The Inland Empire 66ers moved to 2-4 on the season after shutting out the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on Tuesday night. After dropping 4 straight games following an Opening Night win, the 66ers pitching staff completely quieted the Quakes lineup, allowing 7 hits and no runs while striking out 9 batters and walking 3.
Jaime Barria, the 66ers #1 starter, had his 2nd go around this season as he matched up against Quakes starter Adam Bray. Building off his successful Opening Day start, Barria showed extremely good feel and command for his fastball and curveball early on, dominating the first 3 innings. Through 3 frames, Barria punched out 5 Quakes hitters, generating 6 swing and misses on the curveball in that time and also generated 3 swing and misses on his changeup. He was commanding the fastball well, using that pitch to get ahead, then finishing off with his off speed pitches. Barria had his 1st jam in the bottom of that 3rd inning, when a base hit, walk and infield single loaded the bases but Barria escaped without harm. In the 5th inning, trouble struck again when Dodgers prized prospect Yusnel Diaz doubled off the left field wall. Quakes left fielder D.J. Peters scorched a ball up the middle but 66ers center fielder Jared Foster unleashed a perfect one hop throw to home plate, nabbing Diaz and helping Jaime Barria escape the inning unfazed.
Barria ended up pitching 6 scoreless innings, moving his scoreless streak to 10 innings to start the season. On Tuesday night, Barria ran a 68.35% strike rate and threw first pitch strikes to 16 of 25 batters, displaying plus command. His fastball was used to generate those first pitch strikes and getting him ahead in the count as he used this pitch 58.2% of the time. His change up and curveball were his put away weapons, as he threw those pitches 41.8% of the time and generated swings and misses on a whopping 36.36% of his breaking balls. Just like he did on Opening Day, Barria flashed an average fastball that he can command and flashed a good change up and average curveball. As a 20 year old in High A ball, Barria is showing he belongs as a young kid in the California League.
Adam Hofacket, a local kid from California Baptist University and a Riverside native, came on in relief and tossed 2 scoreless innings. Hofacket shows a useful fastball he’ll throw in the 91-94 mph range but his real plus feature is a sharp curve ball with late tilt and action. Combined with some deception and a violent delivery, Hofacket is able to miss bats at this level but has struggled with command at times and allowing hard contact. He’s an interesting arm to follow and could be a future big league reliever in some fashion.
The 66ers offense was quiet for most of the game, scoring on a RBI single from Cody Ramer in the 5th inning, but they had a big 8th inning scoring 2 runs. Zach Gibbons singled home a run and Jared Foster cranked a RBI triple to the left center field gap to make it 3-0. Catcher Michael Barash had a 3 hit contest and just barely missed a home run late in the game on a double off the left field wall. Michael Hermosillo also had a solid night with a single, walk and stolen base, obtaining that stolen base by getting an absolutely ridiculous jump from first base. A quick rising prospect in the Angels system, Hermosillo shows unique athletic ability on the diamond, playing above average defense in center field and he has started to tap into his power at the plate. He projects as a future 4th outfielder or low end regular right now but given his athletic ability and passion for the game of baseball, he could work his way into becoming a solid regular at the major league level. I met up with Michael before the game to discuss his time at big league camp, his future with the Angels and other aspects of his dream towards reaching the major leagues.
Michael Hermosillo on his 1st big league camp: “It was awesome. Just being around all the big leaguers like Trout, Pujols and Maybin and the list goes on and on. It was just so awesome to watch what they were doing and how they go about their business. Picking their brains about anything from hitting to life to just about anything, it was just awesome.”
On which players were helpful during big league camp: “Cameron Maybin was someone who helped me out a lot. I talked with him a lot about hitting and baseball in general. Eric Young Jr. was another guy and I picked his brain a lot of the time. But honestly, all of them were good. Trout was awesome, I talked with him all the time. It’s honestly just a good group of guys up there as a whole. I just tried to talk to as many of them as I could because there’s just so many talented guys there in that clubhouse. But Cameron Maybin was probably the most influential.
On his hot start to the season: “I’m just trying to focus on having quality at bats. There are going to be times where things are going well and there’s time when the stretch might not be so good. So you just try to to stay even keel and go about things the same every day. You just try to stay in the same routine whether it’s in the cage or during batting practice. Other than that, I would say my main focus this year is having as many quality at bats as possible. Seeing pitches, swinging at my pitches, staying within my zone or like the Angels like to call it, the “hot zone”, just try to do all that. Some days it works, some day it doesn’t. You just battle it out each day. That’s baseball.”
On his success last season and whether it was a comfort thing or making mechanical changes: “I definitely made some mechanical changes. I kind of went to a leg kick to help with my timing. I just got after it, man. That previous offseason, I just decided that I was going to focus on hitting and I kind of got really serious about baseball. You come from high school and sometimes you don’t realize that this is a business and that it’s an everyday job. I finally felt like I had matured enough and I began to take things really serious. I just got after it. I think all the hard work in the cages and work on the field just started to pay off. I wouldn’t say it was one thing over another. Don’t get me wrong, going to a leg kick or changing things mechanically helped but maturing and trusting the process and not getting too frustrated if things didn’t go your way one day, it all helped. All that combined was what was part of my success.”
On his interest in the new technological advances like Statcast: “The one thing I pay attention to the most is exit velocity. I don’t really look too much at the launch angle and things like that. But I know that’s something that we stress here with the Angels and I know it’s one thing that (Billy) Eppler likes a lot. Obviously, they care what we do on the field but as long as we have good at bats together, don’t chase pitches and your exit velocity is good, then you’re ok. Those are things we obviously focus on here. I would say exit velocity is the one thing I bought into. I just try to make hard contact because obviously hard contact will more than likely result in hits. I try to not get into it too much because it’s really just a game. You know, you’re going to want those bloop hits every once in a while(laughs). Little bloop hits are the things that might get you to .300.
On what would make the 2017 season a success: “Just continuing to mature. I think the biggest thing, like when you asked about big league camp, is just seeing how mature those guys are and how they go about their business every day. If they’re 0-20 or 20-20, they’re the same person. They take the same at bats. They trust that they’re going to be able to hit the ball. I would say continuing to mature as a hitter and have quality at bats. You know the numbers will be there at the end as long as you trust the whole process. Just continuing to be a good teammate, helping my teammates out the best I can and picking their brains so I can get help as well and let the numbers take care of themselves.”
On his favorite player(s) in baseball: “Everyone always asks me this and it’s a tough question. I’d say right now, Mookie Betts is my favorite. I’ve been watching him for the last couple years and I kind of kept track of him early on in the minor leagues. He’s someone I watched a lot of videos on for hitting. But I would say there’s a lot of guys I watch for hitting. Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Mike Trout. I love to just go on YouTube sometimes and just watch highlights on them hitting and just see how they do things. Anything I can pick up from them is going to be good.”
In the 5th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Angels selected a shortstop from the University of Georgia Tech by the name of Connor Justus(156th overall). Widely proclaimed by scouts and baseball people to be a defense first shortstop who could reach the majors based on his defense alone, many assumed his track record of not hitting much would limit his upside. However, in his junior year at Georgia Tech, he started to show life with his bat, hitting .324/.442/.446, after posting a .657 OPS in 2015 and a .663 OPS in 2014. Justus rose in the draft rankings after the improved 2016 season, high enough to where the Angels felt they had a great pick in the 5th round but maybe not necessarily high enough to garner more attention. Scouts, by nature, were a tad skeptical about the improvements and wanted to see more of a track record. The Angels were happy to see Justus hit .344/.465/.430 across 114 plate appearance at Orem(Rookie Ball) after being drafted and hold his own at Burlington(Low A Ball), hitting .230/.345/.309. 2016 was an all around success for Justus but was it sustainable or was it a mirage?
There’s more to the story behind that success. These improvements weren’t some fluke: before his junior season at Georgia Tech, Justus underwent a complete overhaul of his swing and approach at the plate. I went in depth about the upbringing of the fly ball generation, which includes players such as Josh Donaldson, which has started to preach hitting hard balls in the air and utilizing such tools as launch angle and exit velocity. Low and behold, Connor Justus is a member of this new generation. I caught up Connor, the starting Inland Empire 66ers shortstop, before the game Tuesday night to discuss the swing changes he made prior to becoming a member of the Angels organization.
Brent Maguire: When did you first discover launch angles and what they were about?
Connor Justus: I met with a guy named Jay Hood and right before I went to the Cape Cod year before my junior year(at Georgia Tech), so it was about 2 and a half years ago. What we talked about was how much we data we had and why wouldn’t we want to utilize that? Why would we not try to put the ball in the air with a certain exit velocity and a certain launch angle? Why would you not try to practice that and hit the bottom part of the ball whether it’s your tee work or flips or even BP? Really, I just worked on that the past year and a half to 2 years to try to get the optimal launch angle through the majority of my swings.
Brent Maguire: So what you’re saying is you’re actively trying to hit the ball in the air?
Connor Justus: Absolutely. It’s crazy to think about because we have been taught so much that we should put the ball on the ground because we have a better shot. If you look all these stats that are out there, when you start doing the data crunching, it’s actually the opposite. So why would you not try to hit the ball in the air with a certain angle? I mean, that’s damage and that’s what these big league guys have been taught and obviously you try to emulate that and you see what their success is.
Brent Maguire: Are there any potential downsides to working on your launch angle?
Connor Justus: That all goes away if you stick to your certain approach. You just do it in the game. In practice, in batting practice, on the tee and on front flips, stuff you’re working on throughout the day, there’s minor adjustments that can be made. That’s the name of this game. The faster you can make these adjustments, the better you are going to be. It’s not tweaking too much stuff but it is focusing on what you’re doing it and having a plan for why you are doing it.
Brent Maguire: Do you watch videos on any of these guys like Josh Donaldson, Justin Turner, etc.?
Connor Justus: I try to not look at too much video throughout the season because obviously I have laid the groundwork for my swing and I know what works for me. I know my swing well enough to know that when I practice these things and when I’m doing these things, I have little drills that naturally create the launch angle that I want instead of looking so far into it and doing all the number crunching during the season.
Brent Maguire: Is there a certain part of your swing that you’re more focused on? Josh Donaldson, for example, doesn’t think about his hands at all? Do you focus on one thing or is it a collective evaluation of your swing?
Connor Justus: I try to get into a nice early slot as far as me creating a valley with my spine and things like that. I’m standing more up tall. When I start, I go into my valley then I get into my swing. With that, it kind of makes me not think about my hands. I don’t think about them that much. I think more about my shoulder plane and things like that, which is exactly what Donaldson is talking about. It’s funny that you hear all these things but once you start to understand it and wrap your head around it, that’s when it starts to get put into play. Obviously, in a game you don’t think about this and you let all the work pay off. Once you have that confidence going into it, you’ll be able to do those things in the game.
Brent Maguire: Are these changes paying dividends already or is it more of a wait and see approach?
Connor Justus: You’re just trying to stay as consistent as possible. Right now, it’s hard to tell. You’re 4 games and 15 at bats into the season, it’s early. You just try to stay with your approach and stay with all that work that you’ve put into this. Just have that confidence going into the season that you’ll end up where you’re supposed to end up.
Brent Maguire: Back to launch angle, what exactly was it that you fixed to make it better?
Connor Justus: Really, it was going into my junior season(Georgia Tech). I worked really hard in the offseason to work on driving the ball hard with back spin and getting under the ball through shoulder plane and tilt that you create naturally through your swing. During my freshman and sophomore years of college and growing up, I was taught to be very steep with my hands and to keep my hands up the middle, hitting a line drive up the middle. Yeah, you want to do the exact same thing but now we’re talking about hitting a home run to center field instead of a ground ball or line drive to center field. It’s the same concept basically as far as keeping everything square but it’s just a different way of looking at it.
Brent Maguire: Do you feel like you’re a rare breed of this type of hitter or does it seem like it’s becoming more popular?
Connor Justus: No. I’ve actually been talking to some of the guys like Jared Walsh(66ers first baseman/DH), he’s a great one to talk to. There’s a bunch of guys who are buying into this thing. It doesn’t work for everybody, obviously. Not everybody is a cookie cutter. One set swing doesn’t just work for everybody. But I have dramatically noticed the increases in my swing and the way I go about my business has completely changed since I started this. I wouldn’t be where I am today or the player I am today without the work I put in and the focus I put on this. Does it work for me? Yes. Does it work for everybody? Who knows.
By Brent Maguire, AngelsWin.com Staff Reporter
The 2017 Minor League Baseball season kicked off Thursday as the Inland Empire 66ers faced off against the San Jose Giants. The 66ers roster has some familiar names from last year’s team, including Michael Hermosillo and Jake Jewell, but also brings some new faces, including 2016 draft picks Matt Thaiss and Connor Justus. The long season ahead begins as many players will continue their path towards reaching the next minor league levels and, hopefully, the major leagues. Their path to reaching that stage continued on Thursday night. In the longest Opening Day game in Inland Empire’s history, the 66ers came away victorious in a 16 inning walk off win.
Jaime Barria, the Panama born right hander, is the youngest player on this 66ers roster and was the Opening Day starter. The 6’1″ right hander, who posted a 3.85 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 117 innings with Low A Burlington last year, had a fine first outing. Barria pitched 4 innings of scoreless ball, striking out 2 batters and walking 2 while allowing 3 hits. He struggled throwing first pitch strikes, throwing 8 first pitch strikes to 17 batters and had a 61.3% strike rate on the night. Barria was flashing an above average fastball in the 89-92 mph range and commanding it well, making the pitch even tougher to square up. His change up, is best secondary offering, was flashing above average and even plus at times, sitting in the low 80’s with good deception and depth. His curveball is behind those pitches in terms of quality but Barria utilized it a lot as more of a change of pace or get me over pitch.
The 66ers started off the first few innings with 4 hits and 2 walks but only managed 1 run due to 2 outs made on the bases by Michael Hermosillo and Jose Rojas. Connor Justus, a newcomer to the 66ers, laced a RBI double down the RF line to start off the scoring in the 1st inning. Jared Walsh, the Angels 2015 39th round pick, crushed a solo home run to left center field in the 4th inning to give the 66ers a 2-0 lead.
Garrett Nuss was the first 66ers reliever to enter in the 5th inning. He struggled a bit in 1.2 innings as he allowed 3 hits and a walk in his outing and loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 6th inning. Justin Anderson, who started for Inland Empire but is in the bullpen this year, came in and got out of the jam. Anderson was throwing 93-96 mph fastballs with sink and showing an above average slider in the 83-86 mph range at times but also threw some loopy sliders that were hittable or out of the zone. Anderson struggled with his command in the 7th inning but also didn’t get some help behind him when the lead was coughed up. Jake Yacinich and Michael Hermosillo both committed errors in the 7th inning, helping lead to the Giants taking the 3-2 lead.
