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AngelsWin Today: Los Angeles Angels 2023 Primer

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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Introduction: It Can't Be Worse

While we just tipped over into the second half of January, which means we're still several weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting (February 14) and two and a half months from Opening Day (March 30), it is still the new year, and it seems that the Angels are--barring a surprise move--mostly done in assembling their 2023 team.

How does the team look? What can we expect and reasonably hope for? One thing this post will not be is a Debby Downer rant about worst-case scenarios and the poor moves of past and present management. I will try to be as objective as possible, but err towards the side of how good the team can reasonably be, if more things go right than wrong.

Injuries happen. Players have bad years. But players also have good years, and it is unusual that a team suffers the almost uncanny combination of bad luck and injury that the 2022 team experienced, essentialized in their 14-game losing streak. Chances are, no matter how bad it gets in 2023, it won't get that bad. And GM Perry Minasian has put a lot of work--and fair amount of money--into preventing a repeat of that debacle.


1. The Angels vs. the World Champions

What has Minasian done this offseason? Well, he's lifted the floor on the team substantially. The Angels poor performance in 2022 can be visually expressed like so:



Now it might not be fair to compare the Angels to the World Champions, but on the other hand, if you're trying to build a contender, one important tactic is to look at successful teams and, most importantly, how they succeeded and, if possible, trying to emulate that. 

What are you looking at? The two charts compare the Angels and Astros, first in hitting as represented through wRC+, secondly in pitching as represented by FIP. The striking difference between the two teams in both charts is perhaps best characterized not by the best players, but by the worst - namely, the number of poor performers on the Angels, and the visual "real estate" they take up on the charts.

Perhaps the most glaring problem the Angels had is the huge number of plate appearances given to bad hitters: Their first four hitters by plate appearance were all plus performers, but the next seven were negative; and after the first four, only one out of the next seventeen was average or above.

Compare that to the Astros: six out of their first seven were average or above, and seven out of their first ten. The mass of below average performers on the ride side of the first graph make up a fraction of the Angels' comparable section.

We see a similar phenomena with the pitchers, although in some ways it is even more striking in that the Astros only had two pitchers with below average FIP that were given substantial playing time, and one of them--Jose Urquidy--still managed about a league average ERA of 3.94.

Meaning, the Astros weren't sending (almost) any poor pitchers to the mound, while the Angels were shuffling through a bunch of them.

If you're the GM of a baseball team, you look at ways to improve controllable outcomes, of which injuries are (for the most part) not. Meaning, Minasian has very little say in whether or not Anthony Rendon gets hurt or how Mike Trout ages, or even whether Taylor Ward decides to crash into a wall. But what he does have some control over, is how the roster is configured.

So Minasian's big task this offseason was to turn as much of the "purple" into "green." There are specific needs to be addressed, but in its most simply--yet still comprehensive form--that's what was required.

The big question, of course, is how successful was he? In mid January, we cannot know. We might now come May, but even then it might not be until about mid-season that we have a sense of whether the "Minasian Plan" (Or Minasian Gambit?) worked. What did he do?

2. Minasian's Moves

First, let's talk about what he did not do: He didn't sign any big free agents or make any huge trades. Everything he did was minor to moderate, in terms of resources. The total result was the equivalent of signing a big free agent and some scraps, but no single move did any of the following:

  • Give a player $20M+ per year*
  • Sign a player for more than three years
  • Give up any top 10 (or even top 20) prospects

I asterisked the first, because he did give Ohtani a one-year deal worth $30M. Ohtani was due for a big arbitration pay day that would probably have earned him a bit less, but we can consider this as a bit of a good-will deed. 

What did Minasian do? Well, here's a list:

  • Signed Shohei Ohtani for 1/$30M
  • Signed SP Tyler Anderson for 3/$39M
  • Traded Janson Junk, Elvis Peguero, and Adam Seminaris to the Brewers for OF Hunter Renfroe
  • Signed IF Brandon Drury for 2/$17M
  • Traded Alejandro Hidalgo to the Twins for IF Gio Urshela
  • Signed RP Carlos Estevez for 2/$13.5M
  • Signed OF Brett Phillips for 1/$1.2M
  • Plus a bunch of minor league acquisitions

As you can see, other than Ohtani, there is not a true star in sight. What the above list includes are a handful of quality, major league regulars and solid bench/platoon players.

The Angels Opening Day 26-man payroll is estimated at $188M, $7M higher than last year; similarly, the CB Tax 40-man payroll is $207M, $8M higher than 2022.

