Thursday, February 11, 2010

(Photo by Sean Scanlon)

By David Regan,
February 12, 2010

To be clear, this isn’t an Angels team preview. You folks all have your own opinions on the Angels offseason to date versus that of their competitors in the AL West.

This is a fantasy article. If you want an Angels 2010 team preview that can be found elsewhere. If you want my opinion though, the gap between the Angels as the rest of the division has tightened, for reasons that you are all well aware of.

2009 review

Fantasy surprises: Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar
Fantasy disappointments: Joe Saunders despite the wins
Better fantasy guy than “real life” performer: Brian Fuentes

We won’t spend a lot of time (well, any team) looking backwards here, so let’s kick off the 2010 Angels fantasy preview.

The New Guys

Hideki Matsui, DH – Matsui’s power figures to slip some leaving Yankee Stadium, but at this point in his career, he’s probably a slight upgrade from Vladimir Guerrero, especially in leagues that use OBP instead of batting average. He’ll get you .280-20-80 with a strong OBP.

Fernando Rodney, Set-up Man – Rodney gets a two-year $11 million contract coming off a season in which he notched 37 saves, but let’s dig a bit deeper. Rodney could theoretically compete with Brian Fuentes for saves this season, but this is still a guy who posted a 4.40 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while walking north of five batters per nine innings. Angels fans saw how shaky Fuentes was last year despite the 48 saves, so Rodney can’t be ignored despite the salary that far exceeds his underlying skills.

Joel Pineiro, No. 4 starter – Innings-eater type had a career year under Dave Duncan in 2009, walking an incredible 27 batters in 214 innings for a 1.1 BB/9 that led the majors. His GB% also spiked to 60.5% from its usual 47-49% range and a smaller percentage of his flyballs allowed went over the outfield fence. So what does that all tell us going forward? First, it’s unlikely the walk and HR rates will be sustainable, especially considering the league change.  Second, while some overestimate the Dave Duncan effect, it is a factor. Expect Pineiro’s ERA to jump from 3.49 into the 4.20 range. Still a solid No. 4 starter in the AL, as while the loss of Figgins hurts the defense, the Angels infield is strong up the middle and Kendry Morales had a fine defensive year himself in 2009.

The Not-so New Guy, But New Starter Guy

Brandon Wood, 3B – As of February, it appears Wood is going get his long-awaited shot at 550 big league at-bats. Problem is, he’s still a huge unknown now that some of the luster has come off his star. Getting jerked back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues three years running can’t help, and one wonders how patient Mike Scioscia will be as the strikeouts accumulate, but give Wood 550 at-bats and you’ll certainly get 25+ home runs. Problem is, you might also get a .240 average and 160 strikeouts. A guy worth taking a flier on given his minor league numbers, but the hit to your batting average could be severe.

Starting Rotation

Gone is John Lackey, and while Joel Pineiro is no Lackey, the Angels do have six months of Scott Kazmir as opposed to one last season. Only time will tell where the decision to not give Lackey $80-$90 million was a good decision, but it’s tough to say that the Angels’ rotation has taken a step forward. Status quo? Perhaps, but that all depends on Kazmir. Do the Angels get the Kazmir that posted a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Halos, or the guy who had a 5.92 ERA for the Rays before they unceremoniously shipped him out for a questionable return? We’ll see, but on that note, let’s take a look at what Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have in store for the Angels’ starting five:

Jered Weaver – 16-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 174 strikeouts
Scott Kazmir – 11-9, 3.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 138 strikeouts
Joe Saunders – 13-10, 4.48 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 10 strikeouts
Erviin Santana – 12-8, 4.18 ERA, 1.31 ERA, 153 strikeouts
Joel Pineiro – 11-9, 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 09 strikeouts

Not a whole lot to be excited about in these numbers other than Jered Weaver, though I do like Santana somewhat as a sleeper pick. Two shutouts and eight quality starts (2.48 ERA) in his last 11 starts of 2009 give us some hope that his elbow issues are resolved headed into 2010, and you can’t question that a healthy Santana is a guy you want to own in fantasy leagues. Not many starters have a 214-strikeout season on their resume.

Pineiro is a huge question mark, as how often do you see a guy with his skill-set on the wrong side of 30 regress after signing a big-money free agent deal? Well, pretty often. Pineiro will eat innings, but outside of AL-only leagues, he’s safely ignored.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because Joe Saunders has managed 33 wins the past two years that he’s a guy to target. Saunders is the prototypical soft-tossing lefty (his fastball did average a respectable 90.5 mph in 2009), who saw both his HR and BB rates turn the wrong way in 2009,and coupled with a subpar 4.9 K/9, it left Saunders with a 4.60 ERA. Expect more of the same and fewer wins in 2010.

We don’t need to discuss Weaver too much here other than to simply say that he’s the undisputed ace of the staff and will be looking for Lackey type money soon enough.