Matt Thaiss, the Angels 2016 1st round pick, uncorked a solo shot in the bottom of the 7th inning, tying up the game at 3. Thaiss got a fastball low in the zone from Giants reliever Caleb Simpson and hit a bullet over the right field wall. Ontario native Conor Lillis-White was the 4th 66ers reliever of the night in the 8th inning and threw 2 scoreless innings, striking out 3 batters and walking 1. Lillis-White is a tall 6’4″ left hander who sits in the upper 80’s with a sinking fastball and throws a sweeping curveball. Tied up after 9 innings of play, Sam Holland entered in the 10th inning as the 5th 66ers reliever and pitched 2 scoreless innings, flashing a nice sinker-slider combination from a sidearm angle. The Australian born right hander had a 0.83 ERA and 5.14 K/BB ratio in 2016 and looks like an interesting bullpen piece potentially down the road. Tyler Warmoth, an undrafted free agent, pitched 2.1 scoreless innings following Holland, flashing an average slider. Maybe the most impressive pitcher of the night was left hander Winston Lavendier, who was sitting 93-96 mph on his fastball and punched out 4 batters. In the 16th inning, the 66ers finally finished the night with a win, as Connor Justus took a walk with the bases loaded in the 16th inning. Jeremy Rhoades was the winning pitcher on the night, pitching a scoreless 9th inning, as he got 3 straight outs thanks to a firm 92-93 mph fastball.
Here are some noteworthy pregame quotes from the 66ers manager, Chad Tracy, and a few of the players about the 2017 season and what lies ahead.
On the 2016 season and the poor W/L record: “There’s multiple ways to judge a minor league season. One being the wins and losses and the other being player development. By last year’s record, we weren’t where we wanted to be but there was a lot of good stories that came out of it. We promoted a lot of position players to AA and Keynan Middleton was a huge question mark coming into the season and ended up in AAA and almost made it the major leagues. Those are the kinds of things we are looking for. Our main job is to get guys to the big leagues and help out Mike Scioscia. The more that happens, the better. We definitely want a nice record but the main goal is to get guys playing at the AA and AAA level.”
On balancing winning games and developing players: “It’s a balance that you have to weigh. There’s certain things that you do and you think, man is that going to help us win tonight? Maybe not but it might not be in the best interests of that particular player that we are talking about. If that particular player is important to the organization that we want to advance, that takes priority every time. I don’t want to say we don’t care about winning, we’d love to win a championship like Orem did last year, which was really cool, but we ultimately want to win a championship in Anaheim. Whatever is best for our organization, that’s what we are going to do.”
Any players on this 66ers team who is flying under the radar: “We have some interesting stories this year with some pitching. We have some guys who were in the rotation here last year who went through some struggles that we believe in. They are now back here in a bullpen role. It’s not that we necessarily don’t believe in them but because they have power stuff who we think could do well in the bullpen. We’ve got some guys like Jeremy Rhoades and Justin Anderson who have really good stuff who can pitch 2-3 innings out of the bullpen instead of 6 innings in a start. We’re hoping the stuff will play up and make them guys to keep an eye on. Many of the position players are guys who were drafted last year who were highly thought of so there might not be any guys flying under the radar there but there are a lot of quality players. Matt Thaiss and Connor Justus are quality players who played at big schools. We have quite a few good athletes that we just want to see go out there and do their thing. Hopefully, more of them than less will end up in Mobile with Sal Fasano before the year ends.”
On utilizing certain new advancements such as launch angle measure: “Not so much since it’s tough to see from the naked eye. There’s obviously a lot of accessible stats and metrics out there for people to view. From the standpoint of hitting, Brian Betancourth, our hitting coach, spends a lot of time with out hitters to help get their routine down. He can help get them mechanically right when things might not be looking so good. Launch angle may come up but if it does, it’s more of something based on the eye test. For me, it’s hard to measure up a guy and say hey, he’s hitting the ball at this launch angle and needs to be. From our perspective, we want our guys to control the strike zone, get a ball in the strike zone and hit it hard. If our guys are getting strikes and not squaring them up, we might want to try to evaluate where they’re going wrong. If the guys are squaring up baseballs but making outs, we can live with that.”
When he thought about becoming a manager: “I’ve always wanted to do it, even when I was just getting started playing. I wanted to have a long playing career and 9.5 years was pretty long although I wish I could’ve played longer. There were different things with my body that didn’t allow me to play longer. I always knew I wanted to manage though, due to me growing up around baseball in a baseball household and having my dad(Jim Tracy) helped. I always loved the cat and mouse games and the strategy involved with it. I’ve also really liked players. I was a player myself and always thought connecting with others on the team was fun. Having 25 guys on a team and trying to manage them is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to do this.”
On his first Spring Training: “It was awesome. It was a great experience getting to know some of the older guys and learn through them. It was cool seeing how they go about their business and how they conduct themselves and separate themselves from the rest of the world. It was definitely a growing and learning experience for me.”
On any of the players reaching out to him: “I just tried to learn and grow from just watching these guys. I actually knew Shane Robinson, who I worked out with during the offseason, so I tried to ask him a bunch of questions and he helped me a lot. I asked him a few questions about Andrelton Simmons since we play the same position. I tried to eat up as much information as I could and just see how these guys went about their business.”
On being in the same organization employing Andrelton Simmons: “it’s awesome. He’s a really laid back guy. If you ask a question, he’ll be the first one to answer. He’s a great mentor by just watching him. He’s so great on the defensive side and he’s really grown on the offensive side. He’s a glove glove guy and that’s awesome. I grew up in Atlanta so I was able to watch a lot of him so being in the same organization now is great.”
On his interest in advanced stats and the new Statcast information: “During the offseason, I did some mechanical stuff with things like my launch angle. Things that can help myself on the offensive and defensive side are always going to be looked at by me. During the season, I try to not tweak too much since I’ve already laid down a great foundation for myself. During the season, I try to go about my business and have fun and make little tweaks here and there. We have trackman installed in the ballpark but during the season, I’m more concerned about the quality of my at bat. How hard I’m hitting the ball and how I’m feeling at the plate and seeing the ball are more important in season. If I’m hitting the ball hard but not seeing the results, those results will eventually come.”
On his 1st big league camp: “It was a good time. It was a cool experience. I got to learn some things and watch some guys on and off the field and take things to implement into my game. A lot of guys, such as Kaleb Cowart and Eric Young Jr., went out of their way to help me out. I was in the same BP group as Eric Young Jr. so he was definitely helpful. These guys have recently been through the same position I am in and they were able to talk me through certain things”
On any offseason changes: “I got a little bit stronger and put on a little bit more weight. Everything else was the same for the most part.”
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By Scott Allen, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer
The minor leagues are brutal. Not just because of the long bus rides, less than favorable conditions, low pay and long odds. The fact is, as a prospect, you either get better or get lost. If a prospect stops developing, that’s the equivalent of getting worse, because others around you are improving constantly. Believe it or not, the Angels have prospects, and some of those prospects breakout. Let’s give you an example from this past season
Michael Hermosillo – Going from a late round pick and someone toiling in rookie ball, all the way to Advanced A Ball, the Arizona Fall League and an invitation to big league camp in the span of one year is serious ground to cover, but that’s just what Michael did. His swing has become grace in motion, and his speed and athleticism has transformed from “athletic enough to overcome deficiencies” to “flat out, a really good defensive outfielder. Michael broke out in big way in 2017 and look like a big leaguer.
So who do we have in 2017?
1. OF/2B Brendon Sanger – Things just didn’t go well for Sanger last year. His move to second base resulted in a lot of errors. At the plate, he just couldn’t find any consistent rhythm. It had to be frustrating because Sanger was such a good hitter coming out of college. While we’ve yet to see it in the professional ranks, we’ve seen flashes. But I expect Sanger to put it all together this year at Inland Empire. Last year he hit .230/.329 with 24 doubles and 4 home runs. This year, I envision .280/.370 35 doubles and 15 home runs.
2. OF Brandon Marsh – It’s difficult to have a breakout season when you’re already a hyped prospect, but Angels fans still haven’t had the opportunity to watch Marsh play, which is a shame. This kid has a unique blend of power, speed and athleticism that could carry him a long way.
3. OF Troy Montgomery – Instead of re-covering who Montgomery is, let me quote his scouting report from this winter, “Montgomery is one of my favorite types of players to get drafted. The type that don’t have any hype, and don’t come with the over-used “5-tool” moniker. Just really good ball players, that do just about everything average or better on a baseball diamond. The type that perform well at a big-time college, but fall to the 8th round of a draft because they’re only 5’10” tall. The type that play a game with such intensity, that others can’t help but look up to this player. Just good old fashioned, blue-collar hard work and the will to win. If you haven’t caught on, I just described Kole Calhoun. In fact, Troy even looks a bit like Kole Calhoun out there, minus the fiery red hair, and slightly less muscular. Same left-handedness, similar skill-set, athleticism, same passion and competitive spirit.”
Montgomery is slotted for A Ball, but that’s more of a roster crunch, rather than a lack of talent. In fact, after being drafted, the Reds almost immediately began dialogue with the Angels regarding Troy Montgomery. as they were trying to get him in return for Brandon Phillips. The Angels of course turned down such proposals, and should benefit from a Montgomery breakout in 2017. Between A Ball and Advanced A Ball, I’m predicting .290/.370 20 doubles 10 triples 10 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Just across the board production for this kid.
Bonus: Sherman Johnson and Vicente Campos.
Both are technically prospects. Campos is on the DL right now, but once activated, he figures to play a prominent role in the Angels bullpen, and with good reason. His stuff has “late inning reliever” written all over it. And it isn’t as if the Angels are bursting at the seams with options that could block Campos’ path. As for Sherman, the Angels have some uncertainty around second base, third base and utility infielder after this year, as Escobar, Espinosa and Pennington are scheduled to be free agents. as has become the reoccurring pattern with Johnson, the first time he faces a different level of competition, he struggles to adjust. The second time he sees that level, he makes the adjustment and takes off. Last year in AAA, Sherman didn’t play up to his full ability. But this year I’m expecting much better numbers, and a September call up. I think he’ll hit .270/.370 with 25 doubles 5 triples 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases. This should get Johnson in the conversation for all three of those spots.
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MATT SHOEMAKER / CONTRIBUTOR
105 mph to the Head
When the baseball smacked into the side of my head, it was traveling 105 miles per hour. Yet somehow I didn’t hear a sound.
I never lost consciousness, so I remember everything about that moment.
I can even remember the breath I took before I threw the pitch — just that long, exaggerated inhale through the nose as I focused on hitting my spot, my lungs filling up with air.
Then, after a brief pause, I did what I had done thousands and thousands of times before — I wound up, lifted my left leg to my chest and threw the baseball toward the plate.
It was the second inning. One out. We were in Seattle, last September, playing the Mariners. I was looking to go with a heater inside, but after I released the ball it tailed back over the plate.
And Kyle Seager just flat-out barreled it.
Read Matt’s full story here
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By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
First of all, in the aggregate, Billy Eppler and the front office have done a really good job in navigating this offseason and acquiring players that have an opportunity to help the team win in 2017 and beyond.
Eppler clearly stated when he first came on the job as general manager that he wanted to be defensively sound at every position around the diamond and, minus, perhaps, Escobar, he has executed on that goal. This is perhaps the finest defensive team the Angels have put on the field in a long while and it will probably wind up being a Top 3 defensive team in 2017.
Additionally Billy has addressed our greatest weakness from last year in acquiring pitchers for the rotation. Names like Meyer, Chavez, Pounders, Banuelos, Lamb, Campos, Ramirez, and Wright have been brought on board to compete for rotation spots and provide depth for the Major League team. If even one or two of these guys pan out the Angels will be in good shape moving forward.
Any of those names above that fail to make the rotation could easily find themselves competing for a reliever spot in Eppler’s new-look bullpen as well. The Angels have accumulated other names, here, including Bailey, Parker, and Yates through free agency and waiver wire claims as well as adding names like Middleton and Paredes from our Minor League farm system to the 40-man roster. The mid and late innings of games should not frighten the fans nearly as much in 2017.
Also Billy has incrementally improved the offense by adding a quality left fielder and upgrading 2B and our catching tandem against left-handed pitching. The upgrade in left field is significantly better than what we had the last two seasons and so the Angels offense, which ranked 10th in the League in 2016, should be a Top 10 offense again in 2017 barring injury or severe under-performance.
In the middle of this flurry of activity Eppler has upgraded our bench options by acquiring MIF Nolan Fontana off of waivers as well as signing utility outfielders Ben Revere and Ryan LaMarre. These three players will compete with utility players Cliff Pennington and Kaleb Cowart and corner infielder Jefry Marte for open bench spots throughout the season. This gives Mike Scioscia quality, versatile options for defensive replacements, good pinch hit at-bats, and excellent pinch runner opportunities.
The 2017 season will be a dog fight in the American League West but the Angels have the capability to navigate their way to the postseason. Upgrading team defense will not only shut down the opposing team’s offense, it will reduce our starters pitch counts, keeping their arms fresh, and allow them to stay in the game longer. Greater pitching depth will allow the Angels to absorb injuries and have enough quality starters and relievers to run out on a day-to-day basis. Improved offense, particularly at the top and middle of the order, will provide enough ammunition to score runs on a regular basis no matter what team we face.
Give Eppler credit this off-season for working within the financial confines leftover from his predecessor and the owner. He has built a team without sacrificing draft picks or trading away players of significance to the team’s future.
Finally if the Angels find themselves five games or more back approaching the trade deadline, Billy has positioned the team to sell-off through the acquisition and signing of players who only have one year of control remaining on their contracts.
If, instead, the Angels are in the thick of the race in late July Eppler may have to make some tough decisions regarding the small amount of trade-able assets the Angels have in order to make a deadline upgrade if the Angels need it (and most teams do).
It is this last scenario, a weak farm system, combined with some outstanding rotation and bullpen concerns that ultimately winds up with me giving Billy a B+ grade for the off-season. In many respects the grade really belongs to the organization because Eppler inherited some of this mess (Josh Hamilton’s contract and the depleted farm system for instance) so individually I would slide him an A-.
Either way Billy and the front office did a pretty damn good job so congratulations to them!
This team gives me a lot more confidence about our chances to win heading into the 2017 season particularly because I believe that Mike Trout is about to have the best season of his career in 2017 if Maybin and Escobar execute on offense like they did in 2016. It could potentially be a 10+ WAR season again for Trout.
The 2017 Angels will almost certainly harken back to a decade ago where we were known as a team that would go 1st to 3rd as often as possible and put pressure on the opponent’s defense. This squad, as it is currently constructed, exudes some of the same qualities those 2004-2009 teams had in droves.
