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Thursday, July 15, 2004

GET IT STARTED
Rob has posted a mid-term review of the Lads. I agree with pretty much everything he has to say. Here's his recipe for Angel success over the second half:
Colon to rebound in the second half. If that doesn't happen, then put him in the bullpen and let Ortiz start.
Health for their starters.
Stop running the basepaths like idiots. Aggressive does not have to equal stupid.
No more regressions from the bullpen.
Salmon and Kennedy need to start contributing offensively again.
Scioscia needs to find DaVanon at bats to keep him sharp.
The first two points are probably the most important, and the third one is at least as important for my sanity as it is for the team on the field.

Here are a few other things to watch for in the balance of the season:

-- Adam Kennedy was on fire for the first week plus of July, hitting 424/472/667 in 33 at bats, raising his line to 264/327/389. His numbers to this point are very close to his career 276/324/404; of course, since he's still relatively young, we'd hope for him to be raising, not lowering those numbers. Kennedy has to turn it on; it's non-negotiable.

-- The Punter has hit an uncharacteristic 345/406/471 since returning from the disabled list. Of course he can't keep this up ... but if you take 50 points away you get a 295/356/421, which is not far off from his career line. One of the most pleasant surprises of the season is that Erstad has not been a horrible offensive liablity at first base (though this is due in large part to his recent performance). No, he hasn't quite been average (Baseball Prospectus gives him a .272 Equivalent Average where the average first-sacker has a .283), but combined with this good defense you have a solidly above replacement-level hitter. If Erstad can perform at his career rates for the rest of the season, we'll have a player not so much worse than Scott Spiezio (he of the current 218/292/379 line) was for us the last few years.

-- The difference between Spiezio and Erstad is more than made up for by another pleasant -- well, "surprise" isn't the right word -- whatever he is, Jose Guillen. Guillen, an enigmatic player as the season began, has already earned his modest contract. Way back in March I looked at his past few years, and found that he had more success the more often he hit the ball in the air. Is this continuing this season?

Sure enough, The Uninjurable has a 1.45 groundball/flyball ratio this year, which would rank third-lowest in his career and is .22 below his career mark entering the season. It seems like Guillen's really figured things out at the plate, and kudos to Bill Stoneman and the Angels for believing last season was for real. At the same time, it's been only a bit over half the season, so Guillen has to keep this up.

-- Whither Kingfish? The fact is, Tim Salmon's injury-riddled body has only accounted for 114 at bats this year, so the fact that he's posted an anemic 228/289/325 line isn't really a surprise. The most worrisome thing is, even in his past when he's started slowly, he's exhibited more power than this. His Isolated Power (extra bases per at bat) is an ugly .097. And don't look now, but he's only walked 10 times in his 114 at bats, which would be his lowest walk rate by a long shot. Some disturbing trends:

Year  BB/AB  BB/SO  ISO

2001 .202 .793 .156
2002 .147 .696 .217
2003 .146 .828 .189
2004 .088 .455 .097
Thus far, Salmon hasn't displayed any of the characteristics that have made him a good hitter over the years. Has he found the cliff? We've thought it before and he's always bounced back, but these numbers hint that his bat may be slowing (my eyes hint that as well) and that pitchers are more likely to come after him, knowing he can't hurt them like he once did.

I would love nothing more than for Tim to keep rebounding; he's been a class act for over a decade and the face of the team. But if hasn't improved by the end of July, I think the time to make Jeff DaVanon a regular will have come.

-- I've talked about the starters enough in this space, so without naming names let's just say they have have have to pick it up in the second half. Had everything else remained the same (offense, bullpen, defense) in the first half, and our starters merely pitched to their career norms, we'd be in first place. Is this too much to ask?

I think Angel management is essentially right when they say this team can win as-is. But that will require some guys to step up. Stay tuned.

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