Los Angeles Angels: Five (Kind of) Easy Steps to Contention in 2017

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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Columnist – 
The Angels were 74-88 in 2016, although with a somewhat more promising 80-82 Pythagorean record. But as DocHalo pointed out here, we shouldn’t be too optimistic about that Pythagorean record. But we should also remember that the Angels’ pitching staff was devastated, losing the staff ace (Garret Richards), two other promising young starters (Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano), and closer (Huston Street) to injury, not to mention a slower recovery time from Tyler Skaggs and that gruesome late injury to Matt Shoemaker. In other words, the Angels were so bad at least partially due to just horrible luck, and hopefully can expect better next year. Hopefully.
Given that the Rangers played way over their heads last year on route to 95 wins, and second place Seattle won 86 games, the mediocre AL West in 2017 could be won by 90ish wins. Simply being above .500 should keep a team in contention deep into the year, and thus be eligible for mid-season trade upgrades. In other words, the Angels could win the AL West next year simply by playing average or better for the first half of the year, then making a few tweaks and going on a hot streak. The point being, it only takes fielding a .500 plus team to start the year to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
So how to get there from here? And how to do so without busting the bank (Yoenis Cespedes) or trading away the few good prospects the Angels have (Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss, Michael Hermosillo, etc)? It actually isn’t that hard; or, at least, it isn’t that difficult to understand a path towards contention, and in five (easy?) steps! 

1. Stay Healthy
This is the hardest and, unfortunately, the most difficult part. The key players–aside from Trout, whom we will never mention in relation to injury…ever–are Richards and Skaggs. Together they pitched 16 starts for a combined 1.4 fWAR. Let’s also throw in Alex Meyer, who pitched 5 starts for 0.3 fWAR. That gives us a grand total of 21 starts and 1.7 fWAR, which is a cumulative mid-rotation performance (roughtly 2.5 WAR for 32 starts). If we assume roughly the same performance in total from those three as a baseline, and then reduce all three to 25-30 starts to account for babying, then we get 75-90 starts, or about 60 more than they pitched in 2016, which would lead to a gain of approximately +5 fWAR. Those 60 starts replace the 47 starts and -1.6 fWAR from Jered Weaver, Tim Lincecum, David Huff, and Daniel Wright, plus Tropeano’s 13 (+0.1). In other words, just by being relatively healthy and performing at the same level as 2016, those three starters should give the rotation a swing of around +6.5 fWAR, or a broader range of roughly +5 to +8 fWAR.
OK, I will say something about Trout. There is no team in baseball that’s success relies more upon a single player. That is a huge problem, and very different from, say, the 2002 World Champs who were a team of good to very good players, but no clear stars; the highest fWAR on that team was David Eckstein’s 4.5 (!), but the lineup had eight players of 2.5 fWAR or higher. But there are numerous roads to Rome; the current team has Trout, who is better than any combination of two players on the 2002 squad. Meaning, everyone else on Trout’s Angels doesn’t have to be quite as good as the cast of 2002. But the point is, for the Angels to be vaguely decent Trout has to be healthy unless, of course, the rest of the lineup is really good–which is hard to imagine happening in the next year or two. So any conceivable path to the playoffs involves a healthy Trout.
Other than the starters, we need good health all around but it isn’t as dire as the starters–namely, Richards, Shoemaker and Skaggs–and, of course, Trout. We need basic health from the major supporting cast: especially Simmons and Calhoun, but also Cron, Escobar, Bandy, Pujols, etc. But if any of those guys go down, the Angels can theoretically find a way to plug the whole.
To put all of that another way, you could rank the Angels in terms of tiers by importance of health:
Apocalypic: Trout
Crucial: Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, Calhoun, Simmons. 
Important: Nolasco, Meyer, Bedrosian, Street, Cron, Pujols, Escobar, Bandy.

Recommendation: Pray. Knock on wood. And hope to (whatever deity or divine or otherwise force you believe in) that “biomechanics,” or whatever it is, bears results.