I hope that those of you who read through this Primer Series journey enjoyed it, I had a lot of fun researching it and bringing it to you. Thanks again to the Angelswin.com board, especially Chuck Richter, for their support, it is appreciated. Go Angels I’m excited for the first game start happening…. right…. about…. now!
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By @ettin, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
Before we dive into the projected probable lineups for 2017 it would be good to have a conversation about lineup optimization, batted ball data, balls in play, and hitter contact.
In 2007, a groundbreaking baseball novel, The Book, was written by three esteemed statisticians, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin. The Book took long-held baseball traditions, such as lineup optimization, platooning, and batting/pitching match ups for example, and placed a spotlight on them to determine if they are really true or need an updated approach and strategy.
One chapter of that book speaks to a topic relevant to the Primer series regarding lineup optimization. Rather than spell out everything The Book says it would be easier to point you to a tidy summation written here by Sky Kalkman in 2012. Take a moment to go read it so that the following discussion makes more sense.
In regard to the Angels let us examine what The Book’s authors suggest for each spot in the lineup and which players on the team best fit the mold against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers.
If you stick strictly to the authors recommendations the lineups might look something like the following:
Per Baseball-Reference.com, in 2016, the total number of plate appearances for hitters that reached on error (ROE) via ground balls, fly balls, line drives, and bunts are noted below:To be clear you could make good arguments for and against the placement of these players in different spots of the order. One lineup randomization might prefer Trout hitting lead-off while another might like him in the 2-hole. What virtually all the systems agree with is that Mike Trout should be in the Top 3 to maximize his production.
There are also other factors to consider in this lineup optimization discussion including balls in play, batted ball data, and quality of contact.
2016 League Totals and Averages by Hit Type
Ground balls are the most likely type of hit, by far, to produce an error by the opponent’s defense. Whether the defender takes their eye off the ball, does not field it cleanly, takes a bad route, or succumbs to the pressure to throw it efficiently and quickly to the appropriate bag, ground balls are the #1 source of errors in baseball by a huge margin. However ground balls are also the least productive type of hit.
These facts are likely the primary drivers of why teams prefer ground ball pitchers with infielders playing strong defense behind them because the tradeoff of errors for double plays and low tOPS+ has probably been proven to be the best in-game strategy (although Dipoto might have felt differently with the fly ball staff he had in his final years).
When you break BABIP apart into its constituent components it becomes readily apparent that line drives are hands down the best type of hit a batter can execute at the plate as seen above. Bunts and ground balls are a distant 2nd and 3rd with fly balls bringing up the rear.
Your ideal hitter should be one that hits a high percentage of line drives and ground balls while limiting fly balls. The only time this might not be as desirable is if you have a really big bat in your order (high ISO, above average exit velocity) who can regularly make the ball leave the park. Recent research into launch angles supports the line drive argument as the ideal angle at contact generally falls somewhere between 15 to 25 degrees to maximize quality of contact (barreling the ball).
As part of the research put into the Primers the author has plunged deep into the statistical abyss in search of information and data to support the idea that Billy Eppler has a strategy in place for the offense and there is some evidence that indicates, yes, there is one.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently published one of his weekly articles and at the end of that article he pointed out that over the last 10 years strikeouts have increased year to year with 2016 being the highest strikeout rate per 9 innings ever recorded (8.03 K/9).
This immediately caught my attention because prior to reading that article, while visiting Baseball-Reference.com, I exported a bunch of data including Balls Put in Play/Strikeouts (I/STR) and Contact% for the entire League in 2016.
If you sort by a minimum of 50 plate appearances and I/STR, three Angels players, Simmons, Escobar, and Revere, appear in the Top 20. In fact every Angels hitter, except Mike Trout and Danny Espinosa, are above League average and the Angels as a whole led all teams at 31.4%.
The Angels were also ranked 2nd lowest in Swinging strikes without contact on a per strike basis at 15% and also ranked 2nd in total contact rate at 79.8%. In regard to the former, it is considered the best method of striking a hitter out.
Essentially what this is saying is that in an era of baseball where strikeout rates are consistently rising, primarily due to pitchers throwing harder, Angels hitters are more efficient at making contact, swinging only at pitches in the zone, and putting the ball into play on a per strike basis. It is a counter-method to employ against rising strikeout rates.
The next question should be is this a good thing?
Putting the ball in play is always a good goal. It is better than striking out. The potential problem is that if you do not have a good all-fields approach or you make soft contact, you will hit the ball into defensive shifts or weakly bounce it right into the hands of the opponent’s defense, possibly even resulting in a double play.
A hitter with a high I/STR needs to have some combination of bat manipulation, ability to barrel the ball, hitting ability to all-fields, decent exit velocity, or speed to make those balls in play turn into actual hits.
We constantly hear from hitting coaches about teaching players a good “up-the-middle line drive approach” in combination with good athleticism. This certainly is not a new concept but only in the last few years have modern day measurements and statistics proven out and supported this long held adage.
All of this conversation leads back to Billy Eppler’s construction of the 2017 lineup and what we can expect in terms of offensive performance from the 25-man roster.
About 70% of the pitchers in baseball are right-handed. This of course means 30% are left-handed. This simply means that teams, in general while ignoring the specific percentages of handedness within their own Divisions, want to have more hitters that perform well against right-handers than they do left-handers.
Typically this takes the form of looking at a hitters platoon splits, which we did above, and determining how good their splits are, over preferably large sample sizes, to get a more accurate read on expected player performance.
In a lot of cases you find that left-handed batters tend to perform better against right-handed pitchers and right-handed batters tend to perform better against left-handed pitchers. This is simply a general rule of thumb and there are exceptions to it like Kole Calhoun in 2016 (and notably over his Minor League career too).
In order to continue it would be best to take a snapshot of individual Angels player offensive contributions by handedness over the last three seasons as seen in the table below.
Please realize that some players like Carlos Perez and Jefry Marte have not been in the Majors that long so their career numbers are shown to date. Others like Kaleb Cowart, Ryan LaMarre, and Nolan Fontana either have a limited history of at-bats or no Major League experience at all so the author has made best-guess projections based on Major and Minor League history:
That offensive performance was obviously above average and if the Angels had not suffered such devastating injuries to their pitching staff and bullpen it may have been enough to get them into the playoffs.In 2016 the Angels offense was ranked 9th overall in Major League baseball with a wRC+ of 100. By handedness the Angels ranked 10th versus LHP with a wRC+ of 101 and ranked 12th versus RHP with a wRC+ of 99.
The question now becomes can the Angels at least maintain that level of performance or, better yet, improve it for the 2017 season?
So with this thought in mind let us start building and examining the projected lineup by placing our core four of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and Simmons in their likely hitting spots vs. LHP and RHP, respectively:
Simmons will likely hit out of the 9-hole this year because of his ability to put the ball in play, as mentioned above, and as an above average base runner to hopefully be driven in by the top of the lineup when he does manage to get on-base. If Andrelton is able to carry over his 2nd half performance and raise his isolated power a bit he could turn into a new version of Yunel Escobar which would be immensely useful.So first of all the order you place your hitters in will probably not make or break your season. As Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register noted batting order generally doesn’t overtly impact the season (unless you completely mismanage it of course).
Eppler and Scioscia are not likely to break the mold of success that drove the 2016 lineup and will probably run Trout, Pujols, and Calhoun back-to-back-to-back against LHP and slide Kole down a spot against RHP (mostly due to Cron probably hitting 5th as we will discuss below). Update: Based on late spring returns it appears Scioscia will run Calhoun out of the 2-hole which is not ideal but should produce above average results.
Some, such as the authors of The Book, would argue that Trout belongs in the 2-hole since he is the best hitter on the team and they would probably be right.
Trout is a unique specimen who is an excellent hitter and hits for significant power. He is without a doubt a run creator and producer all wrapped up in one. However his ability is so great that he can hit anywhere in the top of the order and he will add value with the differences in position being minimal.
Mike produced a wRC+ of 170 in 2016, so the 3-hole seems to be the best combination of plate appearances and run-producing opportunities but it defies statistical logic to a degree. The author would make a strong argument that when the team faces a LHP, they should put Trout in the 2-hole and have Escobar hit 3rd but we are discussing what Scioscia is likely to do not me, so Mike will hit 3rd.
Based on all of that the Angels need to decide who is leading off and who hits out of the 2-hole if Mike is permanently in the 3-hole.
Escobar did an excellent job hitting leadoff last year and it is possible Eppler and Scioscia do not want to upset the apple cart by having him hit second.
However the numbers do not support this argument if you believe, as Eppler clearly does, that Maybin’s revamped swing mechanics, as discussed in Part XI of the Primer series, are legitimate improvements.
It is the author’s recommendation that, despite his early Spring Training struggles, Cameron should start the season hitting leadoff based on his recent returns.
Maybin is an efficient base stealer against RHP with a career 83.6% success rate (65.8% vs. LHP). However based on some old research found here stolen base success rates, as related to run production, should vary based on who is at the plate.
Basically if you have a power hitter or a high walk rate player at the plate, the stolen base success rate needs to be higher because, in the case of the former, a home run will drive in the runner anyway and, in the case of the latter, stealing a base and then having the batter walk defeats the purpose of the steal.
Yunel Escobar does not walk much and does not strike out much. He gets on base through his excellent contact ability to spray hits around the field. Having Maybin on-base in front of him not only brings down Cameron’s minimum stolen base success rate (about 63% in front of Yunel) it also allows Scioscia to harken back to the good old days of the hit and run and going first to third.
If Maybin can recreate at least a .340 OBP from both sides of the plate (he was .384 and .383 respectively in 2016) and use his speed too tactically and selectively steal bases in front of Escobar, the top of our order will have a dynamic impact on early run scoring for the team.
Basically it breaks down into a percentage game of scoring at least one run in the 1st inning of any game. If you put Mike in the 2-hole and have, say, Escobar hit in front of him, the odds that Yunel will even be on-base in the 1st inning is about 35%.
By having both Maybin and Escobar hit in front of Trout you are raising the odds of one of them being on-base from about 35% to 57%. Maybin is an efficient base stealer so if he gets on-base he will likely have the green light on most days to try and take second base in front of Yunel (if he is not already there!). Notably you could substitute Ben Revere here with the same general results as he has a very high stolen base success rate against RHP. Additionally Escobar is fantastic at hitting singles and doubles so this should create a lot of situations where Trout comes up to the plate with runners in scoring position.
Under this assumption let us update the lineups vs. LHP and RHP, respectively:
Logically if they are getting to Albert often the Angels probably want to set up their next best group of hitters for follow-on innings behind Pujols.The top of the lineup on both sides looks pretty strong based only on these running averages. If Maybin recreates his 2016 magic, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols will have plenty of RBI opportunities in 2017. In fact if the Top 3 in the order play to these 3-year running average OBP numbers, Pujols should come up in the 1st inning approximately 75% of the time with at least one runner on-base (or more) or one or more of the hitters in front of him have already scored.
This top four of the order should be able to threaten opposing pitchers on a regular basis. If the team is not getting to Pujols in the 1st inning often then clearly there is something wrong that needs correction.
Against both sides you could make a logical argument that Calhoun should hit out of the 5-hole and The Book agrees with a hitter like him. It is likely that Kole would be the leadoff hitter to start a subsequent inning after the first four have batted and we all know that he is capable of hitting both at the top and middle of the order. He ranks 3rd on the team in total hits plus walks (regular and intentional) plus hit by pitches on a per plate appearance basis so he is productive. This versatility allows him to hit anywhere which certainly appeals to Scioscia and Eppler (and is yet one more reason why they extended him).
C.J. Cron, as we discussed in Part VI of the Primer Series, has had fairly wide platoon splits across his career, hitting a wRC+ of 119 vs. RHP and 91 vs. LHP.
Although Kole appears to be a reasonable choice, Scioscia will probably put Cron in the 5-hole against RHP to create a double home run threat to drive in the top of the order. If Christopher continues to struggle against LHP as he did last year (wRC+ of 79) the Angels could have Jefry Marte step into a platoon role with him.
C.J. will likely be given the opportunity to hit against both sides of the mound to start the season until he succeeds or plays himself into the platoon but for the purposes of this exercise we will pencil Jefry in against LHP.
Luis Valbuena is nearly a clone of Cron with a little more positional and defensive versatility. He too puts the ball in the air a lot especially against RHP so you can simply substitute one out for the other as needed and achieve the same goals. The primary difference for Luis would be as a possible 2 or 3-hole hitter against RHP as his OBP is superior to Cron’s giving Scioscia a little more lineup flexibility.
Danny Espinosa has hit LHP a lot better than RHP over the course of his career. He will likely pick up a full season’s worth of at-bats playing at the keystone so we will pencil him in against both sides hitting out of the 7-hole.
Espinosa could possibly hit higher in the order vs. LHP (for instance hitting in front of Marte) but against RHP he will likely be relegated to the back of the lineup along with Perez and Simmons where any production those three create will simply be “bonus” runs for the team. The Book agrees with placing a player like Danny in the middle-back of the order who has some base stealing capability to hit in front of singles hitters like Perez or Simmons.
Finally the Angels currently have Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez as their projected tandem behind the plate. As seen in the splits chart above Martin hits LHP better (wRC+ of 95) while Perez hits RHP better (wRC+ of 76).
To finish off this projected lineup we will pencil in both Maldonado and Perez leaving us with the following projected lineups:
Now to be clear they will not hit that mark in all likelihood. Injuries and replacement players will probably bring down that 108 number down about 5%-7%. Also, technically, this number could fluctuate based on the number of plate appearances each hitter receives but the impact should be minimal once the 5%-7% attrition reduction is applied.First of all to be distinct, there are certainly cases to be made of placing other Angels hitters in the spots above. Nothing is sacrosanct this is just a discussion
This leaves the Angels with an approximate combined projected wRC+ of 108 for the 2017 season.
When you consider the Angels ended 2016 with a wRC+ of 100 there is an above average probability that the 2017 squad will outperform their numbers from last season which would be a positive outcome for the team’s playoff aspirations.
The offensive upgrade in LF actually makes a significant difference compared to what we rolled out last season. Maldonado should provide increased production against LHP.
Beyond those two areas the only remaining one the Angels could potentially upgrade offensively is Carlos Perez against RHP but payroll may limit the team from executing on that initiative. Hypothetically if the Angels acquired a catcher like Miguel Montero, who has a career wRC+ of 108 vs. RHP, it would be a big upgrade offensively over Perez but that type of move might not be in the cards. A free agent like Matt Wieters might have made sense as well, as was discussed here, but that move no longer appears to be in the cards.
