I’ve been a fan of Angels baseball (be it California, Anaheim, Los Angeles, or Los Angeles of Anaheim) since 1982, when my parents high school friend, Doug DeCinces, came over to the Halos from the Orioles to play 3rd base for the next 6 seasons. And I’ve been suffering ever since, from losing to the Brewers after being up 2 games to none in the 1982 playoffs, watching “the Hendo Game” in person in 1986 and being traumatized out of the ALCS (and forever programed to HATE the Red Sox), to the 1995 10-game-lead meltdown the last month of the Season.
However, we’ve also enjoyed some good years. Despite the disappointing ends, they include 1982 and 1986. We were a wildcard team that won the World Series in 2002, becoming known as Yankee killers for knocking them out of the playoffs that year and again in 2005. We won the West in 2004, 2005, 2007-09, and again in 2014. Under Mike Scioscia’s management, the Angels have usually been “in the conversation” when it comes to fine team quality and contention in the post-season. But I want more. I want at least a few more World Series Trophies before I die.
Along for the ride with me all these years have been my good friends Aaron Charlton (“AC” , Brian Hudson (“Big B”), and Mike Hudak (“Hudey”). So I thought, this year, for all the citizens of and recent immigrants to “Todd Flora’s America,” we owe them some in depth “Angels Talk.” This entry will cover our Pre-Season observations and predictions for the coming Season, which officially begins for our beloved Halos on April 3 in Oakland. Among the 4 of us, AC knows the most. He was a minor league pitcher and works for Stats, Inc. Thankfully, this blog post is supposed to be fun, not a contest. But my guess is AC will be the most “in the know.”
I’ll start us off with a few observations about this year’s team and a question or two.
TODD: So, fellas. Here we are. Another year of Angels baseball. As I see it, here are my high point observations, bulleted out for you like a bad Paul Ryan healthcare PowerPoint.
- Jared Weaver, his haircut, and reduced velocity are gone.
- We still have the best, most exciting player in baseball in Center Field
- General Manager Billy Eppler’s early tenure is at least “promising.” His slow roll-out of moves seem to suggest to me a patient, long-haul fix for the organization
The Not-So Good:
- We have what most pundits agree is the worst, most depleted farm system in baseball
- We still owe Josh Hamilton $20 million
- Albert Pujols is 37, is still owed $140 million until his contract ends in 2021(?), and his beginning to make Sam Bowie’s feet look good
- 2016 Angels left-handed batters were second worst in the league against right-handed pitching
The Up in the Air Questions and Concerns:
Ok, guys. I’ll now ask a series of questions for you to respond to, or you can respond to my Good or Not-So-Good. Answer one, answer all, comment on my observations, or fire back with questions of your own. Just remember – All views are valid here, unless someone completely challenges the actual proven accuracy or inaccuracy of a statement.
So, to begin, the Halos as of today’s writing (I started this on the afternoon of 3-10-17) are 9-3 going into split squad rotations through the rest of Spring Training, including games today. Does that mean anything?
MIKE: The Angels are now at 18 – 13 so they have come back to earth a bit. The teams themselves don’t put as much emphasis on Ws as they do on just getting quality work done in the Spring, so while they would like to start off seeing success it’s not what they focus on. As Angels fans we’re used to cold starts right? I don’t think the Spring record means a damn thing. 🙂
AARON: Spring Training matters so little, I had zero idea that we were 9-3 at one point or 18-13 today. The fact that teams put their closer in during the 4th inning during early spring (so they can face real hitters before they get out of the game) tells you much about how hard they are actually trying to win these games. The fact that players that will never play in the big leagues often play the most critical innings of a spring game tells you a lot as well.
The only time I can remember in the last dozen years where spring training results actually mattered to a team was when Joe Maddon took over the Devil Rays/Rays and he wanted to change the culture, and he used spring training results to start the uptick.
BRIAN: I tend to have an optimistic glass half-empty outlook on life. If this sounds like a paradox, it is, as are the 2017 Angels. Despite having the undisputed best player on the planet roaming centerfield, our cupboard is pretty empty (unlike our farm system which is worse than the pinstripe jerseys with wings). The Angels have one of the best defensive spines in baseball in Trout, Simmons and Maldonado, which they are going to need desperately, because teams are going to hit the crap out of our starting pitching.
TODD: I hate to sound like the construction worker at the beginning of “Major League,” but who the hell are some of these guys?!
