2016 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels.

With Mike Trout, all things are possible. Well, not all things, but a whole lot more wins than a team with this many holes and as thin a system as the Angels have might otherwise expect to get. When you start with the best player in baseball — and when you back him up with a declining but still dangerous Albert Pujols — you’re starting out OK.

Beyond those two things get a bit uncertain. The trade for Andrelton Simmons definitely shores up the defense up the middle, but unless he has that breakout offensive season some have figured he has in him someplace (Braves fans waited for four years and it never happened), his bat won’t add much to the party. Yunel Escobar at third base is an intriguing option for some offense if you think his nice 2015 was indicative of a resurgence as opposed to an outlier. Kole Calhoun took a step back last year but is still solid and has some upside. C.J. Cron‘s power is the real deal and he could hit between 20-30 homers. Overall, though, there’s an awful lot of low-OBP dudes on this Angels lineup, minimizing the damage Trout, Pujols and Cron can do with their bombs. And that’s before you figure that Pujols, who is battling some foot problems this spring, is likely to continue to go slowly and gently into that good night. Last year the Angels were close to a bottom-third offense. It’s hard to see them improving dramatically this year.

Garrett Richards tops the rotation. He wasn’t as great in 2015 as he was in 2014, but still has fantastic stuff and is another full offseason and a regular-ramp-up removed from his ugly knee injury from late in 2014. Jered Weaver‘s velocity — or shocking lack thereof — is concerning. Hector Santiago‘s screwballs are fun. Andrew Heaney could truly emerge this year as a solid number two or three starter. C.J. Wilson will start the year on the DL and there is no solid timetable for his return. Matt Shoemaker was a disappointment last year but he’ll fill in for Wilson. Huston Street and Joe Smith in the pen is pretty decent. The rest of the pen is neither great nor terrible.

The biggest issue with the Angels: there’s not a lot of upside to be seen here. Mike Trout is amazing, but you can’t reasonably expect him to get better. You can’t expect most of the rest of this club to get better either, but that’s because it’s less than amazing. They won 85 games last year and it felt like that exceeded their real level of talent by a good deal. Where does the improvement come from this year? Especially given how barren their minor league system is?

Prediction: Third place, AL West.

Consider the Concrete Donut

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Ben Schulman wrote a long, interesting article about stadium architecture over at The Hardball Times today. He asks us to consider the old concrete donut stadiums — multipurpose parks like Three Rivers and The Vet — and to think about what we have gained by their near-extinction. And what we’ve lost.

The article starts out with what I feared would be too much misplaced nostalgia for the Brutalist, functional places that no longer exist outside of Oakland, with the now de rigueur references to astroturf and weird 1970s baseball. It backs away from that early on, though, and presents what I feel is a thoughtful look at the various approaches to building a ballpark. Stadium geeks and architecture geeks will find much to love here.

From a personal perspective, I have a love/hate relationship with newer parks. I spent a good deal of time going to places like Riverfront Stadium when I was a kid and do not miss them at all. But I also think there have been a lot of missteps in the last 25 years or so too.

Most new parks are pleasant and comfortable places to take in a ballgame, but so many of them are totally unimaginative and uninspiring from an architectural point of view. I am not fan of nostalgia, and so many of them — particularly the ones built in the 90s — were fueled by a great deal of misguided retro-ism that looks backwards. I suspect this is the case because either (a) no one had the guts or vision to look forward; and/or (b) they felt they could make easier bucks by catering to people who think everything went to hell once Eisenhower left office than by doing something bold. To be fair, there are examples of newer parks that eschew the faux old-timey vibe to greater degrees — Target Field in Minneapolis and Marlins Park in Miami come to mind — and I tend to prefer those to more backward-looking places. Again, architecturally speaking.

I think the sweet spot — and the linked article touches on this a bit — are ballparks which think bigger than the bland and dreary functionalism of the 1960s and 70s but which eschew derivative, traditionalist approaches. Parks which were built with then-modern sensibilities and saw their vision through without compromise. Dodger Stadium is a fine, modernist example of this. So too is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, about which I wrote a few years ago. They had a great opportunity to do this in Chicago in the late 80s but muffed it. I think Marlins Park could fall into that category if (a) there is ever anything approaching memorable baseball there; and (b) if they stop being afraid of its bold aspects and stop trying to turn it into a vanilla monument to its vanilla owner. The common denominator, I suppose, is that these parks weren’t and aren’t trying to cater to the childhoods of local fans.

Anyway, good read on a slow news day.