In the end the Angels should excel, as they did in 2016, against left-handed pitching. Against right-handers the Angels will have to consolidate their on-base and run producers into the top and middle of the order to create optimal scoring opportunities and just be happy with whatever they can squeeze out of the bottom of the order on a daily basis.
Eppler’s strategy is to have the team utilize a line drive, all-fields approach with the goal of reducing strikeouts and putting the ball into play through high, efficient contact rates, particularly on balls in the zone. Many teams want this approach but the Angels are the ones executing it well right now.
The bottom line is, barring injuries or poor performance, the Angels have the capacity to be a Top 10 offense again in 2017.
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By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
There are many reasons why I’ve been away from the keyboard lately. It’s not that I haven’t had things to say about the Angels (I have–they are improved and have more depth–I’m more optimistic about this season), it’s that I’ve really lacked the time to say them.
While my time to write about baseball has been limited, my time spent with baseball has dramatically increased. After years of being an assistant coach for both of my sons’ teams, this year I stepped up to manage teams in two different levels of Little League. My eldest plays in AAA (10-11 year olds) and my twins play in AA (9-10 year olds). And, when no one else in the league stepped up to manage teams, I found myself saying “yes” to fill the vacuum.
What I didn’t know at the time I agreed to take on the challenge of managing was just how different managing a team is from coaching a team and just how much it would affect how I perceive the game, especially at the Major League level.
In terms of time, I understood, I think, more than most fans, when professional baseball players and coaches talk about the grind of the season. I’ve seen how much they work. I know how many more hours they put in during a day beyond the time spent playing the game. Most fans have no idea just how many hours around the ballpark players, coaches, and managers spend each day. It’s a lot more than one would think. After a while, it’s a grind.
So too is managing Little League. And I mean, a real grind. I have practices or games at least 6 days a week between the two teams. That’s on top of a full-time job, and all the things I have to do as a parent. Most of the time, I have something to do for one of the teams everyday of the week. And if I don’t my boys still want to go outside to work on some aspect of their games. I’ll admit it: I’m tired. I’m just not as young as I once was (though I think doing all of this is keeping me younger than I would be). My taxes still aren’t paid, and I haven’t balanced my checkbook in 2 months. But, my teams are doing well.
Mentally, it’s a grind. We’re playing the same opponents all the time. After a while, the games are becoming a blur. We play some interleague games as well, which means we’re travelling. I never really know where I’m playing until the day before the game (even though it’s all on my calendar), or if I’m the home team or away team. No two fields are the same. The rules may be the same, but when there’s big tree in a neighbor’s yard beyond the left field fence that may or may not be in play, it plays differently. When pros talk about the grind of waking up in different cities all the time and going to different ballparks, I’m starting to get it.
Most Saturdays, I’m on the field managing my teams for 10-12 hours. I’ll start at 8:00 and often go until dark. And then, one or more of my coaches will want to meet up later to review what we observed during the games, develop the agendas for the upcoming week’s practices, and let loose for a little bit. Some adult beverages may flow, but we’re still focused on the team.
A little while back, on a Saturday, a miracle happened. I got off the field around 2:30 (I had overlapping games and had to leave one game to start managing the other). I didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I went home, plopped on the couch, and of course, put on the Angels game. I can never get enough Angels baseball.
And then it happened. I had an epiphany. Deep in exhaustion, while watching the Angels play, I began to wonder: how far off is it from managing a Little League team from a Major League game. And I mean this in all seriousness. I know on our site we have lots of people who have managed Little League teams, Pony Ball teams, and travel ball teams. And I want to open up the discussion to get your thoughts. Sure, we’ll never know just how tough it is to manage in the Major Leagues, but, there are many similarities between managing, and in some ways, each present unique challenges.
I remember the exact moment I had this thought–it was when Scioscia got thrown out of the game, ostensibly for arguing balls and strikes (and, maybe it wasn’t him so much as the other players and coaches). I was thinking back on a pitch that one of my players got called out on by a 12-year old umpire, that bounced in the dirt in front of the plate and was at least a foot off of the plate (I know, I could see the mark in the dirt from the pitch). There’s nothing I can do as a manager except look at my player and tell him that it’s okay and wasn’t his fault. I know the umpire messed up. The umpire knows he messed up. He’s a kid and still learning. Honestly, I’m happy he’s out there, and at least gave a clear and definitive call, even if it was the wrong call. There was no point in arguing the call, no matter how bad it was, because it wouldn’t accomplish anything except prolong my frustration with it. In the end, it’s a kid’s game, and I left it in the hands of the kids. We went on to win, and the player forgot all about the bad call, especially when he got his snack shack ticket after the game.
But, before this goes any further, I want to be clear: this is not an epic Scioscia is a good/bad manager or should be/shouldn’t be fired thread. If you want to write on that subject, take it elsewhere. This is my article and thread. It’s about the joys and challenging of managing baseball for kids and comparing it to managing professional players. I’d appreciate people keeping it about that. While I will talk about Scioscia, in this thread, he’s a generic fill-in for any Major League manager.
At the heart of my epiphany was this: In the Major Leagues, the tolerance for variance in the play is minimal, but the consequences are substantial. Put an inferior team up against a superior lineup, and they will lose most of the time. If the pitcher misses his spots, he will get lit up. And, the consequences can be millions of dollars, both the players and the teams, as ultimately every game affects the standings for the playoffs.
When managing kids, it’s the exact opposite. You can have the best team, but something can happen at school, and they will have a bad day. If they don’t have a good night’s sleep or a good snack before the game, who knows what will happen. Throw in the effects of the umpires, and any team can win or lose every game. Except in the end, it’s not really about winning and losing–it’s about community, friendship, and developing skills. And, if that isn’t enough, after every game, everyone gets a snack shack ticket, which makes it all worthwhile.
So which is the more stressful situation?
I mean, think about it for a second. If a Major League starter goes down, he will be replaced by someone, who may not be quite as talented, but is still better than 99.99999% of the population. The difference between a starter in the Major Leagues is whether he is better than 99.9999% or 99.99999% of the population–or about 0.00009%. The difference on a Little League team, is to quote “Airplane 2” a “tad” bigger. Anyone that Scioscia brings in as a replacement will still be capable of making all the fundamental plays and will know the rules of the game. In Little League, well, the players are more like a box of chocolate–you never know what you’re going to get.
For those of us who have managed, coached, played, or watched a Little League game, let’s face it, there’s a wide range between the abilities on the field. I never really know which team will show up–the one that can record all 18 outs in a game (we play 6-inning games) via strikeout, or the one that gives up 5 runs on no hits and 12 errors in an inning. A player may not have his/her best stuff (yes, there are some girls playing in our league, and, they are really good players–one may be the best hitter in her division), but the consequences for that might not be so bad. The other team is made up of kids too, and they have their up and down days. They may swing at plenty of pitches out of the zone to help my struggling pitcher get through an inning. Or, they may make a bunch of errors too. And in the end, it’s all supposed to be about fun and community, so it’s not like anything major depends on it.
And, that goes for the umpires too. What passes as an acceptable performance is pretty wide. The differences between the strike zones in the Majors might be a difference of a fraction of an inch. I’ve seen strike zones in Little Leagues that have varied by several feet.
How all of this plays out is extremely stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving every minute of it. But, I also fully believe that if I make it through this season, managing two teams, I can skip seeing my cardiologist for the year.
So it started me wondering how Scioscia would hold up over the course of a season managing a Little League team? What if he had to abide by the same rules and pressures that I had? Similarly, how much easier would my season be if my players were more comparable in skill and ability, like Major Leaguers? What if I had to handle more of the duties of a Major League manager?
As I started to think deeply on the subject, I realized that there are parts to our jobs that are very similar. I have to fill out a lineup every game, just like Scioscia does. Juggling the lineup is a hallmark of managing. And, it’s one of the most profound ways that a manager can affect the game.
But, just because we both fill out lineup cards doesn’t mean that it’s entirely the same. In Little League, every player gets to play (and I’m glad it’s that way). And, in many levels, every player has a minimum number of innings that they have to play in the outfield AND the infield. Imagine if Scioscia had to play every pitcher at least 1 inning defensively in the infield and outfield of every game! Can you imagine having to play Garret Richards at third base and replacing Mike Trout in centerfield with Martin Maldonado every game? That makes it very complicated to say the least. Balancing the defensive alignments is way more complicated than adjusting for any right/lefty split.
Injuries happen too, at both levels, but again, it isn’t the same. If I run out of players, I don’t have a Minor League system to rely upon–I’ve got to beg, borrow, and scrounge to get a replacement player from another team. And, I can only play them in the outfield. If one of my players gets hurt for a week, I will have a much harder time fielding a team, even with fewer games, than Scioscia will if one of the starting players goes down for a similar injury. He has a much bigger bench and the whole organization to rely upon, whereas I have the players on my team.
Another area of overlap is in managing pitchers. We both have to deal with pitch counts. Scioscia has some players coming back from injuries and doesn’t want to overuse them. But again, the margins and consequences are very different. If I, as a manager, allow a player to throw too many pitches, no matter how tired s/he is, or how well s/he is doing, s/he will be ineligible to pitch for a set number of days. I am required to keep a running log on every pitcher and the total number of pitches thrown each and every game. If I violate that, I will be banned for a game. If Scioscia goes too far with a pitcher, the consequences aren’t as steep. No manager has ever been banned for a game because he was riding a hot pitcher, especially through the playoffs, or while pitching a no-hitter.
As for dealing with the press, I get that it’s an important part of the game in the Major Leagues, which makes managing even more difficult. But, I know most of the beat reporters for the Angels, and guys like Jeff Fletcher and Mike DiGiovanna are good guys. They are serious reporters and they ask tough, probing questions. But to be honest, that’s nothing compared to an upset parent who is convinced that batting her son 8th in the lineup is going to cost him a future baseball scholarship. The more I’ve dealt with parents, and to be honest, the parents on my teams are great (that didn’t happen to me–it did happen to my friend who coaches in a different league), I’d say they are way more difficult than fielding questions from parents about what’s going on in the game. Imagine if Scioscia had to explain to Cliff Pennington’s parents about his batting order or give them tips on things to work on at home to improve his swing. I now get why Scioscia speaks in cliches. It’s a lot easier to answer the questions with stock answers than having to tell the truth at times. What if Scioscia had to give out a game ball after every game the Angels played? How would he answer it for every loss? The answer is in cliches.
Now all of this isn’t to say that I think I can manage in the Major Leagues. I’m not that foolish. But, it does make me wonder which is more stressful. While Scioscia did have his son Matt in the Angels organization for a while , he didn’t have to manage him through all the ups and downs of a season. He didn’t have to take his son off of the mound when he couldn’t find the strike zone. While Scioscia is very intense throughout the game, and is very mentally and emotionally committed to the game, it’s not quite the same as when it is your son up there are the plate, with the game on the line, and down to his last strike.
Sometimes, though, I do think it would be more fun if a Major League game were played like a Little League game every now and then. At least 3 times a game, we have to call timeouts because one or more players have to tie their shoes. There are times when I’ve seen coaches and managers go and tie a player’s shoes when s/he is at-bat because it’s too difficult for the player to do so while wearing batting gloves. And, there’s nothing like watching a kid in right field dancing to his/her own music during an inning. It’s even better when they’re doing the potty dance, and then having to call a timeout to replace the player in the field. Imagine if Manny Ramirez had to do that instead of the Phillies had to slow-walk to the plate to buy more time for Angel Pagan.
The way I see it, the difference between managing in Little League and the Majors is that in Little League, the tolerance for variance is huge, but the consequences are tiny. In the Major Leagues, the tolerance for variance is minor, but the consequences are huge. It’s the same game, with different priorities.
So now, I’d like to open it up to you. How about sharing your thoughts on managing and coaching in Little League (or equivalent) versus doing so in the Majors? What are some of your best memories? What were some of your biggest challenges?
I will get back to writing more about the Angels now that the season is back. I do have a lot of thoughts and opinions about the team, and, as my schedule winds down with Little League and work, I’ll get back to writing about the Major Leagues.
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By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
Over the weekend, I was talking with one of my friends, Chad, about the start of the upcoming 2017 season. And, he said to me that outside of his favorite team (the Cubs), up until a few years ago, he didn’t follow the other teams and leagues as much unless he had something vested in the game—maybe a $1 bet or so. When he got into fantasy baseball, it made more games a lot more interesting for him.
Knowing that many others on AngelsWin.com might feel the same way, I reached out to a website called BetOnline.ag.
In no way am I recommending online betting. I don’t know the legality of it and would suggest you check up on that before engaging in any online bets. And, I don’t personally bet online, and haven’t used this site. But, they were kind enough to provide some information about the odds for various bets, and for that I am very appreciative.
So, look below, pick a stat, and share which ones you’d take or which ones you wouldn’t make.
Here are some of the odds concerning the American League:
(Again, all these odds are as provided to me from BetOnline.ag. Other sites may have different odds.)
Odds to Win the AL West
Los Angeles Angels
Odds to win the American League
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
2017 MLB Home Run Leader (Top 10)
Chris Davis (BAL)
Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)
Nolan Arenado (COL)
Kris Bryant (CHC)
Nelson Cruz (SEA)
Edwin Encarnacion (CLE)
Mark Trumbo (BAL)
Manny Machado (BAL)
Mike Trout (LAA)
Josh Donaldson (TOR)
Odds to win the 2017 American League MVP Award
Mike Trout (LAA)
Josh Donaldson (TOR)
Manny Machado (BAL)
Mookie Betts (BOS)
Carlos Correa (HOU)
Here are some of the odds specifically related to the Angels
2017 Home Run Leader
Mike Trout (LAA) +1600 (Bet $100 to profit $1600)
Albert Pujols (LAA) +10000 (Bet $100 to profit $10000)
2017 Regular Season MVP
Mike Trout (LAA) +125 (Bet $100 to profit $125)
2017 Regular Season Batting Average For Mike Trout Over .301
Yes -125 (Bet $125 to profit $100)
No -105 (Bet $105 to profit $100)
Total Stolen Bases by Mike Trout (LAA)
Over 22½ Stolen Bases -130 (Bet $130 to Profit $100)
Under 22½ Stolen Bases +100 (Bet $100 to Profit $100)
Total Home Runs by Mike Trout (LAA)
Over 33½ Home Runs +100 (Bet $100 to Profit $100)
Under 33½ Home Runs -130 (Bet $130 to Profit $100)
Los Angeles Angels to Make the 2017 Playoffs
Yes +325 (Bet $100 to Profit $325)
No -450 (Bet $450 to Profit $100)
Total Regular Season Wins — Los Angeles Angels
Over 79½ Wins -120 (Bet $120 to profit $100)
Under 79½ Wins -110 (Bet $110 to profit $100)
To Win American League Pennant
Los Angeles Angels +4000 (Bet $100 to Profit $4000)
To Win 2017 World Series
Los Angeles Angels +8000 (Bet $100 to Profit $8000)
To Win American League West
Los Angeles Angels +900 (Bet $100 to Profit $900)
Putting it all together, it looks like this site’s odds are that Trout will hit 34 HRs, exactly 300, and will steal 22 bases on route to his 3rd MVP title. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough for the Angels to win more than 80 games, and the team will finish in 4th place.
