Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: Los Angeles Angels
After several seasons of having two of the best players in baseball, 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 try to take this team to a new level and fulfill the playoff aspirations that the baseball world hopes for them, and keep the Mariners and Rangers up.
With a lineup featuring two of the best players in baseball, you can imagine this team being a treasure trove of fantastic stats come draft season. Possible injuries and playing time may say otherwise.
Statistics of 2022 (225 PA): .204 AVG, 30 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 9 SB
Taylor Ward set the world on fire early in the season. His 17.1% walk rate and 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, good for a 221 wRC+.
The world was Ward’s oyster until late May, when he suffered a series of injuries, including nerve damage involving his neck and shoulder when he crashed into a wall. Ward worked through most of the pain, and it showed in the box scores as he struggled to produce. Later that summer, Ward spoke about the issues surrounding that nerve injury, claiming it slowed his speed.
Playing after injury is difficult to analyze as we rarely get to know all the details of what’s impacting a player and what’s not, but with Ward, we actually have a pretty good idea that what he’s saying was true . As proof, here’s a spinning chart of Ward’s WOBA last season, and I bet you’ll be able to identify when the injuries happened and when he was finally feeling better without too much trouble:
As you may have guessed, this decline begins near the end of May, which coincides with nerve damage, and begins to increase again in September. What I like about this chart is that we see Ward picking up where he left off, suggesting this is a level he can reach when healthy.
None of Ward’s injuries in 2022 are considered long-term, and health hasn’t been an issue for him before the middle of 2022, so I’m more than happy to give Ward a pass as injury bad luck goes in 2023.
While I’m not usually one to look at color-coded sliders on a player page, I guess I’ll leave that up to you with the context that he played through injuries in 2022 and still managed to rack up all this beauty. 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 cartwheel, a sinker and a curveball, though that slow ball is key to unlocking his potential.
Sandoval’s season can be largely summed up by two things: his command and his changeup. When he had them, he threw precious stones. When he didn’t…well…he didn’t. I was pleased to see him find success here and there without his changeup relying on fastballs and sliders, but true breakout for Sandoval still relies on his changeup getting inspirations in and out of the zone.
Command issues are a tricky beast—a pitcher can look untouchable one day and like a fool the next when the command is inconsistent. That said, Sandoval has a few things that other guys in command matters don’t. First, he throws five different pitches, giving him more chances to find something that works—a huge advantage over two- and three-pitch guys. Second, even when the command isn’t there, he usually avoids the big shot. 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 it to stay that low, of course, but it was a big step.
The elephant in the room, however, is WHIP. A 1.34 WHIP won’t do it most of the time, and it was 13th-worst among the 72 pitchers with at least 140 strikeouts. Much of that has to do with his command — he walked 9.4% of the batters he faced — though he improved that as the season went on. Sandoval’s 1.21 WHIP in the second half isn’t anything to brag about either, but if he can put up a WHIP like that in 2023 along with 170 innings, the rest should fall into place.
This brings us back to the point I made at the beginning – it’s about change and command. The change didn’t happen until 2022 after being a weapon in 2021, and with any luck, the Irish Panda can get the slugger back on track in the offseason and bring us the true breakout we’re all hoping for.
Statistics of 2022 (193 PA): .229 AVG, 9 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB
This hurts me because I really want to believe in Anthony Rendon. He was consistently underrated in his days with the Nationals, despite his numerous year-over-year counting stats, exceptional plate discipline and outstanding ratios. I mean, three straight 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 haven’t forgotten.
After a strong first year with the Angels in the shortened 2020 campaign, things have quickly turned south for Rendon. He’s missed the 60-game mark in two straight seasons (technically three, actually, but he played in 52 of 60 games in 2020, so I’ll give him a pass), and even when he’s on the field, Rendon was a shadow of his former self.
In his last 105 games, Rendon is slashing a .235/.328/.381 with 11 home runs, good for a pedestrian 98 wRC+. In the chart below (yes, already going there), you can see the decline quite clearly:
Now it’s easy to point to injury as the reason, and you’d be right as Rendon has been riddled with ailments over the past few seasons. You might even be tempted to label him a sleeper, thanks to the top-heavy nature of third base in 2023 drafts.
Unfortunately, name recognition for Rendon likely makes his ADP too rich for my blood. While it’s great to dream about what a healthy Rendon hitting fourth behind Trout and Ohtani could do (perhaps something like 20 home runs and 90+ RBI with strong ratios), keep in mind that the Angels are already starting to hedge 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 plenty of days off even when healthy, putting a cap on Rendon’s potential contributions, which are already greatly hampered by extreme injury risk.
I’m not interested in risking guys with playing time, performance or injury concerns, but I am interested in risking 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 infielder, as Drury nearly doubled his previous record for home runs and had 24 more home runs than he had ever had in a single season. Famously, much of that success came when Drury was with the Reds, but much of this talk is overblown since his success comes more from a variety of other factors (more drawn fly balls, more patience and a large increase in the barrel rate had a far greater impact than Great American Ballpark).
With that introduction, you’d probably think 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 will have to go right.
First, you’ll need Drury to find a better spot in the batting order. Roster Resource currently has him in the six hole, and replicating his 87 runs and 87 RBI is nearly impossible to hit in the bottom half of this lineup. The pitching behind Anthony Rendon and the aforementioned Hunter Renfroe isn’t ideal, and pitching in front of question mark Jared Walsh and a starting catcher limits his scoring opportunities.
Second, you have to believe that a 30-year-old master is ready to be a strong contributor for only the second time in his career. While there’s some evidence to suggest he figured something out in 2021 and 2022 based on the hits in his slugging and pull rates, I’m more inclined to go with the projections, which so far suggest he’ll come back down to earth and be more like an 18-20 home run hitter with a .250 batting average. If this is the type of forward we get in 2023, it’s a forward who will be on and off the waiver wire all season long, not a player who should be drafted before the final 12-team rounds.
Statistics of 2022 (551 PA): .285 AVG, 61 R, 13 HR, 64 RBI, 1 SB
I’ll keep this short – I’m not sure how Gio Urshela plays every day for this team, unless some disaster strikes for Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh (which, of course, isn’t that hard to imagine).
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 have a good old-fashioned game of musical chairs at second and two-point short for four players. Of course, injuries to Anthony Rendon or David Fletcher wouldn’t 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 roster spot and plenty of playing time to increase their fantasy value, and for now, both seemed doomed to the bottom of the order and at least one or two days off per week. . This is not a recipe for success for either player and relegates them to the world of inside streamers in most standard formats.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)