Los Angeles Angels Roundtable: Matt Welch


Welcome back to another edition of the Angels Roundtable. So far, we have talked to Eric Denton, Sam Miller, Garrett Wilson and Riley Breckenridge. Each have given their own, unique, take on the Angels 2013 season and it ‘s players and failures. Today we move forward and talk to probably the most historically knowledgeable Angels fan on the panel this week, Matt Welch.

Matt is the Editor in Chief of Reason Magazine, as well as a regular commenter and some times blog poster at Halos Heaven. If anyone is willing to pitch in for a kickstarter to lock up Matt’s services at Halo Hangout, please contact me at itcouldhappenbuttheresabetterchanceofsnowfallinginjune@hotmail.com.

Now that that’s out of the way.

Ladies and gentlemen. Matt Welch.

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?

Two. You could make a perfectly plausible case for the Angels in the 2nd half – nobody’s playing over their head (except for maybe Howie Kendrick), plenty of All-Star caliber players are performing WAY below expectations, and the American League this year is just…weird. I don’t recall ever seeing a league’s first half where you just don’t believe that the standings are a true reflection where things will be another 81 games from now. I mean, the Yankees could totally collapse, the Blue Jays or Tampa could make a run…pretty much the only semi-sure bets are that Detroit will compete in a bad division and Texas will likely be around 1st place. Everything else seems up for grabs.

Still, you asked about confidence, and I just don’t have any. The rotation was thin and utterly dependent on a great Jered Weaver to begin with, and has almost no upside to it (aside from Jered returning to form). The bullpen remains in its 7-year funk. And who knows? Maybe Hamilton really did hit a career wall (though I think it’s far more likely he just pulled an ’81 Freddy Lynn, to name a player he comps with very well).
So yeah, I don’t see this team winning 2 out of 3 from here on out, which it probably requires to make the playoffs.

The 70’s were a blackhole. The 90’s had its moments, but was an otherwise wasted decade. In this decade, the Angels have been surrounded by tons of hype, but no October baseball to go along with it. Is it too early to lump the 2010’s in with those two previous decades as far as futility is concerned?

Here is the best way of dividing up (and naming!) Angels eras:

1961-65: The Go-Go Halos
1966-71: Trading Places
1972-76: Express to Nowhere
1977-81: The Cowboy Goes Shopping
1982-86: Tragedy of the Uncommons
1987-92: The Kids Aren’t All Right
1993-99: Rise of the Flakes
2000-05: This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven
2006-11: Getting With The Program
2012-XX: The Big Splash

Organizational eras are really about a half-decade long, not a decade. For instance, when you say “The 70’s were a blackhole,” what you’re referring to, probably, is the Nolan Ryan/Dave Chalk/Leroy Stanton era of dominant starting-pitcher performances wasted into a series of 75-win seasons by a crap offense, defense, and bullpen. You DON’T necessarily mean the competitive, high-powered (and expensive) offenses of 1978-79, or the Alex Johnson party of 1970.

One funny side-effect from organizing Angel epochs that way is that you soon realize all but the Gene Mauch and Mike Scioscia eras washed out pretty much the same, record wise. The inaugural Angels – who, though no one besides me ever points this out, were basically the most successful expansion franchise until the Colorado Rockies – played at a 77-85 clip. The ’66-71 teams, with all their constant churn, averaged…77-85. The Ryan ’72-76 teams were 75-87. The Autry big spenders of ’77-81 averaged…78-84. The Jack Howell era of ’87-92 brought forth 79-83. The Four Outfielders era of ’93-99 was a big 77-85. (Fun fact: The Angels are one of the only franchises never to lose 100 games.)

Anyhoo (and sorry to digress), the Mauch/namara era of ’82-86 sticks out with an 85-77, and then Scioscia I is 87-75 followed by a Scioscia II of 91-71. As disappointing as this DiPoto/big-spender era has been so far, they’re still playing at an 84-78 clip, so more like those Mauch teams, at least in terms of raw record.

I’d say the way this era has felt, fan-wise, and also tracked a bit in terms of analytics, is 1977-78. The 1977 season is probably the most disappointing in Angels history, even moreso than last year. After that Ryan/suckage black hole of a half-decade, Gene Autry inaugurates the free agent era and freaks out the baseball establishment by gorging on Bobby Grich, Joe Rudi and Don Baylor. The team, picked by many magazines to win the AL West, gets its only truly great simultaneous season out of Ryan and Frank Tanana. Bobby Bonds hits 37 home runs. And they go…74-88.

