Angels mailbag: When will they be contenders again?
Hi, Angels fans. Your team went undefeated this week, which is a nice accomplishment, but the Angels played played only three games because of the All-Star break, so, yeah. Still, it was a good week to be a fan, and the trade deadline’s getting close, so here’s a mailbag about what’s ahead for this franchise.
As always, this is the place to ask anything you want about the Angels, with questions submitted through my email (email@example.com) and Twitter account (@pedromoura).
"But people who discuss baseball managers — I include fans and professionals — have, in my experience, almost no conceptual framework within which to store these observations. Working with a one-dimensional concept of a manager’s job, we use what we learn to push managers up and down the scale, toward the ‘idiot’ pole or toward the ‘genius’ pole. This is all we know.” — Bill James in 1997.
Do you think our knowledge of how to evaluate a MLB manager has improved? What metrics, if any, do you use?
— Bob (via email)
That’s a strong quote from a strong man right there. Bill James brings the truth. I don’t think our knowledge of how to evaluate MLB managers has improved much, if at all. I don’t think anyone is equipped to judge a manager without watching them manage at least, say, 50 games, and understanding all the options they had each night. Many fans jump to blame managers for decisions they had no choice but to make. It is my experience that many media members do the same.
I don’t use any advanced metrics to judge managing. There are some statistics that seem to make sense, but there’s always an angle to disprove their worth. Relief appearances are interesting, but the number of times relievers warmed up without appearing is also of note. Beating a Pythagorean win expectancy year after year, like Mike Scioscia did, is interesting, but what if the team has been built in a way that enables it to win more one-run games?
Generally, I just try to stay away from evaluating managers. My belief, not necessarily backed up by fact, is that their influence on major-league games is less than what was once thought, and so maybe we don’t need to spend too much time on it.
I’ll address those two at once. If the Angels are to make the playoffs again before Trout becomes a free agent, 2018 is definitely the year. It is the year Josh Hamilton’s dozens of millions come off the books. It is Richards’ last year of team control. It is Pujols’ age-38 season. It is the year, though, that Trout’s salary really rises — up $14 million from the year prior.
But you can sort of see it: Trout flanked by Kole Calhoun, in the outfield and atop the order. Andrelton Simmons holding strong at short and in the eight-hole. Pujols, ideally, still a league-average designated hitter. Richards fronting the rotation with something to prove in a walk year/maybe his first post-TJ season. Young left-handers Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs forming the middle. Nick Tropeano and Matt Shoemaker should still be in the fold too.
That is not a bad core to build a team around. A back-of-the-napkin estimate puts those nine men at something like 28 Wins Above Replacement in 2018, by my own projection, at a price of about $100 million. (I know that latter number sounds like a total guess, but I actually added them all up and was pleased to find the result, because I, like most humans, enjoy round numbers. And I can show my work if you want.)
A team of all replacement-level players would be projected to win 48 games. So, a team of those nine guys and 16 replacement players could get a 76-win projection. You’d have to find another 15 or so wins to be a legitimate contender, but, given enough money, that would be possible. Maybe you want to add C.J. Cron, Mike Morin or Jett Bandy into that group. That’s cool. They could potentially contribute to that team at a marginal cost.
The fact that nobody knows how much money they’ll have to spend on top of that $100 million is a problem. But there’s a far bigger problem: So few players within the Angels’ affiliates project to be a major league contributors at any point in 2018. And by so little, I mean maybe this year’s first-round pick, Matt Thaiss, projects and maybe nobody else. There are a few nice-looking prospects in the organization. But they are teenagers playing in short-season ball. They’d be lucky to reach the majors by 2020.
Of course, the folks in charge of the Angels’ day-to-day operations have considered these things. That is the undertaking at hand. It gets only harder after 2018, when the young, cheap players stop being so young and cheap.
Do I think they will make the playoffs in 2018? You know, it could happen.
The Angels are not only in a world of hurt this year, but for some years to come. In addition to the glaring deficiencies of the major league club, the talent in the farm system is probably the lowest in the memory of modern baseball. Personally, I don’t see improvement on the horizon in the immediate future. Not until the team gets some payroll head room and the farm system is revamped. Neither of those things will happen overnight. So, with those thoughts in mind, what moves would you like to see from the front office? You’ve talked about moving Escobar, Smith and Street by the trade deadline. What additional moves do you think the Angels should make to start rebuilding?
Floyd Teter (via email)
Beyond trading the immediate-term pieces, there’s not really much else the Angels can do if they want to preserve their chance to contend in 2018. Basically, the goal of their next two weeks should be to push every bit of 2016 (and, probably 2017) value into the 2018 campaign, the year when winning seems most plausible.
That would entail trading starter Hector Santiago, catcher Geovany Soto, Escobar, Smith and Street for mid-level minor leaguers who can contribute then. That’s the simplest way to put it. But, in the case of Escobar and Street, who have contracts for 2017, is it possible that they may hold more value in the off-season? If so, it’s defensible to wait.
Outside of those, of course fans should want the team to provide opportunities for younger players to prove any worth, any players who will require off-season surgery should have the operations down the stretch. The value added by a win over the next two months will be little — and, arguably, negative. The value added of a win in 2018 should be bigger.
Run differential sure is something, huh? At negative-5 as of this morning, the Angels are only 16 runs behind the division-leading Texas Rangers in terms of differential, but 14 1/2 games back in the race.
It is interesting, and it seems to prove the Angels have been a better team than the Oakland Athletics, who are negative-69. But negative-5 is still not very good. It is not as if it shows the Angels should be a playoff team or anything. There are 11 teams that own a differential of plus-40 or better.
Also, the time they outscored the Red Sox by 19 runs really sharpens that figure.
No. Pujols hasn’t played first base in a month because of lower-body issues. Catcher Carlos Perez has not indicated he can hit at a level sufficient to start in the major leagues. Geovany Soto is a fine hitter for a catcher, not quite for a designated hitter.
I am under team control for the foreseeable future.
That concludes this week’s Angels mailbag. Send in your questions to the below addresses at any time, and check back each Monday for answers.
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