Tuesday, June 08, 2004

On May 9, the Angels finished a nine-game winning streak, and their record stood at 22-10. Though this wasn't the high point of the season (that would have to be the 29-15 record we held on June 23rd, just prior to the Toronto sweep), it was a point of a certain optimism, as our reserves showed they could beat up on the punching bags of the league, too. Remember, Garret Anderson was long gone at that point, Tim Salmon had been out for ten days, and Troy Glaus had played a few games at DH, and had only one game left in his season (apparently).

This past Sunday was the twenty-eighth day since, and their record is, of course, 33-23. We have been less than a .500 team for about a month.

Naturally, dropoff was expected, especially when Glaus went down. But what the reserves have managed to do is not lose ground; they've been treading water, keeping it together, and now both Garret and the Fish are doing rehab and seem close to returning. Whether they can maintain (or in Salmon's case, recover) effectiveness in the wake of their wounds is another matter.

The offense has not fared well over those twenty-eight days, averaging a not-so-good 4.67 runs per game. Of course, we've also allowed 4.88 runs per game over that span. The latter number is clearly not the bullpen's fault; blame falls in two places: the starters and the defense.

Let's look at the defense. Our Defensive Efficiency Record (percentage of balls in play converted into outs) stands at a major league 29th at .677. Anaheim ranks a mediocre 18th in the majors in in flyballs converted to outs at .701, with their Zone Rating at 25th with .842. The Lads do manage to tie with Cleveland for first in the majors at outfield assists, which should come as no surprise.

The Angels are also mediocre at infield defense. Infielders record an assist on .662 of groundballs, "good" for 24th in the majors, and their .804 Zone Rating ranks 23rd.

The end result is that Angel pitchers are not getting a lot of help from the defense. Who are the main culprits?

Without looking at one number, my immediate reaction is that the reserves are to blame. Jeff DaVanon and Legs Figgins have done a fine job on offense, but neither one has really shined in center field, and while Figgins shows flashes at third, he's also raw and makes mistakes. And that doesn't even mention the Shane Halter experience at third. Also, none of the outfielders seem to have too much range.

Do what numbers we have agree with my eyes?

Position-by-position, here are our team ranks by Zone Rating:

1B: 12
2B: 8
3B: 28
SS: 11
LF: 21
CF: 27
RF: 16

Well, as for the numbers agreeing with my eyes (and yours, too, I'd bet) that's a resounding yes. 3B and CF are cover-your-eyes bad, and, as we've all observed, Guillen doesn't really cover to much ground with his legs (especially compared to how much he covers with his arm) in left.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that the lowest ZR posted by a regular 3B this season was by Troy Glaus, whose .652 is pretty ugly. That's artificially low, just a product of a fluky small sample size; he had a .773 in his last full season. Shane Halter, as hard as this is to believe watching him, has also been much better in the past, .780 last season and .800 the year before. It's certainly possible that Halter's just in a slump, or a victim of luck and sample size, but he looks so hopeless out there that I wonder if maybe he just had good luck in the past (or maybe he's just done).

In the meantime, DaVanon's not awful in center with his .868, and Mondesi's looked good so far (his sample-size-way-too-small-to-mention ZR is .895). It was Figgins and Anderson dragging the team down out there.

Looking at the numbers, it seems as though it's not really the reserves killing us on defense, as our regulars are doing even worse. This is a great example of why it's not always a good idea to trust defensive numbers over a short period of time; the numbers are untrustworthy enough, but small sample size can distort defensive numbers at least as much as hitting stats. As disgusting as Glaus' glove numbers were, we know that if he were healthy and playing, he would have lapped the guys who have replaced him.

However, Garret did seem to struggle in centerfield, so I'm not completely willing to say that his injury has hurt us defensively -- the numbers don't strike me as utterly wrong in his case.

I don't know what the hell the Lads will do when both Garret and Salmon are back. Does Mondesi go to the bench, and Garret to center? Can Garret handle center with his ailment? Do you leave Mondesi in center and platoon Garret and Salmon at DH to preserve their health? What happens to DaVanon? Can we give him a first baseman's mitt? Pretty please?

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