2 and 3: Improve Weakest Lineup Spots: 2B and LF
These two go together because they’re very similar. A couple years ago I was one of the many who was happy with the Kendrick-for-Heaney trade. Howie was his usual self in 2015, but he really struggled in 2016 so that despite only seeing all of 19 starts from Heaney so far, with none likely in 2017, the trade doesn’t look so bad and still promises to turn out well in the long-run. But it has left a massive whole at 2B which Gio only adequately filled in 2015, not so adequately in 2016. Left field has been similar but even worse, with the Angels unable to replace Josh Hamilton’s mediocre production with the motley likes of Matt Joyce, David Murphy, David DeJesus, Shane Victorino, Colin Cowgill, Daniel Robertson, Kirk Niewhatshisfuck, Efren Navarro, Rafael Ortega, Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Shane Robinson, Nick Buss, Ji-Man Choi, and Todd Cunningham. The overall result has been a total and utter disaster, especially considering that left field is one of the easiest positions to fill with at least adequate production.
Now there aren’t a lot of even decent options, especially at 2B where Neil Walker is the only plus player available and is likely to be very expensive. Walker is not a star but about as consistent as you can get; from the time he broke into the majors in 2010 he has accrued 19.5 fWAR, or an average of 2.8 per season including a career-high 3.7 last year.  He is the definition of “good ballplayer,” not a star, but a very consistent above average player. The question is, how much is that worth for a player who turns 32 at the end of next year? 
An intriguing in-house option is Kaleb Cowart, who should be able to be a plus defender. The big concern is his bat, which has been downright Woodsian so far (.176/.210/.267), albeit in limited play (139 PA). It is probable that Cowart wouldn’t be much better than replacement level in 2017, with poor offense and plus defense. Assuming the Angels don’t go after Walker, their best bet might be to sign a solid role player like Stephen Drew and platoon him with Cowart.
As for LF, it seems that Eppler doesn’t consider Jefry Marte to be a full-time solution. Despite Marte’s plus power, he’s probably right and Marte should continue as a platoon player, getting plenty of starts at the infield and outfield corners. But there are plenty of decent options in the outfield, with the best–Yoenis Cespedes–likely to be way too expensive, and the next group–Josh Reddick, Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista–likely to be over-priced and not as good as their price tag. Dexter Fowler is an interesting option who would give the Angels another pretty good OBP in front of Trout. 
Given that they want to hold the spot for Jahmai Jones in 2019 or 2020, they could take an unconventional approach and offer soon-to-be 40-year but still productive Carlos Beltran a one-year contract with a vesting option, or sign someone like Jon Jay, Michael Saunders, or Nori Aoki who would, at the least, provide solid performance and plug the gushing torrent of suckiness that has been LF the last two years. Or you could take a risk on Carlos Gomez and hope he re-captures his 2014 form. 
The other option is a trade, but the Angels don’t have a lot to offer. 
Anyhow, probably the single free agent who would represent the largest upgrade for the Angels is either Walker or Cespedes, either of whom would represent a +4 to 5 swing at one position—at least in the short term. Both represent substantial risks because of their age. Plus Cespedes has “future hotdog” written all over him; it is easy to imagine a scenario where he “did a Hamilton” and declined rapidly. I personally would prefer Fowler to Cespedes, who would probably cost $10M less per year but not be far behind in WAR. But the point being, even getting one of these biggish names would be a huge upgrade and turn a gaping hole to a positive—and thus be the single largest improvement possible. With money spent on one, the Angels can go the cheap route on the other.
Oh yeah, one more thing. How about a fifth outfielder with speed? Someone to pinch run and steal bases late in the game? The Royals employed this tactic so well a couple years ago—decimating the Angels in the 2014 ALDS—that I’m not sure why every team hasn’t adopted this approach You don’t need a guy who can hit, just run, steal bases, and play defense—and there are a bunch of these guys lying around in AAA.
Recommendation: For 2B, it is tempting to go after Walker. If it somehow possible to get him to sign a three-year contract (unlikely) or possible a four-year contract (possible) for the right price, I say go for it. If he wants five years I’d stay away. There simply is no way to improve the team as drastically in one move. If his price tag gets out of hand (say, more than 4/$60M) then sign Stephen Drew and platoon him with Kaleb Cowart. For LF, I would consider Fowler and Gomez. If the latter can be had for a one-year “prove myself” deal, go for it. I believe that Gomez doesn’t require a lost draft pick, as he was traded mid-season. If he too gets too expensive or if someone swoops in and offers him a multi-year deal, Fowler is the better bet for something like 4/$56M. If that doesn’t work, sign one of the solid players—Aoki, Saunders, Jay—to tide us over until Hermosillo and/or Jones is ready in a couple years. But stay away from Cespedes and the five-year, $25-30M per year contract he is going to try to get.

4. Sign a Top-shelf Reliever, and one or two ones with good upside
Cam Bedrosian was easily the best reliever on the club, with Deolis Guerra, Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin, JC Ramirez, and possibly Andrew Bailey showing solid value as middle relievers, but none are irreplaceable. The problem with the Angels bullpen is that there is only one truly good reliever in Bedrosian, at least without Huston Street finding his pre-2016 form. The rest are essentially run-of-the-mill middle relievers; some—Fernando Salas, Cory Rasmus, Greg Mahle, AJ Achter, Jose Valdez, and Bret Oberholtzer—were varying shades of mediocre to terrible. 
Going into 2017, Bedrosian is a lock, and presumably Street will be back, although I see him gradually transitioning to a setup role as Bedrosian takes over closer. Guerra has earned a spot on the roster, and Alvarez and Morin—and possibly Bailey or Ramirez–provide decent middle relief depth. What the Angels lack is another reliever with lights-out stuff to pair with Bedrosian. Perhaps this could be Manny Banuelos, who a few years ago used to project as a #3 starter for the Yankees, or Alex Meyer if the Angels sign a starter. 
But there are some really good options on the free agent market, including marquee closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, both of whom will likely set records for reliever contracts; some are predicting nine-figures for Chapman (!). There’s also Greg Holland of the Royals, who was supplanted as their closer by Wade Davis. Holland was great in 2014-15 but struggled last year and could be a really good buy. Mark Melancon is another top tier closer option but won’t come cheaply. There are many other options, but those are the best of the crop and what the Angels really need is someone very good.

Recommendation: It is a bit risky spending big money on a reliever, so I’d probably stay away from Chapman and Jansen, and Melancon will also likely be quite expensive, but Holland would be a great option, in addition to someone like Neftali Feliz and bringing Andrew Bailey back. Ramirez and Morin can be stuffed in AAA with Banuelos. The Angels could enter the year with a bullpen of Bedrosian, Holland, Street, Guerra, Alvarez, Bailey, and Feliz. Not bad.

5. Sign a Mid-Rotation Starter
Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, and Nolasco are locks; Weaver, Chacin and Meyer are not. It sounds like Weaver won’t be tendered a contract, not with his continued decline (his ERA grew for the fifth straight year, finally breaching the 5.00 mark in 2016 and showing no signs of going down, as his 5.62 FIP attests). Chacin makes a decent “sixth man” or mopup guy so could be re-signed, and Meyer could end up as either the fifth starter or transition to a flame-throwing reliever.
There is a viable if unlikely scenario in which the Angels have a strong rotation without making a move. In this pipe-dream, health abounds. Richards returns to 2014 form, Shoemaker continues where he left off with before being beaned in the cranium. Skaggs finally finds his health and potential, Nolasco continues his 2016 performance with the Angels, and Meyer finds command and consistency. All of a sudden you have a legit staff ace and four bonafide mid-rotation starters.
But it is highly unlikely that everything goes right, and chances are Eppler will at least want to build more depth in case of a Meyer meltdown and/or an injury to one of the others. Probably the choice with the highest floor, but also biggest contract, is Jeremy Hellickson – who is a solid #3-4 type, but not exactly sexy. 37-year old (in March) Rich Hill is a popular mention around these parts after he produced a very sexy 2.12 ERA and ridiculous peripherals (10.52 K rate and 2.69 BB rate) in 20 starts, but chances are other teams are salivating over the chance to snag him on the cheap and thus he won’t go cheap. Other possibilities aren’t as good: The talented by oft-injured Brett Anderson might be a nice gamble and could probably be had for an affordable one-year contract, the ever-disappointing Andrew Cashner is another buy-low candidate who could bounce back, or don’t be surprised if the Red Sox opt out on Clay Buchholz who fits a similar mold. Ivan Nova has a higher floor but lower ceiling than these guys and would likely be another #4-5 type like Nolasco.