3. 2022 vs. 2023: What Will Be Different?

A lot remains the same, but some significant factors have changed. Essentially what has happened is:

  • The Angels have swapped out Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell (608 PA, 0.7 WAR) for Hunter Renfroe (522 PA, 2.5 WAR)
  • Swapped Andrew Velazquez, Matt Duffy, Tyler Wade, Jack Mayfield, Michael Stefanic, Jose Rojas, Jonathan Villar, Phil Gosselin and David MacKinnon (1099 PA, -3.3 WAR) for Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury (1119 PA, 5.4 WAR)
  • Tyler Anderson (178.2 IP, 4.0 WAR in 2022) has replaced Noah Syndergaard/Michael Lorenzen (177.2 IP, 2.2 WAR).
  • Carlos Estevez (57 IP, 0.4 WAR) is replacing a variety of pitchers, including half a year of Raisel Iglesias (35.2 IP, 0.7 WAR)
  • Replaced Magneuris Sierra, Juan Lagares, and Mickey Moniak (220 PA, -0.9 WAR) with Brett Phillips (225 PA, 0.1 WAR)

OK, before you protest, note that I am not saying that we can simply take last year's numbers and switch them out like that. But I am saying that this is essentially what is happening in terms of playing time, without even looking at injuries; I included some stats to give. For instance, we don't know how much players like Rendon, Trout, Ward, and Fletcher will play in 2023, or at what level. Catcher is also a big question mark: which version of Max Stassi will show up, and who will share catching duties with him?

But....if you do swap out those players, you get a +12.8 WAR swing, about two-thirds of which (+8.7 WAR) is coming from the infield. 

What does a +12.8 WAR swing look like for the Angels? Well, if we just take the raw numbers, that adds about 13 wins and the Angels go from 73-89 to 86-76.

Again, it isn't so simple as that - and things always turn out differently than planned. But that is still the basic idea behind these moves: replace sub-par performance with--at least--solid, league average performance.

Minasian's moves this offseason could pay huge dividends, especially in the infield, where the Angels gave about two full season's worth of playing time to -3.3 WAR performance, most of which was due to poor hitting. Even if the Angels can replace that -3.3 WAR with slightly above replacement level play, they add four or more wins.

4. Two (or Three) Factors for Success in 2023

The Angels 2023 season is mostly banking on two factors:

One, the above mentioned changes work out mostly as hoped. They don't have to work out completely, but just for the most part. 

Two, better health - and not just Trout and Rendon, but Fletcher, Ward, Canning, Rodriguez, etc. Last year the Angels got only 166 games from their two highest paid players, Trout and Rendon. In 2021, it was 94 games - so if we want to find a silver lining, at least we're trending in the right direction. But they really need more from these two, and while the farm system is on a positive trajectory, there simply isn't the offensive talent waiting in the wings to make up the difference.

I would add a third that is less necessary but could swing the team significantly:

Three, positive minor league developments, namely players graduating and performing in the majors. This could include better health and performance from guys like Canning and Rodriguez, a breakout performance from Logan O'Hoppe, some of the plethora of pitching prospects in the high minors graduating and performing well. Meaning, something, someone...anything!

Summing Up

The Angels team has a lot of talent. While it may be unlikely given recent track records, there's a scenario in which the very similar Renfroe (124 wRC+, 29 HR) and Drury (123 wRC+, 28 HR) aren't, even repeating last year's performances, among the top four or five hitters on the team. It requires Trout and Rendon to be healthy, Ohtani to stay healthy, and Ward to at least repeat something similar to last year's performance (137 wRC+). Add in a potential bounce back from Jared Walsh, and the Angels could have a lineup that features seven players hitting 20+ HR, with 120 wRC+ or better...and that isn't even considering continued improvement from Luis Rengifo (103 wRC+, 17 HR), a bounce-back from Stassi or breakout from O'Hoppe.

The rotation looks, at the very least, quite solid, with the potential to be very good. There are a wide range of outcomes for the bullpen, so it bears watching. But the Angels have a lot of minor league arms to draw from, as well as (hopefully) a healthy Chris Rodriguez and Griffin Canning.

There are no certainties in major league baseball (or life), but we can at least look at the Angels and say that this team has a chance to be very good - and maybe even better. But the risk is there; they're as likely to win 80 games as they are 90 but, I would say, more likely to win 95 than 75. The talent is there.

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