enough pitching, if things all work, then… maybe the Angels contend for the division but mainly if they’re picked for the post season, then they are picked as a wild card.
Every team in the league is dependent on their core players, their stars, and hope for little to no injuries. Every team has pitching questions, or lineup questions, and that is why they play the games. So why the Universal prediction of the Astros, and doubting the Angels (or Mariners) chances at the division?
I’ll save my deep thoughts on the Astros cheating scandal, as that usually gets me in trouble, but I’ll just say that the new PitchCom devices are going to be bad for the Astros. I bet more teams use it against them than don’t and I love that the league waited until two days before opening day before announcing that this was going to be used in the 2022 season. Even if teams knew that this was possible, because they clearly knew it was being used in the Spring, but I don’t think teams expected to be able to use this tech in the regular season this year. With a team that has been proven to steal signs during their lone World Series win in 2017, and lets just say suspected of continued stealing, the lack of signs to be stolen will be terrible for their overall offensive output.
But that aside, let’s run through the 5 AL West teams and see how they stack up position group by position group, and see how close or how far they truly are.
Starting with the OF, here’s the five teams starters and primary reserve OF.
Angels: Mike Trout (CF), Jo Adell (LF), Taylor Ward (RF), Brandon Marsh (OF).
Mariners: Julio Rodriguez (CF), Mitch Haniger (LF), Jered Kelenic (RF), Kyle Lewis (OF).
Astros: Chas McCormick (CF), Michael Brantley (LF), Kyle Tucker (RF), Jose Siri (OF).
Rangers: Adolis Garcia (CF), Brad Miller (LF), Kole Calhoun (RF), Eli White (OF).
A’s: Christian Pache (CF), Seth Brown (LF), Stephen Piscotty (RF), Ramon Laureano (OF-Suspended).
We all know the Angels group, and are all undoubtedly excited to see them perform together. But the Mariners group also looks to be young and stacked. If Trout is completely healthy, he alone brings the Angels group ahead of the Mariners one… but they could also use a breakout from one of the three young guys to a mid .800 OPS. I have Marsh listed as primary reserve, but I actually think they will all get similar playing time after Trout. Health for Trout is the primary question, and then will the three young OF hit and how well.
For the Mariners, Julio Rodriguez is gonna be a star, but when is the question. He’s made the team and will start, which relegates 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis to the bench after a sub-par 2021. Their other young OF prospect, Jered Kelenic, struggled mightily last year, but still hit 14 HR in just 93 games. And while his average dipped, Mitch Haniger hit 39. Their young guys need to produce for this unit to be successful, and even if they have higher pedigrees than the Angels trio of young players, they have plenty of questions. Defensively they’re solid, but will Rodriguez and Kelenic hit? If not, does presumptive DH Jesse Winker get time in the OF?
The Astros will continue to have issues in CF with McCormick or Siri starting, plus young Jake Meyers who will be ready later in the season. The 2017-2020 Astros had George Springer patrolling CF and still miss him, even with Kyle Tucker developing into one of the best OF in baseball. Brantley is a stud too, and one whose health is the only question. The Astros won’t have a ton of power from their OF, unless one of the young CF takes a huge step forward. Tucker likely leads the trio with around 30 HR again. They also have playing time concerns, as they didn’t really field a full time starter in 2021 at CF or in LF or RF, as Brantley and Tucker only managed 121 and 140 games. Defensively they’re solid, but this is not their best group.
The Rangers group is noticeably lacking and would be the worst in the division, if not for the A’s. There’s not much to say here and I expect the trio of starters to look very different in 2023. They could still add a FA, but since they’re not expected to be big contenders, it’s hard to see why. Former Angel Kole Calhoun probably plays better in Texas than he did in Arizona. Brad Miller is almost 33.
The A’s most accomplished OF is suspended for PED’s, while their next best, Piscotty is 31 seemingly going on 40. Seth Brown was a 19th round pick. They’ll cycle through a lot of names here, but again, aren’t really aiming to compete in 2022.
To Summarize the OF groups, all three of the contenders have young guys expected to compete and take a step forward. All have playing time and health questions.
Let’s turn to the infield now. Here’s the four starting infielders and primary reserves for each team.
Astros: Yuli Gurriel (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Alex Bregman (3B ), Jeremy Pena (SS), Aledyms Diaz (INF).
Angels: Jared Walsh (1B), Tyler Wade (2B), David Fletcher (SS), Anthony Rendon (3B), Matt Duffy (INF), Jack Mayfield (INF).
Rangers: Nathaniel Lowe (1B), Marcus Semien (2B), Corey Seager (SS), Andy Ibanez (3B), Charlie Culberson (INF/OF).
Mariners: Ty France (1B), Adam Frazier (2B), Eugenio Suarez (3B), J.P. Crawford (SS), Abraham Toro (INF).
