Angels Roundtable: Sam Miller


I don’t know how much fun you guys have had reading these things, but this has been an absolute treat for me. All of the writers I have sent emails too in the past two weeks, I am a huge fan of, and today is no different with Sam Miller of answering my (and MJ’s) questions.

Sam Miller huh? *Fist Bump* Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

To date we have had Matt Welch, Garrett Wilson, Chuck Richter and Eric Denton answering questions here, here, here and here respectively. We’ve covered the big things (Hamburger joints, wildlife, etc.), and some of the lesser known topics (Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Torii Hunter).

Today, Sam Miller is on the clock. The former Orange County Register writer used to deliver Angels news to fans for the tiny cost of having internet in your home. Now he is rubbing elbows with some of the best minds at baseball prospectus. So, without further adieu, a man who doesn’t really need an I production but got one anyway, Sam Miller.

Last week, Jerry Dipoto struck by trading Ervin Santana to the Royals. The Angels sent $1MM and got back a rule five eligible minor league arm. Is this a “meh” trade, or did the Angels sacrifice their already thin pitching depth for an arm with minimal upside in Brandon Sisk?

I had a broken down car once, which I donated to my local NPR station. The car didn’t run and it wasn’t going to run, and I’m not the guy who knows how to sell a broken-down car, so we donated it to our local NPR station. They came and picked it up, which was awesome. They sold it at an auction for like $1,800, which blew my mind. I got the $1,800 tax break, which means I saved, I don’t know, like $400 or something in taxes paid. My wife was heartbroken to see how much the car sold for, thinking we could have gotten $1,800 for our car. But realistically, we had a car we had given up on; weren’t going to get anything out of; would have happily given away for free to get it off our driveway; and yet, in the end, managed to turn a tiny profit. Yips!

So to go on forever with this analogy: the Angels had decided not to pick up the option, which made sense. Santana, as he is, isn’t worth $12 million for a season as he is right now. Could another team “fix” him and turn him back into a three-WARP pitcher? Maybe! But it wasn’t going to happen in Anaheim, where the coaching staff has had eight years to try to get him consistent. Once they decided they weren’t going to pick up that option, it was a minor victory to get a 27-year-old minor league reliever as a tiny profit. It’s unlikely to ever mean anything, but it’s better than nothing, and “nothing” was the default expectation. It’s basically the Jeff Mathis for Brad Mills deal, with a little bit less emotional satisfaction.

Last year going into the season, the Angels had a rotation that rivaled some of the best ever, on paper. Now, 2/5 of that rotation is gone leaving the team with four major league ready starters guaranteed going into next season. Zack Greinke is not a sure thing, and they could still try to bring back Haren. But I’m not sure if these were smart moves. What do you think?

It’s obvious that, unless the Angels have a huge offseason (which they might; it’s not unthinkable they re-sign Greinke, trade Trumbo or Bourjos or something for a pretty famous name, etc) the rotation will be a lot worse than we expected it would be last year. But that’s not really because of the decisions they made, and whether they were smart moves; it’s because Santana all of a sudden sucked; and it’s because Haren all of a sudden sucked; and because Wilson, I don’t know we’ll see. So it’s hard to say “smart move” or “not smart move” without acknowledging that a lot of this is just the unpredictability of pitching.

That said: I personally would have picked up Haren’s option, which amounted to $12 million for one year. I’m scared of Haren, but he’s got a long track record, some of his peripheral stats still looked good, and there’s no team in baseball more in need of a durable, strike-throwing flyball pitcher with upside at $12 million than the Angels. The fact that they were so uninterested in picking up the option suggests to me – just suggests; I have no actual idea – that his physicals look pretty ugly. If that’s the case, obviously have to defer to the Angels and their doctors.

Speaking of Dan Haren, watching the Haren/Marmol non-trade unfold the other day was interesting, but ultimately led to thousands of unnecessary words of analysis to be published. While Twitter is amazing, do we need to dial back the itchiness of our trigger fingers when it comes to breaking news, or is it just an accepted part of journalism now?

I know what you mean, but the stakes of all this stuff is also so low – it’s just a game, it’s all make-believe basically, and it’s not as though the financial markets are hanging on this stuff. And, really, the analysis of a trade that doesn’t happen can be just as interesting as the trade that does, in highlighting team needs and player value. So, yeah, ideally the things we react to would all be real things, but I’m not heartbroken over it.

Much more significant to me is the tendency to respond to trades before we actually know the details. You simply can’t evaluate Marmol for Haren without knowing how much money would be going in each direction; it’s just impossible. If the Cubs picked up every dollar of each player’s salary, it would obviously be a great trade for the Angels, and vice versa. All of these trades are about money and surplus value. Really, it’s hard enough to evaluate a trade when we do know all the details, because we’re not in these rooms; to do it without the details is bananas.

I’ve been quietly preparing myself for Torii Hunter to be playing somewhere else in 2013. I’m also petrified of his .389 BABIP in 2012 should the Angels re-sign him. I’ve been flip flopping on this for a week. Should Spider Man stay, or should he go?