MIKE: Plain and simple, they’re the best we can get while we’re paying off the contracts of players like Pujols and Hamilton. But I’m not counting out the core of the team even though you might not hear about these guys on ESPN web gems every day. I think we’ll see players like Valbuena, Marte, Escobar, and Simmons all take their turns contributing to the team’s success this season. Cameron Maybin, who came over from Detroit last year, is the starting left fielder and despite a sub-.150 batting average this spring I am excited at the prospect of another .300-hitting speedster on the team. Speed causes commotion and sometimes it can make the difference in a close game. Ben Revere has looked great while posting a plus-.400 average this spring and will probably start as our backup outfielder. Can’t wait to see both of them play and see how they contribute.
AARON: Can’t wait to see Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere play, wow! Hudey I love the enthusiasm, but I’m afraid these two gentlemen are much better looking players on paper than they are on an actual diamond. Maybin will be hurt unfortunately, like he always seems to be. The once-prized prospect is now just hanging on like many other ex-5-tool talents. I like Ben Revere as our 4th outfielder, but I’m afraid he will be much more than that for this collection. Also, I would not lump Simmons in with Valbuena, Marte and Escobar – Simmons is an elite glove man. If you ever want to see how a shortstop should throw the ball to first base look at this guy. It is almost always straight as an arrow (no arm-side run) and right in the first basemen’s chest. Simmons would have been better served playing in the 70’s when an all-glove, no-hit SS was the norm rather than the exception. His discipline at the plate (or lack thereof) has not seemed to improve over the course of his now pretty lengthy career (I’m not believing that he will ever be a conscientious enough hitter to be an asset on that side of the ball).
Marte had a nice splash last year, though it was in a bunch of games that did not matter. I am anxious to see if he gets a chance to play on a regular basis and whether or not his power last year was for real or not.
BRIAN: this team has the feel of the early Scioscia teams where a Jeff Mathis could get the starting catching nod over a Mike Napoli who is now approaching 250 career homeruns. If defense won championships, I’d be more excited; however, as we all now, pitching is the (not so) secret sauce that makes the meal.
TODD: Does Luis Valbuena’s hamstring hold up? Is he worth $15 million for 2 years?
MIKE: Going by the stats, last year’s 90 games was an aberration – I think he’ll be good for 120 plus games. But leading into question two, is there any .250 hitter even if he gets you 20 home runs that’s worth 15 million? You know the Angels trust that he can stay healthy and knock in some runs this year – and who am I to second guess the pros. I say he hits .250 and 20 homers and he’s mildly worth the cash.
AARON: Valbuena is a horseshit player, with horseshit hamstrings. His .260 BA and .357 OBP in 90 games last season with Houston were his best marks of his career (by a lot). Looks like we bought high here. I would not have been surprised if he would have had to settle for a minor-league contract (if we didn’t pop in and give him 2/$15 million). I hope I’m wrong.
TODD: At the All-Star break, your prediction for how pundits consider the Simmons/Espinosa double play tandem will be _______________?
MIKE: I couldn’t find any data on Espinosa’s track record on the double play – but plenty that says he’s a great defender. The Angels had a great defense last year and Ep has definitely upgraded it for 2017 so I’m optimistic that we’ll see great things all over the diamond. If I was a betting man I’d say that pundits will consider this tandem pretty darn good!
AARON: I agree with Mike. Espinosa has a plus arm that is probably better served at SS or 3B, but will be very useful turning double plays. He has a cannon. Best case is that he doesn’t strike out every other time at bat and can stay on the field so we can be strong up the middle defensively. Also don’t underestimate that Espinosa is returning home (Mater Dei – Long Beach State). Simmons is an amazing defender!
TODD: Closer Huston Street is hurt, had a horrible 2016 (but so did Joe Smith and the Angels overall). But with Cam Bedrosian in the Bullpen, does Street’s condition even matter?
MIKE: All signs currently point to Andrew Bailey in the 8th and Cam Bedrosian in the 9th. Let’s be real: Street’s days as an elite closer are over. The question is, will we even see him create a large body of work this season? He’s making a ton of money so the Angels will definitely use him to shore up a short start in the middle innings – the question is will he produce? He’s been successful up to this point so we can only hope that he embraces the new role rather than get bitchy and complain about it. I’m happy to see the Angels focus on the future and get Bedrosian rolling in the right direction and closing for us for several years to come.
I have to say I am REALLY going to miss Joe Smith. I LOVED to watch that guy pitch and you have to admit he was overall pretty damn solid.
