The Competition: Los Angeles Angels

This is the fifth installment of our ongoing series here on MCB comparing the Detroit Tigers position-by-position to the other most likely playoff teams from the American League. The final team (we’ve already covered the Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and Yankees) is that forgotten West Coast threat: the Angels. Expectations for LA have been decidedly mixed: statistically-minded prognosticators (the kind of guys who simulate full seasons based on player projections) seem to peg them several rungs below defending AL West champion Texas. Other folks, fans and media, have been enthusiastically promoting them as a likely World Series champion. Part of this dichotomy comes from the halo effect from the signings of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols – the presumption being that to add two stars to a second place team must invariably make it a first place team. This wasn’t true for the 2008 Tigers, but clearly it is quite a genuine reason for optimism.

Apr 9, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Los Angeles Angels right fielder Torii Hunter (48) celebrates with first baseman Albert Pujols (5) after beating the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Angels won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Now for the breakdown:

1B: Prince Fielder vs. Albert Pujols
Advantage: Nobody
It has puzzled me that sports writers seemed much more critical of the fat contract that the Tigers gave Fielder than the fatter contract that LA gave Pujols. Pujols is getting more money per year over a contract one year longer with higher salaries in the deals later years. And… he’s (at least) four years older than Prince. Pujols has been flat out better than Fielder, there’s no doubt about that. There is a difference between a first-ballot Hall-Of-Famer and an All-Star. But… 27-year-old Fielder is at the peak of his career, while Albert Pujols is getting farther past his every year. For most players a .299/.366/.541 line would be a career year. For Pujols it marked a third consecutive decline from his own best .357/.462/.653 in 2008. In the past, defense and baserunning would have given Pujols a substantial edge – even had Fielder been able to match his production at the plate. His production in those areas has tailed off a bit lately too, though.

2B: Ryan Raburn vs. Howie Kendrick
Advantage – Los Angeles
At the plate this is roughly a wash, Raburn will give more raw power, Kendrick more of everything else. But… Kendrick is a real second baseman and Raburn is not. According to DRS, Kendrick was 18 runs better in the field than Raburn last year as a second baseman and neither of them played the position full time.

SS: Jhonny Peralta vs. Erick Aybar
Advantage – Detroit
Aybar is a decent guy at a position where bats are scarce – you could do worse than his projected .700 OPS. Nonetheless it would be somewhat surprising if Peralta didn’t do better. The only real reason to pick otherwise would be if you honestly don’t believe that Peralta can field the position and I believe that he can.

3B: Miguel Cabrera vs. Alberto Callaspo
Advantage – Detroit
Honestly, it makes no difference if you call the third baseman Callaspo or Trumbo or somebody else. Callaspo gives a decent glove and gets on base, Trumbo has power. These guys are decent parts, but provide nothing like Cabrera’s production.

Catcher: Alex Avila vs. Chris Ianetta
Advantage – Detroit
If we base this on what the two guys have done over their careers prior to this point – it’s a wash. But… Ianetta did all that playing for the Rockies, and had absolutely enormous Coors vs. Non-Coors splits. He might be fine – Matt Holliday has been – but skepticism is warranted.

RF: Brennan Boesch vs. Torii Hunter
Advantage – Detroit
I’m not going to argue that Boesch is the perfect baseball player – but he just turned 27 while Hunter will turn 37 this July. In 2009 Hunters wOBA was .369, last year it was .332 and this year it’s projected to drop to .324.

CF: Austin Jackson vs. Peter Bourjos
Advantage – Detroit
These guys aren’t really all that different, when you come right down to it. Though Jackson leads off and Bourjos is buried in the nine hole, this one is still fairly close. At the plate it was Bourjos that had the better 2011 (with a .327 OBP and .438 SLG) – but Austin Jackson was also the best defender in the league at any position. I’m giving the edge to Jackson primarily because Bourjos’ major and minor-league numbers don’t suggest that he’s going to be able to get enough base-on-balls to make good use of his speed. Projection systems seem to largely agree with me. To head off any comments – if Trout winds up getting the majority of the PT at center for LA, I still give this to Jackson – for this season only. Jackson may not have Trout’s ceiling, but it’s usually unwise to assume All-Star level production from a rookie…

LF: Delmon Young vs. Vernon Wells
Advantage – Nobody
The two should be expected to provide similarly unimpressive things and really this could be considered an advantage for Detroit. While Young probably won’t “earn” his six-point-whatever million this season, the Angels are on the hook for far, far more for Vernon Wells. It’s worth bearing in mind that Wells has alternated solid seasons with terrible ones in the past – so while you never want to bank on someone with a .248 OBP doing providing something positive for your lineup, he might.

