When discussing the MLB postseason, parity is the epitome. After all, the last team to win consecutive World Series titles was the New York Yankees (1998-2000). Parity is what puts the MLB postseason on a pedestal closely behind that of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and March Madness.
Parity, however, will look to take hold of MLB even more this season under the shortened 60-game regular season format. Under the shortened season, more teams could be in the playoff hunt. A particular roster strength could, potentially, shine and, simultaneously, mask a roster weakness.
A team that could capitalize on this increased parity is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Their roster strength, in particular, could come from their offense. Their offense, over the course of a 60-game season, could mitigate the thin starting pitching depth.
Potentially is the key word.
When digging deep, there is reason to make the case that Los Angeles’s offense could take a significant step forward should certain improvements be made.
Before looking into the Angels’ 2020 offense, it is best to look back at their numbers on offense through the first 60 games last season, their last 60 games, and their collective offense over the course of the entire 162-game season.
Through the Angels’ first 60 games last season (March 28 to June 3), the offense collectively possessed a .767 On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS). This OPS would rank 12th among all MLB teams up to that point of the season. Among Angels’ batters with a minimum of 150 plate appearances (PA’s), five had an OPS over .800 (Mike Trout with 1.060, Tommy La Stella with .880, David Fletcher with .835, Kole Calhoun with .830 and Brian Goodwin with .812).
To make the offensive numbers more impressive, the Angels’ prized two-way player in Shohei Ohtani (who powered his way to a .925 OPS during his 2018 rookie campaign) only collected 102 PA’s and had a .630 OPS during that span.
Despite the solid numbers, the Angels’ production on offense over the first 60 games would not translate to the final 60 games.
Over the Angels’ final sixty games of the season (July 24 to September 29), the offense took a downward trend, as the team’s OPS during the stretch was a paltry .689. Among all MLB teams, their OPS ranked 28th, ahead of only the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. Among batters with a minimum of 150 plate appearances, only Trout had an OPS over .800 (1.017). Everyone else on the team had a sub-.790 OPS. This was in large part due to injuries. Ohtani and Trout’s seasons came to an early end due to both undergoing knee and foot surgeries, respectively.
La Stella, meanwhile, only played two games during the span due to fracturing his right tibia. Justin Upton, who had injury issues at the beginning of the season, was not able to stay healthy for this stretch either and played only 39 games during this stretch and had a disappointing .690 OPS.
When combining both stretches with the rest of the season, the Angels’ final team OPS of .746 ranked 18th in the majors. While not extremely terrible, it was not earth-shattering either.
Looking at 2019 now brings us to what the Angels could bring to the batter’s box in the shortened 2020 season. What could make the offense a significant strength that could make it one of the best lineups in the majors?
The obvious area to start would be to get healthier. When Trout, Ohtani, La Stella and Upton have prolonged injury absences, the offense is going to suffer.
Getting healthier players equals more plate appearances from said players, so the equation goes. When adding the variable of getting healthier star players, you get more productive plate appearances.
Health, however, can be out of the control of both the player and team. What can be in control of both parties though?
How about bringing in more players?
After all, the Angels replaced Calhoun (who signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks) with someone by the name of Anthony Rendon, who had a 1.010 OPS in 146 games last year and arguably made a case to win the National League MVP Award.
Within the prospect pipeline, Los Angeles possesses two young prospects, who are both ranked inside MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list (sixth and 79th, respectively), in Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. With the minor league season’s cancellation, both could find themselves on the major league squad quicker than expected, provide lineup protection in a best-case scenario, and solid bench depth in the worst case.
Adding a star player and a couple of high-profile prospects definitely opens up lineup possibilities. However, the true controlling factor, which could give the Angels one of the most lethal offenses is something simple, yet so complex at the same time: contact.
Let’s go back to last season’s numbers one last time. While the Angels’ .746 team OPS ranked eighth, their 20.4 strikeout percentage (K%) ranked third in MLB, meaning the Angels, collectively, did not strike out as frequently as other teams (for comparison sake, the Detroit Tigers’ 26.4 K% ranked last in the majors). Fletcher’s 9.8 K%, in fact, was second-best in the majors last year.
The blemish, however, was collecting too much contact on the ground. While the Angels’ .99 Groundout to Air Out Ratio (GO/AO) ranked 15th in MLB, they grounded into a double play 143 times, which ranked 29th. The chief culprits on the team came from Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons, who grounded into double plays 21 times each. The ground out numbers collectively gave the Angels a .281 batting average on balls in play, which also ranked 29th.
Contact was definitely there for the Angels. Making harder contact, elevating the ball, and getting a little more luck from the contact, though, would significantly increase the offensive output and would keep rallies afloat.
Health permitting, the talent is there. If Trout, Ohtani and Upton remain healthy, the offense will produce. If Rendon puts together another MVP-caliber season, the offense will produce. If Adell and Marsh collect productive at-bats at the major league level, the offense will produce. If new Angels manager Joe Maddon can solve the potential Angels’ starting pitching jigsaw puzzle, the offense might have less pressure to produce.
Parity will take on an entirely new meaning during the 2020 MLB season. More teams will be vying to play baseball as summer rolls into fall. Teams will look toward potential strengths to be the boost that leads to a playoff berth.
Potentially, the Angels’ offense could be the boost that brings playoff baseball back to Orange County, California.