On May 24, the Angels were 27-17, just one game behind the Astros at AL West. Their roster was relatively healthy, and standout performances by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, as well as their departure from Taylor Ward, helped them get off to a strong start in the first half of the season. Two weeks later, their win totals were still at 27, dropping below .500 after an ugly 14-game losing streak. Of the nine players who made more than 100 games for the Angels by mid-May, only three made at least 300 games afterward. Los Angeles alternated between 32 different position players as of May 24, trying to find any competent depth to protect their injured and ineffective players.
The Angels’ lack of depth isn’t unique to this season either – they’ve been a constant thorn in their side for the past decade. They haven’t posted a winning record since 2015, and despite employing two of the greatest baseball players ever to play the game, they’ve only made the playoffs once in the past 13 seasons, one of which has been an Angel for most of that time. With Ohtani just one year away from release and a possible sale by franchise owner Arte Moreno, the 2023 season feels like a big mainstay for the Angels.
So far this season, they’ve been aggressive in bringing in the kind of talent that complements their superstars while avoiding long-term commitments that could make selling the club difficult. They signed Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez to support the shooting team and traded Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela to extend their roster. And on Tuesday, they signed a two-year, $17 million contract with Brandon Drury. This deal brings the Angels’ projected total 2023 payrolls to $206 million, the highest in franchise history.
For Drury, the multi-year commitment is a modest reward after airing the best season of his career this year. A journeyman fielder who played for four different teams before 2022, Drury signed a minor league contract with the Reds shortly after the owner’s lockout was lifted last season. He pulled out the major league roster from spring practice and started producing an impressive clip almost immediately. He made 20 home runs in 385 record games in Cincinnati, slashed .274/.335/.520 (good for 131 wRC+) and accumulated 2.6 WARS. He was traded to the Padres on deadline and continued to produce for his new team, although he did not reach the heights he had achieved earlier in the season. Together, he posted career bests in a number of offensive categories, including home run, isolated power, wOBA, wRC+ and WAR. His achievements earned him the Silver Slugger award, a first in the all-new Utility category.
Maybe we should have seen this mid-career debut coming. Playing as a substitute for the Mets in 2021, Drury posted his career-high wRC+ prior to this year. He only appeared in 88 games during the season, but only started 17 games. Still, some of his basic batting ball data showed he was making some real progress during this limited time of play. His hard hitting rate increased by more than 20 points to 46.8%, the largest increase of any batsman with at least 50 hits in 2021. It continued most of that improvement this year — its hard-hitting rate dropped slightly to 41.7% — and it managed to increase muzzle rate by about four points; This is the ninth highest increase in 2021-22 among players with at least 350 PAs this year.
He also covered significant distances in plate discipline. In 2020 and 21, the overall emissions rate rose to just over 52%, a significant change in approach. He’s suddenly become a lot more aggressive on the plate, presumably by pushing his part-time job to encourage it. This year, in a full-time role, she turned down aggression while making improvements in other areas of her approach:
Brandon Drury, Plate Discipline
|Season||To shake%||O-Swing %||Z-Turn %||To contact%||swStr%|
His swing rate harkens back to earlier times in his career, but enjoys improved contact and swinging stroke rates. Reducing the overall number of strokes while making more hard contact per swing is a great formula for a debut season.
Defensively, Drury’s place in the Angels roster is a little more difficult to understand, but that’s strictly by design. He played five different positions for the Reds and Padres in 2022 and most of his time came in the third stage. If all goes according to plan, the Angels will pen Drury in phase two to kick off the season, with Urshela, David Fletcher and Luis Renkfo providing additional depth around the diamond. All four of these home players can play multiple positions, giving Los Angeles plenty of options should things go wrong.
No matter how hopeful the angels are, this resilience will likely come into play. They currently have Anthony Rendon as their third-round starter, but Los Angeles has only played in 41% of their games since signing his massive seven-year deal before the 2020 season. Additionally, there is some uncertainty regarding the health of first baseman Jared Walsh, who underwent surgery in September to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome. The recovery rate and timeline of this procedure, while certainly not very promising for shooters, is quite unknown to shooters. With questions surrounding both corner home positions, the quartet of public service fielders now on the roster give Los Angeles multiple contingency plans in an emergency. Such competent depth will help the Angels avoid the kind of mid-season faints that have wrecked their seasons this year.