Keys to 2013: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Starting Pitching Key: Tommy Hanson

Hanson was once a top Braves’ pitching prospect, all but untouchable in trades…then they traded him for a relief pitcher who’d lost his job as Angels’ closer, Jordan Walden. Hanson’s had shoulder problems and back problems and his mechanics are woeful. The Angels’ starting pitching is short and they know what to expect from C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. They’re hoping for some decent innings from Jason Vargas, but away from the friendly confines of Safeco Park, he’ll revert into the pitcher who both the Marlins and Mets couldn’t wait to get rid of. If Hanson pitches well, the Angels offense will mitigate the back of the rotation; if not, they’re going to need starting pitching during the season and they’re running low on prospects to get it. I supposed there’s Kyle Lohse if they and Lohse get desperate enough. For now, it’s hold their breath on Hanson.

Relief Pitching Key: Ernesto Frieri

The Angels signed Ryan Madson to take over as closer once he’s healthy, but he’ll start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Frieri replaced Walden as closer last season and racks up huge strikeout numbers. He’s also vulnerable to the home run ball, knows he’s pitching for the job and eventually closer money, so he might press early in the season. The Angels really can’t afford to get off to a bad start in that division; with the hangover from their disappointing 2012; the pressure on manager Mike Scioscia; and the new faces.

Offensive Key: Albert Pujols

Chalk 2012 up to the transition from the National League and having played in the comfort zone with the Cardinals and for a manager he knew in Tony LaRussa. But Pujols’s numbers had declined in 2011 from their absurd heights that he’s reached his entire career. He’s listed at 33 but there has been speculation forever that he’s older. With the inability for aging players to use special helpers—even amphetamines are no longer okay—could Pujols be showing his age, breaking down and returning to the land of mortal men? If so, the Angels are in deep trouble and I don’t care about the intimidating rest of the lineup. Pujols will be an albatross for the rest of the decade if he comes undone.

Defensive Key: Mike Trout

With the extra weight he’s carrying, will Trout’s superlative defense in center field (they’re supposedly moving him to left anyway which is another odd move) be less than what it was? The Angels have Peter Bourjos who’s also a standout defensive center fielder and the talk is that they’ve reached agreement with the Yankees to take Vernon Wells off their hands (I’ll have more to say about this piece of work by Brian Cashman in the coming days. Believe me.) so Trout’s increased size may not be as much of a factor if he’s in left. But he’s not happy about it and the Angels seem to be intentionally tweaking him for reasons that only they know.

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Trout’s WAR Now Stands For “Weight After Rookie”

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Mike Trout has gained between 10 and 15 pounds over the winter and is now said to be 241 pounds. According to Trout and the Angels, it’s not fat weight, so he didn’t traverse the banquet circuit and load up on bad catering hall stuffed shells and the stale dessert menu to put on all those extra pounds. Trout says it was intentional and his bodyfat count is 9%.

The numbers and statements from Trout are fine and it’s not a problem until it becomes a problem. By “problem” I mean Trout slowing down in the field and on the bases and losing a large portion of what it was that made him so valuable and, in certain Wins Above Replacement (WAR) circles, deserving of the MVP. 240 is a lot of weight to carry, cover the same ground defensively and steal the bases he did in 2012. With or without the obvious intent to gain this weight, it was probably going to happen anyway based on him being so young and big even if he never picked up a barbell. If he sought to pump up his beach muscles, it’s a mistake based on youthful ignorance and more than a small bit of vanity.

Because a player exhibits a maturity beyond his years on the field and with the press doesn’t make him mature. It’s easy to forget that Trout is 21-years-old and still in evidence is the same oblivious precociousness that ignored the conventional wisdom that someone so young couldn’t force his way into the MVP conversation and have a substantial contingent of supporters promoting his candidacy over a longtime superstar Miguel Cabrera who won the Triple Crown. Trout’s a kid. And that means he might do something ill-thought-out every once in a while. If he came to spring training thinking that because he was so successful last season at 220-225 pounds that with 15 extra pounds of muscle he’d hit even more homers, it’s a mistake. At his age and size, it was unavoidable that he naturally put on some weight. Whether it affects what it was that made him special—speed and defense—will dictate its wisdom.

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