A’s: Stephen Vogt (1B), Tony Kemp (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Kevin Smith (3B), Sheldon Neuse (INF/OF), Chad Pinder (INF/OF).
The Astros do have the best infield in the division — but it’s not without questions. Altuve rebound in 2021 from an abhorrent 2020, while veteran 1B Gurriel is almost 38 years old. They’re hyping Jeremy Pena, but he’s got very limited experience and will not come close to replicating Correa’s production. Bregman is back and a perennial MVP Candidate.
The Angels didn’t sign Correa or one of the other top FA SS, and appear to be shifting 2021 2B Fletcher there. However, I don’t think its as simple as that. They will not be playing Fletcher every day after he turned in one of the worst hitting performances in the majors in 2021. Wade, Duffy, Mayfield, and others will all get starts at SS. At third, Rendon is back and healthy, and I expect him to come back to his 2019 numbers or close to it. Walsh is gonna hit better against lefties, but will get spelled occasionally by right handed Ward and Duffy. Wade comes over from the Yankees, and should produce excellent defense. Also, youngster Michael Stefanic opened up a lot of eyes with his bat in Spring — all the guy does is hit. But can he field? And What about Jose Rojas? He’s a classic late bloomer, at 29, if he can ever translate his AAA and ST offense to the majors, they’ll find a spot for the lefty.
The Rangers did sign a top FA SS, actually two of them, but the inexperience at the corners drops them to third. Unlike the Angels and Astros, there are two suspect positions, though Lowe did ok, in his second year. I might have ranked them second actually, but it’s close. Semien was among the best hitters in the majors last year and Seager was as well. So they’ll produce. This is the best part of the Rangers team, by far, but they certainly spent on it.
The Mariners group is interesting, but again, questions abound. Ty France is a solid 1B. Think of Walsh but less power. Adam Frazier and Toro will be solid at 2B, but defensively neither is elite. But their SS is the opposite. Crawford might be the best defensive SS in the league, but is offensively limited. Mariners keep waiting for him to break out offensively, but he’s a good player regardless. And at 3rd, they acquired Eugenio Suarez from the Reds to take over for long time 3B Kyle Seager. Suarez didn’t hit well at all in 2021, but the M’s hope he can rebound with a change of scenery. Reserves Toro, Torrens, and Moore will play sparingly. They can be ranked 3rd or 4th.
The A’s again are clearly 5th. Vogt used to be a good bat, but he’s 37. Kemp is basically average. Andrus’s defense used to be elite, but his offense never materialized in Texas. Smith at 3rd is going to strike out…a lot. Their reserves are middling.
Astros take the cake, but have questions with health and an unproven SS. Angels have solid corners, questionable middle, Rangers the opposite. Mariners are solid but not spectacular.
At Catcher, the write-ups will be shorter.
Astros: Martin Maldonado (C), Jason Castro (C)
Angels: Max Stassi (C), Kurt Suzuki (C)
Rangers: Mitch Garver (C) Jonah Heim (C)
A’s: Sean Murphy (C), Austin Allen (C)
Mariners: Tom Murphy (C), Cal Raleigh (C), Luis Torrens (C)
Astros lead the way with two solid catching options, but neither is good offensively. Angels have one good offensive catcher who’s also good defensively, and one backup that is questionable at both. They have former first round pick Thaiss at AAA, though, and he may force his way into the backup job in Anaheim. The Mariners trio of Murphy, Raleigh, and Torrens is going to be interesting to watch. And the Rangers added former twin Garver to go along with former A’s Backup Heim. The A’s may have the best offensive catcher in Sean Murphy, along with former highly regarded backup Allen.
None of these groups are significantly better than the others. All should be decent. The best defender is probably Maldonado, and offensively, it’s probably Stassi or Sean Murphy, but Garver also had good offense in his career, as did Tom Murphy.
I’d rank all five of these groups as basically even.
With the DH coming to the NL, it deserves it’s own grouping. A lot of defensively challenged hitters will now have jobs.
Angels: Shohei Ohtani (SP/DH).
Astros: Yordan Alvarez (DH/OF).
Mariners: Jesse Winker (DH/OF).
Rangers: Willie Calhoun (DH/OF/INF).
A’s: Jed Lowrie (INF/OF/DH).
Again, the Angels group is the best. Shohei Ohtani is the reigning MVP, and a two-way star. The only reason he’s not a position player is to save his energy for his turn on the mound, as he would likely be a premium defender if he played any position on the diamond. As the best or second best player in the game, because of his two way status, it’s hard to concentrate just on his offense, but by most metrics, he was the among the best hitters in the game… just slumped a bit in the second half as the Angels lineup deteriorated around him.
