The Angels signed one of the most-hyped players on the market this offseason, inking Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani — who is known as the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because he can pitch and hit — to a six-year contract. They also signed 3B Zack Cozart and OF Chris Young, and they traded for 2B Ian Kinsler and RP Jim Johnson. And they still have one of the best players in Major League Baseball in OF Mike Trout and veteran DH Albert Pujols as staples of the middle of the lineup. They’re looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2014,
The Angels’ .243 average last season was the third-lowest in MLB, and they had the sixth-fewest home runs with 186; their .712 OPS was in the bottom five in the majors. Despite those numbers, Trout put up the type of numbers we’ve come to expect of him. He hit .306 with 33 home runs and a 1.071 OPS; he also stole 22 bases and had a 6.7 WAR. Pujols hit .241 with 23 home runs and a team-high 101 RBI. OF Kole Calhoun hit .244 with 19 homers, and SS Andrelton Simmons added 14 home runs and 19 steals with a .278 average. Kinsler had 22 homers with the Tigers, while Cozart hit .297 with 24 home runs with the Reds. With the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani hit .332 with 8 home runs and a .942 OPS in 65 games.
The pitching staff posted a 4.20 ERA, which ranked in the top half of the league, and was below the league average with 1,312 strikeouts. In the bullpen, the Angels were in the top half of the majors with 43 saves. SP Garrett Richards missed most of last season with an arm injury, but pitched well the few times he took the mound. In six starts,he posted a 2.28 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. SP Parker Bridwell posted a 3.64 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 121 innings, and SP Matt Shoemaker put up a 4.52 ERA and struck out 69 batters in 77.2 innings over 14 starts. SP Tyler Skaggs made 16 starts, with a 4.55 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 85 innings. RP Blake Parker recorded 8 saves while putting up a 2.54 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 67.1 innings over 71 appearances. With the Braves, Johnson recorded 22 saves but had a disappointing 5.56 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 56.2 innings in 61 games. On the mound, Ohtani recorded a 3.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings, and he has a 2.69 career ERA in five seasons in the Japan Pacific League.
The Angels beefed up their offense this winter to give Trout some help. Cozart, in particular, should provide him some support in the middle of the lineup, and if Pujols can stay healthy the veteran can still provide some pop, with around 20 home runs. How the pitching does will largely depend on how healthy the starters are, as many of them dealt with injuries at some point last season that limited the number of starts they made. And the biggest X factor on the team is, of course, Ohtani. He was expected to be a big part of the team from Opening Day, but he has a 27.00 ERA in two spring training starts and is 3-for-28 (.107) with 1 RBI, 3 walks and 9 strikeouts at the plate. With those numbers, there has been speculation that he could open the season in the minors, but it appears he will start 2018 in the majors. If he continues to struggle early in the season, though, he could get sent down. That would put a damper on the team’s expectations for the season and potentially push back by a season the plan they had when they signed the Japanese star.
The Angels finished as runners-up to the Astros in the division last season, and that’s probably the best they can hope for this year. In a competitive American League, I’m not sure they have enough talent — especially with their pitching staff — to land a Wild Card. If they don’t get the type of performance they’re expecting from Ohtani, the Mariners could even pass them in the West. The Angels are on the right track, but they’re likely not yet to the point where they’re a playoff team.