Wednesday, March 31, 2004

And Ramon Ortiz wins the job ...

... as the fourth starter. Lackey will be fifth.

As Scioscia says, "It didn't really come down to one guy against another. It came down to who we thought the best five guys were for our rotation."

Meanwhile, the Giants are trading for guys like Wayne Franklin, so things could be worse. I would not be shocked if Sele were traded before Opening Day.

The Most Valuable Network has set up an Angels blog from Rick Hogaboam. Rick spends his most recent post arguing that Aaron Sele, Batting Practice Pitcher Extraordinaire, should get the fifth spot of the rotation over Ramon Ortiz. I still think Sele's done, but I also think my arsenic/anthrax comparison from yesterday holds. Though I think we've likely seen the best from 31-year-old Ortiz, he likely has the better upside than Sele at this point. Scioscia will announce his decision today.

I maintain that our alternatives are, in preferential order:

1. Four-man rotation.
2. Scot Shields.
3. Ramon Ortiz.
4. Aaron Sele.

The gap between (2) and (3) is huge.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Scioscia says that deciding between Ramon Ortiz and Aaron Sele is "by far, this is the toughest decision we've had in five years here." Given their performances in 2003 and this spring, this decision looks like one between arsenic and anthrax. Whither the four-man rotation? Every spring, we have 25+ teams trying to figure out which of their marginal starters will suck least and win the coveted fifth spot.

How did fifth starters do last year? To find out, I went to baseball-reference.com, and simply looked at the pitchers that had the fifth-most starts for his team (in some cases, like Casey Fossum and Jeff Suppan in Boston, I combined two pitchers or more, as they combined to be the fifth starter; I also excluded players like Brian Anderson or Sidney Ponson, who were traded, and Randy Johnson, who was injured). The final totals will include relief innings, and will not include everyone who made a start as a fifth starter. I think that’s okay; I’m just trying to determine what the general quality of a pitcher trusted with every fifth start. Also, some of the guys who get four or five starts are ostensibly worse than the guys I included.

Incidentally, did you know that Seattle had only five men start games for all of last year? I picked Gil Meche as the fifth starter, as he had the least innings.

Anyway, I identified 39 pitchers, and this is what I found: over the course of the season, they went 192-261 with an ERA of 5.18 and a RA of 5.57. Egads.

What is the point of running out a pitcher like this? The benefit is that the rest of your guys can pitch on four days’ rest instead of three. Is that a benefit? There’s no real evidence that pitchers are better off with four days’ rest. Does having a fifth starter save the bullpen? Let’s look at this in theory.

Let’s say we have four pitchers who average six innings a game and one that averages five. (Last year the top four Angel starters [which includes Sele, who was oft held to a 5-inning limit] averaged 5.8 innings per start, while Kevin Appier averaged 4.9.) Let’s also say that a team needs to fill up 1,458 innings in a year (162 x 9, and hoping that extra innings and ninth innings not pitched on the road essentially even out; last year, the Angels threw 1,431 1/3 innings, so that’s close enough).

In a five-man rotation, two starters get 33 starts and three get 32. That means 780 innings go to the top four guys and 160 go to the fifth guy. That leaves 518 innings to the bullpen.

In a four-man rotation, two starters get 41 starts and two get 40. That means a staggering 972 innings go to the starters and 486 go to the bullpen. 160 innings that used by a pitcher with a 5.18 ERA are gone, and so are 32 innings pitched by relievers – the back of the bullpen – and replaced by innings pitched by the good four starters.

But, you object, wouldn’t a four-man rotation mean that the starters pitch less innings per game? Quite possibly. Let’s say that we keep a four-man rotation, but assign the relievers 518 innings (which they had in the five-man scenario). That leaves 940 innings to the top four starters: 5.8 per game.

Of course, in practice, players get hurt, they get tired, they get traded, so the actual numbers wouldn’t come out exactly as I’ve outlined. But in my reduced-starter-inning four-man rotations scenario, the four good starters account for 64.5% of the innings pitched; last season, the Angels’ top four starters accounted for 49.8% of the innings pitched. Even with the top four starters pitching less innings per start, they still account for a higher percentage of the innings that the team needs pitched.

Think about the further benefits of having only four starters. For one, you get an extra spot in the bullpen – one of which can be a spot starter. Best of all, you can carry an extra position player: a hitter for late-inning pinch duties, a pair of legs, a reliable glove.

In my world, both Ortiz and Sele would be gone, and Shields would be the swingman/spot starter.

This will never happen.

The Angels have signed 35-year old Japanese lefthanded reliever Yoshitaka Mizuo, who will start the season at Salt Lake. The braintrust says he'll get a shot as the lefty specialist in the Show if he impresses in the PCL.

Mizuo had a neck injury last season, which limited him to two games, and he has a 3.42 career ERA in 269 games. He has unexceptional strikeout to walk ratio (176:100 in 252 1/3 IP). The Times reports that he has an 87-mph fastball and that he "is said to have good movement on, and command of, five other pitches, a curve, slider, sinker, changeup and a "shuto," an off-speed pitch that fades down and away from right-handed hitters." Sounds like Tom Glavine with a fastball.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Slow news right now for the Lads, so I'll mention an interesting article (and resultant discussion) I came across on the Primer. It examines the notion that the designated hitter leads to more hitters being hit in the AL because pitchers fear retaliation, i.e., being hit themselves. I've oft derided these claims (a favorite of the Joe Morgan types), but this article presents evidence that it is likely the case, at least in the pre-1993 era. One interesting finding by the authors (Doug Drinen and John-Charles Bradbury) is that, in the period studied, "a pitcher is four times more likely to be hit when an opposing player was hit in the previous half-inning." This lends credence to the notion that pitchers do, or at least did, fear reprisal. It's a statistically heavy paper, which led to confusion for the likes of me, whose only experience with statistics was an introductory college course years ago, but worth the time for the easily comprehensible conclusions.