Personally, I don’t know about that. I’d take the over on wins for the Angels. I’d take the over on Trout’s HR totals and SB totals for the year. If we consider making a “playoff game” to include the chance of the Angels playing a 1-game tie-breaker to make it as the last Wild Card team, I’d take the odds of the Angels making the 2017 playoffs. And, since Trout will be propelling us to the playoffs this year, I’d take the bet that he will win another MVP award.
What do you think?
By Jason Sinner, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer
Jefry Marte – it’s not that he did well this spring, but he looked like a legit middle of the lineup major league hitter. 10 xbh in 72 at bats with an 8/9 bb/k rate. The challenge will be finding him at bats. It really shouldn’t be a challenge as he deserves to play. If there is an opportunity to steal time from Yunel, I think we’ll see it. I have a gut feeling that MS likes Marte and isn’t overly enamored with Escobar’s one trick. We shall see.
Ben Revere – You. Fast. You. Hit. Ball. Ground. Something he didn’t do well last year. His injury was his downfall in 2016. He’s back and will eventually be the primary LFer. The job was essentially handed to Maybin and his weak spring gave him a very short leash. LF has platoon written all over it.
Albert Pujols – he’s healthier than expected. To have him in the opening day lineup is important. He’s still a threat beyond his current replacements so the fact that he’s ready to go and striking the ball well is great.
CJ Cron – had his usual spring where he looks ready to bring his game to the next level. An injury to Valbuena will give him that chance.
Hermosillo and Thaiss – both looked legit. Lots to dream on.
David Fletcher – could probably replace Pennington right now. So much to like about this kid. Hope he carries it into the regular season.
Jesse Chavez – won the 5th starter spot fair and square. Looked decent.
Yusmeiro Petit – probably should have been considered for the 5th spot but certainly deserved to be a part of those who broke camp with the major league club with his 13k and 1bb in 14ip.
Bud Norris – Looked like a dominant reliever. The type that the halos are desperate for. 18k in 13.1ip. Fingers crossed.
Garret Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Cam Bedrosian – nothing special in terms of performance (except Cam who was lights out), but they are all healthy and ready to toe the hill. A monumental accomplishment considering where we could be.
Blake Parker – the ultimate winner of the spring training MVP award if there were one. 17 outs in a row by K. 24k in 12.1ip. The problem is that now I expect him to be a dominant reliever. How about a sub 3 era while teaming with bud to lock down the 6th and 7th.
Cameron Maybin – looked like a guy nervous about winning a job he was handed. To the point where it became news. Not good. Not good at all. It’s a good thing we’ve got Ben Revere.
Kaleb Cowart – played like a guy who was told he has no chance to make the team and that he’d never be a starter. Granted, he may have been told that, but he didn’t have to show up like a second stringer. Falling further off the radar as Sherman Johnson move ahead of him on the depth chart.
Danny Espinosa – another offseason acquisition that looked a but lost. Perhaps I should cut him a Maybin some acclimation slack. Perhaps not. He hit where he was supposed to hit, but he didn’t look like the defensive bad ass we’re expecting.
Our catchers – they were as advertised with good defense but they just can’t hit. Maldonado whiffed 20 times in 50 at bats.
Mike Trout- just kidding.
Valdez, Yates, Morin, Guerra and Adams – had a chance to make the team. A legit chance. Made it a non issue for Parker and Norris.
Andrew Bailey – maybe he was just going through his normal spring routine and getting ready. Maybe he’s just not going to be very good. I am afraid it’s the latter. Very afraid.
Alex Meyer – changed his delivery. Had moments of excellence. I have a feeling that is going to be a recurring theme. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for this guy to turn the corner that he’s never going to. I’ll cut him some slack for now, but the PCL isn’t exactly an easy place for a pitcher to get his confidence.
Didn’t make the cut
Banuelos – pitched well and showed some promise, but lacked velo I was hoping to see and his peripherals were bad.
Gagnon – opened some eyes. Jury still out.
Ege – Will contribute at the major league level this year. As long as he faces lefties he’ll be fine.
Middleton, Pounders, De Los Santos, Paredes, Wright, and a few others – weren’t going to make the team, but didn’t really make that an issue.
EY Jr., Fontana, Sanchez, LaMarre and others – Another batch of guys who weren’t going to make the team, but most looked like solid backups and AAA filler.
By Brent Maguire, AngelsWin.com Staff Reporter
The 2017 MLB season is now underway and the Angels begin their quest for success tomorrow night in Oakland. If you saw my predictions for the American League this season, you’d see that I’m not sold on the Angels being a playoff team this season. This isn’t to say I’m not a believer in this team contending this season. There’s every reason to think this team could at least be competitive this year and maybe sneak up near a wild card spot, that is if they stay healthy and have some good fortune come their way. Being realistic and optimistic are both valid approaches to this, however, and it’s probably a not likely to see the Angels playing in the playoffs. Still, baseball does a great job of proving people wrong so that is why these are merely predictions and not declaring doom on the 2017 season. Without further ado, here is how the Angels line up going into the 2017 season.
By runs scored, the Angels were roughly a slightly below average unit in 2016, ranking 17th in baseball with 717 runs. Looking deeper into the statistics, however, shows the Angels were much better than their run total portrays. By wRC+, the Angels ranked 9th in the majors with a 100 mark, which means they were roughly an average offensive unit. However, the National League teams face a disadvantage by having the pitcher half so if you break it up into leagues, the Angels were 7th in wRC+ in the American League, which is still a solid mark. The Angels were much different in 2016 than they had been in some time, not since their glory days when they small balled teams to death. The 2016 Angels posted the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball with a 16.4% mark, 1.3% lower than the 2nd best Giants. That mark was also 3.3% lower than the strikeout rate the team posted from 2014-2015. Their home run production also tanked from years past, as they only slugged 156 home runs in 2016, the 6th worst mark in baseball. Ironically, the team hit 155 home runs in 2014, which ranked 7th in the league, but the league saw a huge uptick in home runs in 2016, meaning the Angels have stayed afloat while other teams are cranking out more home runs. The offense in 2017 should be improved, thanks to some new additions.
Cameron Maybin(.287/.350/.390 line from 2015-2016) and Ben Revere(.273/.311/.348) were acquired mainly because they’re MLB caliber players and have a very low bar to clear to be improvements in left field. The Angels left fielders from 2015-2016 hit a putrid .214/.277/.326, so even if Maybin and Revere reach their slightly below average production marks, it’ll be an improvement. Oh, and they’re both expected to be improvements defensively(specifically Maybin) and on the bases(specifically Revere). Danny Espinosa, a local guy out of Santa Ana, returns home and also fills a gaping hole. Espinosa’s .222/.308/.391 line from the past 2 years looks uninspiring but when you consider he’s an extremely good defender, runs the bases well and isn’t a complete black hole offensively, he’s an improvement. The Angels second basemen posted a 70 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR in 2016. Espinosa should settle in as a 1.5ish win player, a 2 win swing from last year. Luis Valbuena was also brought in but will miss the 1st month of the season with a strained hamstring, the same one he had surgery on last year. If Valbuena can repeat his .238/.329/.446 line he posted over the last 2 years, he’ll be a valuable utility guy who can fill in at 1B/3B/DH.
Mike Trout is the reason why this offense will be an above average unit, as he’ll most likely post a .400+ OBP with 25+ home runs and a 165-170 wRC+. Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron all look likely to be 110-120 wRC+ bats. Yunel Escobar might be a league average bat but will be an on base threat at the top of the order. Billy Eppler did a fine job bringing depth in this offseason, which means he’ll have the luxury of stashing Valbuena, Jefry Marte(114 wRC+ in 2016) and Revere on his bench at some point. The x factors offensively are Cameron Maybin and C.J. Cron. Can Maybin duplicate his 104 wRC+ from the past 2 years and can Cron continue his trend of trimming his strikeouts while bopping more home runs?
This is another area the Angels should see improvement in. While baserunning as a whole isn’t as important as offense and defense, it’s an area the Angels needed to improve upon. The team ranked 4th worst on the bases last year by Baserunning Runs(BsR), a system implemented by Fagraphs that measures the overall ability to run the bases. At -16.6 runs, the team could become an average unit this season and see a 1.6-1.7 win upswing. The team’s 73 stolen bases look fine but they made far too many outs on the bases and had numerous players rank poorly running the bases, namely Albert Pujols(-6.0 BsR) and Yunel Escobar(-5.6 BsR).
The aforementioned additions to the offense are also big adds on the bags. Cameron Maybin has 27.5 baserunning runs in his career. Ben Revere has 30.8. Danny Espinosa has 15.3. Heck, even Martin Maldonado’s -3.1 mark is better than the total Jett Bandy had(-3.5) just last year alone. Much like the concept discussed for the offense, the newcomers are replacing complete black holes speed wise and will add some value on the bases. This unit could be an average group on the bases, which is an improvement over last year.
This has been mentioned numerous times this offseason but if the Angels end up sneaking into the playoffs, it’ll most likely be due to the defense the Angels roll out. Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive infielder on this planet and is near the same level freak outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is on. Danny Espinosa has racked up 4.8 dWAR in 779 games and is coming off a very good season at shortstop. He will be playing an easier position at 2nd base in 2017. Mike Trout’s metrics haven’t loved him since his rookie season yet he has still racked up 1.3 dWAR in his career playing a tough center field position. Kole Calhoun and the Cameron Maybin/Ben Revere duo will provide above average numbers in the corners.
Even 1st base is covered now as C.J. Cron has grown defensively, as he had 3 Defensive Runs Saved(DRS) and posted a 4.0 UZR in 2016. Behind the plate, newcomer Martin Maldonado has thrown out 35% of would be base stealers in his career and is a plus pitch framer every year. Carlos Perez was just nominated as a Gold Glove finalist in 2016, showing the league values his defense and he too has a cannon arm, throwing out 38% of runners in his career. The only true weak spot defensively is at third base, with Yunel Escobar being a complete butcher defensively now after years of plus defense at shortstop. The team will likely utilize Luis Valbuena, Cliff Pennington and Jefry Marte at third base at times to negate some of Escobar’s defensive shortcomings. This group is deep defensively and even the AAA levels offer plus defenders for depth(Kaleb Cowart, Sherman Johnson, Shane Robinson, Ramon Flores, Nolan Fontana). This will be a fun defensive team to watch this season.
If you’ve read up to this point, you’re either wondering if my prediction for the team is selling them short or if the pitching really is poor enough to drag the team down. It’s probably the latter. The sad part about this rotation is if injuries just didn’t exist, this would be a potentially great unit. In a perfect world, a healthy rotation of Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano would be a fun and exciting young rotation. Unfortunately, Heaney and Tropeano are out for 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The problems don’t end there, however. Garrett Richards is trying to buck the tradition of undergoing surgery after a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament(UCL) and instead utilized Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma(PRP) injections to completely heal his UCL. All signs are positive so far but with only one real case of proven success thus far(Masahiro Tanaka), it’s fair to wonder if this will work out. If Richards does stay healthy and give 150+ quality innings, it’s huge for the Angels and for baseball going forward, with Richards showing an alternative to undergoing Tommy John surgery. Next, Tyler Skaggs was no stranger to Tommy John surgery, undergoing it himself in 2014, then missing all of 2015 and only pitching 49.2 innings in 2016 after experiencing setbacks then dealing with shoulder issues. Skaggs has dealt with shoulder discomfort already this spring but is in line to be ready for his 1st regular season start. It might be fair to think Skaggs should be babied along this year, shooting for 125 or so innings and making sure he gives high quality innings while also staying healthy.
This leaves us with the rest of the rotation and depth. Matt Shoemaker exploded last year, after starting the season on a poor note. Shoemaker had a 9.15 ERA in April, earning him a demotion to the minors. After he was recalled, these were his ERAs in each following month: 3.28, 2.14, 4.31, 3.15. Shoemaker was a top 20 starter in baseball last year by WAR, tied at 3.3 WAR with guys like Carlos Martinez and Kenta Maeda. The biggest worry for Shoemaker is the horrible injury he endured, when Kyle Seager lined a bullet off his head in early September, prompting emergency brain surgery. All signs are clear for Shoemaker, however, and the hope is he can live a normal life now and continue his passion for pitching. After Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez fill out the rotation. Nolasco was shockingly named the Opening Day starter, the same guy who owns a 124 ERA- over the last 3 years. The rotation order doesn’t really matter much after the first week but this came as a big surprise and some questionable confidence in a starter who is basically a mediocre innings eater now. Chavez fits the same mold as a mediocre innings eater but if he can return to his 2013-2015 Oakland A’s version(101 ERA- and 97 FIP-), the team could have a cheap fill in for a year who gives 150 league average innings. The Angels would take that in a hurry.
After the 5 main guys, they have a plethora of others who may end up starting or relieving in the majors. The list: Alex Meyer, Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, J.C. Ramirez, Nate Smith, Manny Banuelos, Vincente Campos, Brooks Pounders, Daniel Wright. This list is uninspiring but if 2-3 of the 9 players listed there can outperform their projections, they’ll provide some pitching depth for the MLB team. Norris and Petit at least have MLB success on their resume but they are viewed as multi inning relievers for the time being but you can envision them being used as a starter if needed. Meyer is the big wild card for the Angels pitching this year and beyond. Many are convinced he’s a reliever and that’s probably an accurate assumption but it looks like he has one more chance to have a go at starting.
Fangraphs projects the rotation to be the 14th most valuable unit in baseball in 2017, assuming that the group will remain intact. All 5 starters are projected for 130+ innings and 1.5+ WAR. If this does end up happening, the Angels may very well be playing baseball in October. This almost a best case scenario, however, and anybody should proceed with caution when evaluating this unit.
If the rotation looks like an issue to you, you might want to skip this next part. Disclaimer: Bullpens are often unpredictable and sometimes 1-2 arms being surprises or busts can make a unit sink or swim. With that out of the way, the Angels bullpen looks like it could really struggle to make an impact in 2017. Cam Bedrosian is the clear, top shelf arm after coming off monstrous 2016 season after posting a 1.12 ERA and 2.13 FIP. The former 1st round pick finally came into form in 2016, throwing 96-98 mph darts and filthy two plane sliders, leading to an elite 31.5 K% and 22.8 K-BB%. After him, it drops off in a hurry. Huston Street was hurt and bad in 2016 and is already on the shelf to start the 2017 season. If he can’t regain some of his 2014-2015 form, he could be a DFA candidate in the middle of the season. Andrew Bailey is slated to be a set up guy, the same guy who was the 2009 AL Rookie of the year but also the same guy that has racked up -0.2 WAR since the 2012 season. Bailey was plucked off waivers late last year and thrived in a small sample, although his strikeout rate dropped in the process in exchange for fewer walks. The good news: Bailey has the highest spin rate fastball in baseball and he might be finally healthy again, so he could be a useful arm. He could also be bad and hurt and not be on this team by the time summer rolls around.
