Even though the spotlight wasn’t always centered on these three players, all of them managed to carve out a relatively large role with the Los Angeles Angels this season. Taylor Ward, Juan Lagares, and Steve Cishek all flew under the radar with solid 2021 campaigns.
Ward served as one of the team’s primary solutions at right field after the early injury to Dexter Fowler, but ultimately got replaced by Jo Adell. Lagares was the team’s backup outfielder, bringing Gold Glove-quality defense to an outfield that struggled with consistency.
Meanwhile, Cishek was an unsung hero of a bullpen that caught a lot of flack for underperforming. Raisel Iglesias deservedly got plenty of love, but Cishek was remarkably consistent.
We’ll take a look at all three players, their performance in 2021, and what it might mean for them in 2022.
The first seven days of our player review series can be seen here:
Day 1: Reid Detmers, Janson Junk, Packy Naughton
Day 2: Austin Warren, Jimmy Herget, Oliver Ortega
Day 3: Kean Wong, Adam Eaton, Jose Rojas
Day 4: Andrew Wantz, Jose Quijada, Chris Rodriguez
Day 5: Tony Watson, Andrew Heaney, Jose Iglesias
Day 6: Aaron Slegers, Alex Claudio, Luis Rengifo
Day 7: Jose Quintana, Junior Guerra, Kurt Suzuki
Ward had more games played and more plate appearances out of the right field position than anybody else did for the Angels in 2021. However, he played just 65 games, just over a third of the season. Since being called up the Majors for the first time in 2018, this season was Ward’s career high in games and plate appearances.
In his limited time, he slashed .250/.332/.438 for a .770 OPS. He held a 107 wRC+, meaning he was a slightly above average hitter for the Angels. He had eight home runs and 33 RBIs as a power hitter, but struggled with the strikeout. He had 55 Ks compared to just 52 hits and 20 walks.
With Mike Trout coming back healthy, Justin Upton being under contract, and the emergence of Brandon Marsh and Adell, Ward may have to spend another season mainly in the Minors. It would be unlikely that the Angels carry five outfielders, and Ward is not quite versatile enough defensively to fight for a utility role.
Speaking of defensive versatility, that is exactly what Lagares brought to the Angels when he joined the team on a one-year deal last offseason. The veteran outfielder was known for his Gold Glove defense, but below average bat. After playing 112 games with the Angels, it’s safe to say he played his role exactly as he was expected to.
He batted .236 with a .638 OPS, hitting six home runs and batting in 38 runs over 327 plate appearances. His 71 wRC+ was par for the course, as he’s been between 61 and 85 in all but one season in which he played over half of his team’s games.
Fielding is where his real value came in. He mostly played center field in the absence of Trout, but still provided hefty innings at the other two outfield positions. His 2 defensive runs saved were above MLB average, and he was 74th percentile in outs above average.
Lagares is now a free agent entering his age-33 season. Like Ward, it’s unclear if there’s a place for him on the Angels among a crowded outfield.
The Angels bullpen was oft maligned, and that led to Cishek getting tangled into the struggles of other players. However, in his age-35 season, Cishek was hugely productive for the Halos.
He pitched in 74 games, the most of any Angels pitcher in 2021, and tossed 68.1 innings, which was the third most among Angels pitchers who strictly came out of the bullpen. In that time, he had a 3.42 ERA and a 1.493 WHIP. His 0.9 WAR tied his best figure since 2016.
Cishek is a pure groundball pitcher, forcing grounders in 49.7% of at-bats. He had struggled with walks — like every Angels pitcher — but still managed to keep run totals limited.
As he heads to his age-36 season, there is an argument to be made that the Angels should keep him around on a cheap deal in a lower-leverage role. Of course, the Angels other moves will determine how much he is needed, but Cishek has been incredibly reliable throughout his journeyman career.