Which Kazmir will we get in 2010? Don’t expect a 2007 repeat (239 strikeouts), though he’ll be better than he was with the Rays in 2010. Kazmir’s 1.73 ERA was due in large part to luck, as just one of his 77 fly balls allowed as an Angel cleared the fence. To put that in context, an average home run per fly ball rate is about 11%. Kazmir is still just 26, so he’s far from washed up, but Kazmir’s velocity has dropped off in each of the past two seasons, leaving him more a slightly above league average pitcher than the ace we projected him to be several years ago. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a solid No. 3 starter if healthy, but while Lackey is a top-35 fantasy pitcher, Kazmir shouldn’t sniff the top 50.

Potential rotation replacements if you’re in a very deep league are Trevor Bell and Sean O’Sullivan, though if those guys receive more than a handful of starts between them this year, the Angels are in trouble.

The Catchers

The Angels return the Mike Napoli / Jeff Mathis tandem for another year, and it should serve them well yet again. 155 more at-bats for Napoli in 2009 resulted in the same number of home runs (20) as he posted the previous year, and we should again expect him to get around 65% of the playing time behind the dish. Napoli’s contract rate doesn’t lend to a big batting average, but as a second tier catcher, you could do worse than .270-20-60. We saw Mike Scioscia start Jeff Mathis ahead of Napoli in the playoffs more than expected, but Mathis is far from average offensively. Expect similar numbers in 2010 as both put up the previous season.

The Infield

Lots to like here. Kendry Morales put himself into top-10 AL MVP consideration with a breakout year and there’s no reason to expect anything more than perhaps a very slight regression in 2010. Howie Kendrick might lose a few at-bats here and there to Macier Izturis, but he really shouldn’t. Kendrick doesn’t draw enough walks to be a top-of-the-order threat, but he has the ability to hit .300 in his sleep, and interestingly enough, no other big leaguer had a higher average distance on his home runs last year than Kendrick per the 2010 Bill James Handbook. Unfortunately, only 27.4% of his batted balls were hit in the air, a number that ranks among the lowest in the game, hence the low HR total. Perhaps he’s better off sacrificing some average for power. He’s slightly less valuable in OBP leagues.

On the other side of the diamond, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood fill short and third. We covered Wood above, so on Aybar, he’s probably in the 15-16 range among fantasy shortstops. He’ll hit for a decent average, but the power isn’t there and the stolen bases (15 or so) won’t be enough to push him much higher.  His glove will keep him in the lineup, but like Kendrick, not your ideal leadoff man from an OBP perspective due to the lack of walks. Still, lots of other teams would love to have this guy.

The Outfield

It appears the Angels have a set outfield for the first time in seemingly a while this year with Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu occupying starting roles. Hunter and Abreu should be good for a 2010 that closely mirrors their 2009 numbers, and that will be good news for the Angels as both had strong seasons. There is some SB risk with Hunter, who turns 35 in July and is coming off hernia surgery. Rivera is the wildcard here. He’s a terrible baserunner, but at 31, there’s still probably another 2009 type season in him.

The Bench

Either one of Wood, Izturis, or Kendrick will find himself on the bench to start any given game, lessening their mixed-league value. All three however are worth looking at in AL-only formats, with Izturis being the obvious third wheel here given the presence of Wood at third base. Of course Wood could fall flat on his face, thus opening up third for Izturis full time.

Reggie Willits and Terry Evans could be the backup outfielders, though expecting much in the way of fantasy value is tied to your opinion on whether the starting three will suffer injuries. Evans has put up some impressive minor league numbers, but he’s 28 and has probably missed his window. Willits has a career .365 OBP and 38 stolen bases in 663 major league at-bats, but has Juan Pierre power and is not a legitimate starting outfield possibility for a contending team. Grab him in AL-only leagues should he get unexpected playing time, but don’t draft him.

The Prospects has you covered on the prospect front, so I won’t go too deep here other than to say that there’s really no impact prospect that we can count on seeing make a fantasy impact in 2010. The Angels don’t have that true elite prospect like a Jason Heyward, but few organizations do. What they do have is depth, a nice haul in 2009, and four extra high 2010 compensation picks from the losses of Lackey and Figgins to free agency. Trevor Reckling and Hank Conger could see time later in the year with a strong performance in the high minors, but we’re probably looking at more like 2011 for those guys. Overall, this is a system that is far from elite, but under Eddie Bane and company, there is progress being made.

The Obligatory Sleeper and Bust

Sleeper – We touched on him above, but I will be targeting Howie Kendrick in several leagues this year. I think he can build on his .392 September and 15 homers wouldn’t be a surprise, along with a .310 average.

Bust – Most of the candidates for this coveted award are pitchers, but I’ll go with Brian Fuentes. He just doesn’t look like an AL pitcher, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Fernando Rodney finish with more saves this season.
Love to hear what you think!


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