Via Richard of the Pearly Gates, via Ben Maller, I come to the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting that the Tribe has dropped out of the Aaron Sele "Sweepstakes." As Mark Shapiro is a sharp GM, I was shocked to hear they were even involved in such talks. Any team would be crazy to give up anything of value -- including prospects, money, or a lifetime subscription to The Intellectual Musings of Britney Spears -- for Sele.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Bruce Markusen, in his column over at the Primer, mentions the following:

"According to the St. Louis Cardinals newsletter (www.thestlcardinals.com), the Redbirds have had talks with Anaheim about a six-player deal that would land Adam Kennedy, Darin Erstad, and Jarrod Washburn in St. Louis, with Bo Hart, Woody Williams, and another player downloading in Southern California."

Who comes up with this nonsense? Sure Williams might be an upgrade over Ace ... but only "might," and not for long, as Williams is eight years older than Jarrod. The Kennedy for Hart exchange is absurd, and I'm not sure I buy the idea of the Redbirds taking on Erstad's contract. Even if they did, who would the Lads station at first? They certainly wouldn't be getting anyone from St. Louis to take over (unless you count John F. Mabry). And it's not as though the Cards are stacked with prospects; the only prospect the arched city has on Aaron Gleeman's Top 50 Prospect List at Hardball Times is Adam Wainwright, who he counts as 31st against Baseball Prospectus' 43rd. As Wrainwright is a starting pitcher (at which the Angels have several prospects), and he was a key part of the J.D. Drew trade, parting with him seems quite unlikely.

This is a silly, silly rumor. But I take it all back if the "another player" is Prince Albert.

That sound you hear is me not holding my breath.

The LA Times reports on a lot of invective hurled the Halos' way by Kevin Appier, who apparently resents the sunset of his career. You may remember Appier from such Angel highlights as "Let's Bury My Team by Four Runs in a Deciding Game of the World Series So that My Teammates Can Mount a Dramatic Comeback in the Seventh and Eighth Innings" and "I'll Follow That Up with a Season of a 5.63 ERA and a K:BB Ratio Below 2:1."

After this sterling record (to be fair, he did have a good year in 2002, and Ace Washburn also got roughed up in the World Series), comes now Appier to whine about being unceremoniously dumped by the Lads last year. Here's a passage from the article, written by Mike DiGiovanna:

"Appier had been critical of Scioscia's handling of the pitching staff and had disputed Scioscia's oft-stated contention that inconsistent starting pitching was the primary reason for the Angels' struggles last season. The right-hander believes those comments contributed to his release, a claim Scioscia denies."

There's a word that perfectly sums up "Scioscia's oft-stated contention that inconsistent starting pitching was the primary reason for the Angels' struggles last season." That word is: Duh.

That the starting pitching fell apart last season is a fact so blatantly obvious that we need not waste our time proving it. I understand that Appier is a professional athlete, was a very very good pitcher for a number of years, and has resultant and deserved pride. But the inconsistency (to put it mildly) of Angels starters -- including the Ape -- was a big obstacle for the Angels last year.

Of course, Appier also feels that his public comments disputing Scioscia's obvious claim were cause for his release. Really? You're sure it wasn't the fact that you were a 36 year old pitcher with an ERA+ of 76? As Scioscia is quoted in the article, "What it came down to was Kevin was not throwing the ball that well, and Shields looked lights out."

The article also points to Appier's last game as an Angel, a sterling performance wherein he allowed four earned runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning. Appier thinks that Scioscia believes he showed him when being removed, which Scoscia denies.

I'm not really sure what Appier's beef is here; he is trying to claim that he was somehow mistreated, or released for the wrong reasons. Kevin, here is the sad but true fact: you sucked last year. Yes, injuries were involved, but you couldn't get the job done as well as other alternatives the Angels had. And no matter what you were saying about it, you just couldn't get guys out. So you got released. We thank you for the lasting memories of 2002 (and for setting up the dramatic Game Six comeback), but teams have to make decisions in the now and for the future, and your performance is the motivating factor for those decisions. It's not personal, Ape; it's business.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Via David Pinto, I came across this macro-preview by Will Leitch. For each team, he links to a blog about them, and for the Lads he's linked to lil' old me. So, if you happened to follow that link and are here for the first time, welcome, and have a look around. I'm here to talk about all things Angels, from analysis of Jose Guillen's groundball/flyball ratio to silly nicknames only I will use. Feel free to register any comments or complaints with me, and check out the other fine Angels weblogs goin' on ...

Via Matt Welch, I came across the Batter's Box preview for our Lads. A good preview lightened by clever use of senryu.

Eric Neel on Page 2 wants to give Garret Anderson a nickname. As Neel eloquently states, "Garret Anderson is a fine ballplayer but he has the name of a CPA or a middle school science teacher. We need to spice this man up. We need to speak of him the way folks once spoke of the ancient masters, men like Peach Pie O'Connor and Dom 'The Little Professor' DiMaggio."