The Astros Yordan Alvarez is the second best DH in the division, and is an elite hitter. He’s not Ohtani, but he’s pretty darn good. Health is his only question mark, and he may play some OF, but he’s not a good defender.
The Mariners obtained Winker in a trade with the Reds to be their DH. He took a huge step forward offensively and defensively for the Reds, but he still profiles best as a DH. He’s an All-Star Level Hitter.
The Rangers have tried former top Dodgers prospect Willie Calhoun everywhere, but he just isn’t a good fielder. He hasn’t been a great hitter either. This is a significant drop off from the first three teams.
The A’s recently signed Vogt, which I though was to be their DH, but It’s Jed Lowrie projected on Fangraphs. Neither are good hitters anymore, and they’re gonna miss Olson and Chapman. This lineup is basically terrible. Why didn’t they at least bring back Khris Davis, I have no idea.
Now on to Starting Pitching. The Angels most often mentioned weakness. Here are the Rotations:
Astros: Framer Valdez (SP), Jake Odorizzi (SP), Justin Verlander (SP), Jose Urquidy (SP), and Luis Garcia (SP). Lance McCullers (SP-INJ).
Mariners: Robbie Ray (SP), Logan Gilbert (SP), Marco Gonzales (SP), Chris Flexen (SP), Matt Brash (SP)
Angels: Shohei Ohtani (SP), Patrick Sandoval (SP), Noah Syndergaard (SP), Jose Suarez (SP), Michael Lorenzen (SP), Reid Detmers (SP). (Griffin Canning SP-INJ).
A’s: Frankie Montas (SP), Cole Irvin (SP) Daulton Jeffries (SP), Paul Blackburn (SP), Brent Honeywell Jr (SP-INJ), James Kapriellan (SP-INJ).
Rangers: Jon Gray (SP), Martin Perez (SP), Dane Dunning (SP), Taylor Hearn (SP), Spencer Howard (SP)
The Astros have solid 1-5. Especially if Lance McCullers is healthy, as he’d bump someone out. He’s still not though. They have depth in the minors, but Brandon Bielak, Peter Solomon, and Tyler Ivey are the only ones with major league experience and its all very limited. Injuries are a concern, with McCullers still out and as Verlander didn’t pitch very much in 2020 or 2021, and is 39. But he’s still Justin Verlander and most pundits are predicting he comes 100% back to form, some even predicting the Cy Young! He just as easily could be ineffective or not hold up. He’s looked good in Spring. Their other veteran Odorizzi, is coming off a injury limited year where he pitched just 104 innings at a 4.21 ERA. Solid, but not spectacular.
Framber Valdez though gets the opening day start as Verlander isn’t quite ready, he’ll pitch Saturday instead. Valdez pitched 22 games last year, with a great 3.14 ERA but his FIP didn’t quite match it (4.01). Jose Urquidy pitched 20 games last year, and also had the same ERA/FIP discrepancy. Luis Garcia managed 28 starts and a very consistent 3.48 ERA / 3.63 FIP.
The three younger guns of the Houston rotation all stepped up last year, and so hopefully for Houston they all repeat with slightly more innings. But that’s not a sure thing. Prior to 2021, Garcia had just one start in 2020, and was at High A in 2019. Urquidy had 12 starts combined in 2020 and 2019 in the majors, though he started 18 games in the minors in 2019 as well. His numbers have been the most consistent in recent years, and if not injured he has a chance to be the best starter of the three. Valdez pitched a full season in 2020 (albeit a limited season), and was up and down in the 2019 season. He was a back and forth to the pen that year, and most of his minors career. He’s never come close to the 134 IP he managed last year, and was injured quite frequently, so who knows how he’ll hold up in 2022.
The Mariners rotation 1-5 features former journeyman and current Cy Young winner Robbie Ray at the top, there are no questions if he competes as he did in Toronto in 2021. Logan Gilbert is up next, and he managed 119 IP last year at a middling 4.68 ERA. But unlike the Astros two young starters Gilbert actually had a better FIP than ERA in 2021. Still not a lot of innings though and just one start in the minors. Marco Gonzales is up third, he made 25 starts and 148 IP for the 2021 club with a 3.96 ERA but a terrible 5.28 FIP. Does not spell long term success. He’s been with the club a few years now and was pitching full time without injury really in 2018-2020, and with much better FIP/ERA differences. Still He’s like Odorizzi, Solid, not Spectacular. Chris Flexen and Matt Brash round out the five projected starters, and Flexen has managed 31 starts for the M’s in 2021, after pitching in Korea in 2020. His last two years are unlike anything he’s thrown up before, however, so he must’ve figured something out. Brash pitched in AA last season, and made just 10 starts. It will be a big jump to the majors. Their minor league depth isn’t great, free agent Tommy Milone is the most experienced pitcher in the AAA staff. Their top minor league guys are at AA.
