Los Angeles Angels Roundtable: Sam Miller


Yesterday, we kicked off this series by peppering Eric Denton of LA Angels Insider with questions about the Angels 2013 season. Today, we move forward with Baseball Prospectus author, Sam Miller.

There is no background story necessary for Mr. Miller. No doubt anyone who reads this blog, almost assuredly is visiting BP regularly, or following Sam on twitter and jubilantly clicking any and all links that he tweets. What? Just me?

Anyway, on with the pestering shall we.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sam Miller.

It’s the halfway point in the season. This team was picked by people who are smarter than I am to win, not only the AL West, but the whole thing. On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you in this team for the second half of the season?

On a scale of 1-10 I’d say I’m a nine that they’ll win more games in the second half than they lose; I’d say I’m a six that they’ll win significantly more (like, say, 45-36, a 90-win pace, enough to spare them the shame of a losing season); I’d say I’m a three that they’ll win so many games that they make the last two weeks of September interesting; and I’m about a 1.2 that they’ll win so many games that they make the playoffs. The thing that’s hard to appreciate is that what we think of a team before the season begins is actually more predictive than what the team actually does, so even though the Angels want us to believe they suck, we know better. They probably don’t suck. They’re probably pretty good, better than they’ve played and maaaaybe even great. The hole is too deep though.

The last time we spoke, you were lighting things on fire as a coping mechanism for Kevin Goldstein’s departure from Baseball Prospectus, as well as the loss of the Up and In podcast. Have you been able to move on since then?

The site is better when Kevin is with us, but it’s probably more fun to have somebody I know in the front office. Rooting for baseball teams (which I do, and love) is so pointless and arbitrary that it takes a lot of self-delusion (which I have, and deploy) to keep from getting bored by it. Knowing that there is a real person whose life will actually be affected by these games is sort of invigorating and authentic.

It has been a long time since Angels fans have seen this team go into full-fledged “seller” mode. This team has quite a few valuable, young, cost-controlled players. Who, in your mind, is most likely to be dealt by the trade deadline? And, if they don’t go into “fire-sale” mode this year, do you think the team will if the same thing happens next year?

The Angels really deliberately locked up their entire roster for a really long time, back when that seemed like a great idea given the players. So there aren’t really any rental types on the roster, besides I guess Jason Vargas. Dipoto doesn’t like to pay for relievers, and the flip-side to that is getting value for your own relievers when somebody else will pay for them, so it’d be creative to see what kind of return Ernesto Frieri could get.

Your colleague, Ben Lindbergh, writes a column using statistics to rank catchers based on their framing abilities. Hank Conger routinely shows up right behind Jonathon Lucroy (albeit, with a much smaller sample size). The knock against Hank has always been his defense behind the plate. Does it surprise you how well he has done defensively this season?

Yeah, though mainly because the part of catcher defense that we most notice is throwing and Hank’s not a great thrower. He’s been brought up in an organization that puts a ton of emphasis on framing from short-season ball on, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Conger has good fundamentals. He’s smart and works hard and all that, too.

Howie Kendrick is killing it this year. We are finally seeing the Howie that we all were expecting to see when he was first called-up. Is it a shame that he didn’t get the starting nod for the All-Star Game?

I would be profoundly disappointed if I turned on an All-Star game and Howie Kendrick was starting it.

Per fWAR, Mike Trout had the greatest Age-20 season ever. According to Dave Cameron at Fangraphs, Trout could possibly top Rogers Hornsby’s Age-21 season fWAR of 9.4. Should we stop trying to put a ceiling on what Mike Trout is capable of doing on a baseball diamond?

At this point there’s probably, what, an 80 percent chance he makes the Hall of Fame? Higher maybe? Lower? I don’t know. Let’s say 70 percent. It’s worth keeping that in mind and doing everything we can to make sure we enjoy it, because someday we’ll be old and want to tell all these stories to young people who don’t pay any attention to us at all. Start thinking about which of those stories you’re going to tell! And process them! Have fun with his career. He’s doing this for us to enjoy!

In November, you said that the Angels’ bullpen issues in 2012 were not as distressing as they seemed. Is it the same thing with the 2013 bullpen staff? Or should I restock my depleting supply of Tums?

Toronto had the worst bullpen ERA in the league last year; they’re second this year, .01 points of ERA behind the leader, and their big addition was… Esmil Rogers. I don’t think the Angels’ bullpen is noticeably worse than anybody else’s. Once you get to that point, the rest is basically just random fluctuation, so you have no choice but to hold on tight and hope.

The Angels have two very high priced players on the team in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Neither of which are hitting at the same level that they once did before becoming Angels. Is Pujols in a full-fledged decline, or should fans give him a break due to his foot and leg injuries?

Give him a break, sure. But I don’t expect his foot and leg to get better, so where’s that leave you.

Keeping with that last question. Do you think that this season is an outlier for Josh Hamilton, or the beginning of a long and ugly decline?

It’s both! Pretty sure that this will be the worst year that Josh Hamilton ever had as an Angel. Reasonably confident he’ll never produce a 4-WAR season, either. I’d guess he’s better than the average left fielder going forward.

Quite possibly the biggest underlying story of the season has been the thermostat setting underneath Mike Scioscia’s seat. Last year, fans were calling for his head. This year, much of the same. Should we expect a new Angels’ manager in 2014?

If they don’t make the playoffs, or at least have an interesting final two weeks of the season, the Angels will be in a position in which teams usually fire their manager. I probably wouldn’t bet on Scioscia returning if that’s the scenario, though not so much because they doubt his managerial abilities as because at some point ownership usually decides to hold people accountable for results.

Rapid Fire Round

Who is your center fielder? Peter Bourjos or Mike Trout?


Discounting money, who is the worse offseason signing? Joe Blanton or Josh Hamilton?

I refuse! Can’t discount money for goodness sakes!

Jason Vargas. Extension? Or let him walk after the season?

Extension, unless you’re going to make me discount the money on this one, too.

Does Ryan Madson actually exist?

I liked that signing! Still do. Just didn’t work out.

More exciting. Vladimir Guerrero or Mike Trout?

Trout, but Expos Guerrero is top four excitement in my lifetime.

Final Thought

Mark Trumbo is currently sporting a nifty walk rate that is north of 10%, and has cut back on his strikeouts this season. Would you extend him, or sell high on him?

I’m not currenty skeptical of Trumbo. He seems to have proven he’s good at baseball, and I have no worries that it’ll stop.

Very good at the based ball.

Thanks, Sam for indulging me and taking part in this. Tomorrow, we’ll check in with Monkey With A Halos ruler, Garrett Wilson.