Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Bartolo Colon has allowed seven runs in three innings.

To the Tigers.

For the first time ever. Amezaga called up to take his spot on the roster.

No word yet on whether or not Eckstein will require DL time.

Richard wonders why no one says anything of Jose Guillen, then notices he has nothing to say, either. There isn't that much to say yet, of course. After three weeks, it's hard to know if he's just having a slow start or if he really is this bad. He's hitting a wondrous 237/310/316. His groundball-to-flyball ratio is 2.00; last year, his only good year ever, he put up a career-low ratio of 1.29. It's an absolute miracle that Guillen hasn't hit into a double play with all the grounders he's hit.

Jose Guillen also ranks third from the bottom amongst leftfielders in Zone Rating, ahead of renown klutzes ManRam and Raul Mondesi.

It's early, of course, so it's not even close to time to start condeming the Guillen signing. So, beyond that ... yeah, there's not much to say.

The sour taste from last night's 10-4 victory is the groin injury to David Eckstein. Not that Eck had been lighting the world on fire (with his big fat .296 SLG and all), but his likely trip to the DL wreaks considerable havoc on our depth. The unexciting Alfredo Amezaga would be the probable call-up; our best bet would be to really start hoping Garret can return to center immediately so we can install The Legs at short -- and in the leadoff spot.

It's hard to argue when he's hot and it's working, but the decision to bat Figgins third is pure silliness. Last night he was called upon to sacrifice in the top of the first with two men on. He failed and grounded into a fielder's choice, but there is something inherently ridiculous about having a number three hitter you are afraid to let swing the bat. However, Figgins is a natch for the top of the order, and will likely reside in the number one spot while Eckstein heals.

The other news from yesterday was Lackey's relatively impressive start. Yes, he kept the Tigers off the scoreboard (as though that's an achievement), but his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a gruesome two-to-four. That brings his season mark up to 5:8. That is revolting.

The other distressing development last night was Scot Shields allowing a grand slam to Brandon Inge, which is something like letting the French Army conquer Berlin. Well, it was the first home run Shields has allowed this season. He's striking out men at a high rate (21 in 17 1/3 innings), but struggles with his control (9 BB, including one last night).

Of course, you can get away with quite a bit against Detroit, their hot start notwithstanding. As Rob at 6-4-2 points out today, "the schedule has hidden our injuries," as well as our shortcomings in depth and on the hill. But good teams put bad teams away, regardless of circumstance, so if we can keep this up with the Territorial Army in there, that's still an encouraging sign.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Color me unimpressed with Baseball Prospectus' redesign. First of all, going to their site diverts you to the silly new URL "www.baseball-analysis.com"; why? Secondly, I'm just not a big fan of the new aesthetics of the site; this is a minor complaint.

My third and most serious complaint is that it's pretentious. In the upper right corner of the new homepage, you see a feature marked "Audit Team." So, you can select your team, blah blah blah ... here is the "Team Audit" for the Anaheim Angels.

You may recognize this as a simple list of statistics, such as can be found at ESPN and numerous other sources.

One difference: noticeable errors. Or, rather, error. BPro or BAna or whatever tells us the Angel SLG is .440 when it's really .436. What's up with that? Why do I have to audit the audit? Why is it called an audit, anyway? A list is not a freaking audit until it's verified, which apparently this hasn't.

I guess the big bonus is that batters and pitchers are on the same page, and that OOBP is listed right there for pitchers. BFD. I buy their book every year, and read their free content every day, but BPro/BAna hasn't given me much reason to subscribe to their premium service, and this redesign hasn't changed the results of my internal audit one bit.

Hopefully, the Primer's redesign will be better.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Well, as you know, Ramon Ortiz hung on, pitching in and out of jams and coming away with his first win of the year. Though it was nice to pick up the win and hang on the broom on the A's in their own ballpark, you have to wonder if this might not harm the Angels in the long run, giving Scoscia and crew undeserved confidence in Ortiz. I still maintain that Shields and Gregg are more deserving of the rotation spot (Richard at the Pearly Gates had a hilarious visual aid on this subject over the weekend), but maybe Bud Black has another miracle up his sleeve.

Especially satisfying in the sweep is that we did it with reservists like Legs Figgins and Jeff DaVanon playing all weekend. They played well, obviously, though the idea of starting a lineup Eckstein-Erstad-Figgins is just begging to be lambasted. The tone of the series was set the first night, when Barry Zito was incapable of getting anyone out, just leaving silly pitches over the middle of the plate and getting resultantly lit up. I mean, even The Punter knocked one off the wall.

Also key to the series was the work of Francisco Rodriguez (Aaron Gleeman enters a piece into the No Duh File on K-Rod at the Hardball Times [spotted via Sean at Purgatory Online]). Frankie is obscene out there, unfazed and in control of all of his pitches. He's a real joy to watch right now.