Recommendation: My personal preference would be to go hard after Hill. If the Angels can get him for something like 3/$45M, then they should do it. He’ll be 37 and presents some risk but has few innings on his arm and is the best of the bunch by a long-shot. Unlike Hellickson, if he bombs then it is a shorter sunk investment. Hellickson is tempting but will probably require a Wilson/Weaver-type 5/$80M contract and I’m a bit leery of his 2016 contract year 3.71 ERA performance after three prior years of 5.17, 4.52, 4.62 ERAs. Hellickson is a #4 starter who will be paid as at least a #3.
So if Hill doesn’t happen, why not take a chance on one of Anderson, Cashner, or Buchholz? All of these guys can probably be had for a “I want to prove myself” one-year deal, so the risk is low. They can compete with Meyer and Banuelos for a rotation spot and, assuming they win it, give the Angels better depth and potential converted power relievers in Meyer and Banuelos.
Extra Credit: Upgrade at 3B
One more option worth considering is letting Escobar walk and going after Justin Turner, who has quietly been a very strong performer at third base for the last few years, posting a .275/.339/.493 line with 27 HR and 5.6 fWAR last year for the Dodgers. But Turner, despite being 32, won’t come cheaply. 
Summary: My Recommendations
– Sign Neil Walker (4/$60M) to play 2B.
– Sign Carlos Gomez on a one-year deal ($15-20M) or Dexter Fowler (4/$56M) to play LF.
– Sign Rich Hill (3/$45M) to start.
– Sign Greg Holland (3/$30M) and Neftali Feliz (2/$15M) to add to the bullpen, plus give Andrew Bailey a one-year contract.

2017 Lineup and Pitching Staff
3B Escobar
2B Walker (or Drew at #8 in lineup)
LF Gomez (or Fowler at #1 in lineup)
CF Trout
RF Calhoun
DH Pujols
1B Cron
SS Simmons
C Bandy
Rotation: Richards, Shoemaker, Hill, Skaggs, Nolasco (with Banuelos, Meyer and Smith in AAA)
Bullpen: Bedrosian, Holland, Street, Bailey, Guerra, Feliz, Alvarez (with Morin and Ramirez in AAA)
And yes, I know I added $60M months more of payroll. This after seeing only Wilson and Weaver’s combined $40M coming off the books. This would bring them right up to around the luxury tax threshold of last year ($189M), but maybe with a few tweaks the Angels can stay under. But the above team can win 90+ ball games, especially in the Walker variant. It has depth, variation, and would be a lot of fun to watch.
And yes, I realize that the above almost certainly won’t happen, or at least not all of it. But the goal here was to show how to make a viable Angels contender in 2017. I started with the idea of relatively small tweaks to bring the team up to an 80-85 win level so they would be just a tweak or two and a hot streak away from the division title, but ended up building a much stronger team. My revised view is that just basic health and only small tweaks puts this team back to the 80-85 range, but with some strong moves—like those suggest above—this team could be a legit contender again.

Point – Counterpoint: The 2016 World Series Edition

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Wow! History. Tradition. Miracles! The Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians are preparing to face each other in Game 1 of the World Series in just a few hours. The last time one of these teams won the World Series it was cool to be racist and broads were broads, spending their time cooking, cleaning and cooking. Which of these loveable losers will prevail and bring their town its first World Series title since doctors smoked non-filters while treating their patients? 
The Chicago Cubs In Five – by Adam Dodge
There is no chance that the Chicago Cubs led by bench coach Dave Martinez won’t finish this thing. On the field, simply, they’ve just got better talent. Their infield is disgusting. Rizzo, Baez, Russell and Bryant comprise one of the best to make the Fall Classic in many years. They’ve got a legitimate table-setter at the top of the line-up in future Angels disappointment Dexter Fowler. Add to that already potent line-up, a recently rehabilitated Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs are an absolute lock to hit and score runs against a solid Cleveland pitching staff.
On the bump, the Cubs present a deep, battle-tested rotation. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and that all-around son of a bitch John Lackey will at worst keep their high-powered offense within striking distance in each game. 
Cleveland may have the edge in the bullpen. Andrew Miller has been filthy going back a few years now and never more impressive than in this postseason. Miller though, can’t go 3+ innings every game – something he’d have to do to give the Tribe a shot and containing the Cubs’ high octane offense.
Finally, when you assess the dugouts, the edge again goes to Chicago. Sure, Terry Francona got the Red Sox over the hump in 2004 for their first title since Romania annexed Transylvania. But come on, folks! The Indians are only looking for their first title in 68 years instead of 64 years because they foolishly failed to hire baseball mastermind Dave Martinez when he interviewed for their managerial opening after the 2011 season. 
Under Martinez’s leadership, the Cubs have won a combined 200 games in two seasons. They’ve won a wild card game and three postseason series. They’ll cap the Martinez era by raising their first World Series flag in more than a century!
Cubs in 5!
Indians in six! – by Nate Trop
When I agreed with Adam to do this PCP I had no idea he would spend so much time talking about baseball and the players on the Cubs which really annoys me because I just spent twenty minutes trying to motivate myself to look at the roster for the Indians, but alas, Chuck doesn’t pay me so I refuse to do something I don’t feel like doing.
First of all, as someone that actually lives near Chicago, the city is awful, everywhere you go you are wondering if you are going to be shot, there are bros everywhere, the freeways are always being worked on, except where the toll booth is of course, and the people that live there have the second most annoying accent in the country.  We all know the Cubs story, a bunch of high paid mercenaries mixed with a decade of first round picks because of how bad they were, led by a tremendous bench coach in Dave Martinez.  The last time they won a World Series Chicago was yet to be overrun by bros and AIR was a proud new grandpa.
Cleveland on the other hand has the best manager in baseball, Terry Francona.  He already has two World Series under his belt including 2004 when he broke the Curse of the Bambino and brought Boston a ring.  Even more absurd was that those chowds kicked him out because it turned out he liked to drink beer and occasionally let his team do it too, the most hypocritical act in sports since Pete Rose called out PED users.
Cleveland also has great players.  They have that guy that tore his finger up while presumably grabbing a drone out of midair seconds before it was going to take out a toddler.  They have that second baseman that the Angels desperately wish they had and that other starting pitcher that all of us fans got upset about when we thought the Angels were trading for him, he looked terrible… until he turned out to be a Cy Young candidate.  If only Incarcerated Bob was right!
Then they have one Mike Mother F’ing Napoli, I don’t need Google to know his name.  It turns out aside from being able to impress um… “adult film actresses” he also is pretty good at baseball.  All those years of Napoli vs Mathis and in the end it was not even close, not in the same ballpark.  Napoli not only continues to absolutely kill the Angels every time he faces them but manages to keep playing baseball really well.  Most impressively, despite his looks, he seems to be a really smart baseball player that can absolutely crush the ball.
Cleveland in six!

