Angels Roundtable: Matt Welch


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July 25, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder

Peter Bourjos

(25) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

We kick off this series of interviews by picking the brain of Matt Welch. Matt is the Editor-In-Chief for Reason Magazine, as well as consistent contributor and commenter at Matt’s fandom has lasted through mediocrity, tragedy and epic collapses. But his devotion to the Angels was rewarded in 2002 with a World Series championship.

But enough of the build up, let’s get to Matt Welch’s thoughts on 2012 and what’s coming up on the horizon.

Zack Greinke has been billed as the number one focus for the Angels by the media. But Zack could come at the cost of a few of our current favorites. Fans want to see Torii Hunter return. Dan Haren wants to stay put if the price is fair, but had his worst season last year. And Ervin Santana was, well, Ervin Santana again. Chances are the Angels won’t be able to keep all three if they re-sign Zack this off season. Who would you keep?

The (expensive) mediocrity of Haren and Santana really killed the Angels this year, in ways that got fewer headlines than Pujols’ slump or the bullpen’s wild mood swings. Haren at least had the excuse of being hurt (though the Angels really do need to get better at identifying and shutting down pitchers who are sucking due to injury), and he’s been very consistent throughout his career, so I’d happily exercise his option even at $15.5 million. Santana has just been too inconsistent, so spend that money elsewhere, and let Garrett Richards figure it out in the 5-slot.

Greinke’s great, and I hope we re-sign him. Torii’s great, and I hope we don’t — outfield’s too crowded, and I don’t ever want to see Peter Bourjos on the bench again for more than a day or two.

Mike Trout was stupid good this year; there really isn’t anything that can be said about him now that hasn’t already been said by any number of writers across the country. On a scale of depressed Goth to Cheerleader winning Homecoming Queen, how giddy does Mike Trout make you feel?

Sep 28, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) is tagged out at home plate by Texas Rangers catcher

Geovany Soto

(8) in the third inning at Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

If 2002 hadn’t happened, I’d be betting on Trout accidentally harpooning himself in the face on a snorkeling trip or something. But now that our demons have been exercised, I’m just really happy to watch him play. Particularly love his super-short, powerful swing. Haven’t seen anything like that since Bill Madlock, who was another fave of mine growing up.

I will caution this, however: Just because he was this unbelievable at 20 doesn’t mean he’ll be 30% better at 26 and 27. A-Rod had only one season better than his age-20 (per Baseball Reference’s WAR); Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Vada Pinson, Claudell Washington — their peaks were not significantly higher than their splashes. It’s awfully hard to play baseball at such a high level.

Both mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos played pivotal roles for the Angels in 2011. In 2012, Peter became a bench player while Mark enjoyed an All Star caliber first half and then a Jeff Mathis-esque second half. Both players are probably high on opposing GM’s wish lists this coming offseason when trade lines re open after the World Series concludes. If you were Jerry Dipoto, would you move these two young players? And, what would be your target return?

Oh hell no. My overwhelming bias, having grown up in the era of Lansford/Thon/Harper/Aikens/Brunansky et al, is to hold onto good and promising (and cheap!) young players like a wino clutching Boone’s Farm. Look at Bourjos’s second-half numbers in 2011: What if he was capable of hitting like that, while also playing even better center field than Mike Trout? What kind of numbers would Jered Weaver put up with the two best defensive outfielders in the outfield? I’d stick Trumbo in right with that arm of his, and hopefully smooth out the boom-bust cycle with his stroke. Nothing wrong with having a 30-homer guy cheap and under club control for a half-decade.

I have a small, OK, large man crush on Nick Maronde. He was a piece in the Angels’ bullpen that, if brought up sooner, could have made a much larger impact. He has two Major League ready pitches in his fastball and slider, but the changeup is lagging. Should he start next season in the minors to work on the changeup and continue on the track to being a starter? Or, do the Angels insert him into the bullpen as a power lefty with good strikeout numbers?

Well, the bullpen’s gotta get fixed somehow, doesn’t it? Still, if he has upside as a starter, it would seem premature to waste him as a LOOGY. Dude started last season in Rookie ball; he could almost certainly use some more seasoning.

I, personally, am not a big fan of the new alignment starting next year. I feel interleague play has run its course and should more or less be scrapped. On the other hand, MLB has the Houston Astros coming to the AL West next year. I can’t wait to play them 18 times next year. How do you feel about the Astros coming to the AL West?

I’m just happy for the injustice of simultaneous 4-team and 6-team divisions to be behind us. The Astros are profoundly terrible, but they are threatening to out-Moneyball Billy Beane in his own division, so that should make for interesting strategic competition four or five years from now.

Ernesto Frieri came on like a hurricane after he was brought in from San Diego. Then got figured out. To his credit, he did adjust, but not until he had blown a couple of games that really hurt going into the final weeks of the season. With Scott Downs, Frieri and Kevin Jepsen doing his “Hi, I’m still a good pitcher” act, who would you have closing out games in 2013?