I'd imagine people are stepping back from the doomsaying after the sweep; we are now 11-8 and tied for first place, not bad after a grueling intradivisional three-week schedule. On the other hand, we have the same record as Texas and Detroit! The Lads need to take advantage of the next couple of weeks, wherein we face Detroit, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Ramon Ortiz is pitching with his back to the wall. It's now or never, I think, and Kevin Gregg is making "never" look pretty viable. And Ortiz didn't help himself, starting off the game with two walks.

But then a funny thing happened: Erstad and Eckstein connected on a sweet 3-6-3, and after one more walk Ramon came back with the strikeout.

I may be wrong, but I feel that this game is the tipping point. Either Ramon gets it together and lives to pitch another day, or he gets a fastpass on the highway to the bullpen. It's always fascinating to see a professional athlete at the end of the wire, working to prove they can still do it. How can Ortiz respond? We all love the fairy tale stories where the guy can put it together and keep going like his nadirs never happened. Of course, this doesn't always happen, it rarely happens. Athletes reach the end of the line, and their days come to inglorious end.

I type this as Ramon starts the bottom of the second. Will Ramon rise to the occasion, or is it sundown at the Ortiz Corrale? It really could go either way; because of that, you just gotta love this game ...

Friday, April 23, 2004

Jeff "Play Me" DaVanon and Legs Figgins were key to the victory yesterday, and with nagging injury questions hovering over Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon, they may have to keep up their A game for this weekend's showdown at NetAss.

It would be nice to take at least two games from the A's, and the pitching matchups certainly don't make that impossible. Tonight, Ace Washburn takes on Barry Zito. Washburn seems tailor-made for NetAss and its flyball deathtrap outfield -- not to mention he has good peripherals, striking 15 in 15 2/3 innings, while walking only five and only allowing one home run; Angel hitters should have hopefully learned to lay off Zito's cutter. This is a very winnable game.

Tomorrow sees Kelvim Escobar take on Mark Redman in an intriguing middle-rotation duel, whereas Sunday sees Ramon Ortiz trying not to embarrass himself against Rich Harden. It would be well of either (or both of) Wash and Escobar to rack up some innings and give the pen a rest, because we'll likely need all the relief work we can get come Sunday afternoon.

The LA Times looks at Vlad's ultra-aggressive style and his early-season struggles. Scioscia says he's just pressing, Vlad says sometimes he just starts slowly.

I suspect they're both kind of right. Vlad has, on occasion, shown the ability to work counts, get a good pitch, and in lack thereof, draw a walk. But more often he swings from his heels trying to knock in 45 runs with one swing. His track record says that we should leave him alone, and I'm all for that. His 262/324/508 line is not the end of the world; he has a decent walk rate and a good walk-to-strikeout ratio; his isolated power is right around his career norms. Once he adds his typical 50 or so points of batting average, this hand-wringing will seem silly.

The same article goes on to speak of the non-walking ways of David Eckstein. This is a more alarming problem. Yes, it's early, but his line is a gross 258/300/288, and he has drawn one walk in sixteen games. Eck says that this is because pitchers are coming right after him, not because he's not being selective. His pitches per plate appearance is 3.71, typical for him.

Eckstein's solution will be to be a bit more aggressive early in the count, and not always allow an easy first strike for the hurler. But even if this works, if he keeps hitting .258 with no power whatsoever, there will be no incentive for opposing pitchers to go try to get him out of the zone. Even if he can hurt you with singles, that's something. But if he can't do that, he'll end up a sinkhole at the top of the order.

And between him and The Punter, Vlad is really going to try too hard, what with trying to hit three-run homers with no one on base.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Well, our Defensive Efficiency Record still ranks dead last in the majors at .661. However, our outfield defense has improved; the .651 flyballs we convert to outs ranks 23rd in the majors.

Beware, as sample sizes are still stabilizing. But let's look at individual positions, just to get a snapshot of where we are.

Angel leftfielders have a Zone Rating of .719, good for next-to-last in the majors.

Angel centerfielders have a ZR of .744, second-to-last.

The .829 in right is much better. That ranks 23rd in the game.

A lot of this is the pitchers, I think. They get hammered, hard shots get hit that no one can catch. Guillen has seemed to improve lately. It's too early to hit the panic button yet.

FYI, our ZR rankings at the infield positions:

1B: 21
2B: 14
3B: 19
SS: 4

There is much understandable consternation across Angel blogdom and, presumably, all Angel fandom today, as we reflect on our three-game losing streak and seemingly endless offensive slump -- the latest embarrassment of which reckoned out by R.A. Dickey, apparently (in the Angel hitters' world) the greatest pitcher of all the times.

