Los Angeles Angels: Dollars in the outfield, and infield

Bobby Knoop

You say Kuh-noop, Bobby says Kuh-nop. To-may-to, to-mah-to. It might have been harder to pronounce Knoop's name than to pitch to him, but he was Mike Scioscia's kind of infielder. Knoop could field. He won three Gold Gloves, and finished 24th in the MVP voting in 1965 when he hit .269, and 18th in 1966 when he hit .232 but led the AL with 11 triples. 1965 was the only season he hit better than .250; he retired after nine seasons with a career average of .236 and career on-base percentage of just .296. Still holds a major-league record for turning six double plays vs. Boston on May 1, 1966. Shortstop Jim Fregosi partnered on five, and no, George Scott only hit into two of them (as a rookie, Scott only hit into an AL-high 25). Knoop was one of three Angels to hit into a double play -- the game had nine in all.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Pitcher John Hellweg stands out — literally. Hellweg is 6-foot-9, but unlike a lot of power forward-sized pitchers, he pitches like it. Hellweg fanned 113 in 89.1 innings in the California League in a 2011 season which included 14 of his 17 career minor-league starts. Hellweg walked 59 last year, which was an improvement. In his first three minor-league seasons, he walked more than a batter an inning. Compared to that, Randy Johnson’s 128 walks in 140 innings in Class AA at age 23, Hellweg’s age now, was pinpoint accuracy.

What is this man doing here? The Angels found a way to make Vernon Wells look good, even at $26 million a year: they invited Ryan Langerhans to camp. Langerhans’ last five batting averages are .173, .196, .218, .234 and .167; only the .234 is an outlier. Notice his batting average has dropped each of the last three years, which isn’t easy when your zenith is .234. Langerhans can’t hit, and of the last four teams he’s played for, only the Mariners evidently thought he could — they traded Mike Morse, who can hit, to get him. Which is why the Mariners are the Mariners. Ironically, Langerhans has a good eye: he on-based .380 when he hit that .234, and .344 when he hit just .196 in 2010. Alas, if only he could hit, but he can’t.

What he said: Albert Pujols upon arrival at Angels’ training camp last month: ”I’m not going to look back over my shoulder and regret the decision I made.” What he meant: “For $240 million, how wrong could I be?”

Outlook: The Angels committed more than $300 million in the offseason to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and for that, they expect improvement. They might get it, but moreso from other sources in the long-term: gone is GM Tony Reagins, in is Jerry Dipoto, and out is owner Arte Moreno’s money.

Reagins’ dismissal isn’t surprising, given that the Angeles have missed the playoffs for two straight years, the second time trading for and paying Vernon Wells $20-some million to do so. That’s reason enough, but ridding the team of Mike Napoli to get Wells, and not realizing Napoli would soon be in Texas, is worse. Reagins won’t be getting a good reference from Angels’ fans anytime soon.

Unlike Theo Epstein in Chicago, Dipoto made as much attention-getting noise as he could in his first offseason. Like peanuts in the stands, it can’t hurt, but the biggest addition might be by subtraction.

Say goodbye to catcher Jeff Mathis and his sub .500 OPS, even though it’s too late for Napoli as an Angel. Angel fans must be torn between the suffering Napoli as a Ranger must bring Angels manager Mike Scioscia, and the suffering it brings to Angels fans. There has to be some satisfaction in seeing Mathis, the object of Scioscia’s affections, sent away; too bad he couldn’t take Scioscia’s smugness with him.

These aren’t Scioscia’s Angels that some Angels fans have come to decry. There’s potentially more power and less defense, and heaven knows the Angels need it. Since the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they’re 10-19 in the postseason, and even worse, 0-0 the last two years.

They should stop that streak this year. Mark Trumbo at third base doesn’t sound like Scioscia’s idea or a good one — has anyone asked the pitchers their opinion? — and the infield is still full of switch-hitting, hit-and-run types who can run but can’t walk; the outfield full of aging 25-homer veterans who are paid as if they hit 35.

But the starting pitching is baseball’s best — the Angels offer four starters who all threw at least 223 innings and kept their ERA under 3.38 last year. So what if veteran Jerome Williams or rookie Garrett Richards is the fifth starter? The bullpen will be well-rested.

It will take some time for Dipoto’s investments to depreciate, though they surely will. Like the Yankees in 2009 after their free-agent splurge, the time to win is before they do.

Team song: Neil Young: Heart of Gold

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