AARON: I am going to miss Joe Smith’s wife (Allie La Force) being around (said the dirty old man J ) – Street is done as an elite closer, yes, but can he do anything to help this team. I certainly hope so, but fear that we may have gotten the last bit of good pitching out of him back when we dealt for him in 2014. Cam Bedrosian is a great closer on paper. His dad was a great closer, he throws mid-90s+, he appears to be a bulldog, but about every third time he goes out there he really struggles to find the strike zone. This will happen some early on, and I hope that he gain the confidence he needs to continually pound the zone, because when he missed 2, 3 times in a row it gets in his head and sometimes is not very pretty.
TODD: Tyler Skaggs and Ricky Nolasco – how much can we honestly expect?
MIKE: Nolasco is a workhorse over the course of his career. Other than one stint in MN he’s good for nearly 200 innings every season. But the numbers are SO mediocre – for some reason managers just keep pushing him out there. I expect a few spot starts where he allows less than three runs but the norm will be gets hit hard, gives up four and leaves in the fifth with two runners on base.
Skaggs, on the other hand, has a chance to breakout this year if he remains healthy. He has GREAT stuff and has shown flashes of brilliance. It’s just a question of how he comes out of TJ surgery and if his arm can hold up. I am calling it… Skaggs is the real deal and he SHINES (kinda) this year! 14 – 7 with a 2.90 ERA!
AARON: Skaggs is still just 25, though he seems much older since the Angels drafted him out of Santa Monica HS a long time ago, dealt him to Arizona, and then got him back. Skaggs had a three-start stretch in late August/early September last year (games that really didn’t mean anything) that was encouraging (2-0, 6.0 IP in each start, 1.50 ERA, .188 OppBA, 21 K against just 7 walks against at Detroit, at Seattle and vs. Texas). I know the Angels were out of it, but those other teams weren’t and they were pretty good hitting teams. Can he stay healthy? Probably not, he never has, but if he is healthy for 2 months maybe he can put up some numbers that we will get excited about.
Ricky Nolasco is your prototypical 5th starter innings eater. He is so uninspiring that it is hard to finish this sentence. I once watched this guy allow 15 hits in 5 innings at Dodger Stadium and ever since then, whenever I see him I want to pick up a bat. This guy has made a lot of money in this game and has never been very good at it.
BRIAN: I feel like we’ve seen the upside of Shoemaker and Nolasco. Again, as a #4 and #5, I’d like our chances, but are we really supposed to believe that these three [Brian including Garrett Richards here] are going to pitch this team to contention? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Richards, Nolasco and Shoemaker stay injury free all season (unlikely) and that Tyler Skaggs and Jesse Chavez pick up 10-12 wins a piece in the #4 and #5 slots. Even then, we need the lights out bullpens of the early 2000s with Percy, K-Rod, Donnelly and company to close out the typical AL West slugfests that we so often see. I just don’t see it.
TODD: Which Matt Shoemaker do we see this year?
MIKE: If you think 2014 Shoe is coming back this year you’re probably also chasing the end of rainbows looking for Leprechauns with pots of gold. I think the most we can hope for is a ten win season and the most we could get is a few lucky bounces and he hits 12. Over the past two seasons you have just never seen that same groove he was in when he posted 16 Ws but I think we can hope that the defense bolsters his number from the last two years. He’s a number 4 or 5 guy and he’s descending into his 30’s now… just think the upward trend is done.
AARON: We have gotten a ton out of this undrafted player that any organization could have had for nothing coming out of Eastern Michigan. He is a great guy to have as your #4 or #5 guy because he pounds the zone with competitive stuff, but occasionally gets hit very, very hard and very, very far. Having said all that, he had three games for the ages last season (2 in May, 1 in July) where he struck out 11+, walked 0 and allowed 0 HR (allowed 2 runs in 24.2 IP over these 3 starts). He was the only pitcher in baseball last season with 3 games of 11+ K, 0 BB and 0 HR, and the first Angel all-time to have more than one of those in a season. In fact, coming into 2016, there had been 5 such games in Angels’ history (Tanana in 75, Lackey one in 2006 and another in 2007, Weaver in 2010 and Haren in 2012). I just hope he can come back and be as confident after the skull fracture he suffered in September.
TODD: Does either catcher strike you as a legitimate “field general?” This position worries me.