Initial Ideas on How to Improve the Angels This Offseason

Image result for Mike Trout and Brett Gardner
By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer – 

Okay folks, take this for what it is. It’s an early look at a different way to rebuild the Angels this offseason. We all know the needs and the limitations. We can’t solve all of our problems with money, and even if we could, the talent just isn’t there to buy. We are going to have to be creative, and, we are going to have to accept some limitations if we are going to make the team better overall. It’s been a while since I’ve been writing, and I’m trying to ease my way back into it, but I thought I’d put something on here to start the discussion going forward.

So, here are some thoughts I’ve had. I get it that I will be criticized for some of the trades (not necessarily working out), but I’d at least suggest them. And, we can argue about the money a bit more later. 
First Move: Trade Mike Morin and Victor Alcantara to the Yankees for Bret Gardner and Rob Refsnyder.
Why we’d do it: It solves left field and gives us a starting point for second base. Gardner can leadoff, Escobar drops to second, and Trout now has a much better chance to hit with more runners on base. More importantly, Gardner’s contract is for 2 more years, at which point Jones or Hermosillo should be ready to take over the position. If they need a little more seasoning, Gardner’s contract has an option for 2019, which we could easily exercise. In a pinch, Gardner could play CF to give Trout a day off. 
As for Refsnyder, the scouting reports on his defense at 2B are mixed, but I will be honest, mostly not good. I haven’t seen him play there enough to really comment on it. He’s young, so maybe he can be improved with reps. I don’t expect him to be elite, but if he can be average, that would be a step up from what we’ve had, especially if he can produce offensively (his bat is supposed to be worth it). Plus, with a subsequent move (see below), I will be able to limit his defensive liabilities if they can’t be overcome through improvement. He wouldn’t be my starter, but, he should get between 200-300 ABs over the course of a season. And, for those who want to harp on Refsnyder’s defensive limits, I have to ask how many of you would be willing to try converting Cowart into a 2B? If you are comfortable with him manning the position, I think Refsnyder would be at least as good at 2B as Cowart, if not better defensively.
Why the Yankees would do it: They want to shed some salary and need to add some power to their lineup. They have several OF prospects who could easily replace Gardner, or they could go after a more elite OFer with power to replace him. They need bullpen help (as do we, and I know, we’re trading away bullpen assets–but we need LF and 2B help more, and bullpen arms might be easier to find than those positions). Yes, I get it that they’d say that it’s not fair value, but Gardner is coming off a down year, Refsnyder essentially has no home in their lineup (he’s blocked at both 2B and the OF), so, they may be happy to shed payroll to improve elsewhere. Alcantra and Morin both have upside, and could easily bolster a major league pen in the long run. Yankees fans might not be happy with the move initially, but when they get a big splash somewhere else, they probably will forget about the trade very quickly. They need to shed payroll and get younger if they want to become again. They won’t get fair value without eating salary, and I think they’d rather have the payroll flexibility than get fair value back for these two players.
Second Move: Sign Jeremy Hellickson.
The Angels have the highest protected pick this year. We need to utilize the security that it provides. Of the top free agent pitchers this year, the one I’d pursue, and the one I think Eppler will pursue is Hellickson. I think he can be had for the most reasonable deal in terms of dollars and years (Rich Hill may be a shorter deal, but more dollars and more risk due to his age). I could be wrong on this, as most teams may want to jump in on him, but, he would be my preferred choice. At some point, I’d walk away from the deal and pursue Nova, but would much prefer to sign Hellickson because he has a better track record.
Third Move: Sign Sean Rodriguez to Play 2B.
I always like Rodriguez as an Angels prospect and always thought that he would produce some power. And, I’ve always liked how flexible Rodriguez has been defensively. The Angels will need to get more overlap out of their roster so that one injury doesn’t become too critical. We have no depth at 2B anywhere near ready. With Rodriguez and Refsnyder, we’d have some backup. Plus, he can also play 3B, OF, and 1B in a pinch. 
Look at how much losing Cron hurt the team last season. Not that it was the reason why the team was so bad, but, it certainly didn’t help. With a roster of Rodriguez, Marte, Pennington, and Cowart, we’d have much more flexibility around the entire infield and wouldn’t have such a tremendous drop in production if an injury occurs.
Fourth Move: Spend all Remaining Money on Boosting the Bullpen.
Most likely, Street and Bedrosian will return next year fully healthy to form a nice end to the bullpen. But, the 6th and 7th innings could sure use some help, especially, if Morin is traded. While I think Middleton could be ready for a role in the pen by the end of the season, we need more help now. We can argue about which arms to pursue, and I’ll let plenty of people discuss that. I will trust the FO to try and get the most out of the remaining funds. Since a lot of that will depend on how much we spend based on the three previous moves, it’s a bit difficult to speculate these moves.
Overall, I think all of these moves are affordable for the Angels this offseason. Sure, we might have to add a little more to get the trade done with the Yankees, but I think it’s a good start on the idea. They aren’t totally dealing from a position of strength (as mentioned, Gardner did have a down year–even though he still got on base well), and Refsnyder is blocked. They can’t add too much payroll, and would be better off shedding some payroll. I believe that these moves fit with most of Eppler’s comments about still wanting to improve getting on base and his familiarity with players from the AL East. It would definitely make the Angels an improved team, one that would be far more competitive than last year’s team.
Proposed New Rotation
Proposed New Lineup
1. Gardner, LF (L)
2. Escobar, 3B (R)
3. Trout, CF (R)
4. Pujols, DH (R)
5. Calhoun, RF (L)
6. Cron, 1B (R)
7. Bandy, C (R)
8. Rodriguez, 2B (R)
9. Simmons, SS (R)