First of all, John Lackey finally looked pretty good last night, as you know. However, his lack of strikeouts is worrisome. Three strikeouts and four walks in fifteen and two-thirds innings is less than exciting. Of course, it is only fifteen and two-thirds innings. But if Lackey is going to be permanently unable to put hitters away, that's going to lead to problems -- and may even indicate that he's lost something, which could concievably point to injury. This is a problem to monitor.

The other problem right now is the offensive slump. Bluntly, no one looks good up there right now. Rob at 6-4-2 thinks we need to move Bengie to the number two spot. I'm going to alert the Sample Size Police to that suggestion, but the notion that we have to get Erstad out of the top of the lineup is absolutely sound.

I think the most likely candidate is Adam Kennedy, though it's not going to happen while he's hitting .220. But he's seeing a lot of pitches (3.88 per plate appearance) and drawing a decent though unspectacular amount of walks. He's slumping right now, but he's a better hitter than Erstad.

An even more daring idea would be to put Troy Glaus (or, when he warms up, Tim Salmon) in the two-hole. Good eye, gets on base ... plus, if Eckstein gets on, the pitcher is in a quandary: do I throw the breaking pitch, and thus give Eckstein a chance to steal, or do I throw a fastball to the power hitter? Either way, Erstad needs to move.

It'll never happen. The Angels think Erstad is gold, even if he's hitting .250. He'll be moving the runner over and making productive outs. It's a shame. But barring a miraculous comeback by Darin, he'll remain that Halo blindspot.

(All that said, none of this sours me on the season. It's only been 15 games; they've all been in the division, and we've all been beating up on each other. Yes, it's a slump. But nothing that has gone seriously wrong is anything that we were unaware of before the season began.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I missed the game last night, which means I missed Yet Another Ramon Ortiz Suckfest (TM). Then, this morning, the subhead on the Times' report says of Ortiz "Scioscia may be rethinking role." Really? That's great!

Too bad it doesn't seem to be true. Quoth Scioscia:

"Everyone is aware of those options [Gregg, Sele, and the unmentioned-by-article-Shields], but what's best for our club is to give these guys the opportunity to see what direction they're going to go. Ramon is going to take the ball again….

"We feel the guys who are struggling in our rotation now are going to be real shining spots for us as the season goes on. We're going to let it play out until we feel they're not where they need to be. But it's far too early for that."

Oh, jeez, that's encouraging. Great.

Of course, while Ortiz has looked predictably miserable, Gregg has looked excellent, Sele has looked very Batting Practice Pitcher Extraordinaire, and Shields has been uncharacteristically wild. Gregg looks like the best guy to step in right now, but Shields has a track record. Either one would clearly be a better choice.

Incidentally, this whole thing where Shields is "too valuable" to be moved from the bullpen is silly. What makes him valuable from the pen, historically, is that he comes in to bail out some lousy starter. Wouldn't it make more sense to have him start in the first place?

This reminds me of a situation I once encountered at work. I wanted to transfer to a different position, working directly for someone I liked, and one that would earn me higher pay. My employers determined that I was too valuable in my current position, and that they would have a much easier job filling the other one. This made sense in a way, though if I'm so much more valuable, why isn't my pay the same, or more, as this other position? Well, now it almost is, but still ... I'm just sayin' I sympathize with Shields on this one.

Anyway, after learning that they're not really considering moving Ortiz yet, I look over and learn that Bobby Jenks needs tests on his elbow.

Ay. Ca. Ram. Ba.

So, anyway, I'm looking around for the reset button on Halos' news today. Let me know if you can find it ...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Adam Kennedy was rested Sunday night against Barry Zito. On the face of it, this makes sense. Kennedy had played every game, and while he has proved himself an everyday player the last two years, he still needs a day off here and there, and you might as well give it to him against a tough lefty like Barry Zito, right?

Well, not so much.

Did you know that Zito, over his career, is tougher on righthanded hitters than lefties? He strikes out .190 RHB per batter and .184 LHB. He walks .087 RHB and .102 LHB. He does allow slightly less homers to RHB: .0199 to .0221. But his Batting Average Allowed against LHB is .239, against a .216 against RHB. His WHIP against RHB? 1.15. LHB? 1.35.

His three-year splits (2001-2003) show him as allowing a .707 OPS against LHB and a .612 against RHB.

Now, there is some degree of self-selection here. Zito faces only the best left-handed hitters, while he faces a number of lousy right-handed hitters (see: Halter, Shane) inserted into the lineup just for him. I don't really know how to control for this, but I know there is one other factor that can explain it: the cut fastball.

We saw this repeatedly Sunday night: Zito moving that cut fastball in on RHB's hands, tying them up, sending them frustrated to the bench. As excellent as his curveball is, Zito has no such equalizer against lefthanded batters. He doesn't have a fastball that tails up and in against them.

