Angels need to make bold move at leadoff to have any chance in 2024

If the Angels can just make a fairly straightforward swap with their lineup, they could defy expectations this season.
Los Angeles Angels v Boston Red Sox
Los Angeles Angels v Boston Red Sox / Paul Rutherford/GettyImages

Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Angels did exceedingly little positive work this past offseason, and while ignoring that the good one move they did make ended with an extended injured list visit, they have defied the odds and are hanging around with a .500 record. Sure, they may only have three good hitters in the lineup right now and one good starter, but by golly, they are somehow making lemonade in LA to start the 2024 season.

The starting pitching situation is, in some ways, out of the Angels' hands now. They could have signed a guy like Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery to make the AL West division race interesting, but the die is cast now and they have to hope that Reid Detmers can keep this start up (and that Patrick Sandoval and Tyler Anderson can figure things out enough to make the rotation passable).

Conversely, the lineup has real potential. Despite the fact that Nolan Schanuel and Zach Neto have a combined 39 wRC+ this season (that's bad, for those keeping score at home), Angels' position players still have the 12th highest fWAR this year. Sure, a lot of that is because Mike Trout is a man amongst boys, but LA's offense has been doing pretty well, considering some pretty serious headwinds and the loss of Shohei Ohtani before the season. In fact, if they make one simple change at leadoff, this Angels lineup could actually end up being pretty good.

Taylor Ward needs to be the LA Angels permanent leadoff hitter

Obviously we have been hard on Anthony Rendon here, especially the idea of having him hit leadoff, and with good reason. He has been making $36+ million per season to play 50 games a year, hit .250 when he does play, and then complain about his job. That stinks. However, Rendon has shown some positive signs this year, as he is hitting .263 and he hasn't hit the IL yet. It is the small victories that we have to take here.

The problem is that he is currently occupying a spot in the lineup that he has no business occupying. Amongst all Angels hitters this year, his OBP ranks sixth at .317, and he is posting the worst walk rate of his career. Even if you buy that he can hit .260+ the rest of the way -- which is being awfully optimistic, frankly -- he still isn't getting on base enough to justify hitting leadoff.

Fortunately, the Angels have the answer to this problem right there on their roster. While we didn't know how Taylor Ward would look coming off a truly scary injury, he has quickly converted the nonbelievers with a 169 wRC+ to start the 2024 season. It is true that his walk rate is somehow worse than Rendon's right now, but Ward is actually a threat at the plate right now, and pitchers will have to start respecting that soon. Conversely, Rendon is probably only a threat to himself, outside of a recent dead cat bounce hot streak.

You put Ward at leadoff and, all of a sudden, one of the team's best hitters is getting the most plate appearances, as it should be, and is setting the table for Trout, who is on one of his historic tears. Meanwhile, you can move Rendon to the sixth spot and hope he figures things out more permanently and doesn't hurt himself.

Is such a lineup configuration perfect? Nope, and it still requires some of these young guys to figure out how to produce at the plate. However, it is a change that could pay real dividends and might be their best chance to actually be pretty decent in 2024.

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