The Los Angeles Angels did not expect to be below .500 and on the outside of the playoff picture for the seventh straight year when the 2021 season began. They felt the pieces had finally come together offensively, while the pitching would be serviceable enough to get through a whole season.
Sadly, injuries plagued the offense and mediocrity fell upon the pitching staff once again. Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, and Max Stassi all spent significant time on the injured list, while the Angels had just 3-4 starting pitchers they could comfortably rely on.
Even still, there was some good that came out of Anaheim this season. Here, we took a look at the five best storylines surrounding the Angels in 2021 and what it might mean for the team moving forward.
No. 5: Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell are looking like MLB-ready prospects
When the season was all but lost and the Angels were down both Trout and Upton, they turned to their best outfield prospects, Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell. It was Marsh’s first run in the big leagues and Adell’s second, but the team was confident both could make immediate impacts.
Let’s start with Marsh. With 70 games under his belt, the statistics paint an encouraging picture, despite a higher than expected strikeout rate. His .254/.317/.356 slash line leaves something to be desired, but he is at least 80th percentile in max exit velocity and sprint speed, according to Baseball Savant.
His expected wOBA — weighted on-base average — ended the year at .366, 51 points above the MLB’s .315 average. He was also an excellent defender, ranking in the 72nd percentile of outs above average and 63rd percentile in outfielder jump.
Adell, meanwhile, still needs to show a bit more as a defender. He was significantly improved from 2020, but still graded out as a below average outfielder. At the plate, though, it’s a completely different story.
Adell’s bat was in a different stratosphere compared to the difficulties he encountered in 2020. His OPS of .703 was nearly 250 points higher that 2020, and the advanced stats give him an above average wOBA and expected wOBA while ranking him in the 89th percentile for exit velocity and 98th percentile in sprint speed.
Put simply, these players are not perfect, but their development in 2021 puts them on a track to be impactful every day players in 2022.
No. 4: Slam dunk acquisitions of Alex Cobb and Raisel Iglesias
In Perry Minasian’s first offseason with the team, he did not make any blockbuster moves. He picked up some marginal bullpen pieces and bench players for the most part. However, his two biggest moves — trading for Raisel Iglesias and Alex Cobb — turned out to be absolute winners.
Cobb did spend a significant amount of time on the injured list. But when he was healthy, he was reliable and steady, which is more than can be said of most Angels pitchers over the last seven years. His production was so good, he may be due for a decent payday this offseason.
Iglesias, on the other hand, was arguably a top three closer in baseball. His 34 saves were the most by an Angels closer since Huston Street in 2015. His advanced stats are unbelievable, as he ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in exit velocity, xwOBA, xERA, xBA, K%, BB%, whiff rate, chase rate, and fastball velocity.
The Angels could easily look into re-signing both. But it also provides hope that when Minasian makes a big move, it can and should pan out.
No. 3: Jared Walsh’s 2020 season was not a fluke
When Jared Walsh broke out in September of the shortened 2020 season, many didn’t see it as sustainable. Because of this, the Angels kept Albert Pujols on the roster to open up 2021. However, very early on, it became clear that Walsh was the team’s first baseman of the future.
The Angels designated Albert Pujols for assignment, gave Walsh the job full time, and he did not disappoint. Walsh was one of the best first basemen in all of baseball this year, earning All-Star honors in his first full season at the MLB level.
Take away a month-long slump from July to August, and Walsh maybe ends the season in the top five at his position. Now that he’s experienced a full-length season, gone through the ups and downs, and broke through it, he’s ready to become a franchise cornerstone in Anaheim.
No. 2: The emergence of Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez
Having young pitchers with nearly elite potential is every franchise’s dream. Not to say that Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez are elite, but at just 25 and 23, respectively, they provide a ton of hope in Anaheim.
Sandoval’s offspeed pitches force as much swing and miss — and bad contact — as any other pitcher in the league. His major improvement needs to come on his fastball, which grades out as a below average pitch via Baseball Savant. If he’s healthy, which the team believes he will be, there’s no doubt he can be an impact starter in MLB.
Suarez didn’t quite excel to Sandoval’s level pre-injury, but he is still a quality starter who is entering his age-24 season. His advanced numbers and 3.75 ERA are all solid, but his age makes him an intriguing young player.
If the Angels acquire the frontline starters they’re hoping to pursue this offseason, Suarez could easily be among the best No. 4 or No. 5 starters in all of baseball. The same can even more so be said of Sandoval.
No. 1: Shohei Ohtani’s historic dominance
It remains unclear what exactly Shohei Ohtani’s dominance means for 2022, but for now, it can be remembered as one of the greatest individual seasons of all time. Ohtani was a top five hitter in baseball as well as a top 20 pitcher, something that likely will never be seen again unless the Angels star can do it next season too.
Ohtani hit 46 home runs, held a .965 OPS, and was at least 95th percentile in exit velocity, hard hit %, xwOBA, xSLG, barrel %, and BB% while being 91st percentile in sprint speed, via Baseball Savant. As a pitcher, he had incredible numbers, holding a 3.18 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings. His splitter put him over the edge, though, grading out as one of the best pitches in baseball with a OBA of .087.
The Angels two-way star is eligible for an extension this offseason, and that’s something he’s open to. But regardless of whether a deal can be made, fans will get Ohtani in his prime for at least another two seasons. Hopefully, he’ll stay around even longer.