Angels Pitchers and the New Look Angels Defense by Mike Podhorzer December 20, 2017 In my Monday post discussing how park factors may affect Zack Cozart’s performance, I responded to a comment opining that “the Angels IF defense is going to be insane” with the following: The offense should be above average and that defense and upgraded offense means potentially serious bumps to Angels starting pitchers. I said that without actually doing any research on how the Angels defense performed in 2017 or looking into the batted ball distributions of the pitchers and how that matches with the strengths of the fielding unit. So let’s do that now. Let’s begin with 2017 fielding metrics, AL rank, and the metrics from the player who played the most innings at each position: 2017 Angels UZR Ratings Name Pos UZR AL Rank Andrelton Simmons SS 15.5 1 Martin Maldonado C 12.8 (Def) 1 (Def rank) Kole Calhoun RF 8.5 2 Danny Espinosa 2B 2.2 4 C.J. Cron 1B 1.5 8 Yunel Escobar 3B -1.6 62 Ben Revere LF -3.6 100 Mike Trout CF -4.5 75 Team Total 23.7 2 Though it may appear as if this was just an average defense given how three of the eight players posted negative UZR marks, Andrelton Simmons, Martin Maldonado, and Kole Calhoun were so good that it boosted their team UZR total to third in all of baseball and second in the AL! Certainly I knew that Simmons was good, but I had no idea the team was the second best in that metric. That strong defense mostly translated into hit suppression, as the team’s BABIP was eighth lowest in baseball and fifth best in the AL. So if the team’s defense was already fantastic, especially in the infield thanks to Simmons, how much better could they reasonably be? Let’s go over the early depth chart Fld projections (which are UZR projections) for the starters at each position. 2018 Angels Projected Fld Ratings Name Fld Andrelton Simmons 12.7 Zack Cozart 12.6 Kole Calhoun 4.9 Martin Maldonado 4.1 Ian Kinsler 3.5 C.J. Cron 1.9 Mike Trout -2.6 Justin Upton -3.5 Team 34.0 Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler, and a full season from Justin Upton are the new faces here, replacing Yunel Escobar (3B), Danny Espinosa (2B), and Ben Revere (LF), respectively. Cozart is forecasted to perform nearly as well as Simmons defensively, which would represent a massive upgrade. However, he hasn’t played a professional inning at third base, so we can’t pretend this will automatically be a smooth transition and he’ll be as good defensively at the hot corner as he has been at shortstop. Kinsler is projected to perform slightly better than Espinosa, while Upton figures to be just as bad as Revere was in left field. Though, since UZR is a counting stat, Revere was probably significantly worse since that mark came over far fewer than a full season’s worth of innings. Overall, it’s clear the Angels defense is better, almost all driven by the improvement by going from Escobar to Cozart. Since the outfield is projected to perform at about the same mediocre level, it’s all about the infield. Could this actually be the best infield defense in baseball? It’s got to be in the running if it’s not clear cut. So it stands to reason that the pitchers that would enjoy the most benefit from this defense would be the groundballers. Let’s check out who our depth chart projects to get starts this year and what their 2017 GB% was: Angels Starting Pitcher GB% Name Steamer 2018 Projected GB% 2017 GB% Tyler Skaggs 44.6% 41.8% Garrett Richards 51.1% 54.2% Andrew Heaney 38.8% 30.2% Matt Shoemaker 39.7% 38.5% JC Ramirez 48.3% 51.4% Nick Tropeano 38.2% N/A Parker Bridwell 40.2% 38.1% Talk about a team unable to really take advantage of their shiny new infield defense! Of the seven starting pitchers forecasted to get at least a handful of starts this year, only two are projected for meaningfully above average GB% marks (the 2017 MLB average GB% was 44.2%). And of those two, only one of them is actually fantasy relevant. Garrett Richards has been limited to just 12 starts over the past two seasons due to arm injuries, so health will remain a major question mark. But a strong ground ball rate, plus excellent ability to induce whiffs thanks to a mid-to-high 90s fastball and lethal slider, have led to strong performance when he has actually been healthy enough to take the mound. Surprisingly, despite owning a high GB% throughout his career, he has managed to maintain a suppressed BABIP. Normally, he would clearly benefit from this studly infield defense, but I’m skeptical such an extreme groundballer could sustain such suppressed BABIP marks to begin with. If nothing else, the new defense should stave off regression. And he certainly looks better now than before the new faces arrived.