Last year, the Angels finished with -29 defensive runs saved, -29 outs above average, and a -26.2 ultimate zone rating. All ranked in the bottom five in MLB, which helped earn them a 77-85 record, good for fourth in the American League West.
But this season the Angels and infield coach Mike Gallego have transformed their unit and wholly bought into the numbers. With Andrew Velazquez playing up the middle and a key to their improvement in positioning, L.A. has transformed itself into a top-5 unit defensively in the areas they had previously struggled.
Gallego also understands with the positives, there will always be some instances when playing the probabilities will cause some issues when standard positioning would have prevented easy hits, according to Jeff Fletcher of the O.C. Register:
“It’s not frustrating at all,” Gallego said on Wednesday. “It’s part of the game. Live by the sword, die by the sword. The majority of the time, we’re going to be in the right spot.”
Velazquez has begun to blossom defensively with the Angels and has accounted for five DRS thus far, and currently leads the team in OAA with four. L.A. is performing at this level on the field without their other top-tier middle infielder, David Fletcher, who will be out for a few months following surgery to repair some nagging hip issues.
With their improved defense, the Angels can see the results playing out and helping their pitching staff on a nightly basis:
According to Sports Info Solutions, the Angels have used the shift more effectively than any team in the majors. They are currently +25, which means that they’ve taken away 25 more hits than they’ve allowed by using the shift…
Viewed another way, the Angels have allowed a .170 batting average on ground balls when they are in a shift, compared with .217 when they aren’t in a shift. Last year the gap was just seven points. It suggests that they are using the shift more efficiently.
The Angels currently sit at 24-16 and remain just a game behind the Houston Astros for the top spot in the A.L. West, and Gallego has made a night and day change from last season.
Along with Velazquez up the middle and their utilization of shifts, the Angels have also made improvements by getting a healthy Anthony Rendon and Mike Trout and replacing Justin Upton with Brandon Marsh in the outfield.
Angels’ defense converting more outs
The Angels’ defensive improvements can also be seen by the number of balls in play they are converting to outs.
Their infield defense has made the largest jump and has improved more than any other team in baseball, while their outfield has improved the second-most, according to SIS Baseball:
The Angels defense is doing *work*
Out Rate on Ground Balls & Bunts
2022- 79% (biggest improvement in MLB)
Out Rate on Balls in Air
2021 – 65%
2022 – 71% (2nd-biggest improvement) pic.twitter.com/68OGPnENgo
— SIS_Baseball (@sis_baseball) May 18, 2022
While the Angels have played well all-around, it is perhaps their defensive improvements that have made the biggest impact for them and could be the difference for them to finally reach the postseason.