There are many things we know about baseball, but there are just as many mysteries. One thing we know is that the platoon factor is real, and that it exists. One thing we don't know is "why." We have lots of ideas: the movement of the ball, better vision, etc., and the truth is likely a combination of many of these factors.

During Sunday night's broadcast, Joe Morgan was talking about how most righthanded hitters can hit lefthanders well because the fastball tails away from them. Now, Morgan says a lot of silly things about book authorship and bunting in the playoffs, but when restricted to pitcher-batter matchups, he is one of the best analysts around. He was also a fine, fine hitter, so I tend to trust him on this sort of observation.

So, the lefthanded pitcher throws a fastball to a righthanded hitter, and it tails away from the hitter. What does this mean? It means the pitcher struggles to come inside, and if he misses and leaves the ball tailing back over the middle of the plate -- BAM. Now, if you're Tom Glavine or Tommy John and you can nail that outside corner and drive everyone nuts, that's great; you're only going to come inside every now and then to make people honest, and you're going to be damn sure to miss in and off the plate.

(If you look up Glavine's splits since 1987, you'll find that he has a tiny edge against RHB in Batting Average Against and WHIP, but that he allows more home runs to RHB and strikes them out less, both by fairly comfortable margins. Again, Glavine faces only the toughest LHB, so that is a factor to consider. But he is not a reverse-type pitcher along the lines of Zito.)

But there is another way, and that way is Zito's way: bust the righty in with the cut fastball. This is especially effective in that the RHB isn't used to seeing a lefty's fastball move in that way. How baffled was Vlad Sunday night? He's never seen the guy pitch before, and he was busted busted busted inside so bad that he missed one over the middle of the plate in his last at bat.

Anyway, that's my working theory. It occurred to me, wouldn't this also be true of righthanded pitchers? Likely so. Who has the most dominating cut fastball of any righthanded pitcher? For my money, Mariano Rivera.

I looked at his career numbers and felt like an idiot. He strikes out vastly more righthanders (.258 to .187), walks them a bit less (.064 to .069), though he allows them more homers (.0200 to .0085).

But then I looked at his three-year splits, and his OPS Allowed against righthanders was .637, but against lefthanders was .446!

Anyway, this is not to say that Kennedy should have played against Zito, because there are a number of factors that go into giving someone a day off, and I'm sure this was just one of them. But AL teams should be advised that LHB may be better equipped to handle Zito than they think. And I'm going to look out for other cut fastball pitchers and see if they maintain a similar pattern. (You know one who did? Jim Abbott. He relied on the cutter, and the splits we have available for him are eye-popping.)

Monday, April 19, 2004

I learned that my physical health is tied directly to the performance of the Angels. Thursday through Sunday saw the Lads go a glorious 1-4, which pretty much sums up how I felt over those four days. So there was a lot of Angel blogging going on, which I'll try to delve back into this week ... but, before I forget, there's one more player similar to Garret Anderson:

Luis Gonzalez. Gonzo was decent but unspectacular through age 29, with a career OPS+ of 108. However, his power kicked into high gear and hasn't look back, and he's been a phenomonal player for the last five years -- and at a bargain price. If Garret can mirror Gonzo, he may be worth the money.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I’ve been trolling around trying to find a good comp for Garret Anderson. Garret’s career progression is very strange; after a good three-quarter rookie season (with a 121 OPS+), he proceeded to rack up a career 99 OPS+ through age 29. He had a decent average, and his position in the order led to RBIs, but his lack of walks and power really limited his value.

However, at age 30 the power kicked, and he’s put up two straight seasons of 130 and 137 on the OPS+ scale. Value-wise, he’s a completely different player. What does this say about his future?

Let’s look at some hitters who have undergone similar transformations.

Bruce Bochte came up with the Angels. Through age 27, his career OPS+ was 108. The next two years, he blossomed, posting marks of 134 and 128. In both seasons, this was mainly driven by a surge in his isolated power (extra bases per at bat), along with hitting peaks in batting average.

At age 30, Bochte dropped back to a 104, and the power and the peak were gone. He did manage a 127 OPS+ at age 34, again driven by power (his third-highest SLG) and a bit more average. His next season was his last.

Bochte drew walks more frequently than Garret, so they were not identically statistically, but their offensive performance had similar value.

Through age 29, Bill Buckner had been around for over 10 years and had a career OPS+ of 98. He walked and struck out infrequently, but in the era his good batting averages did not lead to gaudy RBI numbers.

The next three years, ages 30-32, Bucker put up OPS+ of 119, 130, and 116. He had a high average and what were, at that point, the three highest slugging percentages of his career. His unintentional walk rate was mostly unchanged.

