How the Los Angeles Angels can get to 90 wins

How the Los Angeles Angels can get to 90 wins

By Jason Sinner, Senior Columnist

What’s more interesting to the fans of any particular team?

When a site predicts your most likely outcome?


What it will take to make the playoffs?

For some teams, that’s one in the same whereas for fringy competitive teams such as the halos, I would prefer the latter.

90 wins seems like a reasonable benchmark as anything above that is likely a crap shoot unless you are the Cubs or indians. Also, since the advent of the second wild card team, 90 wins is about the avg it takes to make it to the post season and at least that gets you in the ball parks so to speak. In addition, looking at the AL teams that have some sort of chance, it doesn’t appear that there are many clubs that are likely to be above 90 wins.

Cleveland and Boston seem the most obvious to crack the 90 win barrier. The rest of the teams in the AL east have a shot but they will likely beat up on each other. In the central, CLE is the class of the division with the Tigers have a chance to be a WC teams. That chance will come from being able to play the CWS and Twins 18 times each. I just don’t see the Royals being there this year.

In the AL West, Houston seems to have the most talent but they aren’t the automatic division winner as the Halos, Rangers and M’s all have legit shots. As this division, like the AL east, is fairly competitive from top to bottom. A lot of how these teams stack up will stem from their divisional records.

What do the pundits think?

Fangraphs is the most bullish on the halos having them at 84-78 with with the Astros at 90 wins and the Rangers and M’s a game behind our Angels.

USA Today and Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA are less optimistic with the former slating the halos for 74 wins and the latter at 78 wins.

Again, I think it’s fairly boring to give certain teams little hope. While it’s fair to know both, I would rather focus on what’s possible as opposed to what’s probable. So let’s look at whether the possible gets us into the post season.

The easiest way to find out is to work backwards. A run differential of 85 is typically equivalent to 90 wins. But the results are typically variable for teams with a merely positive differential all the way up to 100. Teams with a differential of greater than 100 typically win greater than 90 games. Those with less than a 100 differential fell between 84 and 95 wins. So we don’t necessarily need an 85 run differential to get to 90 wins, but lets see how realistically close we can get on paper.

Let’s use Fangraphs as our base (not just because they are the most bullish, but also because their individual player predictions seem the most easy to work with)

Overall, they have the team at 39.0 WAR. 24.4 batting/fielding and 14.6 pitching. Equating to at total of 84 wins as a team filled with replacement players would have about 45 wins. That win total corresponds to a run differential of 27 where as a differential of 85 corresponds to a 90 win team. So can we get to 45 WAR instead of 39?

One of the more nebulous aspects of this process is trying to determine the defensive impact that will occur from Maybin switching to LF and Espinosa to 2b as well as the positive effect from Maldonado’s framing. Not to mention the impact of Valbuena who is a better defender at 3b than Escobar and likely a better 1b defender over Cron.

I am going to make a big assumption. One that is absolutely critical to the team having any chance and that is health. Without it, especially relative to our higher end starters, this entire premise isn’t really possible.

Offense/Defense. Last year we got 21.6 WAR from this aspect of the game. We are predicted to get 24.4 per fangraphs for 2017.

Catcher – combined WAR predicted is 2.3. Last year we got 1.3. The lion’s share of which came from Bandy. I think the current prediction is fair if not a bit optimistic. Overall neutral

1b – with some sort of Cron/Valbuena combo they have us at 1.4 WAR. The same as last year. This is an obvious spot for improvement albeit probably not by a lot. But I could see us being in the 2 WIN range pretty easily and a Cron breakout wouldn’t be totally shocking. Overall +1.0. Odds? 50%

2b – A black hole last year. -0.5 wins. They have Espinosa and bench at 1.2 wins. It wouldn’t surprise me if Espinosa becomes the best defensive 2bman in baseball. Or at least one of the premier defensive players. His bat is the real issue. He’s been anywhere from avg to terrible the last 3 years. An avg offensive player with premier defense is worth 2.5 wins at the 2b position. Overall +1.0. Odds? 30%

SS – Simmons missed a decent chunk last year and still accumulated over 3 wins. They’ve got the SS position slated for 3.9 Wins this year. I think that’s a fair estimate. Could Simmons be better offensively than last year while providing the same defense? Maybe, but I think the odds are less than 20%. Overall neurtral

