With pitchers and catchers reporting soon, full squad workouts a little over two weeks away and Opening Day getting closer and closer, it's that time of the year when we begin to nerd out on baseball; not trade speculation or possible roster moves, etc., but actual cleats-on-the-grass baseball action. In the coming days of fledgling Spring, enveloped by sights and sounds coming out of the Cactus League, there are the usual hallmarks of fans ramping up towards that Opening Day frenzy: ticket schedules and promotional packages perused, meetups being planned, the dry cleaning of that old Jeff DaVanon jersey or the purchasing of a brand new Angels paraphernalia, and the pouring over of every bit of information out there regarding the team's players and competitive chances in the coming season. That last part is perhaps the most exciting of all, for the highly baseball-minded individual. You have projections, ratings and rankings galore, from all the usual suspects, from old media to rabid bloggers, but none may have the Christmas-In-February adulation and pure joy charge as much as the Baseball Prospectus annual.
If you follow Baseball Prospectus on Twitter, you've probably already had your fill of pics from hardball geeks from around the nation proudly displaying their procurement of the 2016 edition, but if you've ever thumbed through a copy yourself, you'd hardly be cynical or blase about their excitement. The BP annuals are HUGE, comprehensive, and contain essays on every single team, from some writers you've probably heard of, as well as reports on a large swath of players done by various analysts and BP staff. It's a must have for baseball fans, and if you don't believe me, let me blow your mind right now: I actually went to a bookstore...like, an actual brick and mortar honest-to-God store...to buy my own. Insane, right? But not quite as insane as having to wait another day to hold this 3.5 lb beast of a baseball book in my hands. It's just that good.
Of course, the first thing I did with my copy was skip directly to the section on our beloved Angels. The foreward by Athletics GM David Forst would have to wait, as would the fun stuff like PECOTA leaderboards. No, I wanted to get right to the meat and potatoes, even though I already knew that the meat was tough and dry and the potatoes were of the instant variety. Here are the highlights of what I read for the Los Angeles Angels' 2016 season, and a few lowlights as well(natch).
The Angels' dysfunction has become the normalized, accepted narrative
This year's essay on the Angels is penned by David Roth, who is the founder of the sports site The Classical, as well as writing for places like Vice and our very own SBNation.com. It hits the normal beats you'd expect a piece on the Angels in 2016 to hit; that is to say it expounds on the generational talents of Mike Trout, but dutifully points out the failings of Arte Moreno's attempts at buying a championship, the inter-organizational drama and the lack of a viable farm system. The ire towards Moreno had been building for two or three seasons, but definitely hit it's crescendo last season, with the myriad high profile screw ups tossed towards the battered fanbase. However, make no mistake about it: this culture around the team didn't pop up out of nowhere and astute fans have seen this era of middling and frustrating Scioscialism coming from miles away.
We, as fans, are fully in the grips of an egotistical owner who is making dumb move after dumb move(which sometimes includes NOT making moves), and while that owner archetype is almost cliche now in professional sports, it's still new territory for Halos devotees. The interesting thing to me is how commonplace the fury and indignation has become. Just a couple years ago, the Anti-Moreno/Scioscia faction of Angels commentary at large was broadcasted about as much as anarcho punk ban Crass was played on mainstream radio in the late 70s or early 80s. Which is to say, almost NEVER. But things change, and as Crass would eventually become a shorthand punk reference point for Hollywood stars, and their logo adorning items found at the lamest of lame stores, the once-helter skelter view towards Angels brass has now become the baseline. Welcome to the modern, angry age of being an Angels fan.
I've got no problem with that, though, as the anger and frustration is completely justified, and Roth does a great job to let the uninitiated know just how jacked up the Angels are right now, and not just on the field. If I had any critique on his Angels essay, it'd be pointed more towards his overarching thesis, which is the Angels culture is that of an Internet Comments Section. Roth devotes a handful of paragraphs to explain just how icky and NSFL(Not Safe For Life) most internet comments sections are, and how the bile created in those murky internet depths are good for nothing other than giving momentum to it's perpetual anger machine. I disagree with the broad generalization of the evilness of comments sections writ large; good sites have good comments sections, full of smart, funny or out-of-the-box insights. You get the comments your site deserves, basically, but putting that disagreement aside, I can still see the point that Roth is trying to make: the Angels are playing the part of the comment bully who is full of inane ideas but refuses to be swayed by them no matter what evidence or alternatives are put in front of his/her face.
The part where this analogy falls apart, and in doing so somehow makes the Angels look EVEN WORSE than an average commenter on a Fox Sports article, is the fact that we're at an intersection where even the most clueless commenting squawk boxes are espousing better ideas or plans of attack than Arte Moreno and Co. I tried to get that point across after reading an article from ESPN about Mike Trout's best years being wasted. The "you're wasting prime Trout years" is something i've seen reiterated throughout those noisome comment sections for at least a full season now, and that rabble grows louder by the day. The other often-seen comment on just about anything pertaining to the Angels these days is the call to sign a good LF to fill the team's most pressing need. Yet, we just passed by a free agent class replete with great outfield players, and Moreno and the Angels passed on every single one. I almost with the Angels had the mindset of the average internet comments section at this point, because that would mean that perhaps they would have thrown more money at an on-field problem, only this time on someone who would actually be worth it and wasn't being passed over by every other team(See: Josh Hamilton).