DH: Andy Dirks/”Committee” vs. Bobby Abreu/Kendrys Morales
Advantage – Los Angeles
Brandon Inge was the DH this afternoon – which should tell you something about the members of this committee. Abreu doesn’t seem to be the hitter he once was, though he can still take a walk. If he’s the full-time DH, the Angels win this one by a nose. If Morales is healthy and productive, on the other hand, he’ll vastly outhit any of the guys the Tigers rotate through here.

Bench:
Advantage – Los Angeles
I’m not even going to go into details – the LA bench is going to include guys like Morales, Mark Trumbo, Maicer Izturis and Mike Trout that are very nearly as good as the guys that LA is starting. The Tigers have some useful parts here, but they don’t have that kind of depth.

Rotation:

#1: Justin Verlander vs. Jered Weaver
Advantage – Detroit
This might be the #1 pitcher in the AL vs the #2, but you still have to pick the reigning Cy Young winner and MVP.

#2: Doug Fister vs. Dan Haren
Advantage – Los Angeles
Haren wasn’t quite as good last year (though it was close). He also doesn’t have quite the career ERA that Fister does (though it’s close). What Haren does have is a long and consistent track record – he has been worth more than six wins in three of the past four years and has never been worth less than four (or thrown fewer than 216 innings) in any full season.

#3: Max Scherzer vs. C.J. Wilson
Advantage – Los Angeles
I’m not as high on Wilson as a lot of people. He was converted to a starter at the age of 29 in 2010 and had a good year mainly due to a low BABIP and a low HR/FB rate. You would have figured he’d regress in 2011, but instead he had a genuinely good season in all respects with more Ks, fewer walks and a BABIP and a HR/FB that rose but didn’t explode. I’m not sold that he’s really the ace that he looked like last year, but Scherzer didn’t look anything like an ace last year anyway.

#4: Rick Porcello vs. Ervin Santana
Advantage – Los Angeles
Santana has had some awful years and some very good ones. Porcello has been pretty mediocre throughout. He could put things together (he has looked good so far in this young season) and Santana could collapse – but if you were a betting man, which would you pick?

#5: Drew Smyly vs. Jerome Williams
Advantage – Nobody
Imagine if the Tigers had actually signed that journeyman to press the prospects in the 5th starter contest and then wound up giving him the job. Once upon a time Williams was a blue-chip prospect, and he had three decent seasons from 2003-2005. Since then he hasn’t pitched all that much in the big leagues and he hasn’t been much above replacement level when he has. Dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness and bouncing around the minors, Williams numbers in (a lot) of AAA ball since 2005 aren’t all that great – but he did do a pretty decent job filling in in a stint with the Angels last year.

Closer: Jose Valverde vs. Jordan Walden
Advantage – Detroit
This is a battle of old vs. young and I usually give the advantage to the young. In this case, we have a Walden who was good in his first year as the Angels closer last year – much better, in fact, than he had been in the minors before. And we have Valverde who put up a perfect season when everyone pegged him to decline. I have the feeling that they’ll both regress, so I’ll pick the guy who’ll regress from loftier heights.

Rest-of Bullpen: [Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Collin Balester, Luis Marte] vs. [LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi, Bobby Cassevah, Trevor Bell & Kevin Jepsen]
Advantage – Detroit
Hawkins ERA seems to be about as predictable as a die roll. Last year was good… will this year be good? With Benoit, I do have some faith that this year will be similar to the last. Scott Downs is one of the best lefty specialists in the game, a level Coke hasn’t quite reached yet. Takahashi probably isn’t as good as his last season, but I still think he’s better than Daniel Schlereth. In fact, as I have argued here on MCB, I think Fu-Te Ni is probably better than Daniel Schlereth. Bobby Cassevah is a kind of Brad Penny – a guy whose K/BB ratio is embarrassingly close to one who succeeds – if at all – through BABIP luck and by keeping balls in the park. I’ll take Balester, despite the glaring ERA differential (4.54 to 2.72 last year, though Balester did have the marginally better xFIP). Kevin Jepsen has a career trajectory like David Purcey – including the ERA over 7.00 and WHIP over 2.00 in 2011. Marte hasn’t thrown a pitch yet in 2012, but I’ll take him anyway. The overall bullpen tally comes to 4-2 – though LAs edge from the left side looks pretty big. [Not that it would matter much against Detroit]

I’m not having an easy time deciding on an overall winner here. The Tigers definitely win more positions, but most of those are won by a small margin. The ones the Angels win, on the other hand, aren’t so close (especially in the middle of the rotation and the bench). Rather than simply punt, I’ll fall back on the sportscasters’ best friends: meaningless small sample statistics! Namely, CJ Wilson’s 5.56 career ERA and .872 career OPS allowed against Detroit. We’ll just say the Tigers knock him around a couple of times and steal 2 of the remaining 5 to win that seven game series. Everybody OK with that?

Topics: Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels

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