Last Season in Angels Baseball

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By Glen McKee, AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist – 
October 2, 2016. That’s when the season officially concluded for the Angels, but it ended well before then. Some would say it ended before the season ever began; I call those people idiots. Baseball is about optimism in the face of ridiculous odds, and if you’re lamenting the season before it starts then, well…
That said, it was a frustrating season for reasons nobody could have anticipated.  That said, there was still some good to be found; a piece of furniture that didn’t burn in the house fire, if you will.  You generally find what you’re looking for.  If you focus on the negative, you’ll see the negative.  If you focus on the positive, you’ll see the positive.  If you focus on both, well, you can write for AngelsWin.com and have the opportunity to google pics of hot babes (and occasionally dudes), and do a substandard imitation of Bill Simmons.  Enough preamble, on with the show.  This may be conflicting for some of you because I’m gonna have something for everyone in here.  I’m not responsible for any confusing arousal that results from reading this.
The Bad.  The worst thing about this season was the injuries.  Injuries are part of any normal baseball season and a team is expected to deal with them, but it was ridiculous this year.  We lost more arms this year than Hillary Clinton did when she was Secretary of State!  Political zinger.  Seriously though…the amount of injuries to the pitching staff was incredible.  You know what else is incredible?  The sexiest man alive in 2016 (David Beckham) and the sexiest woman alive in 2016 (Scarlett Johannsson)!

  The Record.  The Angels finished the year at 74-88, 10th worst record in MLB (BUT WE GOT OUR PROTECTED DRAFT PICK!) and second worst in the AL West.  Suck it, nine other teams including Oakland!  This was the worst season the Angels have had since the last time their record was this bad or worse.  That was probably a while ago.  I dunno, you do the research.
Johnny Giavotella.  The feel-good story of 2015, he was supposed to make small strides (geddit?  He’s short!) this year and perhaps lock down the 2B job that’s been open since that one black dude went to the Dodgers (not racist, just observing.  Miss you, Howie.).  He hit .260 with a .662 OPS before being DFAed at the end of August.  Just to give you an idea of how bad his OPS was, it was a full .118 below what superstar Albert Pujols put up this year.  Horrible!  We’ll miss ya, Johnny!  On to the next Eckstein.
CJ Wilson.  Here are CJs stats for the year: __________.  He didn’t even show up.  It would be easy to make a joke about him injuring one of his female body parts, but let’s give the guy some credit.  This was the last year of his contract and now he’s a huge question mark; missing this season had to lower his value at least somewhat.  Speaking of question marks, remember that horrible Batman movie with Jim Carrey as the Riddler?  Well, a long time ago Jim Carrey dated Lauren Holly, and while Jim’s sperm has been proven to absolutely wreck women (if you doubt me, look it up) there was a time BJ (Before Jim) when Lauren was incredible.

Matt Shoemaker.  I’m gonna be serious here for a moment.  Shoe started the season terribly and then suddenly found his stuff again and turned into an ace.  He was incredible until he got beaned with a line drive.  Like all of us here I like Shoe a lot and wish him the best, and hope he returns to form and entertains us on the field again next season.  Best wishes, Matt.
Brett Oberholtzer.  Brett was yet another attempt at a clean peanut (with a nod to Tdawg).  On August 9 the Angels got him off of waivers from the Phillies, a team that finished worse than us.  In August he posted a 5.25 ERA and in September he gave up a robust 12 runs per nine innings.  That’s so bad that a team as pitching-starved as the Angels should have no place for him next year.  But don’t worry, he’s a sure bet to pull a Blanton and wind up pitching well on a playoff-bound team in a few seasons.

Shane Robinson.  He was supposed to be a platoon in LF with Ji-Man Choi but he spent a lot of the season injured, and the rest of it stinking up the joint.  .173 average, .492 OPS.  Yikes.  I’ll just add Ji-Man here as well.  Between the two of them in 210 AB they hit 6 HR and had 22 RBI.  LF is yet again a need for next season, but there is an in-house solution (more on him below).
The bullpen.  For the most part the bullpen was a dumpster fire.  There were a few bright spots that give us some hope for next year, but as a group they were…well, maybe not as awful as you think.  They were 18th in ERA at 3.77 (I know, I don’t believe it either!); playoff teams Texas and Toronto both had worse bullpen ERAs (4.40 and 4.11 respectively).  Surprisingly, they only pitched the 13th-most innings at 544.0.  So, when they were bad they were awful, but when they were good they were…well, good.
Albert Pujols.  It’s difficult to get past his contract and look at his stats in a vacuum.  Yes, he hit 31 HR and had 119 RBI, both best on the team.  That .780 OPS, though.  That bugs me.  It keeps trending downward and there’s no reason to expect it to get any better.  Five more years.  Albert will still have one more year left after whomever is elected president this year finishes their term.  But hey, Albert is from the Dominican Republic, and so are Amelia Vega and Shalim Ortiz.

The Good.  Hey, that’s enough bad.  Feel free to add yours to the list.  Now let’s take a look at the good and yes, there was a lot of good this year.  There’s only one person to start this list with…

MIKE TROUT!  He only hit 29 HR (boo, for not making an arbitrary number!) but he once again finished with an OPS above .980 and he increased his SB total from 11 last year to 30 this year.  Once again he should be the MVP despite being on a lousy team, and once again I have faith that the people who vote for MVP will screw it up.  He’s an incredible player and we’re lucky to have him.  Also worth noting is that he (just barely) had his second-lowest strikeout total for a full season and his highest BB total.  Good to see those numbers trending in the right direction.

