Continuing in the early 2016 tradition of the Kansas City Royals squaring off against foes who they have vanquished in the past two years, the World Champs head to the left coast to face the team the swept in the 2014 American League Division Series, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Possessing bottom-five offense and bullpen, a bottom-six rotation, and a middle-tiered defense (thanks, Andrelton Simmons) in terms of team fWAR, the Angels look to be every bit as underwhelming as their current 8-10 record implies in spite of the fact that one of the best players in the game patrols center field for them.
*All stats herein courtesy of FanGraphs
Game One - Monday, 9:05 PM CDT
The early season returns for Garrett Richards have to have the Angels hoping that they finally got the Garrett Richards of 2014. Before an injury cut his season short on August 20th, the Angels looked to have an ace in their midst with Richards having accrued 4.3 fWAR with over a month's worth of starts left in the season. Then his K-rate dipped (from 8.75 K/9 and 24.2 K% in 2014 to 7.64 K/9 and 20.4 K% in 2015) to and his walk-rates rose in 2015 (from 2.72 BB/9 and 7.5 BB% to 3.30 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%), and Richards fell back to being an average major-league starting pitcher, at least in terms of production.
Thus far in 2016, Richards's walk-rate (3.38 BB/9 and 8.9 BB%) sits at 2015's level, but his K-rates have spiked to career highs in the limited sample of four starts and 24.0 innings. If he is able to maintain his 9.38 K/9 and 24.8 K%. His K/BB is still lower than it was at 2014 levels (2.78 compared to 3.22 in 2014), but the strikeouts look to match up better with Richards's stuff. Richards may be win-less so far, but his 3.00 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.37 xFIP, and 3.54 SIERA imply that his lowly win-loss record (0-3) is not owing to his performance but rather to his lack of run support.
Ian Kennedy will take the mound for the Royals. His 1.35 ERA is certainly being propped up a bit by his likely unsustainable .255 BABIP, 90.9 LOB%, and 4.2 HR/FB%, but his Defense Independent Pitching Statistics still show a pitcher who has put up a 2.52 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, and 3.30 SIERA, worth 0.6 fWAR (0.2 less than in all of last year) over the course of just three starts.
Game Two - Tuesday, 9:05 PM CDT
Jered Weaver's velocity has continued its precipitous fall this year. With his fastball averaging just 81.8 MPH, it has dropped another 1.5 MPH from last year's average, which was a full 3.0 MPH slower than it had been in 2014.
Not surprisingly, the right-hander has struggled to get opponents out. Owning a career K/9 of 7.25, he's notching just 3.63 K/9 so far this season, a drop from last year's already dismal 5.09 mark. Weaver's 3.12 ERA is markedly lower than his 5.72 FIP, 6.18 xFIP, and 5.94 SIERA. Yes, Weaver's extreme fly-ball tendencies have allowed for him to outperform his peripherals on his career, and Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout are both strong defenders in the outfield, but they are not likely to be able to fully make up for this velocity drop further eroding his strikeout totals.
Volquez's walk-rates currently sit at all-time lows for his career - 2.92 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%, compared to his 4.26 BB/9 and 10.8 BB% on his career. While walking fewer batters than he has ever done before, he has raised his strikeout rates back to the levels that it previously seemed he needed to throw hard and wild, yielding both more strikeouts and walks. His 2.75 K/BB is over 0.50 higher than any other season. If this is the real Edinson Volquez, his 2.81 FIP could be sustainable. With the Royals' defense behind him, he could definitely outperform that FIP, though probably not to the tune of the 1.46 ERA he currently sports.
Game Three - Wednesday, 9:05 PM CDT
Much like Weaver, Tropeano is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. Of starting pitchers in 2016, only Blake Snell posted a higher FB% than Tropeano's 55.6. Thanks to a lofty strand rate (87.0 LOB%) and not having allowed a home run yet, the 6'4" 25-year-old owns a 1.69 ERA despite a poor 4.50 BB/9, 11.6 BB%, and .319 BABIP. His 2.84 FIP implies that perhaps his 7.88 K/9 and 20.3 K% are high enough that he can get by, but it's clear that as a fly-ball pitcher he will not sustain a 0.0 HR/FB%, which explains his 5.23 xFIP and 4.98 SIERA.
While Young opened the season with a solid if unspectacular start against the New York Mets, his road starts that followed in Houston and Oak Land were rough. Because Young defies expectations because he can't not do that, he then stifled the Orioles' offense, yielding two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out a shocking 10 O's. That Young dominates righties with his fastball/slider combo can only mean good things as the Angels' lineup is decidedly RHH-heavy.
Los Angeles by way of Anaheim's bats
Full disclaimer: any attempts at predicting Mike Scioscia's batting orders from day-to-day are exercises in futility. At this point the only mainstays are Yunel Escobar leading off, and Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun occupying the heart of the order.
|Kole Calhoun (L)||RF||71||2||9||8||0||.308||.366||.462||.363||146|
|Cliff Pennington (S)||2B||22||1||2||4||0||.211||.286||.526||.343||131|
|Rafael Ortega (L)||LF||22||0||2||1||1||.238||.273||.238||.232||49|
|Ji-Man Choi (L)||1B/LF||11||0||0||0||0||.125||.364||.125||.268||76|
A quick perusal over the early season production from the Angels shows Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, and then a bunch of replacement-level (or worse) guys. They may be getting less production than expected from their position players, but it is difficult to see where this assortment of players becomes more than a bottom-tier offense without external acquisitions.
Of their everyday players, only Trout, Calhoun, and Escobar have provided above-average offensive production. Escobar's base-running and defense have sapped his overall value to roughly replacement level (0.1 fWAR). Soto and Pennington are the only other above-replacement active players on the roster.
As a team, the Angels possess the worst offense in the American League, slashing a dismal .218/.289/.317 line with a .270 wOBA and 77 wRC+. Mike Trout is very good, but it is hard to imagine him being able to carry the Angels' offense by himself.
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