I mentioned the difficulty in finding G.A. an appropriate nickname here. (I've never been able to make that work, by the way, where the link takes you to the correct entry. If that didn't work, it's the "Ace Washburn" heading below.)

For some reason, Garret's unfluffable calm makes me think of these immortal words from Andre 3000:

What's cooler than being cool?

Nothing going on today of any interest (yet), so I pass on without comment a trade proposed to me in one of my fantasy leagues. I was offered:

Carl Everett, Moises Alou, Edgar Martinez, Joe Randa, and Tim Worrell


Vlad, Hank Blalock, and Troy Percival.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Baseball America ranks our farm system third in minor league talent, easily the best ranking we've had in five years. Milwaukee and the Dodgers jumped past us this year; the Brew Crew I can understand, what with their excellent 2003 draft. I'm not sure I buy the Dodgers being ahead of us, though. These rankings tend to be mercurial, and more scout- than performance-based, so I take them with a grain of salt, but it's clear the Halos have a lot of talent in the pipeline, and with Arte's money there aren't really any excuses for not being very competitive every year for a long time.

Will Carroll has a Team Health Report up for the Angels. I was surprised by how optimistic his outlook is; most players receive a clean bill, including injury-magnets Darin Erstad and Bengie Molina. I think he's a little tough on Troy Glaus, but he pretty much writes off the red light he assigns Tim Salmon.

It's redundant to say that health is key to the Angels' success this year, but the fact is there is not a lot of position player depth, as last season put into disturbing relief. If an injury takes out a key player for the whole season, I suspect Arte would open the pursestrings to acquire an expensive player in trade -- though I think the top five prospects (Mathis, McPherson, Kotchman, Santana, Jenks) should be untouchable except for extraordinary circumstances.

The OC Register reports that St. Louis, San Diego, Detroit, and the ChiSox appear to be the likely candidates to trade for Aaron Sele, Batting Practice Pitcher Extraordinaire. They also report the shocking allegation that the Angels "probably [won't] ask for high-caliber talent in return." Well, if we're negotiating with Detroit, that seems a little obvious, don't it?

The Register also reports that it looks like the 5-6-7 spots will be filled by Glaus-Guillen-Kingfish, with the possibility that Guillen may jump past Glaus. Though in the short term, with Guillen hot, this may make sense, over the long-term this is completely backwards. Guillen just won't get on base enough, and combined with Garret Anderson's on-base "skills" will leave a lot of empty basepaths for Glaus and Kingfish. I think one concern may be double plays, and Scoscia wants the quickest runner in the middle to cut down on them. Lineup issues this small tend not to make a big difference, however, and Scoscia has demonstrated the flexibility to move guys around depending on how they're swinging the bat.

Richard at the Pearly Gates has an appealing photo of a certain former Batgirl shilling for our team.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A funny article on how what Angel jersey you have reflects on you ...

The Angels appear to be ready to give Josh Paul a roster spot, meaning they would start the season with three catchers -- all of whom hit righthanded. Bias against lefthanders, once again!

In seriousness, Scoscia wants to be able to pinch run for Los Dos Molinas more often, and Paul is not that bad of a runner, so he could pinch run early in the game, saving Shane Halter and Chone Figgins (the Official Legs of Tim Salmon ... actually, I like that. I'm going to start calling Figgins "Legs.") for later.

I sure can't think of a team ever carrying three catcher when not even one of them can hit from the left side; in fact, it's hard to come up with teams that carry three catchers. I like the idea, though, especially is Scioscia is aggressive with pinch-running and -hitting. The one concern is that the only bat off the bench belongs to Jeff DaVanon. I might prefer to keep a guy like Robb Quinlan around who might actually be able to hit; Legs Figgins can play a number of positions and makes Halter redundant.

Here is how the roster is shaping up thus far:

C (3) -- Molina, Molina, Paul
IF (6) -- Erstad, Kennedy, Glaus, Eckstein, Halter, Figgins
OF (5) -- Guillen, Anderson, Guerrero, Salmon, DaVanon
SP (5) -- Colon, Washburn, Escobar, Lackey, Ortiz
RP (6) -- Sele, Shields, Weber, Rodriguez, Donnelly, Percival

And boom, there's your 25; if Donnelly opens the season on the DL, that likely creates a spot for Derrick Turnbow. Not a bad looking group to start the season, though I would be tempted just to dump Sele and keep around the aforementioned Quinlan or somesuch.

The OC Register looks at the fact that the Lads don't intend to carry even one lefthander in the pen to start the season. As I mentioned in my preview, I think this is a wonderful thing. Not that I have anything against southpaws; it's that I loathe the idea of carrying a mediocre pitcher on the roster just because he throws with the right -- er, correct -- hand.

I was never a fan of Scot Schoeneweis and his below-average ways, for instance. And I'm a little appalled that the Angels even have Eric Cyr, pervert and spelling champion, in camp. Our guys are tough against everybody; besides, if we're in the thick of the race, an actually good lefthanded pitcher will become available over the course of the season, and likely for a cheap price.

Monday, March 22, 2004

This post at David Pinto's Baseball Musings discusses Arte Moreno's attempts to brand the Angels. The comments all excoriate Disney for changing the name from "California" to "Anaheim" ... but it was the City of Anaheim's requirement of Disney to make the change, as part of their approval of the sale. I would have made this comment over there, but comments have been turned off, as this was nearly a week ago ...

