Three Keys to a Successful Angels Season

Three keys to a successful Angels season

Spring training is underway and the Angels are once again looking to end their nine-year playoff drought. There are many question marks and “ifs” that surround the team, as it has been for quite some time, but this year is especially true after the departure of Shohei Ohtani. It is not completely out of the realm of possibilities for the Angels to make the playoffs, but the odds are stacked against them. Out of all the things that need to go right for the Angels to make the playoffs, here are the three most important items.

Stay Healthy

I am mostly looking at you, Anthony Rendon, and Mike Trout. Rendon has played in just 148 games in the last three seasons and 237 for Trout in the same span. The only “full” season that Rendon has put together as an Angel was the Covid-shortened 2020 season and he hit .286 with a .915 OPS. Since then, he has hit .235 with a .701 OPS in those 148 games. A fully healthy season will not guarantee that the Rendon of old will return, but there is still a possibility he can be a productive player. As for Trout, when he plays he is still one of the best hitters in the game. In the 237 games played from 2021-2023, Trout is hitting .283 with a .962 OPS.

Although Trout and Rendon are the headliners in terms of the Angels’ injury problems, 2023 was an injury-riddled season for many Halos. The Angels had an MLB-leading 42 players get put on the injured list in 2023, according to The Associated Press.

Some of the more significant injuries included Logan O’Hoppe, who tore his labrum in his left shoulder and was limited to 51 games. Zach Neto dealt with oblique and back injuries and only played 84 games. Taylor Ward played 97 games before his season was cut short after getting hit by a pitch in the face. Brandon Drury was limited to 125 games because of shoulder issues. 

A fully healthy season will not automatically mean that the Angels are going to the playoffs, but it is a step in the right direction from years past.

Detmers and Sandoval Return to 2022 Form

Reid Detmers and Patrick Sandoval broke out in 2022 and showed that they are capable of leading the pitching staff. Detmers logged a 3.77 ERA in 25 starts in 2022 while Sandoval impressed with a 2.91 ERA in 27 starts. The 2023 season was not as kind to both of them, with Detmers finishing the year with a 4.48 ERA in 28 starts and Sandoval with a 4.11 ERA in 28 starts.

With the departure of Shohei Ohtani, the Angels are back to not having an ace on the staff. While neither Detmers nor Sandoval should be expected to be aces, they can severely help out the mighty thin rotation that the Angels have by finding the success they saw in 2022.

The biggest difference in the two seasons for Detmers is his success with the fastball. In 2022, opposing hitters hit .232 off Detmers’ fastball and it had a run value of five, compared to 2023’s .291 batting average against and -10 run value, according to Baseball Savant. Detmers’ fastball velocity rose from 93.2 miles per hour in 2022 to 94.3 miles per hour in 2023, but his command of it slipped. Looking at the heatmaps on Baseball Savant, Detmers’ fastball was primarily used at the top of the zone and it produced weak contact and swing-and-misses in 2022 and in 2023, his fastball crept lower into the heart of the zone, resulting in more damage against.

Much like Detmers, Sandoval struggled to keep his fastball out of the heart of the zone and opposing hitters hit .338 and it had a -11 run value, according to Baseball Savant. Baseball Savant’s heat map for Sandoval’s fastball in 2023 has the darkest part in the center of the strike zone, which could be a reason why Sandoval gave up a career-high 27.9 line drive percentage.

Both Detmers and Sandoval returning to 2022 form will be not only a great help for the rotation but the bullpen as well because then they can go deeper into games and the bullpen will not have to be used as much. It feels like the Angels have completely revamped their bullpen three out of the last five years, but because the starting rotation has been weak, the bullpen has been forced to overwork themselves and the bullpen fizzles out by July.

O’Hoppe, Neto, and Schanuel Take Steps Forward

Logan O’Hoppe, Zach Neto, and Nolan Schanuel are emerging as the pillars of the future for the Angels. All three have shown signs of being solid to good major leaguers in their short time in the majors and each of them taking another step forward will go a long way for the Angels in 2024.

O’Hoppe’s torn labrum unfortunately limited him to 51 games this season, but in his 56 career games, he is hitting .240 with a .787 OPS, 111 wRC+, and has 14 home runs. Small sample of course, but O’Hoppe sported an impressive 15.6 Barrel% in 2023. Where O’Hoppe has struggled at the plate so far is chasing out of the zone and his swing-and-miss rate. Despite O’Hoppe’s below-average chase percentage (33.9%) and whiff rate (32.1%), his strikeout rate was only a couple of points above league average (24.1%), according to Baseball Savant.

Neto also missed significant time in 2023 because of injuries (oblique and back injuries) and only played 81 games. Neto caught fire at the beginning of the season before his injuries and had a 48-game stretch from April 22 to June 14 when he hit .278 with a .811 OPS. Neto sported an above-average 8.8 Barrel% and only had a 25.2 Chase%, according to Baseball Savant. Defensively, Neto proved he is MLB-ready, ranking in the 73rd percentile in Range (Outs Above Average) and 76th percentile in arm strength. 

Schanuel made his MLB debut just a month after he was selected 11th overall in the draft and promptly started his career with a 29-game on-base streak that will carry over into this season. He hit .275 and had a .402 on-base percentage in those 29 games, but his .330 slugging percentage brings his OPS down to .732. Schanuel draws walks at a high clip (15.2 BB%), does not strike out (14.4 K%), does not swing and miss (17.6 Whiff%), and does not chase out of the zone (20.4 Chase%), but he also does not hit anything hard (2.2 Barrel%). 

It is easy to be concerned with a 6’4 220-pound first baseman that has just a 2.2 Barrel%, but you have to remember that he played only 22 games in the minor leagues before his callup, and professional baseball is far different from college. His 51.1 ground ball percentage raises concerns as well, but 29 games is a small sample and Schanuel has been a major leaguer for a month. Much of his struggles have come from him being late and flaring the ball, so with more reps next season, Schanuel should get some of his timing figured out and improve because his discipline is already MLB-ready.

If these three guys continue to take steps forward and can develop into solid major leaguers, the Angels will be in a far better spot with their lineup and could see some consistency finally. 

Jack Janes

Journalism major at the University of La Verne. Played college baseball at Fullerton College and the University of La Verne. Also write for Inside The Rink.

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