2017 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles– Los Angeles Angels
Fantasy baseball and real baseball often don’t intersect. One of the areas where they don’t intersect is in the area of fielding. The Angels made a deal in the winter of 2015 that shifted their fortunes a ton on the field. Occasionally, a transcendent fielder comes along that changes the fortunes of an entire team. Andrelton Simmons might be this generation’s Ozzie Smith and the fielding is only the first part.
We cover fielding in fantasy baseball because of players like Simmons. He might be one of the weaker offensive shortstops in the game, but he will always play because of the fielding. He’s off to a good start offensively and it may end up sticking this time around. Furthermore, his superlative fielding helps out the pitchers and makes them much more palatable to own.
In grading our fielders, we are using defensive runs saved from the Fielding Bible. We can find that data at billjamesonline.com along with the team data for DRS. We will break down the team data between the infield, outfield, and advanced shifts. We will also compare that with the defense efficiency ratings from baseball-reference.com. Most of the time those numbers are comparable, but sometimes they aren’t. We will discuss those findings either way.
You can look simply at the infield data and see how much of a difference one player like Simmons can make on the prospects of a team. Unfortunately, their whole team data (DER) didn’t meet the sum of their parts last season. Some of that may have been due to luck, but it also is due to the dwindling competence of their pitching staff as a whole. As a team, they surrendered more hard contact than before.
The hope is that with some strategic replacements in the field and on the mound that they will be able to turn those fortunes around and compete in the wide open AL West. They also could see an improvement with a little more batted ball luck. Most people focus on the greatness that is Mike Trout, but the greatness of Simmons could play an equal role in their rebound.
This one is obvious and has already been mentioned. Andrelton Simmons has had plus 71 defensive runs saved over the past three seasons. He was limited to “just” 18 runs last season primarily because he missed time with an injury. Despite his brilliance he has won only two Gold Gloves. He has played five full seasons in the big leagues and has been either first or second best four of those five seasons. 2016 represented the only time he finished below second and that was due to the injury. He has finished 131 runs above average over that five- year span.
Yunel Escobar came up as a shortstop, so it might seem unfair at first glance to include him in this category. However, he has been an equal opportunity offender at third base (minus 22 runs over the past two seasons) to accompany his -23 runs in 2014 as a shortstop. That is a too long of a track record of failure to chalk it up to coincidence. If the Angels could find a reasonable replacement for him they could be even better.
The Angels made two key changes to their defensive alignment that could end up paying dividends this season. First, they added Danny Espinosa to play second base. He has been a plus defender (plus 13 runs over the past three seasons) throughout his career at second base and shortstop. He is average at best at the plate, but if he can give them average offensive production he will be a great benefit to them overall.
The Angels are taking a more calculated risk with Cameron Maybin. Like Escobar, he has performed badly in center field defensively, but they are moving him to left field where his speed will hopefully make him a plus defender. Over his career, he has been neutral in the limited time he has been in left field. If he can turn in a positive performance then the Angels will have three plus defenders in the outfield.
Obviously, when you have a double play combination like Simmons and Espinosa then you want ground ball pitchers on your staff. Of the starters they are bringing back, Garrett Richards has the greatest chance for success. He has an average ground ball rate of 52 percent over the past three seasons. Fortunately for the Angels, Richards has never been unsuccessful. He has simply been hurt. If he can stay healthy he will be one of the biggest sleepers in baseball.
On the flip side, betting on Ricky Nolasco or Matt Shoemaker would probably not be as good an idea based on their batted ball data. Both players have come in below the league average on ground balls over the past three seasons. While the Angels outfield has been solid in that time, living by the fly ball can be deadline as we have seen from both pitchers from time to time.