You gotta love silly spring training headlines. The LA Times breaks the story that Jose Guillen might bat fifth. Really? Didn't we know that already? The lineup arrangement of Salmon-Glaus-Guillen has been a "story" all through camp.

The real point of the Times story is that Guillen has impressed, and the OC Register is on the same beat. I'm still highly suspicious of him. Both papers refer to past questions about his character (the Register's "Guillen's reputation is that of a temperamental player who can blow up when things go wrong" is a typical line), but that's not what worries me. What concerns me is that last season was his first above-average season with the bat. Even at that, he had 312 superlative at bats against 167 decent ones. The rest of his career has seen 2000 substandard at bats. Last year was his age 27 year -- the age players are most likely to peak and/or have fluke seasons (Gary DiSarcina's only good season, 1995, came when he was 27).

The Angels are betting that all Guillen needs is playing time and someone to believe in him. Is there reason to believe that his turnaround last season was for real? Well, what made him better last year? Looking at all the components of his performance, we find that in many respects her performed as he always has. He was within one standard deviation of his career averages in strikeouts per at bat; strikeouts per walk; walks per at bat; and each of singles, doubles, and triples per at bat.

The outliers are batting average on balls in play (1.282 SD above norm) and home runs per at bat (1.885). So, not only was he getting more hits on balls in play, he was also hitting the ball over the fence more often. That led to career highs in batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.569) and isolated power (.258). Was there an actual change in his approach?

He saw marginally more pitches (3.59 per plate appearance against a career average of 3.49, an insignificant difference). But we find some interesting results when looking at his groundball to flyball ratios. His career mark is 1.67, but last season he was at 1.29 -- a career low. Whether he intended to or not, he was driving the ball more often. Even in the vast expanses of Oakland, where fly balls go to die, he managed a 1.39 groundball to flyball ratio, well below his career norms.

This doesn't quite explain everything. He hit more home runs per flyball than over the course of his career (1.712 SD above his norms). But if he somehow altered his approach at the plate, these flyballs may have been less "accidental" and been struck with more authority.

I believe that Jose Guillen has above-average speed. He's also a small guy, 5'11'' and 190 lbs. Is it possible that teams used to direct him to hit the ball on the ground and "take advantage of his speed"? I don't know, of course. But he has played for some backasswards organizations like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

I think that if Guillen has altered his approach, a fair amount of his improvement could be real (expecting a season like last year's is a little silly, though; of course, given his pay, no one is expecting it). What we'll have is a guy with a mediocre average, no walks, and some pop. Sound familiar? Guillen could be the poor man's Garret Anderson. His lack of on-base skills means I probably don't want him batting fifth, but I'm more optimistic about him now than I was when I started this entry, so there you go.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Jarrod Washburn, quoted yesterday at MLB.com (and also, I believe, in the OC Register):

"(Members of the media) are the only people who call people aces. We don't walk around the clubhouse going, 'Hey, Ace.'"

I find the idea of the players walking around the clubhouse going, "Hey, Ace" fairly amusing, and I have decided that "Ace" should be Washburn's nickname.

The Angels have a dearth of good nicknames; in fact, there aren't that many good nicknames at all in baseball as a whole. Tim Salmon has Kingfish, which isn't bad. David Eckstein is the X Factor ... okay. Vlad is The Impaler, which is disgusting but unavoidable. Steve Physioc likes using A.K. for Adam Kennedy, but that's an abbreviation, not a nickname. He also calls Troy Percival El Toro, which I never really liked, and sounds like something Physioc made up to sound cool.

I can't really think of a good nickname for Bengie Molina. His main physical characteristic is being fat, but it's probably not very nice to call him Fat Molina. Besides, if you heard that Fat Molina got a base hit, wouldn't you just think, "Is there a skinny Molina?" Chub Molina?

I can't think of a good one for Erstad or Glaus, either. I suspect Jose Guillen will inspire nicknames like Whiff or End of Rally, but we'll see. And it seems like Garret Anderson shouldn't be too hard to peg down (and no, Physioc, G.A. doesn't count); you'd have to come up with something relating to his smoothness afield, or his dependability at the plate. Cadillac? Old Reliable? Actually, I'm pretty sure those are taken, so I have no idea ...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Natch, I'm not the only one to cook up an Angels season preview (see below). The same day I finished and posted mine, David Peng's went up at Baseball Primer. Years ago, when I had a real name, David and I were on the same side of a number of arguments over on the Angels newsgroup. So it didn't surprise me in the least that both David and I projected a 96-66 record for the Lads this season. I'll continue to link to other previews as I come across them online.

(Speaking of bygone newsgroup debates, David and I often found ourselves debating Stephen Smith, who runs the indispensable Future Angels website. Stephen gets to a lot of Angels minor league games, and his Top 10 prospect list includes video clips. I highly recommend Dallas McPherson taking on Randy Johnson in its entirety, but there's a lot of good stuff all over the site.)

I got a link today from the Richard Ceccarelli of the Pearly Gates, a good Angels blog I've just found since I've started mine. Richard worries that Mike Scoscia thinks that Erstad advancing a runner is as good as Erstad hitting a home run. I'm not too worried; this is the kind of thing a manager says when a player can't really do something. Of course, the Angels have long had a blind spot about Erstad, and have long exaggerated the importance of first base defense, for that matter (and this is coming from a guy who still claims Wally Joyner as his favorite player).

