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Brian Kenny Talks With Halos Heaven Part 2

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Last week I published the first half of my interview with MLB Network’s Brian Kenny. We touched on a wide variety of subjects including his book and East Coast bias.

As the talk moved along we focused more on the Angels. Here is that portion of the discussion:

Sticking to the West Coast, with so many divisions having multiple teams tanking, I think the AL and NL West are probably the most balanced divisions in baseball. Would you agree?

“I think if you break it down slightly differently, like when I was out at camp, it was almost refreshing to get a middle class team. You know, a team like the Rangers that could go either way.

I think the Angels are kind of an all in team. So they are trying to break into the elite. The Astros are obviously elite.

But just doing the Rangers camp where, hey, you know what? I can envision 75 wins. I can envision 89, 90 wins. Those teams are rare now whereas most of the league used to be that.

And that, again, is the result of the league getting smart. That’s the result of teams getting smart and understanding where they are on the win curve and what the best way is to build a solid foundation for a winning franchise. Being in the middle just doesn’t make sense anymore.

So that’s why I’m pro tanking. Some people are like ‘tanking, oh no’ but I think don’t waste your time trotting out older players who are mediocre that will get you to 80 wins. That’s nowhere.

For better or worse, I was in favor of what the Astros did. And it was very controversial at the time, and that’s only 5, 6 , 7 years ago. They said ‘we’re not going to have Carlos Lee here. Yeah, he makes us better now but we want to be better in 3 years, not now and anything that we put into this team now takes away from that team in 2017. And you saw the results of that thinking.”

Now getting to the Angels, how do you see the Angels going this year? Serious wild card contenders? Maybe give the Astros a run for the division? Or are we still a year or two away?

“I think they’re very strong. I think there are a lot of variables. I think the infield they put together, along with a power bat in Justin Upton, makes them formidable.

I think they’re going to be quite good.

The rotation, obviously, is not very strong but they can remedy that around the trade deadline. And a good thing about being in the era of super teams, the haves and the have-nots, it means there’s a lot of teams buying and a lot of teams selling. There will be pitching available. I think they’re going to have to go out and get it.

But there is a scenario...again, we don’t know. Nobody knows anything. We know a little bit. We know your basic production of your team. From there its not quite a roll of the dice but it is like running a sim. You run a simulated season and a lot of things can happen as it plays out day by day.

But I can definitely see with Ian Kinsler getting back to form, he’s already a good defender, and elite defender, I can see him even at his age having a decent offensive season. Simmons once again having a decent offensive season. Zack Cozart being above league average and being a good fielder. I can see all that happening and Upton usually puts up his numbers and he’s one of the most consistent players out there over six months.

I can see this team being quite powerful.

Could they push the Astros? I wouldn’t put my money on it but it wouldn’t shock me that if things don’t go perfectly for the Astros and they go very well for the Angels. Again, I wouldn’t expect it but you can’t say ‘oh they have no shot.’

They have enough talent and production to have a shot at anybody.”

We did a series here called Over/Under. Want to take some Over/Unders on Angels topics?

“Sure”

OK, Angels Over/Under 87.5 wins?

“Hmm. Over.”

Mike Trout. Over/Under 9.45 WAR?

Chuckles. “Wow, where’d you get that number?”

He has a couple 10 WAR seasons, a 9.4 and a 9. So I kind of threw it all in a blender, figured 9.5 is close but don’t want to push on a bet and came up with 9.45.

“Ok. That’s the system. I’ll take the over. I’ll be optimistic.”

Does Shohei Otani appear in more or less than 99.5 games for the Angels this year? In any form: pinch hitter, pinch runner, batter, pitcher. Anything.

“Huh. I’ll take the under on that.”

Either analytically or as a fan, how do you rate Mike Trout among anyone you’ve seen in your lifetime or even of all time?

“Oh, I think from the get go he’s been on par, and it sounded like hyperbole at the time, but immediately I put him up there with Mays and Mantle. I mean he’s up there among the all time greats.

Season for season he’s established himself as an all time great immediately so you’re already talking upper echelon. He’s not hitting like Ruth or Williams but his all around game is up there with, again, Mantle, Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, he’s in the upper echelon.

And he’s there now. As he builds enough years, he’s not there, not yet, but he’s certainly on that trajectory.”

And where do you rank Andrelton Simmons defensively? We grew up watching Omar Vizquel and Barry Larkin and maybe a little Ozzie Smith. How do you compare him to shortstops we’ve seen throughout out lifetimes?

“He seems to be, according to all the defensive metrics, he seems to be among the greatest ever.

I don’t know how Ozzie Smith would have done with Defensive Runs Saved. I mean, he would have done great, of course. I don’t know if it would have been as great as Simmons has been.

But I think he is up there.

I’m old enough to remember Mark Belanger. So I think when you look at the greatest fielders of all time it really, for me, comes down to Ozzie Smith, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken. Those guys made a ton of outs.

Its different in this day and age. You just don’t have the volume any more because the ball is just not in play as much.

I think Simmons has put himself into a position to where even if you don’t buy Defensive Runs Saved at face value, saying that he’s this outrageously great shortstop, I think he’s put himself in that position to be above Omar Vizquel, to be up in that area where he is challenging Belanger and challenging Cal Ripken and if not Ozzie Smith.”

Do you have anything you’d like to add about seeing the Angels in camp or camps in general?

“The one thing I’d like to add about seeing these teams in camp is its amazing just how smarted and connected teams have become. And its been happening, of course, teams getting more analytically inclined, building their analytics staffs, building baseball ops, but it has accelerated in the last 2 or 3 years and I was really impressed with a bunch of the organizations I went to just to see how everybody is not pulling in the same direction.

And that’s coaches, old school coaches, managers, guys in strength and conditions, baseball ops, the gm. It really has changed dramatically from a culture that was anti intellectual to one that is now streamlined where the best clubs are all aligned and pulling in the same direction.

And you can see the results in the latest in analytics, which now bends towards scouting, which now bends towards the pitcher, batter battle in getting top flight information to these players to maximize their performance.

So any team that’s not fully invested in this now is really at a disadvantage because most teams, many teams, have very mature baseball operations departments and it is fluid with the clubhouse, with the players, with the coaches and those teams that are doing this, and are at the top now, they’d be difficult to topple if you’re not committed at the same level they are.”

Agreed. It has been a really quick change. Thanks so much for your time but before I let you go, there’s one final question to ask: In-N-Out or Five Guys with Fries?

“In-N-Out if you can get In-N-Out.”

Sorry it took a while to get part 2 up, but please leave comments and questions below. Brian will get a link.