Monday, April 4, 2016

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer - 

Baseball is back! And yes, I’m ready for the Angels home opener tonight. All the pageantry, tradition, formality are things I really enjoy.  

But more than just hearing the first official crack of the bat for the Angels in 2016, I’m genuinely excited for this season. I know, that seems odd given the lack of major additions in the offseason (I will admit, like most fans, I wanted to see some of last year’s problems solved with bigger name solutions). But, from what I’ve seen so far, this year’s team will be a better team than the one that played last year.

And no, my excitement isn’t just based on the Angels record during Spring Training. I know that those numbers don’t count for anything. The mere fact that the Angels went 16-2-5 (Wins-Losses-Ties) in their last 23 games and swept the Freeway Series isn’t making me into a Pollyana. But, it sure didn’t hurt my hopes either!

So here are my top 7 reasons why I’m excited for Angels baseball in 2016.

7. Leftfield Will NOT Be a Black Hole

Last year, Angels leftfielders combined for a whopping .216/.275/.317 slash line. That’s not just bad—it was pathetic. It was the worst in the major leagues, and a black hole for the lineup. It didn’t produce offense, it was just offensive! Sure, I wanted a bigger name for 2016 to man the position, but, I would not have signed any of the available free agents to the deals that they wanted. And, watching Nava and Gentry play with grit and determination during Spring Training, I liked what I saw. In parlance, they are a couple of spring peanuts, and will produce well during the season, especially relative to their cost. All they have to do is beat the slash line from last year and they will be an improvement. Independently they each can and should put up better slash lines than what we got out of the position last year. And, if used correctly, they both should combine for a substantial boost to the offense. I’m excited to see what they can and will bring to the lineup this year. More importantly, since we only lost the division by 1 game last year, an improvement in leftfield alone should make us a much improved team.

6. The Bench Will Be Better

Last year, we carried Taylor Featherston all season long to keep him as a Rule V draft pick. Supposedly, he was a defensive specialist, but frankly, I didn’t see it. Worse still, he was an automatic out in the lineup. So, bringing him in didn’t really boost the defense that much, and certainly hurt the offense all while depriving the team of flexibility. 

This year, the Angels will have more and better options—left handed hitters with power (Choi), average and on-base (Nava), a righty with speed (Gentry) and a defensive replacement (Pennington). That’s a better bench than what we had in 2015.  

But, it’s not just there, it’s also in the bullpen, where Morin and Bedrosian will be better, and Alvarez will provide left-handed relief. And Mahle, a prospect who I believe has a bright future, will be ready in a few months. 

Best of all, the coaching has improved. Bringing back Ron Roenicke and Bud Black will challenge Scioscia to make better decisions. The team will get back to playing a more aggressive style, getting runners in motion and making opportunities happen. In short, the 2016 team has more options and ways with dealing with a variety of opponents and situations, and that should make the team better. 

5. Third Base Won’t Have a Help-Wanted Sign Hanging On It

If leftfield was a black hole for the Angels in 2015, third base definitely had a help-wanted sign hanging on it. The position produced a whopping .238/.302/.378 slash line—hardly the so-called prototypical slash line for that position. When David Freese was out of the lineup in July and August, the team really slumped badly. They posted an 11-26 record between July 23rd and August 31st. That slump really hurt the team more than anything else, and truly was the reason why the Angels didn’t make the playoffs. 

This year, with Yunel Escobar manning the hot corner, the Angels are in a better position than last year. Not only does Escobar provide similar defense to Freese (Escobar’s career FLD% at 3B is .962 and Freese’s is .956), he also provides a spark at the top of the lineup. Last year, Trout and Pujols combined for 81 homeruns, but together only drove in 185 RBIs. A good chunk of their blasts were solo shots, and weren’t enough to move a game into the win column. This year, if Trout and Pujols hit a similar number of homeruns, they should both drive in more than 100 runs thanks to Escobar getting on base in front of them. 

4. The A. L. West is a Wide Open Division

In a discussion thread on, I posted that if I were the odds-makers for Las Vegas, I’d put the over/under on the Angels at 86.5 wins. As the team looks right now, they should post a winning season. If everything goes right for the Angels and the team stays healthy, I could see them winning as many as 91 or 92 games. If they struggle, they probably won’t make it to .500. 

The thing is, I also think that it will only take about 90 wins to take the A. L. West. Every team in the division has some strengths. And, every team in the division has some big question marks. I don’t see any particular team that will run away with the division or any team that is intentionally trying to tank it. So, the Angels have about as good a shot as any team in the division, and will probably be in the thick of the Wild Card race. The division will be tough, but, not impossible to win. 

3. Andrelton Simmons Will Make Mind-Boggling Defensive Plays

I liked this trade. While I didn’t love it at first (mostly because I really wanted to see Sean Newcomb pitch in Anaheim), it’s really grown on me. Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in a generation. He makes mind-blowing plays that no one else makes. Just google him and watch the highlight videos. Now tell me you aren’t excited to see that for the next 5 years!

Pitching with him on the diamond will make the pitching better. The rest of the defense will be elevated as a result. Just like watching Trout rob a homerun, Simmons will make plays all season long that no one else can make. He will be the best shortstop that I’ve everseen play regularly for the Angels. I’m excited to see what he can and will do, and his play is easily worth the price of a ticket. And, I’m willing to bet that his offense will beat the expectations making this a very good trade in the long run. 

2. Mike Trout
Really? Do I need to explain this? If there is any player worth the price of admission alone, it’s Mike Trout. He’s the best in the game and goes out there every day giving 110% to make this game look easy. He’s the kind of player who inspires fans to write and sing song like A Fish Like This (which if you haven’t heard, you should listen to all season long). 

And, if I may, I’d like to respond to ESPN: No, the Angels are not wasting Mike Trout’s prime years. While the Angels haven’t yet made it to the World Series with Mike Trout, they certainly aren’t wasting his time. Every year, the Angels could have made the postseason, and in at least one year, should have gone deep into the postseason. If we are going to talk about wasting a player’s best years, let’s look at someone like Giancarlo Stanton, whose team has had a worse record in every year since his rookie year! I get David Schoenfield’s point that the Angels haven’t been able to showcase Trout’s talent in the postseason so far, but, as he also pointed out, they’ve averaged 87.5 wins a season with him in the lineup. The Marlins, by comparison, have only averaged about 72 wins a season during Stanton’s career. And we still have many more years to watch Mike Trout be Mike Trout.

1. It’s Baseball, Anything Can Happen

I’ll admit it; I’m an optimist at heart. But more importantly, I’m a baseball fan. I know that anything can happen during a game. There will be plays that will thrill and amaze me. There will be times when I will yell at the TV. There will be times when I’m proud of a player that I’ve followed since the draft doing something impressive. There will be times when a player making millions will frustrate me.

That’s all okay. That’s the joy of baseball. The schedule has 162 games. Unlike every other major sport, there’s a daily drama that builds into a season-long story. There will be highs and lows. The season won’t be won or lost tonight. No matter what happens, there’s always the next game. We will have winning and losing streaks. The Angels will score runs in droves and have periods of run-starvation. That’s the beauty of the game. Anything can happen in baseball.

So, I’m excited to see it all begin. Tonight, I’ll be watching the first of 162 games. I have hundreds of hours of entertainment to look forward to for the next 6 months. I have hundreds of discussions to look forward to about the team. There are dozens of articles I have yet to imagine that are waiting to be written.

Yes, I will admit it: I’m excited about Angels baseball in 2016. Let's Go Halos!
Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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