Speaking of previews, the Baseball Prospectus team looks at the Angel offense and sees only a 12 run improvement over last season. I'm not buying, but maybe I'm just to attached to my Halo-shaded glasses. BPro also reports that "the park formerly known as Edison International is projected to be a better hitter's park this year than last," which is the first time I've heard of running projections for ballparks ...



The LA Times reports that Aaron Sele "could be released or traded if the Angels decided he was not the best fit for their rotation." Traded? Who exactly would want him? The only team I can think of it Tampa Bay, because they're just that dumb, plus Sele played for Mt. Lou in the 90s. And it's not like you're going to get any real value for Sele, anyway, because no team will be silly enough to take the contract. I see the Angels cutting him loose, and he may sign a minor league deal somewhere ...

Caught a snippet from this article over at the Primer:

"It's something you pay attention to, but he's a little guy. Pitchers come after little guys. Rickey (Henderson) took a lot of walks as a little, strong guy. He could hit it a mile. They're not going to throw him a breaking ball down the middle of the plate. It's not that these guys aren't good hitters. It's just that you'd rather take a line drive single than a walk."
--Tony LaRussa on Bo Hart and walks

The knee-jerk stathead response is to toss this aside, but let's think about LaRussa is saying for a moment. Does it make sense that if a pitcher gets behind a hitter with no power, he's more likely to come right at him than to nibble at the plate? Of course it does. We all know what happens when a pitcher falls behind Barry Bonds; we're in the fast lane to ball four. But, when David Eckstein is up, you're coming at him with a 3-1 fastball.

Submitted for your approval, Adam Kennedy:

2002 .040 3.79
2003 .100 3.77

I don't really know what to make of that, but isn't it possible that, after a season where he hit .312, pitchers were less likely to just come at Kennedy, and nibbled more? This doesn't really jibe with his .269 average last year, but it's not impossible. Of course, Kennedy did hit more homers last year -- 13, not a large number, but it's some degree of pop. His career Isolated Power is .129, not bad for a middle infielder.

David Eckstein:

2001 .074 3.84
2002 .074 3.71
2003 .080 3.86

Well, that doesn't provide much evidence for my theory -- or LaRussa's theory, if I properly ascribe it. Eckstein was injured and ineffective last year, but was still able to draw more walks than usual.

Here's Chone Figgins:

2002 .000 4.33
2003 .083 4.12

He had only 12 at bats in 2002, so that doesn't demonstrate much. But here's a guy with no power at all, and he sees more pitches and walks more than the other guys (aside from Kennedy last season). Why aren't pitchers just coming after him?

Someone with database skills can probably do a quick study of this, taking the guys with the lowest Isolated Power and checking their walk rates and pitches seen against the guys with the highest Isolated Power. These three examples don't mean much, but they don't provide much credence for LaRussa's theory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Angels have assembled a formidable set of prospects, which has been recognized by most observers (including Baseball Prospectus, which counts five Angels amongst its top 50, and Aaron Gleeman at the Hardball Times, who includes four in his top 25.

Three of these universally acclaimed prospects are hitters: catcher Jeff Mathis, 3B Dallas McPherson, and 1B Casey Kotchman. This is easily the most promising triplet produced by the Angels system since Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, and Garret Anderson.

Mathis and McPherson both ripped through A and AA last year, and both should start the season at AAA Salt Lake. If their progress continues, either one could see some action at the Big A this summer. Mathis is on course to push Bengie Molina out of a job come 2005; McPherson's situation is more complicated. He may be able to push Troy Glaus, whose contract also expires at the end of this season, but his third base glove is suspect. There has been talk of moving McPherson to an outfield corner; right field is obviously taken. Jose Guillen has a two-year deal to play left, but it's not unimaginable that he could be dispatched fairly easily.

McPherson could also find a temporary home at first (or push Glaus to first), but Kotchman is only a year behind him. Further complicating the situation is that Garret Anderson's contract runs out at the end of 2004. Do the Angels expect to keep Garret in center? Would the emergence of Kotchman move Erstad back to center and Anderson to left? If so, that keeps McPherson out of left, so what do you do with him (assuming you still have Glaus)? The Angels may be hesitant to DH a rookie, but that may be the only spot for him; besides, Tim Salmon may still be able to DH, though he may very well retire when his contract is up after 2005 (he has said he wants to retire an Angel, and will not pursue other employment if there is no spot for him).

Here's how I imagine the 2005 lineup shaping up:

C--Jeff Mathis
1B--Dallas McPherson
2B--Adam Kennedy
3B--Troy Glaus
SS--David Eckstein
LF--Garret Anderson
CF--Darin Erstad
RF--Vladimir Guerrero
DH--Tim Salmon

And in 2006:
C--Jeff Mathis
1B--Casey Kotchman
2B--Adam Kennedy
3B--Dallas McPherson
SS--David Eckstein (?)
LF--Garret Anderson
CF--Darin Erstad
RF--Vladimir Guerrero
DH--Troy Glaus

Other Angel position player prospects include Brandon Wood, a shortstop and first-round pick last season. He's at least three years away, at best, so we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. More temporally proximate help could come from Nick Gorneault, who has been old for his leagues, but demonstrates the Garret Anderson skill set of high average, low walks, and some power (321/363/540 at A last season, 345/395/527 in 29 games at AA).

