TDG’S Triple Play: Los Angeles Angels!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Greg Hoogkamp (@GregHoogkamp), Drew Klein (@aok_fan), and The Roto Red (@TheRotoRed) follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.
Taylor Ward, Age: 29, Position: OF
Analysis by: Greg Hoogkamp
It would have been a lot of fun to wax eloquently about two of the greatest players of our time in Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani, but I decided to select an Angel hitter who, while still very talented, flies under the radar compared to the Halos two superstars. Taylor Ward is who we will profile as our Angels hitter in this article and there is a lot to be intrigued about.
Ward was a first round pick (26th overall) out of Fresno State in 2015 and he has a good track record of minor league success; his career .299/.400/.867 in the minors is evidence of this. Results like these tend to grab a lot of headlines in the prospecting circles, but some context will help us understand why he wasn’t considered an elite prospect. First, he played each level at an older age than most of his competition. In 2019, when he hit .306/.427/.584 with 27 home runs and 11 steals at AAA, he was 25 for the entire season; the most heralded prospects get their opportunity at a younger age. Secondly, he did his damage in the hitter-friendly PCL playing his home games in Salt Lake City, which is among the highest altitudes in all of professional baseball; both of these things helped to contain some of the prospect helium.
“Thought Ya Knew”
The Dayton, Ohio native had his breakout season in the major leagues in 2022. In 564 plate appearances he slashed .281/.360/.473 while hitting 23 home runs; this added up to a 133 OPS+. It was a pleasant surprise for the Angels who have had more disappointment than success from their home grown players. Digging in a little deeper, he had solid plate discipline numbers posting a 10.6% walk rate and a 21.6% strikeout rate while his contact numbers were solid as well (83.9% zone contact and 20.6% Chase). He barrelled the ball at a 12.4% clip and had a 42.9% Hard Hit rate. All of these metrics would point towards sustained success for the next few seasons.
“Keep on Walkin’”
This season, however, Ward has struggled out of the gate. In April he slashed .219/.323/.342 with three home runs. Yes, it is a small sample, but it’s also one month of a six month season. So the question is, what has changed, is this who Taylor Ward is going forward? Let’s dig in and find out!
His batted ball data shows that he’s not barreling the ball at the same rate as last season. He is down to 8.0% compared to the 12.4% from last year and his sweet spot rate has dropped nearly 10% (41.8% in 2022, 32.2% in 2023). The main culprit for this dropoff is that his ground ball rate has increased from 35.5% (2022) up to 41.4% (2023). Ground balls can still be hit hard and they can turn into base hits (even more now that there are restrictions on shifting), but it’s hard to slug at a high level when your contact is into the ground. His zone contact (83.9% in 2022, 87.6% in 2023) and whiff rates (22.2% in 2022, 20.9% in 2023) have actually improved.
So, why has his ground ball rate gone up? Did he make a swing change, are pitchers attacking him differently? Pitchers are approaching Ward in a similar fashion to last season as far as pitch mix is concerned; the plan of attack against him is 4-Seamers up and Sliders low and away. Where we see regression is in his chase rates. Ward is chasing balls out of the zone 27.0% of the time compared to 20.6% of the time in 2022. Looking at the heat maps it simply appears as if Ward is expanding his zone in both directions.
“I’m not over you”
What does all of this mean? It means that he is swinging at more pitches outside the zone, which is leading to more ground balls and weaker contact, not a recipe for success. He could be pressing at the plate and trying to do a little too much; this happens to even the very best hitters. To get back to what made him successful in 2022 he just needs to reign it in a little bit and force the pitchers to come back into the zone where he can do damage. The early May results have been positive, here’s hoping he’s made the adjustment already for your fantasy teams.
Patrick Sandoval, Age: 26, Position: SP
Analysis by: The Roto Red
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Sandoval was drafted in the 11th round by Houston in 2015. After spending his first two seasons in rookie ball, he pitched across three levels in 2017, ending at High-A. In 2018, Sandoval started the year at Single-A and was promoted to High-A again, where he excelled: striking out 31% of batters and walking 4.8%, along with a 2.74 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. After his strong performance, Sandoval was traded to his current digs, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in exchange for Martín Maldonado.
When he was traded, then General Manager Billy Eppler thought that Sandoval could “move quick,”and move quick he did. By the end of 2018, Sandoval had reached Double A; by the end of 2019, he had debuted with the Angels. His debut was nothing to write home about—5.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 24.9% strikeouts, and 11.2% walks over 39.1 IP. However, he did show enough for the Angels to keep him on the major league roster for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season…where his performance did not improve.
In 2021, something clicked as Sandoval made a drastic change to his pitch mix. He de-emphasized the use of his four-seam fastball. His four-seam usage dropped from 44.6% in 2020 to 24.4% in 2021. His change-up usage increased from 22.9% to 29.6%. And over the next couple of seasons, his slider usage skyrocketed. The Irish Panda was born.
THE 3 CABALLEROS
With Sandoval’s pitch-mix evolution, he now uses three primary pitches: slider (30.8%), change-up (28.5%), and four-season fastball (26.9%). Sandoval has enjoyed strong results so far in 2023: 3-1 record with 2.93 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. His success thus far is due to avoiding hard contact. He ranks in the 91st percentile in average exit velocity and in the 94th percentile in hard-hit percentage. He also lowered his flyball percentage from 22.1% in 2022 to a career-low 19.4% in 2023, trading those flyballs for extra grounders. This is generally a recipe for success.
