OK, you're on to me. We're comparing all of our two-team cities. Do the Angels and Dodgers have a rivalry? Of course they do! They're just nicer about it than Yankees and Mets fans.
Iannetta isn't flashy and doesn't get much national recognition, but he's second behind Buster Posey in OBP for catchers over the past two seasons. (Actually, when considering games only played at catcher, he's first.) The Dodgers acquired Grandal because the metrics suggest he's a good pitch-framer and there's a chance the bat improves and lives up to the hype generated when he was drafted 12th overall by the Reds in 2010.
I just realized this: Gonzalez led the National League in RBIs last season, with 116. Gonzalez hit .276/.335/.482 and finished seventh in the MVP voting; Pujols hit .272/.324/.466 and finished 17th, picking up just a couple of down-ballot votes. By WAR, they were nearly identical in value. But it seems the perception is that Pujols is a mere shadow of his former self and Gonzalez is still at the top of his game. They're really the same player at this point.
Edge: Dodgers. Only because Gonzalez is probably the better bet to stay healthy.
No contest here. The Dodgers traded away Dee Gordon to the Marlins and then quickly got Kendrick from the Angels, giving them both an offensive and defensive upgrade over Gordon. Kendrick may only be a one-year fix -- he's a free agent -- but he's about as consistent a performer as there is. Good pickup for the Dodgers. Worth noting: He had a career-high walk rate last year at 7.1 percent; that's still not great, but it will be interesting to see whether that was just an aberration or whether he can spike it even higher.
Uribe was terrible his first two seasons in Los Angeles but has now had two straight solid seasons, defying expectations. But he's not going to hit .311 again, he's 36 and he's had trouble staying on the field, playing 103 games last year. On the other hand, Freese is a below-average defender, has had ailments throughout his career and the power he had in 2012 hasn't shown up the past two seasons.
Edge: Dodgers. Will super prospect Corey Seager be ready for a midseason call-up?
I don't know, 36-year-old shortstops worry me. Plus this: The last season Rollins had a higher WAR than Aybar was 2008.
Edge: Angels. Maybe not a big one, but I view Aybar as the better player.
Hey, two left fielders making more than $20 million! And each with three years remaining on their contract! Enjoy, Southern California baseball fans.
Anyway, the breaking news: Hamilton is undergoing surgery on Wednesday to fix the shoulder that bothered him last year and is expected to resume baseball activities in three to eight weeks. So it appears he could miss the start of the season. Before the injury, FanGraphs projected Hamilton to be worth 1.7 WAR and Crawford 1.8, so it was pretty much a toss-up.
Look, both players are overpaid, have trouble staying healthy and their teams are stuck with them at this point. It's kind of sad to say considering that it was just 2012 when Hamilton hit 43 home runs and finished fifth in the MVP voting, but I'd rather have Crawford for 2015.
You probably know by now about Trout's struggles against high fastballs. Using data from ESPN Stats & Info, here are Trout's numbers against fastballs in three vertical segments of the strike zone:
MLB average: .298/.397/.435
MLB average: .314/.339/.507
MLB average: .236/.351/.376
Obviously, every pitcher in the American League probably knows this by now. Trout saw more pitches up in the zone as the season progressed and his second-half numbers weren't as good (.257/.347/.502). What's surprising is he was also below the major league average against fastballs in the middle zone of the plate. Of course, he'll work on adjustments during spring training, so I wouldn't expect him to hit .097 against high fastballs again. He also has the patience to lay off those pitches -- we're talking about just a few plate appearances (5-for-41, 11 walks). Most pitchers focus so much throwing down in the zone now that they don't have the command to throw high fastballs, so they would be pitching out of their comfort area.
So ... that's a way of saying Trout's adjustments will be one of the most interesting "inside" baseball stories of 2015.
Calhoun is a fun guy to watch, kind of short and squatty, an eighth-round pick who was never a big prospect but hit his way into the majors. He had a solid first full season, hitting .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs and I think he can improve on those numbers. But I'm in the Puig fan club and wouldn't be surprised to see him as an MVP contender -- as he was for two months last year before injuries sapped his power.
