10) The Angels have the best rotation in baseball.
- That's right. The best. Not the Red Sox. Not the Indians. Not the Tigers. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last year, John Lackey won the American League ERA title. Kelvim Escobar spent almost the entire year as a top Cy Young Candidate. Jered Weaver, entering his third big league season, is healthy and poised to take the next step forward into becoming a potential staff ace. Jon Garland is a 4+ ERA innings eater, who many teams would take as their #2 starter. Some desperate franchise may slide him in at #1. He's our #4, arguably our #5. Santana can't possibly be as bad as he was last year, and even if he is, the reliable Joe Saunders slides in as a more than adequate 5th starter.
The Tigers? Lots of question marks. Verlander is an ace in the making, but Bonderman is still all about potential, with very little in the way of results. Rogers is getting too old to be a sure thing, Robertson has had one season in his career with an ERA+ at or above 100, and Willis is coming from the National League East to the American League Central...bringing his 5+ ERA from 2007 with him. They could be a solid bunch. More than likely, they'll wish they had Andrew Miller back along with their entire farm system when their rotation proves vulnerable.
Red Sox are more of the same. Assuming they don't end up with Santana, they have Beckett at the front as an ace. They have an aging, injury prone, and now inconsistent Schilling behind him. Then Matsuzaka, who I firmly believe we've seen the MLB ceiling of. Wakefield is the king of the 7IP, 2ER start...and the 2IP, 7ER start. Buchholz has the make up of a future ace, but is much too young to rush to judgment on. Lester has the ceiling of a #3 or #4, but really not much more. Am I missing someone?
The Indians rely heavily on Carmona and Sabathia. Beyond that, I'm really just very unsure of what they offer. Byrd is a perennial #4 starter. Westbrook is one of the biggest question marks among starters on American League contenders. More than likely, he throws up another mediocre dud. Sowers and Laffey have the talent to become #2/#3 starters, but does it come together in 2008, or does Sowers struggle on the big stage once more?
- I don't think I can overstate this point. Going into the playoffs, Kotchman, Vlad, Matthews, and Anderson were all hit with various ailments. Regardless of what happened in the playoffs with our offensive production compared to Boston, it can't be ignored that we suffered greatly with these injuries. If the same caliber of players go down on the other side, we'd walk into the ALCS. During the season, Kendrick and Kotchman suffered once more from freak injuries. Don't count on it happening again. Guerrero and Anderson can produce very well when healthy. Their time split at DH this year will make sure that that continues to happen. Jered Weaver, Mike Napoli, and Justin Speier also figure to be due for more healthy seasons than in the past.
8) Torii Hunter
- It's not your $90 million, so toss that out the window right now. Not only does Hunter bring a more-than-solid bat with him, but he gives us depth that allows both Anderson and Guerrero to spend more time at DH. But look at his numbers. Six full seasons in the Majors, 5 of them with 90+ RBIs, and in a lesser lineup than the one he will be in now. Every full season, he's hit at least 23 home runs. He's even stolen 18 or more bases in 5 of the last 6 years. He's a virtual lock to bat at least .270. His stats actually compare across the board very favorably with a prime-era Garret Anderson. Basically, subtract 25 points from Hunter's batting average, add them back to the OBP courtesy of his increase in walks over G.A., and you have the same offensive caliber. Interesting to note: Hunter's OPS+ has climbed every year for four straight years. Pencil him in for a .275/.330/.480 season. Minimum. Oh, and don't forget the glove love. Statisticians will tell you he's overrated with the glove. I'll remember that when he and Matthews routinely turn home runs in to outs. He's certainly not below average.
7) The right side of the infield
- Kotchman, Kendrick, and the Kennedy's (not Adam). Perhaps the three unluckiest K-names in the world. That has to end, and will end. We've seen what the two of them do when healthy: Kotchman was hitting .333/.411/.556 before Russell Martin's errant throw knocked him back to earth. And no, that wasn't an aberration. He was a career .325/.407/.493 hitter in the minors. His 37 doubles in 443 at-bats in 2007 put him on a 50 double clip in a 600 at-bat season. Did I mention that he plays gold glove defense? Howie Kendrick, who we were oh-so-willing to part with in exchange for Miguel Cabrera, is not a bad piece to be holding on to himself. When he was healthy last year, he was raking. He batted .322 in 338 at-bats. He'd do well for himself to draw a few more walks, but I'll take the 43 doubles-pace, and the certain-to-improve power numbers from a healthy 24 year old. And between the two of them, they'll be earning about half of one Angels' stadium sell-out for the entire season. Not bad.
6) Fewer wasted roster spots.
- This was actually on my list last year, too. Then Shea Hillenbrand happened to us. But every year, we've had fewer and fewer duds added to the roster for no apparent reason. 1-25, there isn't a Hillenbrand, Finley, Alfonzo, Halter, or Merloni to be seen. In fact, I don't see a regular in our lineup incapable of reaching a 100 OPS+. Yes, even Matthews. We're losing excess wasted at-bats every year.
