After several seasons of having two of baseball’s best players, the Angels have finally decided to add some depth to their roster and look to overtake the Astros in the AL West. Phil Nevin will look to take this team to a new level and fulfill the playoff aspirations that the baseball world hopes for them, and hold down the rising Mariners and Rangers.
With a lineup that features two of baseball’s best players, you would imagine this team is a treasure trove of fantasy stats come draft season. Potential injuries and playing time may say otherwise.
2022 stats (225 PA): .204 AVG, 30 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 9 SB
Taylor Ward set the world on fire at the start of the season. His 17.1% walk rate and a 21.9% strikeout rate over his first 146 plate appearances was nothing short of elite, and it came with 10 home runs and a .347/.459/.686 line, good for a 221 wRC+.
The world was Ward’s oyster until late May when he experienced a litany of injuries, including a nerve injury involving his neck and shoulder when he crashed into a wall. Ward played through much of the pain, and it showed in the box scores as he struggled to produce. Later that summer, Ward opened up about the issues related to that nerve injury, claiming it reduced his bat speed.
Playing through injury is tough to analyze as we rarely learn of all of the details about what is impacting a player and what isn’t, but with Ward, we actually have a pretty good idea that what he’s saying was true. As evidence, here’s a rolling chart of Ward’s wOBA last season, and I bet you’ll be able to identify when the injuries occurred and when he was finally feeling better without much difficulty:
As you probably guessed, that dip starts near the end of May, which coincides with the nerve injury, and starts shooting back up in September. What I love about this chart is that we see Ward picking up right where he left off, suggesting that this is a level he can achieve when healthy.
None of Ward’s 2022 injuries are considered long-term, and health had not been an issue for him prior to the middle of 2022, so I’m more than happy to give Ward a pass on the bad injury luck heading into 2023.
While I’m not usually one to gawk at the color-coded sliders on a player page, I figure I’ll leave this one for you with the context that he played through injuries in 2022 and still managed to rack up all of this beautiful red:
2022 stats (148.2 IP): 2.91 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 151 K, 6 W
Dubbed the “Irish Panda”, Sandoval had an up-and-down year that led to a surprisingly smooth 2.91 ERA. He throws a wide variety of pitches, including a slider, a changeup, a four-seamer, a sinker, and a curve, though that slow ball is the key to unlocking his potential.
Sandoval’s season can largely be summed up by two things: his command and his changeup. When he had them, he threw gems. When he didn’t…well…he didn’t. I was pleased to see him find success here and there without his changeup by relying on fastballs and sliders, but a true breakout for Sandoval still relies on his changeup getting whiffs in and out of the zone.
Command issues are a tricky beast—a pitcher can look untouchable one day and like a dud the next when the command is inconsistent. That said, Sandoval has a few things going for him that other command issue guys don’t. First, he throws five different pitches, giving him more chances to find something that works—a big advantage over two and three-pitch guys. Second, even when the command isn’t there, he usually avoids the big blow-up. Sandoval allowed more than three earned runs in just four of his 27 starts in 2022. Finally, he kept the ball in the park, with a 0.48 HR/9. I don’t expect that to stay this low, of course, but it was a big step.
The elephant in the room, however, is the WHIP. A 1.34 WHIP is not going to get it done most of the time and was the 13th-worst among the 72 pitchers with at least 140 innings. Much of this is tied to his command—he walked 9.4% of the batters he faced—though he did improve on this as the season went on. Sandoval’s 1.21 WHIP in the second half is also not something to be especially proud of, but if he can put up a WHIP like that in 2023 along with 170 innings, the rest should fall into place.
That brings us back to the point I made in the beginning – it’s all about the changeup and command. The changeup was only there in flashes in 2022 after being a weapon in 2021, and with any luck, the Irish Panda can get the slow ball back on track in the offseason and bring us the true breakout we’re all hoping for.
2022 stats (193 PA): .229 AVG, 9 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB
This hurts because I really want to believe in Anthony Rendon. He was perennially undervalued in his days with the Nationals despite year after year of plentiful counting stats, outstanding plate discipline, and remarkable ratios. I mean, three consecutive seasons with at least 24 home runs, at least 180 combined runs and RBI, and a batting average north of .300 is a feat most of us have not forgotten.