The Angels have a Matt Joyce/C.J. Cron platoon penciled in at DH, but Joyce may have to play some outfield if Hamilton starts on the DL. Efren Navarro is kind of a singles-hitting first baseman/pinch-hitter type and they brought in some candidates to battle Rutledge for the second-base job. The Dodgers have an excellent bench with Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, glove man Darwin Barney and A.J. Ellis as backup catcher.
Richards was a revelation last year, with a power four-seamer, a sinker hitters had trouble elevating and a wipeout slider. He tore the patellar tendon in his left knee in August so we'll have to see how he is once spring training starts and whether he'll be ready for Opening Day. Assuming no ill effects from the knee surgery, I believe he's the real deal. But of course, Kershaw wins this comparison, as he'll be the preseason favorite to win his fourth Cy Young Award in five seasons.
Weaver has apparently added 25 pounds in order to get stronger and pitch deeper into games, although I have no idea whether that extra weight will actually help him to pitch deeper into games. He did top 200 innings last year for the first time since 2011 but also had his highest ERA since 2009 (back before the shrinking strike zone era). Greinke's numbers look better in part because he gets to pitch in the National League but he did increase his strikeout rate and lower his walk rate from 2013. He could be poised for a big year.
No. 3 starter: Matt Shoemaker versus Hyun-Jin Ryu
The Angels list C.J. Wilson as their No. 3 starter on their website, but he's not No. 3 on my list. Shoemaker was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA after getting hit hard the previous two seasons at Salt Lake. But he showed an excellent split-change and unless hitters adjust, he looks like a guy who could have the same kind of success as Hisashi Iwakuma -- not overpowering, may give up a few home runs, but throws strikes and won't beat himself. His track record is enough of a wild card, however, that I'll give the edge to Ryu, an underrated No. 3 who doesn't get a lot of attention pitching behind Kershaw and Greinke.
A lot of people liked the McCarthy signing, pointing out that he resumed throwing his cutter after going to the Yankees, where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts. McCarthy himself said the Diamondbacks discouraged him from throwing it, to which Kirk Gibson responded with a terse "I wish him well." Anyway, McCarthy did throw the cutter a little more after going to the Yankees, but still nowhere near as often as he threw it in 2013 with the Diamondbacks, when he had a 4.53 ERA. What's interesting is that the cutter was about equally effective in both 2013 (.679 OPS) and 2014 (.699 OPS) but his curveball was much more effective in 2014 (.623 OPS versus .792). So it could be that the key is throwing the cutter more or throwing the curveball more ... or just getting out of Arizona.
Anyway, McCarthy's $48 million, four-year deal was still surprising considering he's 31 and 2014 was the first season he made more than 25 starts. Clearly the Dodgers' superduper metrics saw something they liked. I'll buy in.
Edge: Flip a coin. Too many unknowns here with Wilson's erratic 2014, Heaney still developing and Anderson's long injury history.
The Dodgers' pen was one of the biggest disappointments in the majors last year and then completely collapsed against the Cardinals in the postseason. Closer Kenley Jansen is reliable, but the rest of the pecking order from Joel Peralta, Brandon League and J.P. Howell is yet to be determined. Meanwhile, the Angels' pen was reshuffled after a slow start and was terrific in the second half while carrying the heaviest workload in the majors. You never know with bullpens, however. Last year's results aren't necessarily this year's results.
The Angels won an MLB-best 98 games last year; the Dodgers won 94. The Angels, constricted in part by some of their large contracts, did very little this offseason; the Dodgers, meanwhile, have undergone a big overhaul and will have a new shortstop, new second baseman, new catcher and new rookie center fielder. They'll be a better defensive team -- although Greinke is skeptical and voiced his concerns about breaking up a 94-win team. Of course, Greinke is being paid to pitch, not to analyze baseball, and once the season starts he may find the improved Dodgers D to his liking.
The Angels are a good bet to regress because 98-win teams almost always regress. When you go through the roster, it's difficult to pinpoint a guy who is a good bet to have a better year. While I like Richards and Shoemaker, do they go 29-8 with a combined ERA under 3.00 again? How does Pujols fare? Can pitchers exploit Trout's weakness even more? Does Hamilton rebound? Will they have a hole at second base without Kendrick?
In the end, I like the Dodgers at 92-95 wins again and the Angels to fall back under 90 in a tough AL West.