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Winter additions calculate to better defense

March 26, 2017

TEMPE, Ariz. -- By at least one metric, the Angels fielded the fourth-best defensive team in the Majors last season. But they're poised to potentially be even better in that realm in 2017 after adding a trio of strong defenders to their squad during the offseason.General manager Billy Eppler has

TEMPE, Ariz. -- By at least one metric, the Angels fielded the fourth-best defensive team in the Majors last season. But they're poised to potentially be even better in that realm in 2017 after adding a trio of strong defenders to their squad during the offseason.
General manager Billy Eppler has made a concerted effort to upgrade the Angels' defense since taking over the front office in October 2015. Eppler inherited a pair of elite outfielders in Michael Trout and Kole Calhoun, but he significantly strengthened the middle of the infield by acquiring Andrelton Simmons -- widely considered the best defensive shortstop in the game -- from the Braves in one of his first big moves as general manager.
Even with holes at second base and left field, the Angels collectively recorded 45.5 Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) in 2016, according to Fangraphs.com, behind only the Cubs (69), Giants (53.7) and Royals (46.5).
The Angels continued to bolster their defense in the winter by trading for second baseman Danny Espinosa, outfielder Cameron Maybin and catcher Martin Maldonado, giving the Halos above-average defenders at virtually all the premium positions on the field.

"This is probably the best all-around defensive team we've had here," manager Mike Scioscia said last week. "I think that's going to be really important in making the plays you should make, and limiting extra pitches for pitchers, and things like that. I think Billy Eppler made a focused effort to upgrade defensively, and we have."

Espinosa primarily played shortstop for the Nationals last year, but he has extensive experience at second, and is known for his strong arm. Maybin played center field for the Tigers in 2016, and was rated well there by defensive metrics, but he is expected to start in left field for the Angels for the first time in his career. Despite his limited experience at the position, the Angels believe Maybin is athletic enough to handle the transition with ease.
Maldonado, meanwhile, has a cannon for a throwing arm, and a reputation as an elite pitch-framer.

The Angels hope that an elite defensive unit will help them consistently make routine plays, and by extension, limit the amount of extra pitches by their hurlers. That benefit will be key for the Halos, particularly with key members of their rotation, specifically Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, likely facing workload restrictions this season.
"I think our ability to turn ground balls and make more routine outs with the range we have is going to show up," Scioscia said. "I expect that to be a big part of the way we support our pitching is to make those plays."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.