30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Angels Roundtable

Angels

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and James Rygg from True Grich.

Question 1 – Who will fill in as staff ace for John Lackey?
James: I believe that Jered Weaver will emerge as the emotional leader of the staff; however, I think the pitcher who will have the most dominant stuff on the staff will be Scott Kazmir. I don’t think the label of “ace” has to be put on anyone really. This is a staff that will push one another all year long. They’re all very competitive and they will feed off one another. I’ll be looking for Weaver to get the opening day nod, but again – Kazmir will be The Man, in my opinion.

Eugene: I could see either Weaver or Kazmir being the man. Kazmir was the ace of the Tampa staff, so he’s got the experience. Weaver has the “stuff” to be an ace as well; that said, his brother had the stuff too, but we’ve seen how that has worked out. I think Jered is better than Jeff, but just wanted to remind everyone of that.

Matt: The good news is that the Angels have options. Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and Scott Kazmir all have Ace-level stuff and have even demonstrated as much at the big-league level, although not year-in and year-out. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if all of them (or none of them) break through, but if I was going to choose one it would probably be Kazmir. It seems like he’s been around forever, since he’s already got five full seasons under his belt, but Kazmir just turned 26-years-old, so it’s well within reason that his best years may still be in front of him. His experience, both in the regular season and the postseason, make him the guy who Scioscia would probably like to take on the leadership role.

Daniels: I think Scott Kazmir absolutely turns in to the Angels ace. This, of course, is presuming he can stay healthy for a full season. There are only so many parts of someone’s arm that can be repaired, right?

Aaron: I think Kazmir’s in position to have a terrific season. Yes, he’ll hit the DL once or twice, but I don’t think the Angels have any illusions of getting 250 innings out of him. Plus, any success he realizes with the Halos makes that Victor Zambrano trade with the Mets seems farther and farther in the rearview mirror. It’s win-win for both coasts!

Daniels: We Met fans have finally put the Kazmir/Zambrano trade fully in perspective. Kazmir was the penance we had to pay to get Steve Phillips out of town and in to sex rehab.

Question 2 – Can Brandon Wood translate his early Minor League success to the Majors?
James: Brandon Wood’s early minor league success was off the charts. It would be hard for anyone to replicate those kinds of numbers. The ceiling is definitely high for Wood and I think Angel fans should have reasonable expectations. He has shown the ability to adjust and has worked hard on his swing to cut down on his strike outs. The power is real, the attitude is professional and the potential is exciting. I expect Wood to be a solid corner infielder in the Angels organization for years to come. It’s exciting to know that all the starting infielders will be guys who came through the organization.

Matt: James is absolutely right. We should not judge Brandon Wood purely on his 43 HR, 116 RBI season in the California League in 2005. I’ve seen some games at Rancho Cucamonga and that field is probably largely to blame for why Angels fans often have inflated expectations their prospects’ power.

That said, I think Brandon Wood will be a valuable big-league power-hitter. As James points out, strikeouts are a problem, especially since he doesn’t seem to have the greatest sense of the zone. He’s going to have some rough days against veteran pitchers in his first couple seasons (check out Chris Davis in ’09 to get a taste of what I mean). I think Mike Scioscia will be very patient with Wood as a hitter, because he’ll see the long-term potential.

The real problem in terms of Wood being a starter this season comes on defense. Wood hit 160 HR in the minor leagues, but he also made 150 errors. Scioscia simply doesn’t play infielders who can’t pick it, so Wood needs to prove he can be at least competent at third base, otherwise he’s going to lose a ton of starts to Maicer Izturis. Izturis has very little power, but he did hit .300 last season. His presence should not be ignored.

Question 3 – Is Mike Scioscia the best manager in baseball?
Aaron: There’s so much subjectivity within the “best manager” moniker that I think one could make a case – at any given point in the season – nearly every skipper in the league. The ones with enormous talent on the team are able to “manage a clubhouse full of egos”. The ones without great talent “get the most out of what they have”.

That said, Scioscia might be the least known, successful manager in the game. He’s a lot like the NFL’s Bill Belichick in that he only wants players who’ll buy into the Angels’ system and wants no part of guys who won’t. He’s got zero tolerance for players who’ll upset the apple cart (lots of people remember his dismissal of Jose Guillen in 2004, but in 2001, Jose Canseco was released just before the regular season – reportedly for loafing through workouts).