After a strong first year with the Angels in the shortened 2020 campaign, things have turned south quickly for Rendon. He’s missed the 60-game mark in two straight seasons (technically three, actually, but he played in 52 of the 60 games in 2020 so I’ll give him a pass), and even when he has been on the field, Rendon has been a shadow of his former self.
In his last 105 games, Rendon is slashing a meager .235/.328/.381 with 11 home runs, good for a pedestrian 98 wRC+. In the rolling chart below (yup, already going there), you can see the decline quite clearly:
Now it’s easy to point to injury as the cause, and you’d be right as Rendon has been riddled with ailments over the last few seasons. You might even be tempted to label him a sleeper thanks to the incredibly top-heavy nature of third base in 2023 drafts.
Unfortunately, the name recognition for Rendon will likely make his ADP too rich for my blood. While it’s great to dream about what a healthy Rendon batting fourth behind the Trout and Ohtani could do (probably something like 20 home runs and 90+ RBI with strong ratios), keep in mind that the Angels have already begun hedging their bets on Rendon’s health by signing Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela (more on them in a moment). Along with Luis Rengifo (more on him in a moment, too), that makes three additional guys on the 26-man roster who can cover third base. I fully expect to see Rendon get ample days of rest even when healthy, putting a cap on Rendon’s potential contributions which are already weighed down heavily by the extreme injury risk.
I don’t mind taking chances on guys with playing time, performance, or injury concerns, but I do mind taking a chance on a guy who has all three. Rendon will almost certainly be drafted in most 12-team leagues, but it won’t be by me.
2022 stats (568 PA): .263 AVG, 87 R, 28 HR, 87 RBI, 2 SB
It was a career year for the journeyman infielder as Drury nearly doubled his previous record for home runs and drove in 24 more runners than he ever had in a single season. Famously, much of that success came when Drury was with the Reds, but much of that talk is overblown as his success comes more from a variety of other factors (more pulled fly balls, more patience, and a big spike in barrel rate had a much bigger impact than Great American Ballpark).
With that intro, you’d probably think that Drury is on the wrong side of this article, but for Drury to look anything like what we saw in 2022, a lot of things would need to go right.
First, you’d need Drury to find a better spot in the batting order. Roster Resource currently slots him in the six-hole, and repeating his 87 runs and 87 RBI is nigh-impossible batting in the bottom half of this lineup. Hitting behind the previously-mentioned Anthony Rendon and Hunter Renfroe is not ideal, and hitting in front of question mark Jared Walsh and a rookie catcher limits his run-scoring opportunities.
Second, you’d need to believe that a 30-year-old journeyman is ready to be a strong contributor for just the second time in his career. While there is some evidence to suggest he figured something out in 2021 and 2022 based on bumps to his hard hit and pull rates, I’m more inclined to follow the projections, which so far suggest that he’ll come back down to earth and be more like an 18-20 home run hitter with a .250 batting average. If that’s the kind of hitter we get in 2023, it’s a hitter who will be on and off the waiver wire throughout the season, not a player who ought to be drafted before the final rounds in 12-teamers.
2022 stats (551 PA): .285 AVG, 61 R, 13 HR, 64 RBI, 1 SB
The Angels signed Gio Urshela to address depth concerns, but also signed Brandon Drury for the same reason. Add in last year’s surprise contributor Luis Rengifo and oft-injured contact king David Fletcher, and you’ve got a good old-fashioned game of musical chairs at second and shortstop with two spots for four players. Of course, injuries to Anthony Rendon or David Fletcher would not be surprising, but you’d need one or both to miss significant time (like 50+ games) to find a path to more than 120-130 games for Urshela or Rengifo.
Unfortunately for Urshela and Rengifo, their contact-oriented profiles require a good lineup spot and plenty of playing time to drive their fantasy value, and at present, both seemed doomed to the bottom of the order and at least one or two days off a week. That’s not a recipe for success for either player and relegates them to the world of infield streamers in most standard formats.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)