Buckner reverted to a 101 OPS+, following it up with seasons of 91 and 106. Decline and injuries set in, and he retired six years later with a 99 mark.

Buckner did not have the extreme power upsurge that Garret has enjoyed, but his value as a hitter was strikingly similar.

Dante Bichette was another free swinger. He had a career OPS+ of 106, but put up a 130 at age 31. This was his only season near such a level. As he only posted one, and not two seasons at this level, it’s hard to say that he’s a proper comp for Anderson. However, the way he reverted to his career norms after the 1995 season demonstrates how difficult and rare it is for a player like Garret to sustain that early-30s improvement.

Brady Anderson had a career OPS+ of 108. By age 32, the highest he had ever achieved was a 128 at age 28. Then at age 32, he had a ridiculous, home run-powered 157. He maintained a 128 the next year, then dropped to 103 before posting a 125. That was pretty much it, he put up a 106 before finding the cliff.

B. Anderson had much more value walked up in walks than G. Anderson (as well as speed, but I’m looking strictly at hitting here), so he is not a good comp stylistically, though their value was similar.

Doug DeCinces, through age 29, had a lifetime OPS+ of 111, powered mostly by a 149 season at age 27. Following that up with two seasons of 100 and 98, his OPS+ from age 30 through 36 were: 128, 149, 126, 110, 105, 112, 95.

DeCinces had more walks and a lower batting average than Garret, but their isolated power was very similar. However, Garret has never shown what DeCinces did in that age 27 season. But he is like Anderson in that he maintained a sustained peak in his early 30s.

There are certainly other comps I couldn't think of. The similar players listed at Baseball-Reference are not very similar in value, thanks to changes in various eras.

But looking at these other players, I would not be surprised if, over the course of his four years, Garret Anderson:

-- has one season with an OPS+ around 130;
-- has one season slightly lower, in the 120 range;
-- and has two seasons below 110 and closer to his career mark of 106.

Which makes him look even more overpaid than I thought. From the Angels' perspective, his contract is frontloaded; he should be at his best near the beginning, when he is the cheapest. He will likely be vastly overpaid by the end of his contract. I don't think it will hurt the team, so this doesn't bother me, but it certainly wasn't the best option.

Another good win last night for the Halos, winning a game that the pitching matchup (Ortiz v. Garcia) indicates we probably should have lost. The bench was key, with contributions from Shane Halter (pulling the Eric Owens fast start trick), Legs Figgins, and Jeff DaVanon. If Lackey comes through tonight, we can be ecstatic ...

... a long, intense conversation about the Garret Anderson signing went on over at the Primer yesterday. I'm still on the generally positive side, but I understand why people would be against it. The big question is: how good will Garret be over the course of the contract? Can you think of any other player who was average until he was 30, and then exploded? Seems unique, and that there's a pretty small data set to use to project Anderson's future ...

... Rob at 6-4-2 can't make MLB GameDay work on a Mac. I've had no problems doing so, myself, but I don't really have a secret to pass on, so I guess that doesn't help much ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Richard at the Pearly Gates was at Opening Night last night, and tells us all about it. Very good stuff.

We also played a game last night. Another excellent win for the Lads, stealing a W on a night that started off pretty poorly. The offense is in quick strike mode, with big blows coming regularly from Vlad, and with timely slugs from Bengie Molina and Jose Guillen. With the Arson Squad is poised to start the next couple of nights, the offense will have to stay in high gear.

(Incidentally, in looking up some historical material on Vlad the Impaler, I have realized that he was a really bad guy, and I don't really like the idea of using it for Guerrero's nickname. But I have also learned that Dracul -- Vlad's surname -- is derived from "Dragon." So we could start calling our Vlad "The Dragon." Just a thought.)

Sean at Purgatory Online has a good summary of the Garret extension and some of the reaction to it around the web. He links to the Times report, which clarifies that the $48M is inclusive of the $3M buyout. Ice Cold also gets a $3M signing bonus, though I'm not sure when that gets paid.

The upshot is that he makes $9M next year, only a $3M raise, which means we still have $17M to work with in extending Percival and Glaus. Ross Newhan summarizes the issues in signing the two Troys in today's Times, as well. One odd line from Newhan's article: "Although [Glaus'] plate discipline has frustrated the Angels at times, how do they replace the power and potential?"

Plate discipline? Even though Garret has out-produced Troy the last two years, Glaus has a much higher walk-to-strikeout ratio. The Angels have finally come around to the obvious conclusion that strikeouts are not the end of the world, so maybe they'll realize that Glaus is likely someone they'll want to hang on to.