The Angels have major durability concerns, as Ohtani’s 130 IP was the top number on the entire staff. Detmers managed 19 starts last year in his first professional year, but his stuff plays now and he won the 6th starter job in ST. Syndergaard is coming off 2 straight seasons of not really pitching, just like Verlander. And Sandoval managed just 14 starts. Lorenzen is a converted reliever and Suarez too pitched in the pen last season, and in the rotation. Canning also is coming back from injury. He may have been their best starter in 2020, but last year didn’t go well.
The A’s had the best pitching in the division last season with Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Cole Irvin and James Kapriellan last year. Bassitt and Manaea are gone. Montas could be moved. Kapriellan is hurt. So only Irvin and Montas start the year in the rotation. They’re cobbling together a rotation, with only 4 healthy starters to start the year, but both Montas and Irvin pitched a lot of innings last year and well, so they won’t be the worst in the division.
The Rangers staff is middling, with journeyman Perez and Jon Gray being their top two starters. Not much of a staff honestly, but they have some intriguing young guys. This is the worst rotation on the list though and its’ not close.
Bullpen. I’m not gonna list every guy here, as the teams will all cycle through a lot of relievers. But the Angels have the best pen in the division based on last years results, with a bunch of nice veterans and a lot of intriguing young arms. Iglesias was among the best closers in baseball, and Tepera, Loup were both excellent. Mayers and Bradley also did well, and the Angels have a lot of young hard or funky throwers, and they’ll have the best pen clearly.
The Astros are probably next, headlined by Ryan Pressley at Closer and then Ryan Stanek. They’re also pretty deep with a lot of solid arms. The Mariners lack a solid veteran closer, but Steckenrider did well for them last year. They have a few good arms at the top of their pen too in Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, and Sergio Romo. Enough for third place.
The Rangers have Matt Bush and Greg Holland fighting it out with holdover Joe Barlowfor closing role, and the A’s feature veteran Lou Trivino and AJ Puk at the top of their pen with Doming Acevedo and a lot of young arms.
Ok, I’m not gonna go deeply into coaching or anything else here. It’s important, but between the three contending teams, there isn’t a huge gap between Maddon and Servais or Baker. Chris Woodward is ok. The A’s not bringing back Melvin is gonna cost them a few wins.
So overall, the Astros rank 3rd in OF, 1st in INF, a tentative 1st in SP, 2nd in RP, 2nd at DH, and are even with the other groups at C. They’re not as far ahead as everyone thinks they are. And if their offense slumps, their pitching has any injuries, they’re gonna fall to the middle of the pack. They aren’t as loaded as recent Astros teams.
The Angels have the best OF, due entirely to Mike Trout, and the second best infield due to their corner infielders. Their third on this list in starting pitching, and 1st in bullpen by a clear margin, Yes we’d like it if they’d signed another elite starter, but they have faith in their depth and young guys, just like the Astros did in 2021. They’re even at C and the best at DH. Yes they need health, but that’s the case across the board and with every team. Yes, the Angels have three of the best players in the league, and they need them all to be healthy. They need innings from their starters. I do not understand why young pitchers without a lot of success or innings under their belt get a lot more credit on other staffs than the Angels guys get. I don’t see why Syndergaard and Verlander aren’t viewed more similarly. If the Astros lost Altuve or Bregman (or they suddenly didn’t hit like they used to) can Tucker, Brantley, or Gurriel carry that offense?
While the addition of Robbie Ray or Kevin Gausman or another premier starter would’ve been nice, in July if The Angels do need another starter, they can go get him then.
The Mariners have the arguably second best OF though I could see the Astros taking that spot if the M’s vaunted young OF all struggle. They’ve got the fourth best infield, as they’re solid, but no star power. The Angels, Rangers and Astros all have stars in their infield. They have the second best starting group, but they have questions. Their pen is not great, but not bad, one elite veteran reliever would’ve helped them significantly. Getting a proven closer would have helped. Their DH is great, probably not too far from Alvarez for 2nd place, and their catching is even.
The Rangers might hope to compete sooner than later, but they don’t have a good enough pitching staff and I don’t see a lot of high upside guys in AAA or AA that will make a difference. Their infield is the best part and I bet they finish in fourth but maybe third if someone slips.
The A’s aren’t trying to compete and are in the middle of a major reset. There is just not a competitive team, but they also always compete with less than other teams have. Maybe in 2023.
While I’m not ready to throw the Astros from the top of the division, this will be a much closer race between the top three teams in this division than in recent seasons. I’d expect all three to be between 87-93 wins, and the Rangers to finish with 77 or so, while the A’s finish at 67-70.
Let’s go Angels.