After the “top” 3 arms, Jose Alvarez is the one lefty in the pen and may be the best arm behind Bedrosian. Alvarez has posted an above average ERA and FIP the past 2 years and thrives from a no nonsense approach that helps him miss a fair amount of bats and not walk anybody. He’s also a weak contact inducer, ranking top 5 in average exit velocity the past 2 years. He’s an underrated quality arm. J.C. Ramirez throws cheddar and has an above average slider but doesn’t miss bats and allows too many homers, although he doesn’t walk many and generates grounders. After starting some games in Spring Training, he looks like a multi inning reliever waiting to happen. Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit, mentioned above in the starter group, also look like multi inning relievers. Blake Parker, who has some some MLB success in the past, has seemingly struck out every batter he’s faced with the Angels and will slot in as the last reliever. He could be that one reliever that outperforms expectations, using a 93-96 mph fastball, above average curveball and filthy splitter to miss bats. Other potential MLB call ups for 2017 include changeup specialist Mike Morin, deceptive lefty Cody Ege and Kirby Yates.
Here’s where the Angels bullpen gets interesting and may be the reason why this unit could be a bit better than expected: Billy Eppler has hoarded a huge collection of starters with good stuff/bad command. The same depth starting pitchers mentioned above almost all have some outstanding pitches but don’t have the command or durability to be a true starter. Guys like Alex Meyer, Manny Banuelos and Brooks Pounders were all former highly thought of prospects and have 2 good pitches to be MLB pitchers but don’t have the command or ability to load up a bunch of innings. Billy Eppler had a fascinating interview with Fangraphs and he might be ahead of the curve on constructing a different kind of pitching staff. While moving a failed starter to the bullpen is hardly a new concept, the idea of having 5 starting pitchers in the rotation and 3 starters in the bullpen is not so common. With Ramirez, Norris and Petit in the bullpen, these guys can all give innings and bridge the gap to the top arms in the bullpen. In fact, Eppler seems to be against the idea of labeling pitchers as a starter or reliever and thinks they should be viewed as just pitchers, which is backed up with his team construction. There’s a chance Eppler uses his minor league options more than any other general manager in baseball this year, calling up his starter/reliever hybrids, or pitchers, to be used in the middle of games to give length. With injury and performance issues clouding over the rotation, using the bullpen is a non-traditional manner might be a wise choice.
Farm System/Draft/International Signings
If the 2017 MLB team doesn’t perform, there’s at least some hope in regards to other aspects dealing with the future of the Angels. First of all, the Angels own the #10 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, a draft that is college pitching heavy and could help the Angels land a college starter who can make it to the majors soon. If Billy Eppler’s 2016 draft is any indication, he has a much better idea of how to draft compared to his predecessor, Jerry Dipoto. The team has already jumped into the #25-27 range for farm systems, a step up from the days of annually being the worst farm system. If Eppler can draft well again like he did in 2016, the farm system could make a substantial jump up in the rankings. The farm system could also improve if the Angels 2017 season doesn’t go as planned, leading to the team selling pieces like Cameron Maybin or Danny Epsinosa for some sort of talent.
Another plus for the Angels future: The team is no restricted on spending during the International Signing Period this summer. Fortunately for the Angels, the team isn’t handicapped by the Roberto Baldoquin situation going into this signing period. Unfortunately for the Angels, the new CBA agreement has set a cap on signing international talent. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers abused the previous system, blowing past their allotted pool funds and dealing with crazy taxes as a result. Now, the teams have no choice as they have to stay under their allotted pool, no questions asked. Still, the team now has flexibility to add international talent, something Billy Eppler was known for in his days with the Yankees. With other heavy international teams like the Padres, Astros and Braves barred from spending more than 300 K on any player this period, the Angels could be one of the top teams in this market.
With a solid draft and some new international talent, it’s possible the Angels could have the makings of a useful farm system after this year. Adding a top talent and depth in the draft and a big international signing or 2(or 3) to a group headed by Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss and Brandon Marsh could produce a rising farm system. With Mike Trout still around until 2020, it’s possible some of those new pieces are moved to supplement the MLB roster but the farm system could get on track this year. It’s also possible that the team adds pieces at the deadline if the MLB team is competitive but if it is for good reason, the fans might not complain too much.
Putting biases aside, the Angels look like a .500ish team this season. I have them finishing 80-82, with the outside chance they make the playoffs as a 2nd Wild Card team. If the rotation can stay healthy and produce, the bullpen isn’t a complete tire fire and the new position players are better than their predecessors, this team could sneak up into that 85-90 win range. Expecting all of those things to happen, however, is a bit of wisfhul thinking or blinded optimism. A realistic and optimistic prediction is the team finishes in the 83-85 win range, competing until the last week of the season but not having quite enough depth and firepower to sneak into October baseball. Maybe Mike Scioscia can help this team outperform their projections and pull off a 2016 Rangers or Orioles, finishing with more wins than their run differential said they should’ve finished with. For many, this would be a successful season, as the team was horrible last year and making this big of a jump means the team is on the fringes of making the playoffs. Going into 2018, the team would return starters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, the farm system could start adding to the MLB team and the Josh Hamilton contract would be up, meaning there is flexibility to add free agents. If Billy Eppler can keep this team competitive in 2017 and have a big offseason following it, the Angels could be knocking on the door of the playoffs in 2018, just in time to potentially see the Rangers and Mariners sell off some pieces and retool their rosters. The 2016 season was rough. The 2017 season will be much better, barring a catastrophe.
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By now, most Angels fans can recite Rory Markas’ call verbatim:
“Here’s the pitch to Lofton. Fly ball, center field. Erstad says he’s got it. Erstaaaaaad MAKES THE CATCH! The Anaheim Angels are the champions of baseball!”
When the Angels’ unofficial team captain settled under and clasped his glove around that most precious of final outs, it was the culmination of many things: an incredible World Series comeback; a riveting postseason run; an unprecedented 99 win regular season; the antidote for heartbreaking collapses in 1995, 1986 and 1982; a delivery on the promise of 1979; and the realization of a dream first dared to be dreamt in 1961.
The textbook version is simply that the Angels reached the pinnacle of their sport 42 seasons after their pursuit began. But to the fans, players, coaches and front office people who followed the Angels for any significant amount of time, of course the emotions run immensely deeper.
For me, it actually required a season or two of separation before I could truly appreciate the significance. Don’t get me wrong; I was as elated as anybody when the confetti and streamers came raining down upon us following Erstad’s catch.
But maybe I’d already spent all the emotion I could spare the day before, when I witnessed the birth of my first child and the rebirth of the Angels World Series hopes all within a span of about six hours. Or perhaps it was because even before the first pitch, the Game 7 victory truly seemed like a foregone conclusion following the previous night’s drama; and when was ANYTHING positive for the Angels a given during their first 41 seasons?
And that’s what struck me after the World Series championship had really sunk in – it happened, and it could happen again. Previously, I honestly wasn’t sure it ever would. Now, I believe it will again.
And while I think the moment when I first knew they were actually going to play in the World Series will always rank as the most emotional high in my years of being an Angels fan, in retrospect I’m so glad they went ahead and won it all while they were there. I mean all the greatest stories have a happy ending, don’t they?
Champions of baseball … yeah, that’ll do.
Here’s how other contributors to our Top-50 Greatest Moments list feel about No. 1:
Adam Dodge – AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
It is hard to describe exactly what I felt when Erstad squeezed Kenny Lofton’s fly ball for the final out. I was relatively calm from the first pitch of the game until the Angels had finally won. After the complete swing in emotion I felt watching Game 6, I was too exhausted to work up any emotion for Game 7.
For the entire postseason, I had either been in attendance or at my favorite watering hole to celebrate every moment with other fans. I needed a break. So, I watched the entirety of Game 7 alone; poetic in a sense because growing up none of my friends or family members felt the same way about the game of baseball, and there was certainly no one that loved the Angels as much as I did. It wasn’t my intention to watch the game alone. I just didn’t feel like sharing that moment with anyone else.
Had I been there or watched the game with friends I doubt I’d have noticed – I was focused on each pitch, nothing else existed but the game. When the final out was made, I felt accomplished. Not that I had anything to do with the victory, but that my fanship had finally paid off. The years of suffering through bad teams and monumental collapses proved worth it. I felt like a champion.
Geoff Stoddart – AngelsWin.com Director of Social Media
Surreal is the only word that comes to mind when I think back on the final out of the 2002 World Series. I had been at Game 6 the night before and it such an emotional roller coaster. Leaving the ballpark that night, I truly felt there was no way the Giants could come back and win Game 7. I felt that way right up until Game 7 actually started.
The Giants get on the board first in the top of the 2nd. The Angels knotted it up in the bottom of the 2nd. The Angels put three more on the board in the bottom of the 3rd and then for six innings we bite our nails.
When Erstad caught the final out, I screamed. I jumped around the room. But somehow, it didn’t seem real. Could this really be the team I had watched and cheered for my entire life? The team I watched during the 80’s & 90’s with only 7,000 in attendance in, what was then, a football stadium? Crazy. Unreal. Surreal.
Robert Cunningham – AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
I was forced to work that week but I was listening on the radio in the backroom at work.
For me hearing that final call was the ultimate culmination of years watching Angels baseball. It immediately made me think of my parents, particularly my mom, who were not there to see it. For just a brief instance it felt like we were all there together again basking in something that was hidden from us in the past and not promised to us in the future, but present in one short moment in time.
It is something I’ve really come to savor and appreciate, more, over the years and one that I know all Angels fans understand and empathize with.
Chuck Richter – AngelsWin.com Founder and Executive Editor
When Kenny Lofton drove that ball to right-center field, my heart leapt with both uncertainty and joy, thinking it could either be ’86 all over again or the burying of what seemed to be the franchise’s October curse.
When Darin Erstad pulled it down, I picked up my best friend’s 16-year-old son and spun him around like a baton, as I have never in my life experienced such combined joy and adrenaline from what was essentially a routine outfield put-out: tears of joy, ear to ear smiles about my living room and a moment in my life’s history that words cannot describe.
To me, this was the Greatest Moment in Angels baseball. Buried were the thoughts of any curse. Born anew was a World Series Championship for fans to claim, who throughout the years have expressed love and passion for the club. And on this grand night, destiny paid back some respect to Angels fans around the world.
Editor’s note: I’d like to thank all of the writers who contributed to this monumental project the past 50 days. It was quite an undertaking while simultaneously working full time, managing a Little League team and looking after a family of six, but was it ever worth it!
Here’s to the memories and debates we hope our list inspired and to the making of many more outstanding top-50 worthy moments in the seasons to come.
Thanks for reading!
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It was just one swing out of hundreds of thousands in the Angels’ 47-year history, but it produced three of the biggest runs and, in one instant, shifted an entire franchise’s momentum. With one swing, hopeless became hopeful.
When Scott Spiezio coaxed that ball over the short wall in right field, just far enough to elude the reach of Giants right fielder Reggie Sanders, there was an immediate sense that it would prove the most important hit in Angels history. Around 24 hours later, it was no longer just a sense – it was truth.
Game 6 of the 2002 World Series was do or die for the Anaheim Angels, who were facing elimination, down three games to two against the San Francisco Giants.
Entering the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Giants leading 5-0, the Angels appeared prepped for their casket. The team had shown little life offensively, thoroughly stifled by starter Russ Ortiz, and the Giants’ greatest strength, their bullpen, rested and ready.
Garret Anderson led off the seventh inning with routine groundball to second base. The Angels had just eight outs remaining to prevent a very disappointing end to their season.
The next batter, Troy Glaus, finally gave the Angels and their fans something to cheer about when he singled to left field on Ortiz’s next pitch. And when Brad Fullmer followed with a single of his own, the Angels had the beginnings of a rally.
What happened next proved to be one of the most second-guessed managerial decisions in World Series history – and that’s putting it mildly.
With two on and one out, Giants’ manager Dusty Baker made his way out to the mound. The trip was no doubt to talk strategy, and since it was late into an elimination game it made sense that the manager would forgo sending the pitching coach on such a critical mound visit. After all, Ortiz had dominated the Angels for 6.1 innings and had not yet thrown 100 pitches. Surely Baker would allow him to work through a little bit of trouble in the seventh, especially with a five-run lead.
But Baker had other thoughts. To everyone’s surprise, he raised his right hand toward the bullpen. He was bringing in right-handed fireballer Felix Rodriguez to face previously anonymous Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio.
Baker had pulled his starting pitcher, though he’d not given up a run while scattering just four hits and walking two. What’s more, with Ortiz already a step away from the pitching rubber and on his way to the dugout, Baker reached back, symbolically grabbing his pitcher’s right arm to stop him. A curious Ortiz accepted a gift – the “game ball,” which he no doubt deserved, but that the ball was given to him on the mound for millions to see was what created controversy. It no doubt stuck in the craw of the Angels and their fans.
Spiezio would have his hands full. Rodriguez was one of the best relievers in baseball, as evidenced by the .163 average he allowed to opposing batters during the 2002 postseason. Spiezio, however, was working on a special October of his own, one that saw him tie the postseason record for RBI with 19.
After a first pitch ball, Spiezio fouled off three consecutive Rodriguez fastballs perfectly placed on the outside corner. Rodriguez evened the count at 2-2 when he missed with his fifth pitch. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Spiezio put a great swing on a fastball, fouling it straight back, prompting a rare prophetic statement from FOX announcer Tim McCarver, who cautioned, “If you make a mistake away, it’s a single. If you make a mistake in, it’s 5-3.”
After Rodriguez’ next pitch went wide, making the count full, he did, indeed, miss in. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Spiezio took a low and in fastball high and deep into the right field corner. Sanders drifted back methodically, tracking the towering fly ball. When it left the bat, it appeared Spiezio just missed it, but the ball continued to carry, taking Sanders all the way to the warning track; then over it and to the wall. He reached up and over the short wall, but to no avail. The ball had disappeared into a mob of suddenly reinvigorated Angels fans.
Spiezio, who stopped his trot at first base to watch the fate of his hit – to wish and to pray – showed little emotion as he restarted his jog around the bases, a subtle fist shake sufficing.