Anyway, getting back to Garret ... it is a truth of major league contracts that players are paid for the past, and not the future. Anderson has been a bargain the last two years, being easily one of the top 25 players in the league (conservatively) and receiving about $6M a year for it. So, if he has two mediocre years under this contract, in the grand scheme of life, it's just making up for 2002 and 2003. I'm not really endorsing this, mind you, this is just how the world works. The truth is that if Anderson declines back to a 100 OPS+ level for any season under this contract, he will have become vastly overpaid instead of just slightly so.

One last possible factor: when we signed The Punter to that ridiculous contract, it occurred to me that their might be a side benefit: Investing so heavily in homegrown talent demonstrates to the core that you are committed to winning and keeping them together, which may lead to a hometown discount when their contracts are up. (I am certain I broke several grammatical rules by having two colons in one sentence, but, hey, this is a blog, not a doctoral thesis.) Well, I guess that discount didn't really come to Garret ... but it may come to Glaus and Percy. Or, I might have been horribly, horribly wrong.

As I never expected Garret to get this good in the first place, it wouldn't be the first time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

With a $3M buyout on the option year.

This seems like a bit too much, but nothing extraordinarily out of line. It's only a $6M-a-year increase over his current contract, and still leaves about $14M free to play with after this season. I somehow doubt that Troy Glaus is going to command $23M a year, so there's plenty of dinero to go around.

Financial details undisclosed at this time.

Last night's game was ugly, as you know. (Richard has the good on the series with his series summary at the Pearly Gates.) Washburn hung in there through five-and-third, surviving a tough first couple of innings and some shady defense. (Vlad let one ball drop right in front of him in the sixth, and I have no idea why he couldn't/didn't catch it.)

The game underlined how much we miss Brendan Donnelly right now. Check out this passage from Mike DiGiovanna's Times account of the game:

"Had Donnelly been available, Weber might not have been in the game. Scioscia probably would have used Francisco Rodriguez, who limited left-handers to a .185 average last season, and Donnelly, who held lefties to a .199 average, to cover the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and closer Troy Percival in the ninth."

Bullpen use is of course controversial, but consider this scenario: Rodriguez pitches the sixth and seventh, Weber covers the eighth (as the Angels continue to score and expand their lead), and Percy locks down the ninth.

Bullpen usage has "evolved" to the point where the best pitchers are saved for later, leaving the lesser pitchers to face crucial situations early in the game. This makes sense, sort of; a one-run lead in the ninth deserves more attention than a one-run lead in the sixth, because in the sixth you have more time to come back (which the Lads nearly did last night). But, when you think about it, if you have more time to catch up after the sixth, that also means you have more time to increase your lead, and thus render your ace relievers relatively useless.

Current bullpen usage means that your best pitchers may not even enter the game. Do you know how many innings Troy Percival has thrown this year?


K-Rod has three-and-a-third, where Weber has four-and-two-thirds. (Gregg and Shields have a bit more, thanks to blowouts.) Ben Weber has more innings than Percy and Rodriguez combined. Weber has faced 24 batters, while Percy has faced three and Rodriguez 12. Isn't there something wrong with that?

I don't mean to get down on Scioscia, who has done exceedingly well with his bullpen since he took the reins. Also, Weber is a good pitcher, who has shown the ability to work out of jams; it just didn't work out last night, and we certainly don't know that K-Rod would have been better.

But it did underscore that the loss of Donnelly is key, as adding him to K-Rod and Percy means that you basically have three aces in the bullpen, whom you can mix and match to your heart's content. And if the starting pitching stays like this, we're going to need all the bullpen help we can get.

In honor of our long-awaited home opener, the Times' Bill Shaikin profiles Arte's business plan. One passage neatly dovetails with a discussion I had yesterday:

"The signings also inflated the Angels' payroll to $108 million, a figure Moreno said he expected to be between $90 and $100 million next season .... The contracts of pitchers Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele[, Batting Practice Pitcher Extraordinaire], Troy Percival and Ramon Ortiz expire after this season, shaving $30.7 million from the payroll."

I had totally forgotten about Ortiz and his measly $3.3M going away. I'm already excited by that possibility.

Anyway, none of this shakes my belief that the Angels should have enough financial flexibility to retain both Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus (so long as Garret doesn't demand ridiculous money) and pick up some pitching or infield help, if need be.

Monday, April 12, 2004

In, I believe, the second game of the Texas series, a Ranger batted a ball up the middle. Adam Kennedy got there, but bobbled the ball and could not make a play. Physioc and Hud were unanimous: this should be an error. Why? Because (paraphrase): Kennedy usually makes that play.

The implicit suggestion is that, if Kennedy did not usually make that play, then it should be scored a hit. In this case, the scorer demurred, and the Ranger received the base hit. But isn't this a common thought? If this particular player doesn't make a play he usually makes, it's an error, whereas this guy, over here, who never makes that play, we won't charge an error to him.