I think Hunter simply played himself out of Anaheim by being too good. Whether you believe he’s as good as he was in 2012 (probably not) or whether you note that he’s nonetheless been very good for all of his five years as an Angel (yes!), the fact is that other teams need a corner outfielder more than the Angels do, and so those other teams would be right to offer more than the Angels would.

Ok, just going to go ahead and ask it. Is there any good reason that justifies Adam Jones getting the Gold Glove over Mike Trout? Any at all?

No, but I’d have voted for Austin Jackson myself. With a humongous amount of self-doubt and humility, I’d say my personal rankings for CF defense would put Trout somewhere around third to sixth in baseball, behind Jackson and Bourjos and around Bourn and Stubbs. Jones obviously no. (And I would note, also, that Trout’s defensive metrics include many games played at LF, where the standard against which he is compared is significantly lower.) (And there is an easy counterargument to my preceding parenthetical, which I’m not going to get into because this isn’t the place, but I would have a counterargument to that counterargument if we were to get into it.) Anyway, Trout is amazing, and even third-best defensive CF in baseball is spectacularly valuable.

Is there anything you have access to that a normal BP subscriber doesn’t? Like, fancy databases we couldn’t work anyway or Nate Silver’s cell phone number?

We do have fancy databases, though I don’t know how to use them; almost any query I want done, though, can be done for me. Maybe my favorite thing is that we can run custom PECOTA comps – like, we could have a 15-year projection for Mike Trout run, if we wanted to. Truthfully, there’s not a whole lot of value to that, but it’s a fun toy. I have no in with Nate, but I now have friends who are friends with him, and I do spend a lot of time subtly asking these friends of friends “so what’s Nate like?” Oh and I still have access to Goldstein, in case I want to know whether my favorite band is good or not.

Last season the bullpen was terrible, again. Ryan Madsen declined his option with Reds for some crazy reason; Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract with the Yankees. Regardless of my personal feelings about signing free agent relievers, would it would be wise for the Angels to engage in contract talks with either of these two, or any other relievers on the market?

Not to oversimplify things too much, but a tremendous amount of what you think of as a bad bullpen is just noise. The Angels bullpen, to my eye, isn’t structurally worse than the rest of the AL bullpens, and I wouldn’t do anything crazy about it. I think one thing we know about Dipoto after a year is that he doesn’t like big contracts for relievers, and prefers to build a bullpen with value moves. Madson might be that value move; Soriano won’t be. Unless he can’t find anywhere else to spend his money, I’d expect his bullpen buy this winter to be modest but smart, something like Joel Peralta.

Nick Maronde: future solid starter or future star reliever?

Little bit of both. I think he’ll spend a few years as a less-than-solid starter, then turn into a pretty good reliever for a few years. Something like Jeremy Affeldt’s career path maybe if things break right.

I’ve used ERA+ as my go to stat for pitching performance. According to your colleague Collin Wyers, it seems I might be doing it wrong. Am I? What would you use as a “go to stat” when grading a pitchers performance?

Obviously, Colin is correct, but for most of what we do, a great deal of precision isn’t really required. I use ERA+ a lot because it’s B-Ref’s neutralized stat and because B-Ref stats are easily searched and summed. I used K rates and K/BB rates to get more descriptive, and because those tell you different (but useful) things that run-based stats. If I need to be more precise, though, and there are plenty of cases where that is so, I usually just use FIP. But I rarely use any – ERA, FIP, ERA+, xFIP, etc – without glancing at the rest to make sure there aren’t big discrepancies. The discrepancies will usually tell you if more precision is needed.

How have you coped with the ending of the “Up and In” podcast?

Pretty much the way any boy would when his parents get divorced. Lot of acting out. Starting fires. Normal stuff.

Rapid Fire Round

Greater invention: or B-R Play Index?

Oh my gosh. for the vast majority of fans; Play Index for me, and probably not that close.

Mark Saxon or Mike Digiovanna

Both very nice. Good people.

Greatest. Baseball. Mascot. Ever.

Lou Seal (Giants) does this pelvic thrust that my friend imitates, and the imitation is hilarious, so I’ll say my friend.

Which person is more likely to drive a person into back alley life of self-medicating: Chris Berman or John Kruk?

I’m not dodging this, I’m just changing the subject to something else. Have you ever read the book Lonesome Dove? It’s the best.

Alberto Callaspo or Kevin Youkilis on a one year deal? Assuming Kaleb Cowart is ready in 2014.


Final Thought

Mike Trout

Seventh-most home runs ever through age-20 season. And that was supposed to be the only potential weakness in his game. Goldstein in 2010: “Trout’s ultimate power ceiling has yet to be determined. He has strength in his swing and squares balls up, but it’s a single plane of mechanics that lacks loft and backspin. Most scouts believe he’ll develop the skills, but the wide ranged projections sit between 10-15 and 20-25 annually.” Hit 30 when he was 20. Insane, just insane.

Just about as insane as me getting to do this stuff on a regular basis. Thank you Sam. And thank you Matt, Garrett, Chuck and Eric for participating in this as well. It’s been too much fun.