Juan Graterol.  What?  Who?  Yep, my new favorite player.  I love his name, I love his look (wait for it…), and I love his performance in the smallest of sample sizes: 14 AB, .286 average.  And just look at this mug!

Andrelton Simmons.  A lot of people were pissed that we traded our best pitching prospect for Andrelton.  Get over it.  Dude is staggering on D and he also posted his best average and OBP for a full season (yay for cherry-picking stats!).  I do miss me some Aybar but Simmons cushions the blow.  It will be good to have Simmons on the team for at least a few more years.

Andrew Bailey.  Another peanut picked up from Philly, Bailey turned out to be clean for us.  In September he posted a 2.60 ERA serving as de facto closer and converted 6/6 save opportunities.  There’s no telling if he can repeat September next year but ya know what?  He’s worth a shot.  Maybe, just maybe, for once it can be the Angels that find a gem in the scrap pile, and make the team that released him question their sanity.
Jefry Marte.  Remember how I mentioned LF a while ago and said we have a solution in-house?  Say hello to my little friend Jefry.  Actually, he’s not little at all.  Anyway…as I mentioned before he was our best HR hitter this season, hitting a HR every 17.2 AB.  I can hear you yell “Sample size!” and you have a point, but why not Marte?  We all know his name rhymes with party and he had a better OPS than…you guessed it, Albert Pujols.  He can play 1B, 3B, and LF.  I like that versatility.
Fill-in starters.  Ricky Nolasco, after a few rough starts, pitched well enough down the stretch to warrant a spot in the rotation next year.  Alex Meyer showed some potential.  Jhoulys Chacin was erratic but finished with three strong starts, making him our next potential Ervin Santana.  Seriously, look at his ERA by month: 3.27, 5.23, 8.59, 4.19, 5.79, 3.38, and 0.00 (In October, one game pitched).  He’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in mediocre sauce.
Kole Calhoun.  Some say he’s overrated, some say he’s underrated, still others say he’s just rated.  I fall between the latter two.  This season he posted career highs in runs, 2B, 3B, BB, and OBP, and dropped his strikeouts markedly (from 164 in 2015 to 118 this season).  Sure, he’s no Randall Grichuk, but he’ll do.  Plus, he’s a ginger, and we all love gingers, right?  Sorry, ladies.

Mike Scioscia.  It didn’t take long for the Angels to announce that Scioscia would be back after this terrible, no good season, and really, why not?  I, too, look forward to the time when the team has moved on from Sosh but this year wasn’t on him.  At the ASB the Angels were 37-52.  After the ASB, with a patchwork pitching staff the Angels went 37-36.  The Angels had every reason to tank, yet they remained competitive and still managed to get that protected draft pick.  If they had blown goats after the ASB then Sosh would rightly be under fire.  They didn’t, so he gets the credit.  Well, done, Sosh.  See ya next season.

The rest.  Sure, a lot of other things happened during the season.  More players than I mentioned had a bad year, and more players than I mentioned had at least a decent season.  Feel free to point them out.  One thing worth noting is that we may have seen the last of Jered Weaver as an Angel.  I’m not conflicted about this.  He had a solid career with us and in a few years, I’ll have forgotten his last two (or three if he’s back next year, gah).  He was always entertaining and I’ll never forget how he took a team-friendly contract to stay here.

If you go somewhere else then I wish you the best, and if you come back here for another year I wish you even better.  Just please don’t come back and suck.  It’s always better to retire a year too early than a year too late, said the guy who isn’t turning down millions of dollars to come back.
What’s next? The playoffs, where we’ll probably get to watch Napoli crush it and have a lot of posters lamenting his departure.  A World Series that hopefully doesn’t feature Texas or Los Angeles (the other, real Los Angeles).  A loooooong offseason where a lot could happen.  A break for me from writing about the Angels unless I’m inspired, which will happen occasionally.  And then, eventually, spring training when our hopes are born again, unless we’re bad people.  It’s been a blast writing these, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

Last Week in Angels Baseball – The Last Week of Angels Baseball This Season Edition

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By Glen McKee, Missing Angels Baseball Already – 
Yep, that’s it.  That’s all she wrote for the Angels in 2016.It was a long time coming and yet it still feels too soon, like when you return to work after a long vacation.  The lockers are already cleaned out and the players have gone their separate ways, some of them never to wear an Angels uniform again.  There’s a whole season to examine and an offseason to speculate about, but for a few moments let’s take a look at the last week of Angels baseball.
The Bad.  
Ya know what?  This is the 24th edition of LWIAB.  In each of the last 23 I’ve chronicled the players who have had bad weeks.  But this is the end.  The season itself was bad enough, so for this last LWIAB (note the specificity there, more on that at the end) I’m just going to focus on the good.
Instead of the bad, here’s a picture of an old school hottie, Mae West, who said when she was bad she was even better.  Who am I to argue with that?
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The Good.  
We got to see a bunch of young kids playing for their future and even though it was a week of meaningless (to the Angels) games, some people still made an impression that, when combined with their performance the rest of the year, could have them back on the Angels next year.
– Ricky Nolasco.  Another solid start for him, wrapping up a good September that saw him drop his ERA from 4.95 to 4.42.  In his lone start last week, he went 8 shutout innings.  In his last three starts he went 21 innings and gave up 0 ER.  On a pitching staff that has more question marks than the Riddler’s costume, Nolasco will definitely be back.
– Jhoulys Chacin.  He only pitched once last week and it was in the last game, but he threw 7 shutout innings.  He has the potential to be back to fill the Ervin Santana/Hector Santiago role of “pitcher whom you’ll never know what you get from them, but at least half the time it will suck.”  Just in case this is the last time we see Jewels, we’ll send him off with a pic.

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– Kole Calhoun.  Calhoun finished in style, hitting .474 in the last week of the season with 5 doubles and a HR.  Way to finish strong, Kole!  Kole is a ginger, and you know who else is a ginger?  Julianne Moore and Christina Hendricks!

