Even Shohei Ohtani’s historic performance in 2021 was not enough to end the Los Angeles Angels’ seven-season playoff drought. Injuries to key players set the stage for a doomed 60th anniversary season. Perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout suffered a season-ending calf injury in early May. High-priced third baseman Anthony Rendon’s campaign ended with hip surgery, after he played only 58 games. Although Ohtani played like the American League MVP, the three superstars only appeared in the same lineup on 19 occasions in 2021.
Offseason acquisition Alex Cobb and young starters Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez were among the few bright spots in the starting rotation. The team finally released ten-year contract albatross Albert Pujols in early May. The decision opened up everyday playing time for first-time All-Star first basemen Jared Walsh. The Angels also did well in dealing pending free agents Andrew Heaney and Tony Watson at the trade deadline.
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Manager: Joe Maddon
Position: Fourth in AL West
Postseason: Missed playoffs
The Angels were in first place in the AL West on April 14. There was reason for optimism, as the Halos offense was clicking. Soon after that, they lost outfielder Dexter Fowler for the season. Then, Rendon’s hip injury began to plague him. As the team continued to play .500 baseball, they could not keep pace with the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners in the division.
As the team’s best position players struggled with injuries, traditional role players like Phil Gosselin and Jack Mayfield found themselves playing everyday roles. Prospects Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh joined the team in July, giving the team’s brass some hope for the future. The team ultimately finished with a .475 winning percentage, an improvement over the last two seasons.
Most Valuable Player: Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as a batter was 4.9. He launched 46 home runs, while posting a .965 OPS, and driving in 100 RBIs. If that wasn’t enough, the two-way sensation also stole 26 bases in 2021. As a pitcher, Ohtani posted a WAR of 4.1 in 130.1 innings pitched, while limiting opposing batters to a .207 average. After missing most of his first three MLB seasons as a pitcher, he was healthy again in 2021. He mesmerized fans everywhere and solidified himself as the league’s MVP.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Shohei Ohtani
Across 23 starts for the team, Ohtani’s 4.1 WAR ranked seventh among AL pitchers, even though he started less than most starters. His 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings would rank him fourth best, if he had pitched the qualified number of innings. The two-way sensation’s 141 ERA+ ranked second in the American League, only behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray. Maddon allowed Ohtani to dictate his playing time on the mound and in the lineup. This paid dividends to the right-handed pitcher’s success.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Raisel Iglesias
Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in December for pitcher Noe Ramirez and infielder Luis Rivas, Iglesias was a revelation for the Halos, arguably acting as the Angels’ best closer since the departure of Francisco Rodriguez in 2008. Iglesias’ 34 saves were second best in the American League and the most by an Angels closer since Huston Street’s 40 in 2015. He finished the year with a 2.57 ERA in 65 appearances.
The pending free agent will surely cash in on his successful season this winter. General manager Perry Minasian has already stated that he intends to improve the team’s pitching this offseason. The Angels faithful are hopeful that the closer will return in 2022, but his services are bound to be in high-demand this winter. The 31-year-old would provide several other clubs with a reliable ninth-inning solution for years to come.
Best Hitter of the Year: Shohei Ohtani
The American League Player of the Month for June and July led the AL in WAR (9.0), triples (8), intentional walks (20), and at bats per home runs (11.7). He was leading the league in home runs for much of the summer, before finishing third in the AL with 46 long balls. His offense was so important to the team that Maddon would use him over another designated hitter in 19 of his 23 starts as a pitcher.
Ohtani had already established himself as a good hitter during his first three seasons in the majors. This year though, he became the superstar slugger and a leader in the clubhouse, in the wake of the injuries to superstars Trout and Rendon. It’s scary to think what the 27-year-old two-way sensation could do with a full season of production alongside Trout and Rendon.
Best Fielder of the Year: David Fletcher
Fletcher was already a Gold Glove finalist at third base in 2019, before they added Rendon to the roster. The addition of Rendon transitioned Fletcher to his more comfortable position at second base. Many suspecting he may be a favorite to earn his first AL Gold Glove this offseason. Fletcher paired up well with Jose Iglesias and then Luis Rengifo in 2021, maintaining a strong defensive middle infield behind a young pitching staff.
Fletcher signed an extension prior to the season and expects be a fixture in the Halos middle infield for years to come. His versatility gives the team a lot of options when it comes to adding to their line-up with his ability to play either position up the middle.
Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Cobb
While battling injuries, the right-handed pitcher had his finest season since his days in Tampa Bay. The veteran finished the year with a 8-3 record, a 3.76 ERA, and 98 strikeouts in 93.1 innings pitched. Cobb is in a great position heading into free agency this offseason, and the Angels will be one of many teams seeking his services. Like Iglesias, Cobb’s potential departure would create a void in the Angels’ rotation. As a result, they would be in need for another veteran starter.
Expect the Angels front office to evaluate all aspects of the team’s coaching staff and field personnel. After missing out on the top free agent starters over the course of the last two offseasons, expect the Angels to aggressively pursue the top pitchers in the open market yet again. They have a strong group of pitching prospects and outfielders to deal if they wish to acquire pitching via the trade. Maddon will likely return for a second full season as the Angels skipper. Giving the manager a healthy lineup and improved pitching staff will be essential if the Angels wish to break their seven-year playoff drought.
Follow B.J. Martin on Twitter @_HaloLife
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