MIKE: It seems like the catcher position is the red-headed stepchild on the Angels. With the depleted farm system and the bloated salary issues it’ll be a long time before we have a catcher who can both hit AND be the field general. As it sits now we’re looking at the best defensive catcher we can afford and who cares if he can actually hit the ball! I’m in your boat Todd – I’m worried that we’re not going to get much from the position at all this season (much the same as all the seasons in recent memory). But Scioscia likes to call the game from the front steps of the dugout while he’s pinching his upper lip anyway, so I’m optimistic that we don’t need a ‘general’ as much as we need a backstop. There are grumblings that Maldonado’s arm is a cannon so if he successfully keeps the ball from getting past him and throws out a few runners we can rejoice in at least a few minor victories.
AARON: I agree that we won’t get much offensively from this position, but Maldonado or Perez will be hitting 8th/9th in the lineup most times, and there are many teams now that instead of having one good catcher and a solid backup, they just have 2 average catchers that split time. There aren’t many Buster Posey’s out there anymore.
TODD: Ok, guys, let’s wrap this up with your answers to the following predictions. I’ll close out the article with my own responses:
- Surprise player of the year?
MIKE: CJ Cron settles into a groove, hits the ball hard, and knocks in runs all season long.
BRIAN: Cron. Hopefully, Pujols builds on last year’s success and poses a legitimate “bad” or “worse” option to opposing pitchers trying to get through the lineup. If this is the case, C.J. should see some good pitches to drill. If Pujols gets hurt, Cron could move up to the cleanup spot and realize the benefits that every player obtains when hitting behind Trout. Either way, this is the make or break season for C.J. and I’m predicting good things.
- Who ends up having the best pitching performance?
MIKE: Tyler Skaggs. He overcomes the surgery, stays mostly healthy, gains confidence and has a solid season to build on.
BRIAN: Shoemaker. He was their MVP three years ago when he came out of nowhere and won 16 games for a team that won 98 games. Dude has battled his entire career and exceeded expectations constantly. After getting drilled in the head with a comebacker last season (trust me, this hurts – ask AC’s cousin about his errant 3-wood slice), he’s shown that he won’t be deterred by pitching well this spring. I think he will be the healthiest and ultimate anchor of the staff this season.
- Who gets injured first – Pujols, Valbuena, or Richards? Or somebody else?
MIKE: If starting the season injured counts, Valbuena or Street. If not, Garret Richards’ controversial stem cell therapy isn’t good enough he goes down early.
BRIAN: See surprise player of the year [Cron]. Really hope I’m wrong on this one.
- Predicted Regular Season Finish? And if not first place, who wins the West?
MIKE: Better than Oakland and Texas. Not better than Seattle or Houston. No playoffs.
BRIAN: 2nd Place. They scrap it together and finish with 86 wins. Here’s my hope. Keep it close until June . . . enough so that we are buyers at the trade deadline. Arte ponies up and they rent an ace and a 27th left-fielder at the deadline. Don’t limp out of the gates with our usual 5-12 start. Let Calhoun, Trout, Pujols and Cron swing away and hope that everyone else hits for a decent OBP. My head is telling me that this a 4thplace team, however, maybe lightning strikes and we have a run a la the Royals a couple of years ago. Either way, I know one thing. If the Angels continue to crap the bed over the next two to three years, they are going to be forced to deal the most dynamic player this team has ever and will ever know. That would be a tragedy and push me to the brink of my loyalty. Here’s hoping that Scioscia and Eppler light a fire under these guys so that we can light up that halo often boys.
- If the Angels don’t grab a Wild Card or better this year, do we see Mike Scioscia in 2018?
MIKE: Yep, he’ll be around for a while yet.
BRIAN: Mr. “one game at a time” rides it out for another season regardless. Expectations are low for this team, which is why I think they will rise up and ultimately finish better than people think. Scioscia will be seen as the steady anchor and we’ll get to watch him leaning on the corner rail of the dugout in his short-sleeve red poncho for years to come.
TODD: Interesting thoughts, boys. Here are my answers to the same questions –
- The surprise player of the year will, in fact, be CJ Cron. You are both correct in my estimation.
- I agree with Brian that Shoemaker will deliver the strongest pitching performance. I think he’s got a lot to prove but looks forward to proving it.
- Pujols will get injured almost immediately and miss most of the year. I PRAY I’m wrong.
- I see the Angels finishing 4th, behind Houston, Texas, and Seattle in that order. Hey, I hope I’m wrong and they have a great year.
- I agree Scioscia stays, but still hope we can somehow recruit Joe Maddon in future years.
Thank you Aaron, Brian, and Mike for your time and thoughts! For our readers, I know this piece has some length but it’s been fun. Here’s to a great Angels season. I hope we all come together again for an All-Star break check in and/or a post-season analysis session.