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– Jefry Marte.  Sure, he only hit .250 last week but he had 2 HR and 5 RBI.  For the season he hit a HR every 17.2 AB, the best HR rate on the team.  Given that he plays just about every position and that we need an everyday LF, he should be back next year as a bench player at the very least.
– Daniel Wright.  Mr. Right indeed.  2 starts, 12 IP, and 4 ER for a 3.00 ERA last week.  For an Angels’ starter in 2016, that’s a beautiful line.  He might be back next year.  He was born in Memphis and you know who else was born in Memphis?  Lucy Hale!  No, I don’t know who she is either but she showed up when I Binged “hot women from Memphis” so here you go.

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The Rest.  The only “the rest” that is important here is Mike Trout and his quest to be a 30-30 man. He fell one HR short after hitting just 4 HR in September and only 1 last week.  He finished the season hitting .315/.439/.550/.989 with 100 RBI, 29 HR and 30 SB.  Dude should be MVP but we know how that goes.  Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  
Predictions.  Who cares about my predictions for last week?  The season is over.  By the time you read this you’ll have already forgotten most of last week, like I will a few hours after I type this.
What’s next?  Watching other teams battle it out in the playoffs and over-analyzing what went wrong this season.  Also, speculation about what the Angels will do in the next five months.  Oh yeah, and one more thing to look forward to: while this is the last LWIAB for this season, there will be a LSIAB next week, with an agonizing review of the season.  There will be the requisite babes, there will be some eye candy for the ladies as well, and there might even be a Futurama pic thrown in.  As always, you get it for free because I love to torture myself.  Also, I currently plan to write a few of these columns as the offseason develops, so you have that to anticipate as well.  Enjoy the offseason, I know I won’t.

Trout’s last 5 years – a historical perspective

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By Jason Sinner, AngelsWin.com Contributor – 
There are only a handful of 5 years stretches in the history of baseball that are on par with what Trout has done in his first five full seasons.  What is truly remarkable is how far ahead of the next player Trout is over that span.  
5 year spans of one player being 10 WAR greater than the next closest:
1902 -1906.  Honus Wagner 45.2 WAR vs. Nap Lajoie 34.0 WAR
1903 -1907.  Wagner 47.0 WAR vs. Lajoie 35.7 WAR
1904 – 1908. Wagner 50.4 vs. Lajoie 35.2
1905 – 1909. Wagner 51.1 vs. Lajoie 32.4
During Cobb’s era, there was Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Joe Jackson, and Fred Baker
Then Hornsby and Ruth came along.  Along with Sisler.  
1919 – 1923. Ruth 57.9 WAR vs. Hornsby 44.9.  Next closest was Speaker with 35.5
1920 – 1924. Ruth 61.1 v.s Hornsby 51.1.  Next was Speaker at 34.8
1923 – 1927. Ruth 56.1 vs. Hornsby 45.4.  
Then came Foxx, Gehrig and Ott to give Ruth some competition.  
Then Vaughn and Gehringer.  
DiMaggio and Williams  
Then there was WWII.  
Boudreau and Musial were big time but not head and shoulders above the rest.  
During the late 40’s/early 50’s, there was Robinson, Doby, Kiner, Campanella, Snider all packed together.  There was so Rosen and Berra in there.  
Then the Mick came along with Eddie Matthews and Mays and Hank and Banks and Kaline to get us through the 50’s and early 60’s.  
Frank Robinson got in the mix in the 60’s.
1961 – 1965.  Mays 49.8 WAR vs. Aaron 39.8.
1962 – 1966.  Mays 50.0 vs. Aaron 37.8.  Next Robinson 32.7
Some Ron Santo and Yaz with the others pretty tightly packed.  
In the early 70’s, Bench, Morgan, Rose and Stargell took over.  
1971 – 1975. Morgan 43.2 vs  Bench 33.0.  
1972 – 1976. Morgan 47.3 vs. Bench 33.7.   In this stretch and that above, the Reds had 3 of the top 4.  
Mid to late 70’s Schmidt and Carew were in there.  Brett, Foster and Carter as well.  
Then in the early 80’s it was Rickey with some Murray and Ripken.  
Boggs took over during the mid to late 80’s.  
Then in the early 90’s, Bonds came on the scene.  
1989 – 1993.  Bonds 44.8 vs. Henderson 32.7
Then Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas..
1990 – 1994. Bonds 43.7 vs. Griff 32.5.  
The Steroids.  Bagwell, Piazza, Biggio, etc  
Interestingly, the high WAR totals during this era were down into the high 30’s for the most part because of roids leveling the playing field.  
Late 90’s and early 2000’s the roids really kicked in and Bods, Arod and Sosa wen nuts with some Chipper, Giles, Vlad.
Bonds and Arod topped the list for several years with the others a distant 3rd thru …..
2000 – 2004.  Bonds 54.9 vs. Arod 43.1.  Next is Helton at 34.4.  Edmonds, Rolen and Pujols were toward the top.  
Then Pujols took the lead for several stretches but only by a little.  Utley was in there for bit.  
Post steroid era and the top WAR dropped to the low 30’s.  Miggy took over in 2009 followed by guys like Votto, Longoria, Zobrist, Cano
Then came Trout with Donaldson and McCutchen
2012 – 2016.  Trout 46.8 vs. Donaldson 32.0.  
So 15 five year stretches of a 10 WAR or greater lead for the top player vs. the rest of the competition.  13 of those stretches at least back to back or in a row.  14 of those stretches by 5 players
Wagner, Ruth, Mays, Morgan, and Bonds.  (didn’t expect Morgan to be in with those names)
Trout’s 13.8 WAR delta to the next closest player is the highest differential is the highest since Honus Wagner out WAR’d Nap Lajoie by 18.7 WAR from 1905 – 1909.  
BTW, Trout has done this in his first 5 full seasons.  He just turned 25.  ie, he did it from age 20- 24.
The others?
Wagner – ages 28-32, 29-33, 30-34, 31-35.  
Ruth – ages 24-28, 25-29, 28-32
Mays – 30-34 and 31-35
Morgan – 27-31, and 28-32
Bonds – 24-28, 25-29, and 35-39
Trout – 20-24.  
It’s difficult to even put that into perspective.  Trout is actually doing something relative to his peers that no one has even come close to.  And to sell it even further, consider this:
Here are the top eleven next closest to him and their age:
1. Trout – 46.8 WAR, age 24 (season.  he just turned 25 in August)
2. Donaldson – 32.0 WAR, Age 30
3. McCutchen – 29.1 WAR, Age 29
4. Miggy Cabrera – 28.1 WAR, Age 33
5. Adrian Beltre – 27.8 WAR, Age 37
6. Buster Posey – 27.5 WAR, Age 29
7. Robinson Cano – 26.4 WAR, Age 33
8. Paul Goldschmidt – 25.6 WAR, Age 28 (just turned 29)
9. Joey Votto – 24.9 WAR, Age 32 (just turned 33)
10.  Manny Machado – 22.9, Age 23 (just turned 24)
11. Bryce Harper – 22.8, Age 23 ( will be 24 in mid october)
So there it is.  Some serious Trout pron. Happy Friday!  

