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OC Register: Anthony Rendon’s return allowed Angels to reset their defense

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The Angels concluded their first month of the season with a healthy appreciation for third baseman Anthony Rendon. Going into their weekend series in Seattle, they were 8-3 with Rendon in the lineup and 4-8 without him.

Wins and losses matter most, but Rendon’s absence dragged down the Angels in another key area. According to nearly every publicly available statistic, the Angels finished April among the worst defensive teams in baseball.

Through Thursday, the Angels were 30th among major league teams in defensive efficiency – converting balls in play into outs – and limiting opponents’ batting average on balls in play. They also ranked second-to-last in fielding percentage.

Defensive futility contributed to their pitchers’ MLB-worst 5.13 ERA. According to Statcast, right-handers are batting 29 points higher against the Angels than their quality of contact alone would predict. No team has seen a bigger disparity between their opponents’ expected batting average and actual batting average than the Angels.

What does that have to do with Rendon? A lot, Manager Joe Maddon said.

“It’s pretty simple on that side of the field,” he said. “If Anthony is playing, I’m certain you would see an improvement in that number. From what I understand, J-Up’s (left fielder Justin Upton) number has not been that high. We’ve played other guys out there, like Cookie (infielder Jose Rojas), who has been out of position. We’ve been working with him too. I anticipate that getting better.”

When Rendon missed 11 games with a left groin strain, the third-base duties largely fell to Rojas, a rookie, and utility infielder Luis Rengifo. The pair combined to make four errors in less than 100 innings. That’s particularly important against right-handed batters, who tend to hit balls to the left side of the field.

Upton has graded poorly as a defender in left field dating to last season. Rendon’s injury, then, might have had a multiplier effect: not only were more balls getting through the left side of the infield without Rendon, they were exacerbating an existing weakness by taxing Upton in left field.

Although Upton missed a few games earlier in the month with a mild back injury, Maddon said the 33-year-old is healthy now. Upton’s effectiveness as a fielder also depends on his positioning, which will be a focal point going forward.

“I just look at plays that I think he should be able to make, whether he can or cannot,” Maddon said. “Sometimes there’s a projection made that a play that was catchable. Then I have to know, where did we start him? To me, starting position on defense has a lot to do with making plays or not. I think he’s moving pretty well and he feels pretty good about himself. Let’s see how it plays out.”


The Angels activated Juan Lagares from the injured list and optioned him to the minor leagues. The 32-year-old outfielder missed the last 13 games with a strained left calf.

Lagares’ demotion bodes well for Jared Walsh and Scott Schebler, whose playing time might otherwise have been blocked. One of the two left-handed sluggers has started each of the last 15 games in right field.

The Angels turned to Lagares after Dexter Fowler, the Opening Day starter in right field, was lost to a season-ending knee injury. But Lagares only got into two games before suffering the calf injury, going 0 for 7 at the plate.

Walsh, Schebler, Rojas and Shohei Ohtani are the only active left-handed hitters for the Angels, who are facing two right-handed starters (Chris Flexen on Friday, Ljay Newsome on Saturday) this weekend in Seattle.


The Angels made a taxi squad move before the series, swapping catcher Anthony Bemboom in for right-handed pitcher Noe Ramirez.

The minor league seasons begin Tuesday, but taxi squads will continue as a pandemic-era roster accommodation. Expect the Angels to choose veterans such as outfielder Jon Jay and pitcher Ben Rowen to fill the taxi squad rather than upper-level prospects such as outfielders Jo Adell and Jordyn Adams.

“You want your young guys playing every day,” Maddon said. “They’ve been void of it for almost two years now. They’ve got to go out and play. … The best teacher of our game is still nine innings.”


Angels (RHP Griffin Canning, 1-2, 8.40 ERA) at Seattle (RHP Ljay Newsome, 1-0, 1.69 ERA), Saturday, 6:10 p.m., Ch.13, 830 AM

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Angels seem like they're kind of between a rock and a hard place when it comes to defense. It's the one area that Minasian talked a big game, but failed to resolve or improve. 

Stassi is a solid catcher, and while veterans enjoy throwing to Suzuki, he isn't a good defender. So Smitty half the time back there, the Angels have subpar defense. 

Walsh is a good defensive 1B, but with Fowler out, he's the new RF. He was always more passable as a RF, rather than good. This has forced Pujols to 1B and at age ____, he's no longer a good defender at that position. 

The Angels are good up the middle with Fletcher and Iglesias. Trout is a good CF too, but when he's flanked by two corner outfielders with zero range, it makes the OF a mess. Upton had been one of the worst LF I've ever seen (in a class with Juan Pierre sand elderly Bonds and Manny) for 2-3 years now. They can't DH him, Shohei is too good of a bat, and as athletic as he is, you don't want to put Ohtani in the field everyday. He can do it, but you need to protect your star assets. 

On the farm, Marsh is a good defender but needs developmental time. He'll be ready post ASB. Adell is an ok CF but a joke everywhere else. Adams is still two years out. 

The only thing they can do is ride this out until Marsh is ready, I think. Once Marsh is ready, you've immediately got a great defensive RF, moving Walsh to 1B, giving them a good defensive 1B. Then use Lagares as a defensive replacement in LF earlier in the game than just the 9th. Like starting inserting him into LF in the 6th or 7th. 

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