Sep 22, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ernesto Frieri (49) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Los Angeles Angels defeated the Chicago White Sox 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Hopefully someone not named any of those guys, though I’d vastly prefer Frieri. He’s a weird one, but he does strike people out in bushels, which is always helpful. Overall, though, I won’t be able to tolerate any more Latroy Hawkins/Jason Isringhausen types. It’s become increasingly clear that the organization’s magic touch in creating great bullpens out of spare parts + a lead horse was more an artifact of the late ’90s management than it had anything to do with Mike Scioscia. The biggest outrage in this year’s bullpen might well have been the guy who sucked for us last year: Fernando Rodney. What is Tampa coaching that we can’t seem to master?

Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout? The Triple Crown or WAR? Who is your MVP of 2012?

You cannot be serious. Though I am looking forward to the motivational side-benefit of Trout getting screwed over….

Yeah, not serious.

C.J. Cron had a monster year at the plate for High-A inland Empire. But, if he is not on the 66ers roster this year, Kaleb Cowart would have gotten a lot more attention for the season he put together between Low-A and High –A. Assuming no trade, which of these two do you think gets to the big leagues as an Angel first?

Cowart. I prefer athletes. Though I used the same bias to discount Trumbo years back.

Dan Haren’s back injury this year was pointed to as the reason he had such a “not Dan Haren” type of season. Not many forgot, but quite a few people brushed aside Jered Weaver’s back injury since his overall production wasn’t affected. Should we be worried about Weaver and his back going forward?

Yeah, especially given that rubberband-man delivery, but I think Weave’s enough of a competitive monster to do what it takes. If he goes down, this era will not be pleasant.

Most fans had low expectations for Kendrys Morales this season. After not playing for a year and a half, it wasn’t all that fair to expect much from him anyway. Morales then went and made a legitimate case for himself to be Comeback Player of the Year. How floored were you with his performance this season?

He was maybe 5% better than I expected. Kid can hit, for sure, but he’s lost some stuff that will never come back, defensive quickness most of all. I expect good things from him next year, though 2009 is firmly in the rearview mirror

Rapid Fire time:

Rally Monkey or the San Diego Chicken?


In N Out, Five Guys or Shake Shack?

In N Out > Shake Shack > Five Guys. The latter is really nothing to write home about, except if you’re from a sad place.

Stadium food or grab a bite to eat beforehand?

I always go for the stadium food, for reasons of atmospherics. I actually enjoy the stuff away from Anaheim. Mr. Moreno, tear down that Aramark! Let’s get some taco trucks & In n Out, stat!

Dogs or cats?

Neither, though it’s nothing personal.

Tim Salmon or Bobby Grich?

June 28, 2011; Anaheim, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder

Jayson Werth

(left) speaks with former Angels player Bobby Grich (right) before playing against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Bobby Grich is my all-time favorite player. Salmon noses him out on the all-time Angel list.

Anaheim Stadium or Angels Stadium?

The Big A.

Nolan Ryan or Frank Tanana?

Ryan, though it was closer before Tanana’s injury, and you could arguably lay some indirect blame for Tanana’s unforgivable overuse on Ryan’s quien-es-mas-macho act.

Interesting to note that as great as both were in the ’70s, they only had great seasons in the same year just once — in 1977, when the rest of the team collapsed.

Between Rex Hudler and Hawk Harrelson, which one makes you want to bury an ice pick in your ear drum more?

The Hawk. The Wonderdog is more of a leg-humping Labrador — mildly irritating, but mostly harmless, especially if you shut him outside. Harrelson’s a rancid homer and negative creep. Be gone!

Final Thought:

After 14 years of mostly fantastic managing, Mike Scioscia found himself on the hot seat for most of the season. On the one hand, this team had too much talent to fail, making Scioscia the likely scapegoat for the team’s shortcomings. On the other hand, Scioscia has accrued quite a bit of good faith from Arte during his tenure as skipper. I gave him a pass, but does he deserve the same pass should this happen again in 2013?

Arte needs to get Sosh and DiPo in a room, tell ’em to work it out & knock it off with the back-channel bitch-slapping in the press. Both are very talented, and Scioscia has at least earned some rope. (And, not incidentally, he has profoundly shaped the organization root and branch in his image, so that would be traumatic to undo.) DiPoto was great last year, but he failed miserably on one crucial task: taking Vernon Wells away from Mike Scioscia. As long as Wells is on this team, Bourjos will sit (or even be traded), and this makes the team much worse on the field while pissing away its future. The GM can’t make the lineup, but he can take away managers’ favorite toys (see Mathis, Jeff).

Thank you Matt for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions and give us your thoughts on what you think the Angels should do, as well as where to not get a burger (mental note, don’t go to five guys). Up next will be creator and editor, Chuck Richter.