5) Garret Anderson
- I've had a man-crush on Garret for a long, long time. It's always sort of hurt to be stuck defending him against hostility amongst Angels fans who seem to forget what he once was. This man was on his way to the Hall of Fame before arthritis and God-knows-what-else caught up with him. This is a man who, if you added nothing more than WALKS to his career resumé, would stack up right alongside the hero-worshipped Derek Jeter (Don't believe me? Stats don't lie: http://www.baseball-reference.com/a/ande
But that's not the point in discussing his '08 impact. Last year, Garret made a ton of Angels fans eat crow. A healthy serving of it, too. That it took an end-season slump brought on by fatigue to bring his OPS+ DOWN to 114 speaks volumes. In his last 282 at-bats (312 plate appearances), Garret had an .053 BA/OBP differential. His career average is .030. That's more than a 70% increase in walks-drawn. During that time, he also knocked in 65 runs and slugged .532. All because he was healthy and drawing more walks than usual. If he had swung a little harder on his grounder-up-the-middle in a certain August game, he'd be the single-game record holder for RBIs in a game. If you think he's incapable of doing it again...stop being a contrarian and get on board. Garret, for all the flaws you may love to find in his game (despite a decade of amazing performance), has found his rhythm and his late-career stride by turning around his approach to the game, and it's working. If he stays healthy in 2008, even to a marginal degree, he's going to produce like he did in his prime.
- Reagins giveth, and Reagins taketh away. We lost the glove of Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, but we gained Torii Hunter in Centerfield. Not only that, but our defense gets better by subtraction. That's right...the subtraction of Vladimir Guerrero's glove. Defensively, Hunter, Matthews, and Anderson/Rivera is arguable the best defensive outfield in baseball, and will save countless runs over the course of a season. And we all know Aybar and Izturis could use some polish on their game, but their defensive work is still slick enough to hold down the fort. Casey is a gold glover, Mathis is a wiz behind the dish, and Kendrick is learning fast in the field. Figgins will always be a defensive liability, but when he is spelled by Wood, Izturis, or dare I even say...McPherson...the defense at the corner will improve.
3) The power is back on
- Nope, we didn't get Miguel Cabrera. But that doesn't mean the power will be in short supply again this year. Let's take a look at what they did in regards to the long ball in 2007, versus some educated guesses for 2008.
Mike Napoli: 10 / 16
Jeff Mathis: 4 / 6
Vladimir Guerrero: 27 / 28
Gary Matthews Jr.: 18 / 16
Garret Anderson: 16 / 13
Juan Rivera: 2 / 6
Reggie Willits: 0 / 0
Torri Hunter: NA / 26
Casey Kotchman: 11 / 18
Howie Kendrick: 5 / 12
Orlando Cabrera: 8 / NA
Chone Figgins: 3 / 6
Erick Aybar: 1 / 2
Maicer Izturis: 6 / 6
Brandon Wood: 1 / 4
Terry Evans: 1 / 2
Shea Hillenbrand: 3 / NA
Kendry Morales: 4 / 9
Robb Quinlan: 3 / 0
Dallas McPherson: NA / 7
2007 Total: 123
2008 Estimate: 177
Biggest Contributions over last year: Kotchman adds 7, Kendrick adds 7, Hunter adds 26 (over Willits), Napoli adds 6.
2) The Bullpen
- Last year, Justin Speier missed a considerable amount of time early on...to what I can only assume was the result of inappropriate post-game festivities with Casey Kotchman. This illness resulted in an increased work load for both Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. Without the injury, both work less time and are in better shape to pitch later in the season. This would work perfectly for the Angels, because the two of them, particularly Shields, have rough patches in the second half. Darren Oliver proved to be a more-than-capable reliever and was, in fact, probably the biggest pitching surprise of 2007 for the team. He was nearly lights-out in the second half, when he put up a 2.23 ERA and a .177 BAA against in 36 1/3 innings, striking out 29. If we even get a glimpse of that for the year, the bullpen will be better. Ervin Santana could see time in the bullpen, which could have mixed results. I would be optimistic about such a movie, however. Ervin has a great fastball and could be dominant in a late-inning role if he doesn't work out in the rotation.
1) The Depth
- This sort of goes along with everything I've said earlier, and is so, so important to the depth of this team. If Howie Kendrick goes down, super-subs Maicer Izturtis and Chone Figgins step-in and superb tools. If third base doesn't work out for us, Brandon Wood, Dallas McPherson, and Figgins can again fill in...the former two offering an unlimited upside in the power department. If Casey continues to be plagued by bad luck, Kendry Morales and his sky-high ceiling are waiting for a chance to produce. Our rotation is deep. Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, Saunders, Garland, Santana, Moseley, and Nick Adenhart all have the ability to fill in at a moment's notice. Even Darren Oliver is capable of spot-starts. And not a single one of them is worse than the average #4 starter in the league.
Piece it all together, and we're in great shape in 2008. And for all the talk of us being wiped out in the playoffs once more? It's all meaningless. This team can compete with the Red Sox, Indians, or Yankees with ease. We have the talent, the depth, and the well-roundedness of one of the best teams of the decade.