Scioscia’s a very good manager, who’s definitely among the game’s elite.

Matt: I’m pretty sure I know how James is going to answer this question, so I know there will be no shortage of Scioscia love. I also agree with Aaron, there are at least half a dozen managers, maybe more, for whom you could make very persuasive arguments. The superlative class, however, has to include Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Jim Leyland, all of whom have made multiple trips to the World Series, have taken multiple franchises to the postseason, and have longer track records of success than Scioscia. That said, I certainly wouldn’t bet against the Angels skipper joining that class over the next decade. He’s had only one losing season in Anaheim and has six playoff appearances in ten years. His record in the postseason is his only Achilles heel. He went all the way in his first attempt, but since then his teams are 10-19 in postseason play and haven’t been able to nab another AL pennant.

Daniels: I have a subjective, 5-point +/- system with manager. 1) Do they make the right tactical decisions using reasons that make sense and based on “their gut”? 2) Are they able to keep the team focused and snap them out of losing streaks when they should or keeping them from panicking when games start going wrong? 3) Do they manage the players egos in such a way that they don’t snipe at each other in the media and elsewhere? 4) Do they massage the media, giving them enough to write stories about without attacking players? 5) Do they have presence enough that every guy on the team, even if he doesn’t like his current role, buys in to? Three +s = good manager.

Scioscia is one of the few who gets a plus in all five.

James: Well, I certain don’t want to disappoint Matt! In my very biased opinion there is no question what-so-ever that Mike Scioscia is the best manager in the game today. In his ten seasons as the Angels skipper his team has won 900 games for a 90 wins per season average (I figured that out all by myself). His five division titles in the last six years have been very dominating. His teams routinely outperform PECOTA (which I’m sure drives some people crazy) and speaks to the opinion that he gets the most out of his team, and then some. His teams routinely lead the league in the little things, like going first to third or sacrafices or are among the leaders in stolen bases, etc.

But what really sets Scioscia apart from everyone else is his influence over an entire organization. The Angels entire organization marches to the beat of his drum. He’s been able to install his style of play and approach throughout the system and is responsible for shaping not only the 25 man roster, but the entire franchise. The moment a player becomes an Angel, they learn to do things Scioscia’s way. There is continuity and consistency in that and his philosophy has proven to be effective.

Last season he may have done his best managing job ever as he guided the team through tremendous adversity.

His players love him and there is a great deal of respect for him throughout the league. He’s the best in my opinion, but this is a subjective thing for sure. All I can tell you is that I’m very pleased he’s managing my favorite team and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have.

I have tremendous respect and appreciation for him to go along with a great deal of confidence.

Let me just say this – when Nick Adenhart died tragically last year, I had peace knowing that Scioscia would be guiding this team through troubled waters.

Question 4 – Where will the Angels finish in the standings?
James: With all due respect to all the projection systems and baseball analysts (then again, maybe not), I sincerely believe the Angels will win the west. There’s a lot of simple addition and subtraction going on in some of the analysis. It’s not as simple of subtracting the players the Angels lost and who they signed to determine how they’ll do. Not enough people have taken a closer look at the amazing season they had last year; despite tremendous adversity and a lot of injuries to their team. The Angels won 97 games in spite of all that. Consider 11 different pitchers taking the mound to start a game (more than 40 times) and it’s not unreasonable to believe that if the staff is relatively healthy this year, they’ll be as good, if not better.

Matt: The rumors of the Angels demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the Angels may have taken a small step backward in an offseason when Texas and Seattle took sizable steps forward. But will that be enough to overcome the 10-game gap between the Halos and everybody else in ’09? I’m not convinced it will. The Rangers still need to prove they can pitch and the Mariners need to prove they can hit. The Angels are still the only team in the division with strength on both sides of the ball.

On the other hand, they need to avoid the injuries that were largely responsible for their slow start in 2009. I don’t know that they still have the depth to make up for losing two or three members of their rotation, even for relatively short stretches.

With the caveat that I may change my mind before April 1, I’d currently bet on the Angels to win at least 90 games and the division, although with the Rangers nipping at their heels.

Eugene: I do think Seattle improved themselves the most and will compete with the Angels. I still think the Angels will win the division.

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