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Monday, April 05, 2004

ANOTHER PREVIEW
Robert Dudek at the Hardball Times has his 5 Questions up for the Angels today. Unlike other stathead previews, this one does not revel in the doom and gloom for the upcoming season.

As I spent some time on the pitching last week, let's focus on Dudek's second question, made in reference to last season: What happened to the offense?

Dudek has an interesting revelation. Using his reformulation of David Smyth's Base Runs, Dudek concludes that the Angels regulars, as a whole, produced equally well per plate appearance in 2003 as in 2002. In 2002, Angel regulars produced .134 runs per plate appearance, in in 2003 they produced .131. The shape was different: Molina improved, Eckstein declined, etc., but the end result was about the same.

The problem, of course, was that the regulars had far fewer plate appearances. In 2002, the regulars accounted for, by this system, 712.8 runs. Last year? 553.3.

That's a difference of 160 runs! This confirms what we already knew, just watching the Angels every day last year: it was the injuries that gutted the offense. Dudek's numbers also have the Angel back-ups as performing about as well, dropping to a .091 BR/PA from .096; in estimates like this, I consider that equal.

This is good news to us Angel fans; it tells us that as long as our regulars, as a group, perform as they have the last two years, and stay healthy, we should score a lot more runs.

However, we have replaced Brad Fullmer with Vlad and Spiezio with Jose Guillen. What impact does that have?

First of all, let's see what we might expect from the remaining regulars. The following represents each player, the average of his plate appearances over the past two seasons, his weighted Base Runs Per Plate Appearance over the last two seasons, and the product of those two (again, apologies for the formatting):

Player PA BR/PA BR
Anderson 676 0.155 104.7
Salmon 595 0.162 96.4
Glaus 519 0.142 73.7
Eckstein 610 0.115 69.9
Kennedy 510 0.132 67.5
Erstad 474 0.103 48.6
B.Molina 445 0.082 36.3
TOTAL RUNS: 497.1

We can already see where the Angels could easily outperform this: if Glaus stays healthy, if Erstad regains his stroke with the move to first, if Eckstein bounces back after injuries limited him last season, etc. Of course, any such improvement may be matched by a decline from Molina, or Garret Anderson snapping back to pre-2002 form, or any other number of calamities.

Here are the numbers for the two new guys over the last two years:

Player PA BR/PA BR
Guerrero 588 0.180 105.8
Guillen 401 0.137 55.0
TOTAL RUNS: 160.8

Again, perhaps a conservative figure, skewed by Vlad's back injury last year, but possibly tilted up by Guillen's career year last season. Still, this is about a 25-run improvement over the Fullmer/Spiezio combo.

Running the same analysis on "Others" gives us an estimate of 135.8 runs coming from the bench.

So, to summarize:

497.1 runs from returning regulars + 160.8 runs from new regulars + 135.8 runs from the bench =
793.7 runs.

Over the last two seasons, the Angels have averaged 793.5 runs. So did I just waste my (and your) time? No; the personnel is different, and the outcome was uncertain. My first entry was a preview of the Angel offense, and in it I (optimistically) concluded that the Angels would score 820 runs; that's very easily in reach.

Let's be conservative, and stick with the 793.7 figure, and just round it off to 795. Late last week, I said the Angel starters might be expected to be 50 runs better than last year. I suspect that the bullpen will be about the same; last year the Angels allowed 743 runs, so 50 from that is 693. Let's go ahead and round that off to 695. 795 runs scored against 693 runs allowed would lead to a winning percentage of .567 and a record of 92-70.

A lot of statheads that I respect (see BPro and Diamond Mind) see the Angels as a disappointment this year, but I just don't see it. In trying to look at the team objectively and systematically, I come to a conclusion a monkey could make: the Angels are not as good as they were in 2002, but not as bad as they were in 2003; the truth is pretty much in the middle.

Bill Stoneman has assembled a team that, if the players perform at the levels they have recently established, will be highly competitive in a tough division. What more can you ask for? Sure, the bench doesn't look that great, and a plauge of injuries could cause a collapse similar to last year's. But there is every reason for optimism at the Big A this year.

Of course, if you're reading this, I probably didn't have to tell you that.

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