Therefore a good defender, by this logic, is more likely to be charged with an error than a lesser defender -- on the exact same play.

Just Exhibit 1,230 in the case against fielding percentage, when you get down to it.

But this is a springboard: how does the Angels defense look so far this year?

In terms of Defensive Efficiency Record (the percentage of batted balls converted to outs), they have done quite poorly: their .621 ranks dead last in the majors. This isn't necessarily the fault of the defense; DIPS teaches us that pitchers have less control over the batted ball than we thought, but this is over the course of a season or a career, not one week. Our pitchers have been drilled, and many of the balls put in play have been uncatchable. This is the sort of thing that evens out as a season progresses.

Still, it's clear that balls are not being turned into outs, and it may well be in large part due to the fielders. Let's look at the Angel defense more closely. Richard at the Pearly Gates has some strong words for our outfield defense, which he says "might as well be rooted to the ground." Is this visual observation (which I share to some degree) accurate?

Thankfully, the rate by which outfielders convert flyballs to outs is easy to determine. Simply divide outfield putouts by the sum of flyballs less home runs allowed. The Angels have allowed 59 flyballs into play (66 flies less 7 home runs), and have 31 putouts.

This is a rate of .525. Where does this rank in the majors?

Dead last.

Last year, by contrast, the Angels scored a .694 in this category, good for sixth in the majors. And in 2002? Their .697 led the league and was one point short of the Cardinals MLB-leading .698.

Now, of course not all flyballs are created equal, and this is a small sample size. The New York Mets rank next-to-last in this measure (.550), and they have a fine centerfielder in Mike Cameron. However, Cameron has had an off-week, with an .818 Zone Rating -- about 100 points below his norms. Many of the pitchers are just getting drilled out there, which is a big part of it this early in the season.

However, as there was already a risk moving Erstad from the outfield, this is a problem the Angels need to keep their eye on. If we've played about a month or so and the Angel outfield is still struggling to catch balls (trailers in this category are in the .590 range, so it will come up), the Angels will need to reconsider their defensive alignment.

This will not happen.

Everything is magnified at the beginning of the season, and fans and observers are quick to panic over every small detail that goes awry.

Yes, Ramon Ortiz and Aaron Sele have already started their Arsenic/Anthrax routine. Yes, John Lackey looks like April 2003 Lackey and not October 2003 Lackey. Yes, Scot Shields is making a poor case for moving into the rotation right now.

But, for the most part, these are the flaws and pitfalls we knew about coming into the season. Ortiz, Sele, and Lackey got beat up by a good hitting team in a good hitting park. It's not the end of the world.

And the last week has seen many positives: Bartolo Colon earning his keep, Vlad hitting the sweet spot, Troy Glaus locked in and loaded.

On balance, absolutely nothing has happened in the first week of the season to alter my point of view on the club: that we should be a competitive team in a tough division.

(Still, I wouldn't mind picking up one more starter as the season goes on.)

In a link picked up via Rob at 6-4-2, comes now Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram to doomsay the Angels season -- by which he means next year. To wit:

"The big worry for Angel fans is the prospect of Arte Moreno having to settle on signing one of their two stars eligible for free agency next season, Troy Glaus and Garret Anderson. They're both indispensable, but having spent heavily in the offseason, he may have only enough payroll for one."

First of all, as Rob points out, we'll be rid of money due to Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele, which should clear up quite a bit. Remember, Appier is signed for $12 million this season, the bulk of which comes out of Arte's pocket, while Sele is earning another $8.5M. So right there we have another $20 million to spend, which we can either use to put Tom Cruise in a movie or distribute to Garret and Glaus.

Garret made an average of $5M a year over his expiring contract, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that double after this season. Glaus is at $9M this year, and a big year could push him up. Still, I can't imagine having to pay the two of them more than a total of $10M more per year, which still leaves $10M left over from the Appier/Sele fund -- $10M that can be spent on an extra hitter or a pitcher for the back of the rotation. Or, better yet, a combination of cheaper players who can pick up some slack.

(In addition, this may be the last year for Troy Percival, which would clear up an additional $7.5M. Even if he decides to come back, it would likely be for slightly less money.)

And this doesn't even account for the fact that Dallas McPherson and/or Jeff Mathis may be ready by this time next year, which could make some of the more expensive players expendable.

Arte's pursestrings are the last thing we should be worrying about. As for next year, we need to focus on how the minor leaguers develop, and whether or not Garret and Glaus will even be worth what money they demand. I love them both, but neither is truly indispensable, and Angel management has to keep their eyes open to that fact

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Fantastic win for the Lads today, putting up a five-spot in the top of the ninth to complete the sweep.

