Angels Continue Adding Depth, Sign Brandon Drury

© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

On May 24, the Angels were 27-17 and just a game behind the Astros in the AL West. Their roster was relatively healthy, and a breakout from Taylor Ward alongside standout performances from Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani had helped them leap out to a strong start through the first month and a half of the season. Two weeks later, their win total was still stuck at 27, having fallen below .500 after an ugly 14-game losing streak. Of the nine players who accumulated more than 100 plate appearances for the Angels through mid-May, just three reached at least 300 plate appearances afterwards. Los Angeles cycled through 32 different position players from May 24 onwards, struggling to find any sort of competent depth to cover for their injured and ineffective players.

The Angels’ lack of depth isn’t isolated to this season either — it’s been a constant thorn in their side for the past decade. They haven’t posted a winning record since 2015 and have only reached the playoffs once over the last 13 seasons despite employing two of the best baseball players to ever play the game, one of whom has been an Angel for most of that stretch. With Ohtani’s free agency just a year away and the potential sale of the franchise by owner Arte Moreno looming, the 2023 season feels like a significant hinge point for the Angels.

So far this offseason, they’ve been aggressive in bringing in the type of talent that complements their superstars while avoiding any long-term commitments that could complicate the sale of the club. They signed Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez to bolster their pitching staff and traded for Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela to lengthen their lineup. And on Tuesday, they inked Brandon Drury to a two-year, $17 million contract. That deal brings the Angels’ total projected 2023 payroll to $206 million, the highest in franchise history.

For Drury, the multi-year commitment is a modest reward after posting a career-best season this year. A journeyman infielder who had played for four different teams prior to 2022, Drury signed a minor league contract with the Reds shortly after the owner’s lockout was lifted last offseason. He made the major league roster out of spring training and started producing at an impressive clip almost immediately. In 385 plate appearances in Cincinnati, he blasted 20 home runs, posted a .274/.335/.520 slash line (good for a 131 wRC+), and accumulated 2.6 WAR. He was traded to the Padres at the deadline and continued to produce for his new team, though he didn’t reach the same heights he did earlier in the season. All together, he posted career bests in a number of offensive categories, including home runs, isolated power, wOBA, wRC+, and WAR. His exploits earned him a Silver Slugger award, the first in the brand new Utility category.

Perhaps we should have seen this mid-career breakout coming. In 2021, playing as a bench piece for the Mets, Drury posted the highest wRC+ of his career prior to this year. He accumulated just 88 plate appearances during the season, however, starting just 17 games. Still, some of his underlying batted ball data indicated that he had made some real strides in that limited playing time. His hard-hit rate increased by more than 20 points, up to 46.8%, the largest increase among all batters with at least 50 batted balls in 2021. He maintained most of that improvement this year — his hard-hit rate dropped slightly to 41.7% — and he managed to increase his barrel rate by nearly four points, the ninth-highest increase from 2021-22 among players with at least 350 PAs this year.

He also made some strides in terms of plate discipline. In 2020 and ’21, his overall swing rate jumped to just over 52%, a significant shift in approach. He was suddenly much more aggressive at the plate, possibly spurred by pressing through his part-time work. This year, with a full-time role in hand, he dialed back the aggression while making improvements in other areas of his approach:

Brandon Drury, Plate Discipline
Season Swing% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2015-19 45.9% 30.1% 60.6% 77.0% 10.5%
2020-21 52.2% 37.2% 66.3% 78.1% 11.2%
2022 45.9% 29.6% 61.4% 81.2% 8.6%

His swing rate fell back to where it was earlier in his career, but he enjoyed improved contact and swinging strike rates. Reducing his overall number of swings while making more hard contact per swing is a great formula for a breakout season.

Defensively, it’s a little harder to figure out where Drury fits on the Angels roster, but that’s almost certainly by design. He played five different positions for the Reds and Padres in 2022, with the majority of his time coming at third base. If everything goes according to plan, the Angels will likely pencil Drury in at second base to start the season, with Urshela, David Fletcher, and Luis Rengifo providing additional depth around the diamond. All four of those infielders can play multiple positions, giving Los Angeles plenty of options should things go south.

That flexibility is probably going to come into play no matter how hopeful the Angels are. They currently have Anthony Rendon penciled in as their starter at third base, but he’s only played in 41% of Los Angeles’ games since signing his massive, seven-year deal prior to the 2020 season. In addition, there’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding the health of first baseman Jared Walsh, who underwent surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome in September. The recovery rate and timeline for that procedure is fairly unknown for hitters, though it’s certainly not very promising for pitchers. With questions surrounding both corner infield positions, the quartet of utility infielders now on the roster gives Los Angeles multiple contingency plans in case of emergency. That kind of competent depth should help the Angels avoid the kind of midseason swoon that sunk their season this year.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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1 year ago

It’s great to see the Angels finally address their depth issues. Just look at the Guardians and the Rays, you don’t need superstars at every position to avoid extended rough patches when you’ve got plenty of good depth options.