The fans were another story. Edison Field exploded with roars and cheers, which could no doubt be heard miles away. The Angels – a team of grinders, who had come back time and time again throughout the regular and post-seasons – had trimmed the Giants’ once seemingly insurmountable lead to 5-3. And though its not the kind of thing that shows up on the scoreboard, had stolen away from the Giants every last bit of momentum.
From hopeless to hopeful; and following the Angels’ half of the eighth and the Giants’ futile ninth, from hopeful to absolutely sure the Angels would now win the series.
But then, it was only one swing, right?
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ANAHEIM, CA – OCTOBER 13: Adam Kennedy #2 of the Anaheim Angels hits his third home run of the game to drive in three runs in Game five of the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins on October 13, 2002 at Edison International Field in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Twins 13-5 to advance to the World Series. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)Chances are had you asked a diehard Angels fan if he or she would have been satisfied with a nondescript 5-2 victory prior to Game 5 of the 2002 ALCS, the answer would have been “Absolutely!” After waiting 41 years to see an American League pennant flying over Anaheim Stadium, few fans were going to be picky about how it got there.
The Angels, however – especially second baseman Adam Kennedy – had a special treat in store for their long-suffering faithful. Kennedy, who hit just seven homers during the 2002 regular season, launched three round trippers over the right field wall, the third igniting a 10-run seventh inning that carried the Halos into their first World Series with a 13-5 victory over the Twins.
Kennedy’s first home run, leading off the third inning off Joe Mays, shaved the Twins 2-0 lead in half. When he connected again in the fifth, following Scott Spiezio’s leadoff shot, Kennedy briefly gave the Angels a 3-2 lead.
The Twins retook the lead with three in the top of the seventh and with Johan Santana on the mound the Angels appeared to have perhaps blown an opportunity to end the series at home.
But Spiezio and Bengie Molina led off the bottom half with singles and rather than sending up right handed Benji Gil to pinch hit for Kennedy, manager Mike Scioscia allowed the lefty swinger to bat. On Santana’s first pitch, Kennedy squared around to bunt – a textbook Scioscia move – but fouled off his attempt.
With 44,835 fans expecting another bunt attempt, Kennedy got the green light to swing away and fouled it off. After taking a ball, Kennedy lofted Santana’s 1-2 offering, a hanging curveball, deep over the tall wall in right center field for his third home run of the game, a three-run shot to give the Angels a 6-5 lead.
Kennedy became only the fifth player in Major League history to homer three times in a playoff game, joining Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and George Brett, and former Pirate Bob Robertson in the very exclusive club.
“I don’t care if I have another one,” Kennedy said. “This is it right here, the biggest game of my life. Everybody dreams of this. I was in the right spot today.”
For good measure, Kennedy’s teammates proceeded to thoroughly pile on the Twins beleaguered bullpen, scoring seven more runs off three relievers who followed Santana, Kennedy adding a single later in the inning.
Kennedy finished the game 4-for-4 with three runs and five RBI, earning him series MVP honors – some fine hardware for his trophy case, but nothing compared to being remembered as the man whose bat sent the Angels to their first World Series. That is simply unforgettable.
After an incredibly emotional come-from-behind victory of historic proportions in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series – one which saw the Anaheim Angels force a deciding Game 7 at Edison Field – the home team had every ounce of momentum on its side.
The Angels entered the bottom of the third inning tied, 1-1, with the San Francisco Giants. Though the scoreboard said it was clearly not make or break time, the guts of 44, 598 fans in the stadium and millions more watching on television said otherwise. Every pitch delivered in the World Series seems to hold the collective fate of everyone with a rooting interest.
David Eckstein led off the third with a single to left field off of Giants starter Livan Hernandez, who won Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins. Darin Erstad followed with a single of his own to left in front of Tim Salmon, who was hit by a Hernandez off-speed pitch, loading the bases for team MVP Garret Anderson.
Anderson, who finished fourth in American League MVP voting in 2002, had a remarkable season, finishing with a .306 batting average, 29 home runs and 123 RBI. But his World Series performance had been a modest one entering his second at-bat of Game 7.
The stage had been set for Anderson, who needed to just put the ball in play to give his team a lead. He did two better, driving a Hernandez high fastball down the right field line and into the corner. Eckstein, Erstad and Salmon all scored on the double, giving the Angels a 4-1 lead.
Anderson had cleared the bases! Arguably the greatest Angel, GA had collected his greatest moment.
The Angels would not score another run in the 2002 season. But three rookie pitchers and their outstanding closer made sure they didn’t need to.
New for the 2017 season are the Sports Daily Major League Baseball Power Rankings. Comprised of writers from Burning River Baseball, Cards Diaspora, Metstradamus, Angels Win and The Giants Cove, every month we’ll get together to determine who is the best of the best and rank all 30 MLB teams.
1. Chicago Cubs – 2016 Record: 103-58 – World Champions
No longer the lovable losers, the Cubs are poised to be the most dominant MLB franchise since the late 90’s Yankees. Las Vegas has them as the heavy favorite to repeat as World Series Champions (4/1) and why wouldn’t they? With all the young talent having shed 108 years of baggage, they’re free to ball. Oh… and they get Kyle Schwarber back for a full season. – Aaron Hooks
2T. Boston Red Sox – 93-69 – AL East Champions
The Red Sox look to be a team vying for the American League Crown this season. They did lose David Ortiz to retirement and it will prove interesting to see how he is replaced both on the lineup as well as in the clubhouse, but they bolstered their pitching staff with the addition of Chris Sale and still have MVP candidate Mookie Betts returning. – Danny Cunningham
2T. Cleveland Indians – 94-67 – AL Champions
The Indians have been dealing with health concerns at every corner this camps as they look to defend their AL crown. Andrew Miller ramped up early for the WBC, Carlos Carrasco had an up and down camp health wise, Jason Kipnis is out a month and Cody Anderson, one of their depth starters, is out for the season. Michael Brantley appears to be back though and they scored the most runs in the Cactus League (212). – Justin Lada
4. Los Angeles Dodgers – 91-71 – NL West Champions
The Dodgers are built to be balanced offensively and defensively, with quality multi-positional hitters and a flexible bullpen. They start the 2017 season ready for post season play in October. – Richard Dyer
5. Washington Nationals – 95-67 – NL East Champions
Blake Treinen has been named the Nationals closer. With the rest of the team so stacked, the Nats hope that they don’t have a luxury car with two dollar brakes. – John Coppinger
6. Houston Astros – 84-78
On paper one of the better lineups in all of baseball, top to bottom, but will they have enough starting pitching to challenge their Texas rival? One thing is for certain, they have a loaded farm system so I expect them to make a trade mid-season for a top tier starting pitcher. Jose Quintana anyone? – Chuck Richter
7. New York Mets – 87-75 – NL Wild Card
With Steven Matz starting the season on the DL, the Mets’ “Big Five” might never be in the same rotation at the same time. Luckily, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo give the rotation some depth. – John Coppinger
8. San Francisco Giants – 87-75 – NL Wild Card
The Giants strength is that they will throw Bumgarner and Cueto in every 2017 series, but this is a one-dimensional 25 man roster that has no league-average replacements, and a terrible farm system. – Richard Dyer
9. Texas Rangers – 95-67 – AL West Champion
The Rangers are the team to beat in the AL West with the best 1-2 punch out of the rotation in the division in Darvish and Hamels. If starters 3-5 out of the rotation are solid, combined with a strong lineup, this team could be a force in the AL all season. – Chuck Richter
10. Toronto Blue Jays – 89-73 – AL Wild Card
The Blue Jays powered their way to conescutive ALCS losses and will bring back most of that offense, with the exception of Encarnacion who was lost to the team that beat them in the ALCS in 2016. They probably can’t hold off the Red Sox, but are definitely in the hunt for another play-off appearance. – Joseph Coblitz
11. St. Louis Cardinals – 86-76
Will adding Dexter Fowler (via free agency) and Lance Lynn (back from surgery) be enough to close the 17.5 game gap they had with the Cubs in 2016? Probably not, but after missing postseason action via the wild card by only only 1 game last year, the Cardinals are willing to live by the old “make it to October and see what happens” mantra in 2017. – Aaron Hooks
12. Seattle Mariners – 86-76
The Mariners have a good blend of offense, speed and defense heading into the 2017 campaign. With big boppers like Cano, Cruz and Seager and newcomers Segura and Haniger atop the lineup, the M’s look poised for another winning season. The rotation 1-4 while not spectacular, is solid. – Chuck Richter
13. Baltimore Orioles – 89-73 – AL Wild Card
The Baltimore Orioles are in an interesting position having one of the games’ most enjoyable players to watch in Adam Jones as well as one of baseball’s best relieves in Zach Britton. It will be interesting to see how they compete in the AL East with Boston looking to hold on to that crown. – Danny Cunningham
14. New York Yankees – 84-78
The Yankees have some of baseball’s best young hitters and, after resigning Aroldis Chapman, have a top-notch bullpen. If the rotation performs and the young players meet expectations, the Bronx Bombers could one of the game’s most dangerous teams. – Gavin Potter
15T. Pittsburgh Pirates – 78-83
The Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in the middle of what could be baseball’s best division. The reigning world champion Chicago Cubs as well as the most consistent team in baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals will fight for the top spot. It seems as if the best Andrew McCutchen and the Buccos can hope for is a WC spot. – Danny Cunningham
15T. Colorado Rockies – 75-87
The Rockies have a talented young starting staff and a potent bullpen. Oh, and the best offense in the Majors. If it all comes together Colorado could be the surprise team of 2017. – Richard Dyer
17. Detroit Tigers – 86-75
Detroit’s best players – led by Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander – are as good as anyone’s. How the team addresses concerns in the bullpen and outfield will determine whether the Tigers can play in October. – Gavin Potter
18. Miami Marlins – 79-82
It’s up to Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich to carry this team. Yelich has been solid between spring training and the WBC. Stanton is starting slow though. Without him, it’ll be a long season in Miami. – John Coppinger
19. Kansas City Royals – 81-81
The Royals were barely hanging onto contention hopes early in the off-season, but the untimely death of Yordano Ventura hurt the team more than any other loss could have. With a very thin rotation and an otherwise unremarkable team, they’ll probably hang towards the middle of the AL Central this year. – Joseph Coblitz
20. Tampa Bay Rays – 68-94
It’s hard to believe that a team with this much good starting pitching only won 68 games a season ago. Chris Archer will finally get the results he deserves, when Wilson Ramos returns this offense is interesting and they have depth behind their starting five. Don’t count them out for a playoff run. – Justin Lada
21. Arizona Diamondbacks – 69-93
The DBacks thought they would be contenders in 2016, but many set backs hurt them before they even got started. They have multiple potential bounce back players and at least they aren’t as bad as San Diego, but they aren’t likely to contend with the Dodgers and Giants at the top of the West. – Joseph Coblitz
22. Philadelphia Phillies – 71-91
Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders are nice improvements. The Phillies will need a big year from Clay Buchholz and young pitchers like Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez, but even if it all goes right, it may not matter. The Phillies Pythagorean W-L was nine wins below their actual record. They could improve and nobody would notice. – John Coppinger
23. Atlanta Braves – 68-93
Atlanta was 31-25 after the acquisition of Matt Kemp last season. While Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey seem like a risk, even a normal season from them will be much better than what that rotation had in 2016. – John Coppinger
24. Los Angeles Angels – 74-88
Don’t sleep on the Angels. They were riddled with injuries last season and have improved their overall roster depth. The Angels biggest weaknesses last season were all addressed: LF (Revere/Maybin), 2B (Espinosa) and overall pitching depth. If Richards and Skaggs can stay healthy all season to go along with Shoemaker and opening day starter Rickey Nolasco, they will challenge both Texas clubs for the top spot in the division. – Chuck Richter
25. Milwaukee Brewers – 73-89
From Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton,Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Jonathan Villar, this offense has the potential to score some runs. Waiver pickup Jesus Aguilar had an incredible camp adding to the offense. Beyond Junior Guerra, this pitching rotation has the potential to put the team in some very high scoring games. – Justin Lada
26. Minnesota Twins – 59-103
The Twins may have been the worst team in baseball last year, but don’t look for them to lose 100 this year. They have a decent mix of talented young players with a few veterans mixed in that has nowhere to go, but up. – Joseph Coblitz
27. Oakland Athletics – 69-93
The Athletics won just 69 games last season and they may not do any better in 2017. Still, there’s optimism in the development of players like Healy, Semien, Manaea, Cotton and their opening day starter Kendall Graveman. Khris Davis clubbed a career high with 42 home runs and 102 RBI last season and is surrounded by vets Joyce, Plouffe, Alonso, Davis and Lowrie in the lineup. – Chuck Richter
28. Chicago White Sox – 78-84
It’s going to be a brutal ’17 for the Sox. But. BUT. Unlike the last two years where high off-season exceptions were parlayed into 170 total losses, this year everyone is on front street about sucking. The long-awaited rebuild is underway for the South Siders and while it won’t help the win/loss column this year… Sox fans can take solace in a farm system that went from meh to YEAH in a single winter. – Aaron Hooks
29. Cincinnati Reds – 68-94
The Reds were really bad in 2016 and will continue to be so in 2017. If healthy, their rotation would be one of the worst in baseball, but they rarely are even able to send out the top five. This will be ugly, but at least enjoy the chase for another great draft pick. It worked for the Cubs, Astros and Nats. – Joseph Coblitz
30. San Diego Padres – 68-94
The Pads are a year or two away from contending, but credit their extensive investment in the international player market and their six-year $83 million extension of first baseman Wil Myers as a start in the right direction. – Richard Dyer
“The Angels one out away from their first championship ever. Porter at the plate, he waits. The pitch from Frank … swing and a ground ball hit to Carew. He bobbles it, recovers, throws to Tanana … IN TIME! The 19-year wait is over, they’ve done it: The Angels are the champions of the West!”
In light of all the recent success the Angels have enjoyed this decade – a World Championship and division titles in five of six seasons – it’s sometimes easy to forget just how difficult a struggle it was for the franchise to win its first.
But, oh, did they ever struggle; not only through losing seasons – and there were plenty of those, 13 of the first 17 to be exact – but also debilitating injuries and clubhouse unrest. The Angels even suffered the tragedy of not one, but two players’ deaths during their first two heartbreaking decades. In 18 previous seasons, they’d gone through eight managers, four general managers and played in three different home parks.
But finally, in 1979, with a rallying cry of “Yes We Can!” the Angels buried their demons (well, some of them anyway) and on Sept. 25, behind a dominant complete game by Frank Tanana, they won the American League West in front of 40,631 jubilant fans at Anaheim Stadium.
