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Components of a Contender - and why the Angels are better than you might think


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I'm hoping the Angels can match what my other favorite team (Michigan) did in Football this year. I fully expected the Wolverines to go 5-7, maybe 6-6. I was just so DONE with that program. Even after they went 4-0 and had a fairly easy stretch, I thought they would find a way to blow a couple of games they shouldn't.

Eventually, though, when they kept winning games I kept believing more and more until I realized the season was going to be special. It wasn't "National Championship" special, obviously, but it did a lot to restore my faith in a program that I thought was a new coach (or two) and 5-ish years away from even having a shot at maybe beating our rival. 

The Angels off season surprised me. I said that the Angels needed to get 7 pitchers if they were serious about competing (3 starters and 4 relievers).... and they damn near did it. Sure, I would have LOVED one more solid starter (I half-suspect we still might get one before the trade deadline) and a more stable option at SS, but I really want to give the season a month before I really throw in the towel. We are three swings away from Trout/Ohtani/Rendon waking up their bats, and if our starters can be as solid as they were last week (save for Detmers)... we might have something. It's only a might, but it's still there. 

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8 hours ago, Angelsjunky said:

AngelsContender.jpeg

When you think of general tendencies of a contending baseball team, you want the following as a bare-bones template:

  • A handful of very good hitters, with a nice complementary cast of secondary average or better hitters.
  • A rotation with three or four guys you can count on - they don't need to be top-of-the-rotation arms, just good mid-rotation starters.
  • A very good closer, with two or three strong secondary relievers.
  • A rock-solid defense.

If you assess those basic qualities, the Angels get a "check" next to three of four - or at least potentially so. Not without reasonable doubts, but the components are there.

For the first, they have three or four guys who figure as start hitters--Trout, Rendon, Ohtani, and Walsh--and then two or three guys who should be above average in Stassi, Ward, and possibly Marsh. Adell also a possibility to be average or better, but that remains to be seen. The only real weak area of the lineup figures to be the middle infield, and Duffy at least should be a solid contributor.

The rotation has produced a 1.91 ERA in its first six starts. Obviously that won't last, and its FIP is closer to 4.00, but there are still promising signs for an overall competent or even plus rotation.

Raisel is Raisel, and Minasian spent big on a solid support group. Plus, the Angels have some depth to draw on to fill out the bullpen.

The lone "TBD" factor is the last, the defense. We'll just say that is to be determined, but at least looks better than last year.

Now of course those factors aren't quite enough - unless they are truly of stellar proportions. Other factors need to be considered:

  • Weaknesses in the lineup.
  • A solid bench.
  • Depth of the rotation.
  • Depth of bullpen.

The first is partially addressed above: the weak spots in the lineup are relatively minor, and the Angels have a lot of options to play a game of musical chairs in the middle infield over the next couple months. The bench is OK, plus some intriguing options in AAA with Rengifo, Stefanic, Davis, and Harrison. . The pitching staff also has some depth possibilities in AAA especially in the second half if Chris Rodriguez and Griffin Canning are healthy. But on the other hand, there's a sense that--again--if the major league is hit by injuries, there is a lack of prospects on the cusp of being contributors in the majors, but there are possibilities.

Let me emphasize a point that many miss: We can't have everything. Very few teams excel in all areas. Usually, at best, a championship team has no areas of the team that are below average. The point being, it all adds up; if a team has great hitting, they can still be really good with just solid pitching. World Series champions come in all shapes and sizes. Some have even had merely adequate starting pitching, negating the conventional wisdom that you absolutely "need" an ace and three other good+ starters. Others have had poor bullpens. 

If you don't believe me, look at the overall level of last year's Braves, which won only 88 games. Or any of the three Giants teams that won the WS three out of five times from 2010-14. Or the 83-win Cardinals of 2006. Or look at the bullpen of the 2019 Nationals, or the rotation of the 2015 Royals.

It is tempting to be disappointed or frustrated when your team isn't the Dodgers, yet very few teams have the resources to construct a juggernaut like the Dodgers. Most WS winners combine a talented team with catching lightning in a bottle, or perhaps luck. The point being, every GM's task is the same: leverage your available resources to field a team that is good enough to compete, and hope that you can catch lightning in a bottle in the stretch run and playoffs.

When I look at the 2022 Angels, whether dialing back to a week ago or as things stand after the first six games, I see a team that is far from perfect, that has areas to address, but could be good enough to contend this year. I also see a team that, if you assess the talent from AAA (as "extended bench") on up, is far more rich in talent than it has been in years. Both the floor and ceiling of potential outcomes is much higher in 2022 than it has been since at least 2015.

And to clarify to those who might be thinking, "Why didn't you write this a few days ago, when the Angels were 1-3?" I would say, "I did" or rather, "The thought started then." Meaning, it doesn't matter whether it is today, a few days ago, or back in Spring Training. 

This is a good team. How good remains to be determined. But I see a team that, barring utter disaster still wins at least 85 games - something they haven't done since 2015. If more goes right than wrong, we could be looking at 90+ games. This isn't the Astros or the Dodgers, but it is a team that is going to play competitive baseball this year. After the last six seasons, what more could we ask for?

AJ, You sick fuck!

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