clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Call it a crisis of leadership - A Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim preview

New, 37 comments

A look ahead at one of the American League's current Wild Card teams

Don't cross me.
Don't cross me.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The end of Jerry Dipoto's tenure with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim spoke volumes about what it must be like to serve as general manager for a team with Mike Scioscia as its skipper and Arte Moreno as its owner.

On July 1, Dipoto was forced to resign due to a seemingly irreconcilable ongoing conflict with Scioscia. The details of the situation were rather ugly. Dipoto and his staff were making an effort to get the players to use analytics and advance scouting data in their play on the field, but this was proving fruitless. Suspecting the coaching staff -- the middlemen -- as the culprit, Dipoto communicated that the front office would now be delivering information directly to players.

Dipoto's plan didn't sit right with Scioscia, and the issue became the latest in a long-standing series of disagreements between the two. To make the situation uglier, first baseman Albert Pujols allegedly weighed in on the matter, reportedly suggesting that Dipoto worry about roster construction rather than forcing analytics on the players. In the end, Moreno sided with Scioscia and his 15-plus seasons of tenure with the team, and Dipoto was squeezed out, with Bill Stoneman returning to his old post by serving as the team's interim GM while the team conducts a search for a full-time replacement. Frankly, the apparent lack of autonomy involved with the position shouldn't do much to get qualified candidates to jump at the opportunity.

Indeed, the Angels are essentially Mike Scioscia's team, and have been for quite some time. It's understandable that a man in Scioscia's position would resist someone telling him how to do part of his job. After all, he's knocking on the door of 1,400 wins as a manager and has six division titles to his name plus a World Series win from his lone Wild Card berth. Scioscia is far from perfect, but he's consistently regarded by insiders as one of baseball's best managers.

One might think that the management conflict would be a side effect of the poor play of the team, but the truth was that the Angels were beginning to heat up around the same time as the front office power struggle. The Angels had been a .500 team until around that point in the season but were on a four game winning streak at the time of Dipoto's resignation. They'd eventually build that into a 17-3 run that saw them briefly overtake the Astros, only to see them cede the lead in the midst of a nasty 1-9 stretch two weeks later.

With the Angels, the story on the field always begins and ends with superstar Mike Trout. Few players burst onto the scene with a chance to become the best player of all time, and everything Trout has done to date compares extremely favorably to the early careers of others (Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds) who might claim that title. As an elite defender who can slug, run, work walks, and hit for average, Trout is the complete package and has been a remarkably consistent force for the Angels. To wit, even during that 1-9 stretch mentioned above, Trout hit .375/.429/.844 with four homers. He's a player who should be enjoyed to the fullest extent possible while we have the privilege to watch him play. The only question with Trout is just how deep into his career he'll be able to continue posting these circa 10-WAR seasons.

If one wasn't enough, the Angels have another future inner-circle Hall of Famer on their roster in Pujols. Though Pujols is no longer a threat to hit .300, he's already passed the 30-homer plateau for this season. Even if the new normal for Pujols is a middling-OBP slugger, the Angels will certainly take this version as he trucks along through his mid-30s.

Elsewhere in the infield, everyone's favorite storm chaser Conor Gillaspie is filling in for the injured David Freese at third base. Despite a hot start upon arrival in Anaheim, he's significantly cooled off and is back to performing like the guy we knew in Chicago. Marginally more successful has been Royals castoff Johnny Giavotella, who believe it or not has been starting at second base for the Angels essentially all year.  While his bat is adequate at the keystone, UZR considers him the worst-fielding starter there in the majors.

The Angels were receiving meager contributions from C.J. Cron and Matt Joyce, so they have been active in acquiring help in recent weeks. They've added David DeJesus from the Rays, Shane Victorino from the Red Sox, and David Murphy from the Indians to help at DH and left field. The other corner is manned by Kole Calhoun, who has quietly been excellent for the Angels these past two seasons. As a plus defender with above-average pop, Calhoun is a well-rounded player that should be a fixture in right for the Halos for years to come.

On the pitching side of things, the Angels have lost Tyler Skaggs and C.J. Wilson to injury and neither is likely to pitch again this year. Both injuries may have turned out to be blessings in disguise. Skaggs was unavailable from the get-go due to Tommy John surgery, and that gave Hector Santiago another chance to permanently stake his claim to a rotation spot. Santiago took that chance and ran with it by putting together an impressive season that resulted in a spot on the AL All-Star team. The control problems that he had in Chicago have been greatly reduced and his overall efficiency has improved, though he's still prone to some five-inning starts.

Similarly, Wilson's elbow injury has cleared the way for top prospect Andrew Heaney to remain in the rotation now that Jered Weaver has recovered from a hip problem that had him sidelined. While he isn't blowing hitters away, Heaney has exhibited very good control with his three-pitch mix of a sinker, curveball, and changeup. Of the three, opposing batters have had the most trouble with the southpaw's curve thus far.

The remainder of the rotation consists of the aforementioned Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and Garrett Richards. Weaver is a soft-tossing righty that has completely lost any ability to miss bats, and his mistakes have been hit very hard. 2014 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Shoemaker has had a little trouble keeping the ball in the park this season, but has otherwise been a perfectly serviceable fourth starter.  Richards, too, has taken a step back this season, as the groundballer's otherworldly league-leading ability to suppress homers from 2014 has regressed to more human levels. The world needs LAIMs too, though.

Star-divide

Despite the management drama and the early-season ugliness with Josh Hamilton, the Angels have a team that is likely to capture at least a Wild Card slot. One wonders, however, whether Dipoto would have operated differently at the trade deadline had he still been around. The value of winning the division over claiming a Wild Card slot is very significant, and there was plenty to be gained from unseating Houston. On July 31, the Angels sat just two games back of the Astros, who aggressively added Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez, and Mike Fiers to the fold.  By contrast, the Halos added a trio of band-aids (plus Gillaspie!) that sometimes aren't all that great at stopping the bleeding. Was this an outright concession to preserve future assets, or a lack of creativity to make a big move?

This, of course, will remain a mystery to outsiders, but this course of (in)action may yet have unfortunate ramifications. Behind the Angels and Toronto Blue Jays, there's a big chunk of teams sitting just a few games out, each of which is hoping to rise up and knock off one of these two Wild Card leaders. The way things look right now, the Blue Jays certainly don't seem like the more favorable target.

Predicted Record and Finish: 86-76, 2nd place AL West

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Monday, August 10: Chris Sale vs. Matt Shoemaker
  • Tuesday, August 11: Carlos Rodon vs. Hector Santiago
  • Wednesday, August 12: John Danks vs. Andrew Heaney

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. David DeJesus - LF

SP1. Garrett Richards - RHP

2. Kole Calhoun - RF

SP2. Matt Shoemaker - RHP

3. Mike Trout - CF

SP3. Hector Santiago - LHP

4. Albert Pujols - 1B

SP4. Jered Weaver - RHP

5. David Murphy - DH

SP5. Andrew Heaney - LHP

6. Erick Aybar - SS

CL. Huston Street - RHP

7. Conor Gillaspie - 3B

RP1. Joe Smith - RHP

8. Johnny Giavotella - 2B

RP2. Trevor Gott - RHP

9. Chris Iannetta - C

RP3. Jose Alvarez - LHP