And true to fashion for this franchise, it still didn’t come easily: Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew and Willie Aikens each missed significant time with injuries and Tanana was limited to 17 starts. But manager Jim Fregosi, hired in the middle of the 1978 season, days after retiring as a player, held it all together.
“We’ve been ready for it for an awfully long time around here and I’m just thrilled to death to be part of it,” said Fregosi, who spent 13 of the team’s first 19 seasons in an Angels uniform. “These players have been absolutely fantastic all season. They’ve gone out under really some tough situations, some tough conditions, they’ve battled all year long and I just couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Great offensive seasons from Don Baylor, later named the AL MVP, Bobby Grich, Dan Ford and Brian Downing, along with a solid season from Ryan and the emergence of Dave Frost carried the Angels to the title, which was a watershed moment for the Angels franchise despite the fact the team would go on to lose the ALCS, 3-1, to the Orioles.
“The biggest thing we had to overcome was that we had never won a division,” Fregosi said. “No matter how good the talent was, there seemed to be a black cloud hanging over the team – injuries, people getting hurt. Overcoming that was special to me. Once a team has won, the team knows it could do it.”
It would be another 23 years before the Angels would win it all, but in 1979 they took that first, all-important step.
TEMPE, AZ – FEBRUARY 21: Matt Thaiss of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim poses for a portrait during Angels Photo Day at Tempe Diablo Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
2015/16: UR Position(s): First Base
Level: Class A Ball Age: Entering Age 22 season in 2017.
Height: 6’0” Weight: 195 lb.
Present – Future
Hitting Ability 50 65
Power 40 55
Base Running 40 40
Patience 40 55
Fielding 50 60
Range 50 60
Arm 55 60
Overall 50 60
Floor: Pinch hitting specialist in AAA/MLB.
Ceiling: All-star caliber first baseman that hits in the middle of the lineup.
Likely Outcome: Above average starting first baseman that is best suited to bat 2nd, 5th or 6th in the order.
Summary: Thaiss spent his time at Virginia behind the dish, and while reports were divided as to his ability to remain a catcher in the major leagues, the Angels brass felt his bat was more than enough to play up at first base. This is a very similar scenario the Cubs found themselves in with Kyle Schwarber, though the difference being Schwarber’s upside considerably outweighs that of Thaiss, and the Cubs were willing to at least roll the dice on his questionable defense behind the plate.
Thaiss shouldn’t be the type of player that needs to spend a lot of time in the minor leagues before a promotion, and perhaps this, along with a decreased price tag was the Angels motivating factor in selecting Thaiss as high as they did. There were questions surrounding Thaiss’ ability to play a competent first base, but those have since been answered by Thaiss’ impressive showing in Spring Training. The Angels brass raved at his hard work and athleticism he showed in learning a new position. Part of the reason they were willing to pick him s high as hey did was because Eppler and company asked him to play first base for them before the draft and felt he had the necessary instincts and approach to someday become a passable first baseman. After camp, the hope now is that Thaiss could eventually be a gold glove level first baseman.
There were also questions as to whether his power will show as the over the fence variety or the gap to gap sort. Early showings indicate a bit of both. During big league camp, Thiass was found spraying the ball to all gaps with authority. His approach at the plate is highly simplistic. Couched low in the zone, with feet spread apart, Thaiss’ feet don’t extend, but remain in place as his weight transfers and he rotates the bat through the zone. Thaiss’ bat spend a ton of time in the strike zone and his swing is geared toward high line drives.
What isn’t questionable however. is Thaiss’ floor. He’s a safe bet to become a major league ball player. The only question is when, and how good will he be?
In my opinion, Thaiss will a very good starting first baseman in the major leagues, and if the Angels do end up moving him off first base, I think he could succeed in the corner outfield.
What to expect next season: Before Spring Training, I would’ve told you Thaiss is a solid bet to begin next season at Advanced A Ball Inland Empire. After the performance he put on this Spring, and what he was able to do last year after being drafted, I wonder if Thaiss should start the year in AA Mobile. If Thaiss continues to hit, it shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see him in Anaheim later this year. I admit, this isn’t likely though. The most likely path will be a full yea rat Inland Empire and another full year next year in AA, and onto the majors after that. I still think he climbs higher than that.
Estimated Time of Arrival: 2018, as a 23 year old.
Grade as a prospect: B+
Michael Nelson "Mike" Trout (born August 7, 1991), nicknamed The Millville Meteor, is the center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Major League Baseball. Trout was the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2014, is a four-time All-Star, and a two-time All-Star Game MVP since becoming a regular player in 2012 (More on that below from our Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels History).
Trout was a first-round pick by the Angels in the 2009 MLB draft, and made a brief major league appearance in 2011. He became a regular player for the Angels the subsequent season, and unanimously won the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Trout finished second in AL MVP voting in 2012, 2013 and 2015. In addition to being named Most Valuable Player in 2014, he won the 2014 AL Hank Aaron Award. Trout is under contract with the Angels until the end of the 2020 season.
Trout's MLB performances have received praise from both the mainstream media and sabermetricians, and he is regarded as one of the most outstanding young players in the history of baseball, as well as one of the best current players in all of MLB. Trout has led the major leagues in wins above replacement (WAR) during his first three full seasons in MLB (according to Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com) and was second to Bryce Harper in his fourth.
Trout's combination of power and speed has drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame center fielder Mickey Mantle. Trout has hit at least 27 home runs and 35 other extra base hits per season between 2012 and 2015, while also maintaining a high batting average and walk rate. He is particularly able to hit pitches that are low in the strike zone. Trout's speed has allowed him to be an above average defender in center field (according to ultimate zone rating) and he is also a proficient baserunner, stealing 113 bases between 2012 and 2015 at a success rate of 84 percent.
In the four-year period since Trout became a regular player, he has been MLB's most productive batter, according to Fangraphs. Trout led all MLB players in total runs above average (park-adjusted wRAA) with 221.5 runs, and led all qualified players in productivity per plate appearance (wRC+), producing runs at a rate 71 percent above league average. Trout's exceptional performance at his young age has caused him to be compared to Ted Williams..
Mike Trout featured in our AngelsWin.com's Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels History
#9 - 2014, 2015: Mike Trout's MVP's
By Nate Trop - AngelsWin.com Staff Writer
Starting with the day Mike Trout was drafted to all of his accolades in the minors to his dominance of MLB, Angels fans knew it was only a matter of time until he was the AL MVP. In 2012 his first full season he put on a dynamic display of power, speed, and athleticism leading the league in stolen bases, runs, OPS+ and making catches in center field that no human should ever be capable of. In 2013 he did more of the same, leading the league in walks and for the second year in a row, in runs scored, stepping up his OPS to .988 and OPS+ to 179. Both years he finished second in MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera, who might be a statue in the field but offensively he was mashing the ball including the first triple crown in decades. If you are a believer in WAR and sabermetrics, Mike Trout deserved the MVP both years but if you believe in the old school stats they favored Miguel Cabrera and it didn’t help that the Angels failed to make the playoffs both years.
In 2014 it was a different story. After hitting a single in his first at-bat of the 2012 All Star Game and a double in his first at-bat of the 2013 All Star Game, he hit a triple in his first at-bat of the 2014 All Star Game and ended up adding a double and a walk to go 2-3 with a run scored, two RBI and his first MVP, the all-star variety. He wasn’t finished though leading the league in RBI and for the third straight year runs scored and WAR, slugging the Angels to the best record in baseball and his first playoff series. The conversation was no longer about WAR vs old school, there was no doubt he would be the MVP and on November 13th 2014 it was announced that he was unanimously selected as the AL MVP, the sixth player ever to win both the ASG and league MVP in the same season and the fifth-youngest player ever to win the MVP.
His first at-bat of the 2015 All Star Game was a home run to right field that few players in baseball could hit, finishing off the first at-bat of the ASG cycle. He was the fourth player ever to lead off the ASG with a home run and he finished the game 1-3 with an RBI and two runs scored and became the first player ever to win back to back All Star Game MVPs. Unfortunately the rest of 2015 ended with a familiar story, there was another catch and even though he lead the league in slugging, OPS and once again, WAR, the Angels missed the playoffs and Josh Donaldson had an equally impressive season playing for a playoff bound team, leaving Trout the MVP runner-up for the third time in four seasons.
Some baseball writers and pundits would tell you that there is such a thing as “Trout Fatigue.” That he is so consistently good, and makes it look so easy, that baseball fans and experts take him for granted. I believe it to be true so to claim another MVP award on a team that quite frankly stunk would be a huge accomplishment. As the 2016 season wound down the usual conversation was going on, stop me if you have heard this before… Trout lead the league in WAR, runs, OPS+, OBP, second in OPS, and the list goes on, but he was on a team that was not ever close to the playoff race, and the young Mookie Betts of the hated Chowds seemed to be the favorite to win the award, he had an excellent season and he played for one of the best teams in baseball. Also in the conversation was Jose Altuve, a lovable short guy (seriously, who doesn’t love a short guy) that played for a team that just missed the playoffs and lead the league in average and hits while playing excellent defense. Fortunately, the Trout Fatigue was overcome and once again Mike Trout was rightfully recognized as the best player in the AL with his second MVP award.
As Angels fans, it really is great to be able to watch the best player in baseball do his thing day in and day out..
#19 - 2012: Trout's Rookie Season for the Ages
By Geoff Bilau - AngelsWin.com Senior Editor
Of all the superlatives that can be lavished upon Mike Trout’s rookie season, perhaps the simplest and most appropriate is “unprecedented,” because no rookie in Major League history reached the statistical heights Trout achieved. For that matter, no second-, third- or even 20th-year player did so, either.
And he did it all as a 20-year-old.
.326/.399/.594, 129 runs, 27 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB
Trout led the American League in runs scored and stolen bases and finished second in batting average, despite starting the year at AAA Salt Lake and missing the first 20 Major League games. As for “unprecedented,” no player in Major League Baseball’s 141 years had ever surpassed 125 runs, 30 home runs and 45 stolen bases in the same season. Not one. Furthermore, he became the youngest player in history to record a 30 HR-30 SB season and the first rookie to combine 30 HR and 40 SB. Only two rookies scored more runs: Joe DiMaggio (132 in 1936) and Ted Williams (131 in 1939).
He was named an American League All-Star, American League Rookie of the Year, won a Silver Slugger and finished second in the American League MVP balloting to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
And, oh, all of those gravity-defying catches…
After making his celebrated, but far-from-polished big league debut as a 19-year-old in 2011 (batting just .220 and coming within a couple plate appearances of qualifying as a rookie), Trout was no sure bet to make the Angels 2012 roster out of spring training, especially not with an outfield/DH picture crowded by big contracts (Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells), big emergences (Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos) and big question marks (Kendrys Morales). When Trout missed almost all of the spring with an energy-sapping illness, his fate was sealed — he would start the season in the minors.
While the “Millville Meteor” was batting .403/.467/.623 for the Bees, the Angels were woefully matching the franchise’s worst start (6-14) and falling nine games behind the Rangers for the division lead. In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Angels recalled Trout on April 28 with the team in Cleveland. He went 0-4 from the leadoff spot, but the Angels won, 2-1.
With Trout setting the table, the Angels fortunes quickly turned. The team went 18-11 in May and climbed back to .500 for the first time since the season’s fourth game. Trout batted .324/.385/.556, but continued to fly under the radar of a baseball world that seemed preoccupied by Nationals rookie Bryce Harper. He was even better in June, posting a .372/.419/.531 line and helping the Angels to a 17-9 record in the month to pull within 4.5 games of the division-leading Rangers.
It was what he did on June 27 in Baltimore, however, that finally made the baseball world truly sit up and take notice. With his family and friends watching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Trout made an unbelievable leaping catch in center field to rob shortstop J.J. Hardy of a first-inning home run. The catch was replayed for weeks and when people started to look at what he was doing with his bat and on the bases, as well, the youngster was not only a lock for the All-Star game, but suddenly in the discussion for AL MVP.
In July, Trout moved from “discussion” to “front runner,” posting an astounding .392/.455/.804 line. Comparisons to baseball’s immortals — DiMaggio, Williams, Mays, Mantle, even Ruth — became commonplace as statistical projections started to paint a picture of accomplishments matched only by the greatest of all-time — or no one in some cases.
Though he “slumped” to .287/.383/.500 from Aug. 1 on, and the Angels were ultimately unable to keep up with the Rangers and surprise division-winning Athletics, Trout made three more remarkable HR-robbing catches and sold more merchandise in the Angels team store than Pujols and all of his teammates combined.
At 10.7, he led the Major Leagues in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a “new-age” unit of measure that combines all conceivable statistical information — offense, defense and base running — into the number of victories a player is worth over a league-average alternative. Only three players in history posted a higher WAR before the age of 25: Ruth (11.6 in 1920), Gehrig (11.5 in 1927) and Mantle (11.1 in 1957 and 11.0 in 1956). His season ranks 20th all-time and every player ahead of Trout (Ruth, Hornsby, Yastrzemski, Bonds*, Gehrig, Ripken, Wagner, Cobb, Mantle, Mays, Morgan, Musial and Williams) is in the Hall of Fame.
For Angels fans, it was a rookie campaign for the ages, only the franchise’s second ROY (Salmon, 1993) and left just one question: What will he do for an encore?
A running list of Mike Trout's accomplishments
All-Star Futures Game selection (2010)
American League Most Valuable Player (2014)
3× American League Player of the Month (Jul. 2012, Jun. 2014, Jul. 2015)
3× American League Player of the Week (Jun. 11, 2012; Jul. 13, 2014; Jul, 12, 2015)
4× American League Rookie of the Month (May–August 2012)
American League Rookie of the Year (2012)
2× Baseball America Major League Player of the Year (2012, 2013)
2× Baseball America Minor League Baseball All-Star Team selection (2010, 2011)
Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year (2011)
3× Baseball America Top 100 prospect (2010–12)
ESPY Award for Best Major League Baseball Player (2015)
Fielding Bible Award at center field (2012)
GIBBY/This Year in Baseball Hitter of the Year (2014)
GIBBY/This Year in Baseball Rookie of the Year (2012)
Hank Aaron Award (2014)
Heart & Hustle Award (2012)
J. G. Taylor Spink Award (2010)
4× Major League Baseball All-Star Game selection (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
2× Major League Baseball All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (2014, 2015)
MLB.com Top 100 prospect (2012)
Players Choice Award for American League Outstanding Player (2014)
Players Choice Award for American League Outstanding Rookie (2012)
4× Silver Slugger Award at outfield (2012–15)
Sporting News Rookie of the Year (2012)
Topps Minor League Baseball All-Star (2010)
USA Today Minor League Player of the Year (2011)
Wilson American League Defensive Player of the Year (2012)
Mike Trout Highlight Video clipsK BELOW TO LISTEN TO A FISH LIKE THIS