Last Week in Angels Baseball: The Half-Naked Corpse of a Season Edition

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By Glen McKee, AngelsWin.com Senior Corpse Finder – 
If you are friends with me on Facebook (that’s how old I am, it isn’t even “If you followed me on Twitter” because while I have a Twitter account, I update it about as often as I update my Google + page) you’d already know that on my Saturday morning dog walk, I “discovered” a half-naked corpse.  
It was a dude, and the half that was naked was the half that you don’t want to be naked.  I didn’t think this was connected to the Angels’ season until my exceptional editor said I needed to work it in somehow, and then it became obvious to me.  This year’s Angels team is like a half-naked corpse that you find on an isolated dirt road: surprising but not in a good way, a bit stinky, and a mystery.  You wonder how it happened and then realize there are several possible explanations, but it’s probably the most mundane thing that is the truth (for the Angels, it was injuries) (for the corpse I found, who knows, but it’s probably less fantastical than the half-dozen scenarios I’ve cooked up in my head).  
On to last week…

The Bad.  
This week was a mixed bag.  If we win too many games we’ll lose our protected draft pick.  If we win too few games then it’s a slog through the week.  We straddled that line but still somehow finished ahead of Oakland.  
– The Record.  4-3 doesn’t sound bad, right?  Well, it does when you’re thinking about that protected draft pick.  Anything over .500 is cause for concern.  There’s also some good in the record, more about that shortly.
– Mike Trout.  He hit .261 last week with only one HR, but seven RBI.  Despite being on a half-naked corpse of a team he’s still in the MVP discussion and he’d greatly improve his chances by being a 30-30 guy: 30 HR and 30 SB.  Trout had one SB and one HR last week, and for the season he’s at 27 SB and 28 HR.  There are six games remaining in the season.  It’s possible, as our last two opponents are Oakland (already done for the season) and Houston (currently hanging on to their last straw of a Wild Card hope, thanks in part to what we did to them this weekend).
– Jett Bandy.  His star is fading.  Jett only got one start last week and two other brief appearances, going 1-4 with a double.  Jett was born in West Hills, CA, which is a part of Los Angeles.  You know who else was born in Los Angeles?  Angelina Jolie, who is currently available.  Brush up your resumes, gentlemen.  

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– Nick Buss.  1-10 last week, .205 for the season.  Another dirty peanut.  Not the solution for either LF or the bench.  Next.
– Daniel Wright.  Thus far, he’s been Daniel Wrong, amirite, AO?  Sometimes you gotta pick the low-hanging fruit.  Two starts last week, 10.2 IP, eight ER.  There’s no indication that he’ll be a part of the rotation next year, but he could be another dirty peanut stashed away in SLC.
– Carlos Perez.  Got six of the seven starts last week at catcher, despite being worse than Bandy.  Thanks, affirmative action!  2-18 for a lovely .111 average.  He’s the new brown Mathis.  He’s from Venezuela, and you know who else is from Venezuela?  Alyz Henrich, Miss Earth 2013.

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The Good.  
Our record was good if you disregard the protected pick BS, but there was also an extra layer of good in our record.  There were also some players that did sorta OK last week.
– Spoilers.  Houston had been kicking our ass all season long, until last weekend.  We went into their bandbox of a stadium and took three out of four games, two of them with late-innings heroics, to put a serious dent in their wild card hopes.  I hope that after this week we can look back on it and say it was worth it.
– Ricky Nolasco.  He’s looking more like a clean peanut with every start.  7 IP last week, 0 ER.  He should be in the rotation next year and given our lack of working arms, that seems like a lock.  
– Jhoulys Chacin.  Welcome back to the good list, Jewels!  Two starts last week, 11 IP, 1 ER.  Another solid possibility for the rotation next year despite being a McDLT.  I hope he’s back next year, because he’s Jewel.

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– Yunel Escobar.  He found his bat again.  .360 average last week with a HR and 3 RBI.  
– Albert Pujols.  He tore it up last week.  .357 average, 1 HR, 2 2B, and a bunch of singles.  
The Rest.  
Juan Graterol, despite having the best BA of our catchers, was invisible last week.  WTF, Scioscia?  
In the all-important protected draft pick standings, there are three teams worse than us in the AL and four teams worse in the NL, which means we’re in eighth place and we can’t go higher than tenth. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are both at 70-86, one game better than us.  The next team after them is the Chicago White Sox at 74-81.  So, even if we surpass Philly and Milwaukee, Chicago is 5.5 games better than us.  They’d have to lose almost all of their remaining games and we’d have to win almost all of ours, to surpass them.  Break out the champagne!  It’s almost a lock.  No whammy.
The Week Ahead.  
Three at home versus the Aths – we could solidify that protected pick status by being swept by them, but we don’t really want that, do we? – and we finish the season with three at home versus the Astros. Only three things matter for this week: one, no more injuries.  Two, Trout getting to 30-30.  Three, the protected draft pick.  Those are all attainable goals, and I predict all three of them will happen.  
No whammy.  
2-1 versus the Aths and 2-1 versus the Astros, just to kick a bit more sand in their faces.  Last week I predicted 0-3 versus Texas (1-2 actual) and 2-2 versus the Astros (3-1 actual).  This is my last week for predictions!  One more prediction: I predict there will be one more gratuitous picture of a hot babe to close out this penultimate edition of LWIAB 2016.  See you next week.

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