Even as the Los Angeles Angels struggled to compete in 2021 amid injuries and inconsistent performances, the right side of their infield — first baseman Jared Walsh and second baseman David Fletcher — remained solid nearly every night.
For Walsh, it was a continuation of his breakout 2020 season, even being named an All-Star and a Gold Glove finalist for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Fletcher was hot and cold at the plate throughout the year, but ultimately wound up a Gold Glove finalist thanks to his incredible work at second base.
Both players were anchors for the Angels in 2021 and figure to be pillars of the franchise moving forward. We’ll review their performance this year and look ahead to next year for two key members of the Angels infield.
Days 10-14 of our player review series can be seen below. For days 1-9, check out the links on day 10.
Day 10: Griffin Canning, Dylan Bundy, Justin Upton
Day 11: Alex Cobb, Max Stassi, Mike Mayers
Day 12: Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell
Day 13: Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez
Day 14: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon
Coming off of an amazing rookie season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, some were worried that his breakout may have been a fluke. It was even enough of a worry for the Angels to start the season with Albert Pujols as the starting first baseman. However, it took less than a month for the Angels to realize Walsh was the real deal.
In 2021, Walsh batted .277 with an .850 OPS, but was incredible outside of a massive cold stretch in the month of August. Walsh had a solid 127 wRC+ and ranked among the best in the league at barrel rate and exit velocity.
Walsh is already the first baseman of the future for the Angels, but he has some work to do to truly enter the elite stratosphere of first basemen in Major League Baseball. The first is defense, where he ranked in just the 13th percentile in outs above average despite being a Gold Glove finalist.
The second is hitting left-handed pitching. Lefties like Walsh usually struggle against same-handed matchups, but the Angels first baseman was borderline unplayable against the same side in 2021. His wRC+ against right-handers this season was 166, nearly matching Bryce Harper’s league-leading mark.
Against lefties, his wRC+ was a miserable 48, 52% below league average. If he can improve his advanced defensive metrics and find a new approach against same-handed pitchers, he can cement himself among the top 3-5 first basemen in baseball next season.
Fletcher — despite being an extremely likable person — is a polarizing player. Those who love the old-school, hit for contact style of baseball will absolutely love Fletcher and his low strikeout rate and generally high contact rates.
However, fans of advanced analytics will point to his shockingly low exit velocity averages, a low walk rate, and a 71 wRC+ as proof of his struggles as a batter. The truth about Fletcher is somewhere in between.
Fletcher is an elite contact hitter who had an off year at the plate in 2021, with a career-low batting average by a significant margin. He also could stand to draw more walks and swing at less non-strikes. He’s not suddenly going to become a power hitter, but if you’re going to lack power altogether, a higher than .262 batting average is a must.
Defensively, Fletcher is as good as they come. He was a Gold Glove finalist, ranking in the 95th percentile in outs above average. The Angels have hinted that Fletcher could play shortstop in 2022, but it’s more likely that he’s back in his natural second base position.
He and Walsh have built remarkable chemistry in the Angels infield, and it will be a joy to watch both — provided they fix some of the issues that plagued them in 2021 — for years to come.