Angels mailbag: What to make of the team’s additions?

Recent Angels acquisitions Justin Upton (9) and Brandon Phillips (4) walk back to the dugout after scoring on a double by C.J. Cron on Sept. 3.
(Richard W. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Hello, Angels fans. Your favorite baseball team is 71-67, in continued pursuit of a playoff spot. Right now, they’re only a half-game behind Minnesota for the second wild-card ticket to the dance.

Much has changed since the last mailbag, as the Angels acquired two significant hitters to add to their now-improved lineup. Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips have started off hitting, and the Angels are 2-2 since their arrival. They’ll play two more games in Oakland, rest Thursday, and then play the wild-card rival Seattle Mariners over the weekend.

Let us get to your questions.

The thing about baseball is, the teams play a ton of games. There are disadvantages to that, but also advantages. One of the latter is that the sample sizes are quite large at year’s end. The structure and rules of baseball mean its results are randomized enough that nothing significant should be derived from a few innings or games.

That is my convoluted way of saying this: I do not recommend developing an opinion on a reliever, good or bad, based on an appearance or two you caught on television or in person. Everyone looks awful occasionally. If you do that, it is going to lead to you holding ill-informed opinions, and sharing them with me, which is why I am writing this diatribe.

Cam Bedrosian is an intriguing reliever. So far in his big league career, he has thrown 128 innings and he has struck out 147 batters. That is good. He has also walked 59 of them. That is not good. Walks were a bigger problem for him in 2014 and 2015. Last year, he lowered his walk rate to 3.1 per nine innings, which is acceptable for a hard-throwing, strikeout-dependent reliever. It’s up a bit this year to 3.6, which is also his earned-run average through 35 innings.

Bedrosian has had wonderful and awful stretches. Overall, he has been OK. Over the next few years, I’d pick him over any other Angels reliever, with the possible exception of Blake Parker.

Pretty much the same stuff that is behind Bedrosian’s swings and most other fluctuations in play you see. Baseball is a game exceedingly hinged on randomness. This season, Albert Pujols has often hit the ball hard and received nothing for his effort. When he batted in 10 runs in a three-game span, those balls fell into uncovered outfield areas. It happens.

On a related note, I should say here that I found FiveThirtyEight’s characterization of Pujols as the game’s worst player to be an incorrect oversimplification. You cannot find a major league scout who feels that way. He is by no means having a good season, but he is above average at driving in runs when baserunners are aboard. Given that, it’s difficult for me to believe he’s the worst ballplayer out of 1,000.

Wins Above Replacement can be a valuable metric, but it was not developed to be delineating stark differences in decimal points. Situational hitting is essentially ignored within it. So, what that FiveThirtyEight story fails to take into account is Pujols’ adjustment of his approach with men in scoring position, as I wrote about earlier this season.

I’m pretty sure I said this earlier this year, but it’s nonsensical to assume the Angels didn’t go after starting pitching solely because they didn’t acquire any. Few trade conversations actually lead to trades.

I think they filled some of their needs. Some remain. Time will tell if the additions they made were enough.

What they did makes sense to me. It’s not crazy to think that Justin Upton will supply as much value as Justin Verlander in the season’s final month, and the Angels acquired Upton for a small portion of what Houston ceded to acquire Verlander. Of course, Verlander is under guaranteed contract into the future and Upton can opt out, but it’s not as if Verlander’s deal is cheap or there are no concerns about his future.

He’ll be 35 next spring training, and he has thrown 2,500 major league innings. Upton will play most of next season at age 30, whether that’s in an Angels uniform or not.

I answered most of this in the previous question, but I’d add that I don’t think Upton’s contract is going to get particularly bad. Though it seems like he has been around a long time, he is not old. He turned 30 like 10 days ago. He’ll play most of 2021, the last year of his deal if he opts in, at age 34. Thirty-four is a lot different than 37.

As far as I’m aware, they have not. Promoting the 21-year-old right-hander right now would certainly count as rushing the kid, and he doesn’t have the dynamic stuff that could dominate, either. It’s just not worth it, though his future appears sufficiently bright. Scouts I’ve spoken to who have seen him this year believe he will be a big leaguer.

The day was hectic. I packed quickly, wrote in the Uber on the way to the airport, participated in a Justin Upton conference call while boarding an airplane, and finished writing while flying to Dallas. I don’t think I forgot anything, but I’ll be on the road for six more days, so we will see.

They believe they have a chance to win, which they do. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a sufficient stock of pitching or hitting to win. The Dodgers pretty clearly have the most talented 40-man roster in the major leagues, but their season could end before the Angels’.

It appears they think of Kaleb Cowart like the rest of the industry does: He’s an intriguing, athletic defender who has not yet proven he can hit enough to man a major league position on an everyday basis.

When Yunel Escobar returns, he will play third most days, and Luis Valbuena and C.J. Cron will platoon at first base. Escobar is still going to miss some more time, so this is not going to be a long-term problem.

Well, if he opts out, their plan isn’t going to be any different than what it would have been if they did not make this trade. Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere are both free agents at year’s end. If Upton opts out, the Angels ceded their eighth- or ninth-best prospect for a month of one of baseball’s better hitters, which is not an awful trade.

As I’ve detailed in this space before, without Upton the Angels should have enough space in their budget to sign one big-ticket free agent. It would probably make more sense for that to be a position player rather than a pitcher.

Jesse Chavez appears next in line to replace any starting pitcher who continues to falter. He has been quite good out of the bullpen. But the Angels need Tyler Skaggs, as he is one of their only pitchers who has the stuff to shut down opponents when he is right.

Nobody uses a five-man playoff rotation. Some teams don’t even use a four-man playoff rotation. And if the Angels are going to qualify for the playoffs, it’s likely going to be a last-ditch thing. They’re not going to have the opportunity to plan out their preferred pitchers.

But it is worth noting that if Garrett Richards pitches every five games beginning Tuesday, he’ll be in line to start the Oct. 3 wild-card game.

That, my friends, is probably not a coincidence.

Send questions to the below addresses at any time to be considered each week for the Monday mailbag.

Twitter: @pedromoura