In a win-now panic, the team starts trading away good young talent for whatever it needs at the moment…Bruce Bochte, Sid Monge, Mike Easler. Stocked with young outfielders and first basemen (like Kenny Landreaux and Willie Mays Aikens) the franchise starts stockpiling free agent outfielders and first basemen. And within a year or two, a team that had been all rotation, no offense, had become all offense, no rotation. The ’78-79 Angels, while the most competitive in team history, just mashed the ball and didn’t do anything else well. That’s pretty much where we’re at now.

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 team has almost no real trading chips. The players people want (Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos) are untouchable, the contracts we don’t want (Blanton, et al) are untradeable. The farm system is so utterly depleted that there’s just nothing really left.

It’s probably folly to go full seller right now, not just because there isn’t much to offer, but because you can’t really give up on a season so weird and volatile. But if you did, I’d expect short-timers like Jason Vargas or Scott Downs.

Patrick Corbin has been lights out this year. Another mark against the Tony Reagins regime. How long until the Angels stop feeling the effects of artist formerly known as the “Ninja?”

You know, there are people wiser than me who have said There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. We better hope they’re right, since we’ve given away so many of the damn things these past few years….

While I cringe at all that (being a prospect-hoarder by nature), the Reagins folly that continues to define and hobble this organization is the Vernon Wells trade, which basically took a half-decade chunk out the team’s competitiveness. It’s the worst baseball trade in 10 years, and the unwinding from that will take several more years to work through.

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 dunno, Howie was pretty good in 2011, too. I’d expect his average to go down a bit, but he’s basically at the high end of the band he’s already established for himself, which is appropriate for a guy in his age-29 year. As for All-Star games, I’m sure he’ll make the team, and there are some pretty quality players in the AL at that position, I hear.

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?

Yeah, I mean, it seems that he really is this good, which is amazing to contemplate. Having a bad year so far in the field, but even as I write that he’s just made an insanely great catch in Houston to save a 1-1 game. I still find it implausible that he could substantially improve on his current level of play, but just maintaining it (for the most part) after that historic business last year is some kind of feat. We are lucky to be fans of this team.

Aside from Trout, which current Angels’ player would you be trying to lock up long-term?

Not many left, are there? I love Bourjos, but I’m not sure his injury history is worth making a large long-term commitment to. Trumbo’s very solid (and healthy), so probably him.

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?

Well, “decline” and “foot and leg injuries” go pretty well hand in hand, right? The thing about Pujols’ comps – like Hamilton’s – is that no matter what, they always hit. The question is whether they stay healthy. Pujols is not healthy, and he’s not sitting, so he’s not hitting. I hope to God he finds some solution for that foot of his. If so, this will be his worst year until 2017 or so. If not, it could be Frank Thomas-ville.

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?

Nobody with Hamilton’s track record falls off the cliff at his age. Like Pujols, almost all pretty much keep hitting until age 36. I think Hamilton’s having a Fred Lynn 1981 – big change from hitter’s paradise to the marine layer, tons of pressure, some injuries. Lynn rebounded, and Hamilton’s generally healthier than Freddie. He just needs to adjust to the new situation, and the new reality of never seeing fastballs until he can lay off the curve.

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 the team doesn’t come close to the 2nd wildcard spot, I’d expect Scioscia to finally go. There are too many signs of a manager losing his effectiveness after a long stint in the same dugout.

Rapid Fire Round

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

Bourjos is the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and Trout is a guy I don’t want to see hurt.

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

Blanton. Just zero upside with that guy, yet $14 million over two years.

Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger, who is starting on Opening Day in 2014

If it’s my team, it’s Hank. Since it’s not, Iannetta.

Does Ryan Madson actually exist?

Wasn’t he married to Farrah Fawcett or something?

More exciting, Vladimir Guerrero or Mike Trout?

I’ll have what you’re smoking.

Final Thought

What is your take on GM Jerry Dipoto? Is he simply Tony Reagins part deux? Or do you think there is an underlying plan that fans have to wait to see take shape?

You can’t save your biggest question for last! DiPoto is not Tony Reagins. But he also has shown very little facility for building a bullpen or a minor league system, two important qualities in a GM. His free agent Big Splashes have not only taken face-plants, but their contracts are backloaded & will make assembling a contender much more difficult beginning in 2015, if not next year.

I want to like Jerry DiPoto, so that certainly clouds my judgment. I am happy to see an Angels GM who belongs in the 21st century. But there needs to be some accountability for how poorly this team has been performing compared to expectations since 2010. Some of that is Reagins, some is Moreno, some is Scioscia, some is players, and some is DiPoto.

Gotta run, thanks again for the opportunity!

No. Thank you, Matt.

We conclude the Series tomorrow with Angels Win Founder and Editor, Chuck Richter. At which time, we will play this song, and be all kinds of sad that this series is over.