However, there are some red flags. Sandoval is striking out a career-low 7.04 batters per nine innings (22nd percentile) and walking a career-high 4.40 batters per nine (25th percentile). Despite his change-up posting strong whiff percentages (11th among qualified starters), Sandoval’s ability to put batters away is lagging behind (74th among qualified starters). His slider results follow a similar pattern (30.3% whiff percentage; 12.1% PutAway percentage). The PutAway percentage for both off-speed pitches are way down from 2022.
WHY SHOULD I WORRY?
I think it is fair to worry about Sandoval’s diminished strikeout rate and inflated walk rate. These two stats often times drive pitchers’ value in our game. With respect to the strikeout rate, I expect positive regression because he is still getting his whiffs, but just needs to get batters to swing through for strike three. Easier said than done, but Sandoval has posted greater than a strikeout per inning in three of his four seasons at the major-league level. At the same time, while his walks may come down a little bit, dynasty managers should just accept that Sandoval will run a higher-than-desired walk rate.
The good news is that when batters are making contact, they are doing it weakly. As long as Sandoval can avoid hard contact, he will continue to suppress runs. In particular, in 2022, Sandoval’s 0.48 home runs per nine innings was second in the league (Minimum 140 IP); this season it is only a touch higher at 0.59 home runs per nine. You cannot score runs if you do not hit the ball hard.
My advice: dynasty managers should be investing in Sandoval. His batted ball results may regress, but so too should his strikeout rate. At 26 years old, and with a couple of good seasons under his belt, he has shown the ability to get major league hitters out. With his current walk rates, he is worth rostering, but with even a slight decrease, we are looking at a potential SP2 who can net strong strikeout rates, ERA, and wins. Also, with respect to future value, if the Angels are unable to retain Shohei Ohtani, then Sandoval’s value should increase because the Angels will likely shift back to a five-man rotation.
Landon Marceaux, Age: 23, Position: SP, Level: AA
Analysis by: Drew Klein
TINSTAPP, a lost poem by Jim Morrison. (Not the utility infielder)
When I was in dynasty school
There was a guru there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can load up on pitching prospects
… load up on pitching prospects,
… load up on pitching prospects.
There is no such thing as a pitching prospect!
L.A. Pitchers, come on
As I have come to accept that identifying the next great pitching prospect can be next to impossible, I’ll confess that every once in a while I’ll use all my FYPD picks on pitchers and just hope one of them manages to rise at least to SP2 before it’s all said and done. In the 2021 draft, the Los Angeles Angels did exactly that and selected 20 pitchers in the MLB draft; the ultimate throw it against the wall and see what sticks strategy. As I write this, one’s been called up to the majors already (Chase Silseth), and, proving that you can’t count on pitching prospects, first-round pick Sam Bachman looks to be on track for a bullpen role. One player from that draft that doesn’t get a lot of attention yet, but has some intriguing statistics, is the Angels’ third pick, Landon Marceaux.
Just Got into Town About an Hour Ago
Drafted in the 37th round out of high school by the Yankees in 2018, Marceaus opted to stay at home and attend LSU. After a lackluster freshman year and a pandemic-shortened sophomore season, Marceaux emerged as LSU’s ace in 2021. He pitched 102 innings with a 1.14 WHIP, 2.54 ERA, and 10.2 K/9 with only 2.3 BB/9. He was named to the All-SEC team and second-team All-American. Leading into the draft, scouting reports noted his command of four pitches, including a very good curveball, and that if he were able to increase velocity on his 94 mph fastball, he would have even more upside.
Mr. Mojo Risin’
After only pitching 3.2 innings in 2021 in complex ball, Marceaux posted numbers in High A in 2022 that caught my eye. In 85 innings, he only walked 14 batters while striking out 69. That was a 21% K-rate, and 4.3% BB-rate, resulting in a 16.7% K-BB%. So, with relatively few batters striking out and far fewer walking, what were they doing against Marceaux? They were hitting the ball softly. The ground ball rate was 56%, the infield fly ball rate was 18% and the fly ball rate was 28%, with a Home run to fly ball rate of 7.5%. Put it all together and you get a WHIP of 0.92. Even with the expectation that a college pitcher should do well in High-A, that’s a very good stat line.
In 2023 Marceaux has been pitching in Double-A, with mixed results in a small sample size. In five starts he’s thrown 27.2 innings with a 15.9% K-rate, a 6.2% BB-rate, and a 1.30 WHIP. In his worst start, he gave up eight hits, one walk, and four earned runs against Chattanooga, and in his best start, five days later against the same team, he only surrendered four hits, a walk, and one run in six innings. His fly ball rate is a bit higher this year, but opposing batters have hit only two home runs against him this season.
Another Lost Angel?
In terms of an outlook, it’s tough to tell. I wish he were on a team with a better track record for developing young pitchers, but that’s out of his control. If he is able to increase his velocity as the scouts hoped for as he came out of college and continue to control his curveball, he will keep creating soft contact and will settle in at the back end of a major league rotation. In terms of fantasy value, that projects as someone you’ll want in 15-team and deeper leagues who will get you innings and maintain your ratios. And if he’s on a team that provides run support, you’ll get the wins that go along with it. Keep your eye on him, but there’s no need to stash him now except for the deepest of leagues.