One possible source of concern for the Angels, though they have time before Erstad's contract expires (at the end of 2006), is the lack of a viable center field prospect. Aside from a dalliance with Junior Felix in the early 90s, the Angels have enjoyed superlative defense from that position for 20 years. That time has seen Gary Pettis, Devon White, Jim Edmonds, and Darin Erstad roam the expansive green. That's eight Gold Gloves in 20 years (each won two apiece in an Angel uniform). There is no one in the system poised to take that mantle.

Ervin Santana will likely start the season at AA, as he only notched 29 2/3 inning there last season. He racked up great ratios in the low minors -- but so did Ramon Ortiz (225:53 K:BB in A Cedar Rapids in in 181 IP 1997, compared to Santana's 146:48 in 147 IP in 2002), so let's see him perform at AA and AAA before we get too excited. Santana is listed at 6'2'', 160 pounds, which would make him even taller and skinnier than Ortiz. Of course, AgeGate means that Santana was 19 that year, while Ortiz was 24. That's a tremendous difference, and speaks well to Santana's promise; his upside should far exceed Ortiz's.

The biggest upside of any Angel minor league starter belongs to Bobby Jenks. Comparisons to Nuke LaLoosh are often made, but Jenks finally got it together last season at AA at age 22: 83 IP, 103 K, 51 BB, only 2 HR allowed. Still more walks than you would like, but it's the first time he had a 2:1 K:BB ratio. He'll start the season at AAA to prove he's turned that corner, and could see big league action this summer.

Bonus prospect you've never heard of: reliever Steve Andrade. Here are Andrade's totals for the last two seasons, split between A and AA:

IP: 105 1/3
K: 174
BB: 38
HR: 3

That's just decadent. Andrade is 26 right now, so it's not like he has the kind of upside the starter prospects have. But here's Andrade at AA Arkansas last season, at age 25:

IP: 51
K: 74
BB: 19
HR: 2

Here's what someone else did at AA Arkansas, but at the age of 30:

IP: 29
K: 37
BB: 13
HR: 2

That man was Brendan Donnelly.

You heard it here first: Steve Andrade will be K-Rod's set-up man, possibly as soon as next year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


: Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele

Angel starters were a complete disaster in 2003. The team ranked 5th in the league in run prevention, but that is entirely due to their defense and bullpen. Jarrod Washburn, the reigning ace, led the starters with a 4.43 ERA. John Lackey, fresh off his World Series Game 7 victory, got hammered in April but recovered to a 4.63 ERA.

Meanwhile, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele, and the now-departed Kevin Appier all notched ERAs above 5.00. In 2002, none of the Angel starters had an ERA above Sele's 4.89, and the other four all had ERAs below 4.00. What precipitated this decline?

In 2003, Angel starters gave up a boatload of home runs. Washburn, a flyball pitcher, only coughed up 19 taters in 2002, but 34 in 2003. Lackey went from 0.83 HR per 9 innings to 1.37. Ortiz actually lowered his HR allowed from 40 to 28, but his non-HR baserunners per inning exploded from 1.02 to 1.42, meaning that those homers came with more men on base.

In 2002, the Angels had the best Defensive Efficiency Record in the majors: .7314 of balls put into play were turned into outs. In 2003, they dropped to .7171, good for only 5th in the league. Injuries to Erstad, Glaus, and Eckstein were key factors in this decline, as players like Scott Spiezio and Chone Figgins were forced to play out of position. This clearly had an adverse affect on Angel pitchers. A healthy team defense in 2004 should lead to better performances from Washburn and Lackey in particular. Washburn was pitching with an injured left shoulder for much of the year, and his velocity was down. His strikeout rate plummeted and, as mentioned above, his home runs went up. Given health, Washburn could return to levels similar to 2002, though probably not quite as good.

Lackey, in contrast, improved upon both his strikeout ratios and his strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2003. Lackey should benefit immensely from a superior defense behind him, and could be a potential breakout pitcher this season.

Even though he cut his homeruns, Ortiz hit rock-bottom last season. He struck out a ridiculously low 4.7 men per 9 innings, while his walk rate went up. He'll be 31 years old this season, and we've likely seen the peak of his powers. Both Ortiz and Washburn get mentioned in trade talks, and Ortiz is the guy the Angels should look to dispatch.

Aaron Sele is done. He wasn't good in 2002, and he wasn't good in 2003 trying to overcome injury, walking more men than he struck out. Another flyball pitcher, he suffered from the outfield attrition, but Sele demonstrated no ability to get anyone out on his own. The Angels hope that he's recovered from injury, but his chances of finishing the season with the club are rather slim.

Given this uncertainty, the Angels picked up two starters in the off-season: Colon and Escobar. Escobar has been a lot of potential with little payoff throughout his career, but it is worth noting that he has only pitched a one full season with a consistent role, having been bounced from bullpen to rotation like a yo-yo. He's got a good stuff and good ratios, and the Angels hope that Bud Black can nurture him into a productive starter. He may be a bit overpaid, but he's a solid middle of the rotation guy with a better upside than most number 3 guys.

Colon instantly became the ace. He can eat a lot of innings, and even though his strikeout rate has gone down in the last two seasons, he has been effective. He's probably not the savior that the Angels and their fans are expecting, but 230 innings of 120 ERA+ work would be a boon to the ballclub.