If the Angels were an internet comments section, the biggest order of the day would to constantly do their best to make sure none of Mike Trout's brilliant efforts are for naught. That these two pressing needs are shouted to kingdom come by anonymous AM 830 listeners who have somehow figured out how to get on the internet, and yet are completely ignored by the team itself, shows exactly where Roth's analogy begins to stumble and fall, all while making you wish deep down inside, as scary as it may be, that it were 100% on the money. Still, there are nuggets in the piece like this, where Roth eloquently lays down the truth that we reckon with every day as hardcore fans of this franchise:
The team is not the problem here. The problem is how joyless, paranoid, proudly backward, overdetermined and under-reasoned the organization is. The Angels are talented enough to win a decent number of baseball games; they are a solid offseason and a bit of luck away from winning a lot more than tat. They're also enough of a self-thwarting mess to make those strengths not matter; it's tough to imagine a team this surly, secretive and strange as champions. That's a problem that doesn't get solved in an off-season.
Right on the money.
Carlos Perez gonna eat
One of my favorite projections and write-ups for the Angels was Carlos Perez. BP had some really nice things to say about his framing metrics from his rookie season, as well as his ability to throw out runners, and they see him as being the go-to guy behind the plate this coming season. They are more bullish on him than the recent Fangraphs ZiPS projections, with a projected 1.4 WARP on the season. They also project him seeing over 20,000 pitches this year, as opposed to the 2000 or so last year, and they have him improving in most advanced defensive metrics. They have little good to say about Geovany Soto, so i'm purchasing my ticket about the Carlos Perez Hype Train this season.
Andrelton Simmons is going to be good
We pretty much already knew this one, but seeing BP project him as improving his WARP over last year is promising, as well as their assessment of his fairly new approach at the plate, and how it may be the lynch pin in getting his batting numbers up. Although, that last part does come with a caveat. Simmons had apparently worked with the Braves' newest batting coach last season in an effort to take less mighty hacks in his PAs, and instead worked towards just getting contact and making a balanced approach the name of the game. His power went to nil, but his other numbers ticked up. Now, the only thing we have to worry about, is that the Angels' new hitting coach, Dave Hansen, doesn't guide him back to old habits.
Pitching remains a question mark...but there is positivity to be found
BP has good things to say about Garrett Richards and his candidacy for a bounce-back year. They also have some OK, not great, things to say about Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, C.J. Wilson and the rest of the possible starting rotation. Nothing leaping off the page, but just a lot of questions marks gives me the sense that they really don't know what to think about the Angels' starters...welcome to the party. I'm still banking on a solid rotation this year, and I won't let the BP ambiguity bring me down. Also, I will say that their comments on Victor Alcantara have me very excited. They compare him to mostly-forgotten rapper Twista...someone who delivers the goods extremely fast...almost TOO fast for sustained reliability...but in a cameo or guest role, can get things lit. (They actually have a few other random hip hop references...mostly to guys who were popular in the 2000s. Weird)
Mike Scioscia: Manager King
My favorite part of the Angels' section of this year's Baseball Prospectus is the Mike Scioscia analysis. lt's oddly funny, considering how it's also rather depressing. Again, they're not saying anything that us crazies don't know already, but the way it's just bluntly spelled out really hammers home the pit we've found ourselves buried in. In short, they cast Mike Scioscia as the last of a dying breed, the Manager King, lording over a franchise like the Joker manically toying with and pulling the strings of Batman and his family. They rightfully comment on his staying power and his ability to outlast three different GMs, which is 100% true, as foreboding as it may be. They don't see Mike Scioscia going anywhere, at least until his contract is gone. This is also 100% true and the quicker us Angels fans come to that realization, the better off your baseball life will be.
All in all, it's about what you'd expect Baseball Prospectus to say about the Angels in 2016, but it's a joy to go through all this info and get my appetite whet for Spring Training. Like other prognosticators, the Angels team they're forecasting looks to be a 3rd place team, at best. I can't really argue with that, but my ability to shred the team to bits over stupid decisions and lack of meaningful roster movement this off-season(outside of the Simmons acquisition) is waning; it's just become so commonplace and boring. It used to be fun to tee off on them various transgressions, but now we're a couple years deep into that discontented mindset being the norm, and I'm looking into the future and seeing an endless stream of biting Arte Moreno commentary and sentences brimming with Mike Scioscia testiness, and I immediately get bored.
The only way I can fight this right now is to get stoked on this team, to find things to be optimistic about and reason to gush about them here on Halos Heaven. Right now, for one of those rare occasions in my life, i'm filled with optimism. Whether it's backed by actual research, or just a by-product of my reflexive contrarianism, I don't care. This is the time of year when all is possible, and I'm just going to ride that til the wheels fall off...which could be 4-5 months from now(if not sooner). So just let me have this, okay?