Springtime Storylines: Did the Angels lose too much blood this winter?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Los Angeles Angels


The
big question: Did the Angels los
e too much blood this winter?

Chone Figgins is in Seattle. John Lackey is in Boston. Vlad Guerrero is in Texas. The first two of those are more critical than the last one because, sadly, Vlad ain’t what he used to be, but they’re still significant losses. They were the kind of losses that had the chattering classes, um, chattering back in December and January about how the Angels won’t make the playoffs this year.

Since then, however, people have gotten a bit of a grip.  Even with Figgins’ OBP gone, the offense is still strong.  There are a lot of players on this team who need to hit for a high average to be truly productive, but there are fluky BA-dependent guys and legitimate BA-dependent guys, and I really don’t see a lot of flukes on this team. I expect them to regress a bit offensively, but I don’t think they’ll fall drastically off the pace that had them second in runs per game in baseball last year.

Same goes for the pitching staff.  Lackey will certainly be missed, but (a)the addition of Joel Pinero takes a lot of that sting away; and (b) it’s an open question whether Lackey’s performance in Anaheim really justified the exalted status of ace he realized as he headed into the free agent market. Good pitcher, no question, but one who missed a decent amount of time. So no, there’s no ace here, but was there really one here before? Regardless, from top-to-bottom I think the Angels rotation will be very solid, health permitting, as it must permit all teams who want to contend.

So what else is going on?

  • Adding Fernando Rodney as a setup man provides some insurance for the frequently shaky Brian Fuentes in much the same way that adding kerosene to your siding provides added fire safety to your home.  OK, that’s harsh. Rodney had a good season last year. But he really got lucky. He’s too wild to depend on consistently and I think he’s going to have a much worse 2010 than a lot of people realize. Between the uncertainly of Fuentes and Rodney and the loss of Darren Oliver, I think the bullpen will be the team’s biggest weakness. And an expensive weakness at that.
  • Something more specific on the offense: Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood are all at
    an age where we can expect improvement or, at the very least, the
    maintenance of a solid status quo. Bobby Abreu’s primary skill —
    working the count — ages well. I think Matsui still has a solid couple
    of seasons left in the tank. After writing that intro above I stopped to ask myself if I’m being too optimistic about the offense. I really don’t think I am. If you think differently, please tell me why.
  • Deep thought: this may be
    the most disrespected three-time defending champion in baseball history. Discuss.
  • Pfun Pfact: The Angels have outperformed their Pythagorean Win Projection each of the last six
    years. Good luck? Real Angels in the outfield?  Mike Scioscia the best manager in baseball these days?  I’ll admit, I don’t know, mostly because I’ve probably seen fewer Angels games these past few years than I have seen games for any other contender. Now that I’m actually writing for a living I’m going to be (a) staying up later; and (b) watching a lot more games, so that will remedied.  I’m really looking forward to it.

 
So
how
are they gonna do?

Sure, Figgins is gone, but Brandon Wood could be better than many
think.  The rotation is still very strong from top to bottom.  There’s
every reason to believe that Hideki Matsui will be better in 2010 than
Vald Guerrero was in 2009.  And perhaps most importantly, the Mariners
— everyone’s offseason darlings — put off more light than heat in
their offseason moves.  I think the Angels are gonna win their fourth straight division crown.

Prediction: First place, AL West.  And yeah, they’ll probably once again match up poorly with whatever AL East team they run into, but let’s put that out of our minds until at least September, OK?

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.