By Rev Halofan of Halos Heaven
After a 900-win decade, Mike Scioscia's Angels had an offseason dedicated to getting rid of the deadweight, adding some short-term window dressing and generally keeping the Los Angeles bulldozer of Anaheim a well-oiled machine that outperforms its PECOTA predictions, its Pythagorean projections and decimates high-leverage situations with a confounding regularity. Confounding only if you are a pattern-spotting statistician whose numbers-crunching cannot measure this club's numbers crushing. The humor in dire predictions for the Angels is that the lost parts from the Anaheim engine (John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver and Chone Figgins) were routinely dismissed as inconsequential by the predictive gurus in recent years (Lackey not a true ace, Figgy's speed of minimal impact, Vlad old and risking injury... sound familiar?). While waiting to see if Rob Neyer has found some self-respect or will predict Oakland to take the AL West for the 2nd year in a row, it is nice to know that all those February division titles handed out to Seattle and Texas will decorate LA of A's rearview mirror again this year.
1B: Kendry Morales got a few more MVP votes than Casey Kotchman and had almost the output of Mark Teixeira at a savings of over $19.5 Million... oh are we late for the Moneyball makeout party, boys? It is as if the Angels know what they are doing. Nobody predicted the breakout season for Kendry Los Defector going into 2009 and since they are all magically calculating a regression for him it can be assumed he will continue to mash.
2B: Howie Kendrick got sent to the minors in June of 2009. He was hitting .231 but came back in July and finished the season batting .291. As long as he can lay off the outside stuff and avoid hand injuries from crowding the plate, Howie looks to finally be putting it together. I almost believe that.
SS: Erick Aybar is a wonderful defender, terrible baserunner and has become a major league hitter in the mold of Orlando Cabrera. The absence of Chone Figgins may inspire the inscrutable Scioscia to bat Aybar leadoff, but Erick is overmatched there. However, Aybar has shown that he benefits from on-the-job training , having become a major leaguer long after he broke into the major leagues, so another audition is not out of the question.
3B: Perpetual prospect Brandon Wood finally gets his shot, but watch a month of strikeouts lead to a benching in favor of Izturis at the hot corner. The comparisons to Troy Glaus only make me think of a streaky injury-prone crosseyed tabacca-chewin' hick. Wood has been pretending to be patient at the plate while he truly had to be patient in getting his turn as an everyday Angel; any fallback or regression from a Glaus-esque equilibrium and Woody's thin-ice position with management will become apparent to all.
UI: Maicer Izturis signed a 3-year, $10 million deal in the offseason to be the proverbial fire under Wood and Kendrick's keister. Little Izzy Pop is too achy-breaky to play every day but his wake-up-and-hit line-drives ability balanced with an excellent glove add up to quite an insurance policy.
C: The game of musical plate-squats between Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli existed only to give Angels blogging communities something to rage about. As great as Napoli's bat is, Scioscia dislikes his defense and Napster is dinged-up when he is not running one of his frustrating hot-cold streaks. The Angels may keep Bobby Wilson up as a third catcher to further complicate this chaos.
LF: Juan Rivera is still young enough that nobody can take his job away. In a senior citizen outfield, he is the hot young thing whether he continues to blonde-frost the tips of his hair or not.
CF: Torii Hunter is misunderestimated by every predictive system that minimizes his glove and overstates the effects of his age (after two decades of those impostors from Latin America perpetuating birth certificate fraud on the MLB, how can anyone buy crunched numbers based on the wrong numbers?). His solid seasons with a halo may give rise to a new "playing on grass after years on turf" theory. He is also totally healed from a groin injury, so spin the clock back a little more.
RF: Bobby Abreu taught the entire team to take walks last season, something hitting instructor Mickey Hatcher had failed to do in the previous nine years. Bobby's glove is not great, but he gets on base and is still fleet of foot for a senior citizen.
OFR: A reserve outfielder for the Angels might see an at-bat a month. If the old geezers stay healthy, maybe not even that. The Angels dumped Gary Matthews Jr and have a battle brewing between Terry Evans and Reggie Willits with Michael Ryan likely waiting in Salt Lake as filler. Scioscia loves pinch running, so that will be the spot in which this player is seen.
DH: Hideki Matsui has delusions of outfielding, but the bottom line is he can DH better than Vlad Guerrero when you consider his amenity toward the free pass.
As of this writing Robb Quinlan might make the team. Terry Evans is out of options. So is 3rd catcher Bobby Wilson. Michael Ryan and Cory Aldridge are having great springs. The Angels preference is for prospects to get playing time instead of major league pine.