3b – This is a category where fangraphs differs from the other predictions. They’ve got our 3b production at 1.9 WAR (higher than the others). I tend to agree with this. Even though Escobar could suddenly fall off a cliff, the presence of Valbuena essentially negates the possibility of getting anything less than the 1.9 wins predicted from this spot. Could it be more? I seriously doubt it. Overall neutral

LF – If 2b was a black hole last year then I don’t even think there is a scientific correlate to what LF has been for some time. As of right now, Maybin is the man and that man is predicted for 0.8 wins. 0.9 for the position as a whole. League wide, LF is fairly thin. But as a correlate, Colby Rasmus had a wRC+ of 75 last year with excellent defense and it netted him 1.6 WAR as a LFer. Maybin was well above average offensively last year and has been slightly below for his career otherwise. He was a 2 win player with pretty bad CF defense in 2016. It’s fair to ask if his offensive breakout last year is the real deal. Based on his peripherals, probably not. Yet one thing these predictive models don’t account for is what happens when a players struggles. They typically assume that said player barely producing at or below replacement levels will be allowed to continue at that level. Hence a discussion of Ben Revere is warranted. Revere is essentially the opposite of Maybin. Revere was a decent 2 WAR player until 2016 where he struggled tremendously on the offensive side the whole year. And frankly, his peripherals show that is was a great deal of bad luck. So if Maybin doesn’t produce offensively, I think we will see Revere vs. rhed pitching at the very least. Not to mention his defense likely improves with the move to LF. At the end of the day, while I think predicting 1 win from LF for the halos is probably fair, I think there is a whole win worth of upside at this position because of depth. Overall +1.0. Odds? 50%

CF – It shouldn’t be glossed over that most of the pundits have Trout at around 8-8.5 wins. Something that’s happened once in his 5 year career. I get that it’s probably difficult to allocate more than that on a predictive basis, but he’s good for 9 and that’s an ‘at least’. Overall +0.5. Odds? 90%

RF – Kole had a 4.2 win year last year as a RFer. The previous 2 seasons he had 3.9 and 3.7 wins. They’ve got the position at 3.0 wins for us. Kole is entering his prime and now has the safety of a guaranteed contract for the next 4 years. Something that will be more of a positive for him knowing his work ethic. He’s a 4 win player but lets be conservative and give him half of that delta. Overall +0.5. Odds? 70%

DH – Will Albert be healthy? Does it matter? Probably to some degree but let’s assume he is (btw, I don’t want this to be a discussion about how much he gets paid relative to his production). They’ve got the position getting 1.2 WAR. I think that’s fair as, even with our depth, it’s going to be difficult to make up much ground here because of positional adjustments. Overall neutral.

Pitching. Last year, we were decimated by injuries. Producing a total combined WAR of 5.9 (yes, that is starters and relievers). Fangraphs has us slated for 14.6 WAR this year. An obviously huge difference, but could it be even better than that?

Again, I am assuming a fully healthy pitching staff. Yes. They will be fully healthy. Really, as we will see, it depends on the health of a couple guys in particular. Richards, Shoe, Skaggs and Bedrosian. We do have to concede, however, that even if they remain healthy, our starters just aren’t going to pitch a ton of innings. It’s just not realistic for any of the above starters to throw 200 innings.

SP – the lions share of our production on the pitching side is slated to come from our starters. 13.1 WAR.

Our three headed monster of Shoe, Richards and Skaggs are the absolute key to the 2017 season. Fangraphs has Shoe at 3.2 WAR. Skaggs at 2.5 WAR and Richards at 2.5 WAR. I feel like all of these guys are going to do at least that or get replaced. So to get us to our goal, they are going to do at least that stated. I think the innings and stats predicted for those guys is fair.

I also think Nolasco giving us 1.9 Wins, Meyer 1.3 wins and Chavez 1.1 wins is reasonable.

Honestly, I’d be fairly pleased if our starting staff gave us 13.1 wins. Overall neutral

RP – our relievers gave us 0.3 Wins last year. Fangraphs has them giving us 1.6 wins for 2017. The worst in baseball. Even with that, my confidence level that the pen breaking camp produces more than 1.6 wins? Zero.