BULLPEN: Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly, Ben Weber, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Derrick Turnbow

The bullpen have been the true stars in Anaheim the last two seasons, and their success is a testament to the acumen of Mike Scoscia and Bud Black. Each of these guys throws hard and has a lot of movement on their pitches; and, most of these guys have been pulled out of scrap heaps. Percival, a top-notch closer, is possibly the least valuable of any of the late-inning guys (Donnelly, Weber, and K-Rod). Donnelly has a career 1.82 ERA, which is just sick. Each of these guys can decline a little bit and still have value.

Shields is the swingman, and could see some time in the rotation. A groundball pitcher with a fair number of strikeouts, Shields is a far better starting alternative than Sele or Ortiz.

Another note on the Angel bullpen: they currently have no plans to insert a lefthander. Scoscia and Bill Stoneman rightly see that the goal is to have good pitchers; it's better to have a good righthander than a mediocre lefthander.

The Angels have assembled good depth in the pitching staff. They can assemble a bullpen at will, so no one injury there should prove fatal. The existence of Shields and Kevin Gregg provides support for the rotation.

The Lads allowed 743 runs last year, and 644 in 2002. I don't think they'll be quite as good as they were in 2002, but having a consistent defense, as well as the additions of solid contributors like Colon and Escobar should go a long way. But when you look at the 2002 numbers, you notice that even if Escobar pans out, you can't really expect him to be better than Kevin Appier that year. Washburn likely won't be as good, though the addition of Colon will help. I'll peg the Angels to allow 680 runs.

I guesstimated the Angels at 820 runs scored yesterday in part one of the preview. That would put them on pace for a .593 winning percentage, good for a 96-66 season. Will that be enough in the AL? Competition for the wild card should be tough, as both Boston and New York seem likely to win 100 games in the AL East. That means the Angels will have to top out Seattle and Oakland to enter the postseason. Oakland won the division with 96 games last season, but that was their lowest win total since 2000. The Angels will be in the thick of it, but good fortune, health, and midseason acquisitions will determine how far they can go. There is plenty of reason for optimism for Angel fans this year.

Later this week, I'll get to some of the Angel prospects.

Monday, March 15, 2004

It's odd, because you spend the whole off-season counting down to that magical day when pitchers and catchers report. They finally do, position players follow, and then what happens? Absolutely nothing. A bunch of scrubs get at-bats and innings. In face, for your favorite team, no news is good news. The last thing you want to hear about are injuries to regulars, or about discord between your stars and your manager.

Right now, there's nothing of interest going on in Angels' camp. Garret Anderson is fighting a small injury, but it doesn't look like it's going to be a big deal. So, in the absence of news, I'm just going to do my own team preview.


: Bengie Molina
Bengie is a terrific defensive catcher. MGL of Baseball Primer renown rates him as 11 and 6 runs above average for the last two seasons, while Clay Davenport at Baseball Prospectus puts him at 10 and 13. Of course, this matches subjective observation, which has awarded Bengie two consecutive Gold Gloves.

Even with this great glovework, Bengie usually comes out to being a below-average player once you account for his hitting and base"running." He hit 100 on the OPS+ scale last year, with his EqA and SLwts being just a bit below average. Last year is about as good as it gets for Bengie's bat.

So, he's not a star, but he doesn't hurt you. The most important stats he may rack up for the 2004 Angels will be his games played. His career high, 130, came in 2000. He's played in 96, 119, and 122 since then. What happens when Bengie sits? His brother, Jose, plays. Yikes.

This will all likely become academic in a year's time. Jeff Mathis should be the best catcher in the minors this year, and Bengie's contract expires at its close. If Bengie gets hurt, Mathis could see himself in Angel red this summer and make some decisions a bit more obvious.

FIRST BASE: Darin Erstad
The single greatest risk for the Angels coming into 2004. Erstad is an all-world defender in center field. MGL's numbers rate him as so good that he ranks with some of the best players in the game even in a down offensive year. And, ever since his miracle 2000 season, they've all been down offensive years.

Let's face it: Erstad cannot be expected to hit well enough for a first baseman. The Angels hope that removing him from the outfield will reduce wear-and-tear on his body and allow his hitting to flourish. Is there any reason to count on this pipe dream? Looking at his lifetime splits indicates that he may be a slightly better hitter at the dawn of the season, but the difference does not appear significant.

If Erstad flops with the bat, the Angels will likely point to his glove as such a plus that it balances it out. They'll likely be wrong. They'll also point to the fact that the departed Scott Spiezio was not an offensive wonder, or to the A's use of Scott Hatteberg. Not good enough.

If Erstad gets injured, Robb Quinlan or Gary Johnson could provide better-than-replacement performance. Another alternative would be to move an outfielder to first and play Jeff DaVanon regularly, though that would really hammer at the depth of an already health-suspect outfield.

SECOND BASE: Adam Kennedy
Okay, he's not Jim Edmonds, but Kennedy is one of the league's more underrated players. He's developed into a hitter of league average or a bit more, with an increasing walk rate and a bit of pop. He shines with the glove, according to Davenport (15, 15 the last two years), MGL (25, 21) and personal observation. He has good range, good hands, and a strong enough arm. He's also a good baserunner who can rack up a few steals.

THIRD BASE: Troy Glaus
I can strike Troy Glaus out. Okay, I can't pitch. But if I could pitch, I could strike him out. Bust him inside with some fastballs, then hook him low and away. He'll bail and miss every time. Usually, he does this from June through August.