Jered Weaver is a flyball pitcher who benefits greatly from the night-time marine layer in Angel Stadium, which drops those fly balls into the gloves of the outfield. He did throw a complete game shutout in the daylight there last year but it was against the Padres so it almost does not count. Weaver will go as far as his pitching deception covers up his release point and as deep into games as the movement on his otherwise fat fastball allows.
Scott Kazmir was brought in to replace John Lackey in August (while Lackey was still here), and had a great pre-October run. His best season ever was in 2006 in Tampa with Mike Butcher as his pitching coach. Therefore, the two being reunited should, in theory, work to the lefthander's benefit.
Ervin Santana had a strained/sprained/insane in the membraned elbow ligament for most of last season. Given optimum health he should rise to "ace" status. Given history, he will be maddeningly inconsistent. Betting on Ervin will make you either broke or a billionaire.
Joe Saunders is the poster boy for retiring the WHIP stat as he is proof of the theory that a good defense behind a pitcher mitigates the non-K pitch to contact syndrome. He pitched with a knot in his shoulder midseason last year, ruining what would have been a better pitching line had he just opened up his mouth and whined with pain in July.
Joel Pineiro is another lover of vacuum-cleaning defenders and his sinkerball-driven National League numbers could translate well - consider every hacking DH in the AL dribbling the same out on the scoreboard that every whiffing pitcher in the NL handed over to the ageless Joel.
Matt Palmer, Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell are likely staying sharp in AAA to be the serviceable #5 in case of injury. The Angels won 97 games in a season where 14 different pitchers started at least one game, so the team can dig deep for a replacement level #4 or #5 if it must.
Brian Fuentes is flirting with disaster. He gassed out late and Scioscia started platooning him with Kevin Jepsen, a future closer. As insurance, the Angels signed Fernando Rodney, who should squeeze into the closer's spot enough to stop Fuentes from getting his 55-Games Finished 2011 vesting option. If Scot Shields returns to pre-'09 form, this is a formidable back-end bullpen, with Jason Bulger and Brian Stokes filling it out as the closest things to mops if Matt Palmer is being kept sharp as a starter down on the AAA farm.
In The System
Hank Conger will be catching at AAA and should visit So Cal if there is an injury to Mathis or Napoli. Peter Bourjos has speed and defense and may push Torii Hunter to a corner next season, and he could show up for a week or two if the AARP OF begins to see the effects of aging all at once. Trevor Reckling is a future #2 with "2010 Rotation Fill In" written all over him.
MANAGER: Minimize the impact of Mike Scioscia at your own peril.
GENERAL MANAGER: Tony Reagins made the bold Kazmir trade in August and got a ten percent rebate and a back of the bullpen reliever for Gary Matthews Jr, so beneficial trades are not out of the question.
OWNER: Arte Moreno wants a ring.
LITTLE-KNOWN AWESOME FACT: Parking at Angel Stadium of Anaheim is $8, lowest in the majors.
When a pre-season analysis includes admonitions for a team to stay healthy in order to perform, that is code for a lack of depth on the part of the team or a casual perusal of the roster by the analyst. Lackey, Santana and Weaver all missed time last season, Saunders pitched hurt to compensate, the bullpen blew more games in one season than they had combined for the previous three years... and the team won 97 games. Meanwhile the offense had Jeff Mathis starting at catcher for forty percent of their games, a groined-up Torii Hunter missing time when not playing hurt, a preseason panic attack about missing out on Mark Teixeira, grumblings over the signing of an aging Bobby Abreu and ended up playing more than 50 games without Vlad... and the team won 97 games.
That represents not necessarily a wealth of depth as much as a skillful assembly of a roster from the available parts. Without injury, this is a 95-win team. I here am providing the same amount of evidence for my selection as Baseball Prospectus did when they calculated the Angels winning 76 games in the season ahead. BP crunched a bunch of numbers that had no basis in reality to anyone who knows how Mike Scioscia tinkers with his roster and his lineup to maximize the odds of his team taking each series. Because the Angels as assembled might get hurt or not perform is precisely why they will succeed; the entire squad comes with contingency plans that constitute a major league starting nine. This is the same organization that let Teixeira walk; that traded Jose Guillen from a position of weakness; that drafted Jered Weaver despite the Scott Boras pre-draft money-grab... After not giving up in face of the ridiculous adversity of 2009, the comfort every Angels fan takes is the rare position for a fan to be in: to know that they know what they are doing and that they are in it to win it.