BTW, Bedrosian is slated to get 1 win. Which means 0.6 from the rest of the pen for the entire year. I guess that makes sense considering they gave us 0.3 wins overall last year even with Cam’s 0.9. If that math seems a bit odd, let me help. The combo of Street, Achter, Mahle, Oberholtzer, Valdez, Javy Guerra, Salas, Smith, Rasmus, and Alburquerque combined for -2.9 wins. I kid you not.

Let’s highlight this as it bears repeating. 242.1 ip of our 544.0 relief innings amounted to 3 wins below replacement.

Oh the humanity!!!

There has to be some good news right? There is. 9 of those 10 guys are either gone or unlikely to get a meaningful amount of innings in 2017. The bad news? The worst of those was/is our closer. Good for -0.6 wins last year. That’s -0.6 below replacement level. And if you don’t think Street is going to start the season as the team’s closer then I would like to offer you these beads for your land.

We’ve made up 4 wins between the offense/defense and starting pitching. Which means we need 2 more wins. Which means we need our pen to give us 3.6 wins overall. Which means what?

The 18th best pen had 3.7 wins last year. Being 18th best seems doable (hopefully).

So how do we get there.

Step 1 is making Street a capable closer. While he’s never going to tip the WAR scales because of his peripherals, the good news is that being a closer is somewhat binary. Either you get the job done or you don’t. You can be a closer without being dominant. See Huston Street circa 2015. 3.2 era. 62.1ip. 40 saves. 5 blown saves. 0.3 WAR. A fairly reasonable proposition. Street is slated to get us -0.2 right now. Overall +0.5. Odds? 50%

Step 2. The next three guys. Fangraphs has the next best three of Cam, Morin and Bailey at 1.6 WAR. A big component of this is whether Cam is ready for that next level. Can he be the uber dominant 2 WAR Kelvin Herrera type? I like his odds of getting at least part of the way there. Can Bailey and Morin or whoever’s next (not confident it’s gonna be either of the two mentioned for the bulk of the season) be better than half a win above replacement combined? Yes. Why? Wait. Overall +0.5. Odds? 70%

Step 3. Minimize your negative damage. Last year, the bottom 10 as mentioned outside of Street were 2 wins below replacement. That just can’t happen again if you want to have any chance of getting to 90 wins. Again, could it? Sure. But for the purpose of this exercise, we are going to assume that it won’t. Is that a big assumption? Maybe not as big as one might think. Overall +1.0. Odds 50%

But how do we get half a win from step two and a whole win from step 3? Well, we get part of the way there by giving Cam another near 0.5. The rest comes from Morin, Bailey, Yates, Alvarez, Petit, Parker, Adams, Middleton, Paredes, Chavez/Meyer, Pounders, Ramirez, Gagnon, Campos, Lamb, Norris, Wright, Jones, Ege, Miller, Valdez, De Los Santos, and probably a few others I am forgetting to give us more than the 0.8 wins they are earmarked for.

April and probably part of may are going to suck in this regard as we hold in season tryouts. In fact, this may end up being a season long ordeal, but I like our chances that at least a couple of those guys from the list above will have a positive impact. At the very least, I can see us getting solid performances from a handful of that crew for at least parts of the season. There are too many really good arms of that bunch for there not to be a win in there someplace. Or at least it’s reasonable to think that if we are going to get to 90 wins that the depth Eppler has built is going to play a role in that. It’s also going to require that they pull the plug on anyone not doing well. Outside of Street, I don’t see MS tolerating prolonged poor performance (say that ten times fast) from any of the rest. And I really don’t see Street getting a huge leash either at this point in his career. Granted there were trades and injuries, but the top 5 in terms of innings from the pen in April were Alvarez, Morin, Salas, Rasmus and Smith. In September it was JC Ramirez, Bailey, Valdez, Guerra and Achter. Again, not the most scientific of comparisons, but that is truly an area where I don’t think the team will be shy about making adjustments.

So there it is. A road map to 90 wins. A fair amount has to go right but I still see some other areas where we could gain a little more ground than currently being attributed. Is it likely? probably not. Is it reasonable? sure.

Maybe we should watch a few games to find out.

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