But when he's on, he's on, as you may have noticed in 2002's postseason. He lays off the junk away and makes you come to him with the fastball. And his batspeed is good enough to turn around just about anyone's fastball; if you hang a breaking pitch, you can forget it.

Troy's numbers have been on a skid since 2000. That's okay; that was a terrific year, and there's no shame in not matching a fantastic early season (just ask Eddie Mathews). But I think Troy is due for a rebound. He got the Lasik surgery during the off-season, which could assist his patient hitting. Dan Szymorski's ZiPS predictions (available at the Primer) concur with me, pegging his slugging average over .500 for the first time since 2001.

Troy has good range and a strong but erratic arm that limits his defensive value. Dallas McPherson is making quick work of the Angels' farm system, but appears to have even less defensive value. Will McPherson push Glaus off the team or to a different position? There was talk of putting McPherson in right, but obvious developments have crushed that plan. I'd say the Angels should keep Troy around indefinitely, and train McPherson to play left field (or designated hitter) starting in 2006.

SHORTSTOP: David Eckstein
David Eckstein will bounce back in 2004.

His career line is a 279/350/360, and I believe he will perform close to this in the coming season, and will make his injury-riddled 2003 a distant memory. Even at that level, and a pretty good on-base percentage, Eckstein isn't really a league average hitter.

You may not believe this, but Eckstein is a good defensive player. Not good as in "good for his size," or "good even though he does that whole crow-hop thing before he throws." MGL has seen him 14 runs above average with his glove in each of his three seasons as a regular. Davenport doesn't see it, but I'll go with the play-by-play analysis. He doesn't have outstanding range, but he positions himself well and makes the plays. What more do you want?

Do the Angels have outstanding advance scouts? They always rank high in defense, even though many of their players don't seem like they have the best range. Is their positioning that good? The communication between fielders and pitchers? I don't know, but it works.

The Angels flirt with the idea of giving the shortstop job to Alfredo Amezaga, but I just don't see it. He's a good athlete, but raw with bat and glove and baserunning. But if I'm wrong and Eckstein doesn't bounce back, Amezaga gets first crack at the job, and is capable enough to have a couple of hot months and run with it. He is not a long-term solution.

LEFT FIELD: Jose Guillen
Was last year's improvement for real? Believe it or not, but 2003 was Guillen's first above-average season offensively. This is not particularly encouraging for an outfield corner. The Angels hope that Guillen really did turn a corner last year, and can hold down the six- or seven-spot in the order for the duration of his two-year contract.

I don't think he's going to be all that good with the bat, but he should be an average to above-average defender, and he was signed at a low price. He's a fairly replaceable talent; if the Angels can get him to repeat 2003, give them credit.

CENTER FIELD: Garret Anderson
Garret was overrated for so long that he's now become underrated, at least by statheads. He has firmly established himself as one of the top 25 players in the league. So, he doesn't get on base a whole lot. He has a lot of pop, and carries a high enough batting average that he still reaches more often than average.

Garret was a wonderful defensive leftfielder, and I think he's going to make a fine adjustment to center. He was below average there in 2000, and he won't be Darin Erstad, but that's a tall order. The Angels should get a lot more production from center this year, and the bat will more than balance the glove.

RIGHT FIELD: Vladimir Guerrero
What is there to say about Vlad? The man can play, and nearly single-handedly brings the Angels back into contention.

He's lost some power. He's lost a step in the field, and has become a detriment in right field. But the man can still hit.

Can you take a DH with a 284/389/506 career line, an OPS+ of 131? I sure can. And while he isn't at this age, likely to be at the top of his range, playing a full season as DH should keep him rested and raking.

The big question with Salmon will be his health, which of course is a question faced by all teams. But an outfield injury will really harm this team. DaVanon is an excellent fourth outfielder, but miscast in the starting lineup. Chone Figgins was solid in his utility player audition at the end of last year, but is not a long-term solution anywhere on the diamond. The other back-up is Shane Halter, which is a sick joke.

Between Vlad, Anderson, Glaus, and Salmon, the Angels have the top-line talent to run in this division. The A's are no longer an offensive powerhouse, Seattle is in decline, and Texas is pitching- and A-Rod-phobic. Kennedy, Eckstein, and Guillen should be good filler, while Molina and Erstad are the likely offensive sinkholes. The offense was anemic for the Angels in 2003, partially because of injuries. They ranked ahead of only Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Detroit in the AL, scoring 736 runs; this was down from a fourth-ranked 851 in 2002. Splitting that difference gets you back to 793.5 runs, while the addition of Vlad should bring on, what, 25 or 30 more? Replacing Spiezio with Guillen should be about a push, and then you have an Eckstien rebound balancing a likely Molina retreat. Glaus should be a little bit better, but I'm not sure you can count on Anderson to be quite as good, especially with moving to a more difficult defensive position. The bench should be stronger than it was last year, as Jose Molina can't be that bad, and because Eric Owens was a disaster. It's an inexact science, but let's peg the Angels for 820 runs this year, which should rank them about sixth in the league. That projection feels generous, but I think the Angels would be disappointed to have such a rank. However, Angels Stadium is a bit of a pitcher's park, so their offense will be better than it appears. It could very easily be the top offense in the division, once you account for Texas' ballpark.

I'll get to the pitching staff tomorrow.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?