No more analysis from me on that. I'll be offline all weekend, so a Happy Easter to you all ...

The offense speaks for itself. Two ten-run games against two good pitchers in a pitcher's park are nothing to cough at. Ace Washburn didn't look so great last night; our pitchers may have to get used to long rests between innings.

How bad does Seattle's defense look? Letting Mike Cameron flee to the Mets meant that Randy Winn -- a good leftfielder -- moved to center, and Raul Ibanez was picked up to fill the leftfield gap. Cameron is a superlative centerfielder; MGL's Ultimate Zone Rating (no longer available online, I believe, pending Tango Tiger's move to his new website) sees him as (from most recent backwards) 31, 28, and 25 runs above average with his glove over the past three years; the only comparable player is our own Darin Erstad, who had three straight seasons of 38, 24, and 56 before being injured last year.

Winn and Ibanez, meanwhile, are no great shakes at their positions. The Mariners are likely losing two or three wins, and they can only hope that Ibanez out-hits Cameron to a similar degree. Raul Ibanez, who will turn 32 this year and whose OPS+ since 2001 have gone 112, 116, and 99 (career mark: 99). Whereas Cameron has put up 124, 116, and 106 (career: 105). Seattle is betting heavily that Cameron will continue his decline, and that Ibanez's 2003 was a mirage. The talent at the top of the AL West is so close that two or three wins could prove significant.

Mariners fans must also be frightened by the glovework of Rich Aurilia, who has looked like Little League replacement level defensively. UZR bears out these observations; after a good 2001 (+16 runs), Aurilia has declined to -18 and -10 over the last two years. Carlos Guillen was about average.

My initial thought was that it should be fairly easy for Aurilia to out-hit Guillen, but looking at the numbers doesn't bear this out. Aurilia was a bona fide MVP candidate (well, in a normal, non-Barry world) in 2001, matching a good defensive performance with an eye-popping 148 OPS+. But the last two years have seen a decline to 95 and 91. Guillen, by contrast, is moving the other way: the 98 and 102 he's put up the last two years have each marked career highs.

I still think that Seattle is a formidable foe, and that we cannot easily discount them. But they are counting on a lot of risks paying off, and a lot of veterans hanging on for one more good year. You can see why Mariner fans are frustrated with their team's direction.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Rob at 6-4-2 compares Bill Stoneman with Paul DePodesta (the true hero of Moneyball, if you ask me), and finds Stoneman lacking in imagination. Though it's too early to determine if DePodesta's skills as an assistant carry over to being the big boss, my gut is to agree.

However, I have to disagree with this: "Stoneman's likely to hand out contracts for sentimental reasons, which isn't a good idea if your object is to win." Remember, this is the GM who let Scott Spiezio, who hit the most famous home run in franchise history (unseating Dave Henderson, thank God) walk this past offseason and replaced him with Jose Guillen. Guillen is four years younger, as good a hitter (he has a 117 weighted OPS+ the past two seasons against Speizio's 113), and has a higher upside. Not only that, but Guillen is $1.25 million cheaper this year than Sandfrog was last year. Unless Guillen completely collapses back to his pre-2003 levels, this was a smart move -- and one that demonstrates no undeserved sentimental loyalty.

As I've mentioned before, the largest test along these lines will come for Stoneman this offseason, with difficult decisions to make behind the plate, and third base, and in the outfield. Maybe Stoneman's been skating by on luck to this point (as Rob says of the Vlad signing), but I can't say I'm convinced Stoneman will make the wrong decisions this coming winter.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The wonder that is 21st-century baseball. Right now, I am:

Watching the Giants at Houston on TV (Extra Innings)
Watching Cleveland and Minnesota on MLB.TV
Watching the MLB GameDay of the Yankes at Tampa Bay
Watching the Yahoo GameChannel of the Mets at Atlanta ...

If only they could make Gade Day Audio work at the same time as MLB.TV, and everything would be perfect in the world ...

K-Rod is just starting the bottom of the ninth as I write this. I was only able to watch the first six innings on TV before I ran out of excuses to be watching TV at work, but -- obviously -- I liked what I saw.

Bartolo Colon looked very sharp. When he missed, it was seldom by much, and he was right around the plate with good movement and velocity all day.

The one run he allowed illustrated that there certainly is a defensive dropoff from Darin Erstad to Ice Cool Anderson in center field. Garret didn't make a bad play, but that step-and-a-half difference to the gap was enough.

I can see Vlad's lack of patience at the plate driving me nuts when he hits some speed bumps, which is certain to happen. But he also did a good job of working a walk, and leading to a big and decisive inning. That strong but slightly errant arm may prove grating at times, as well. Players of the talent and accomplishment of Vlad are probably more frustrating than the scrubs of the world, because you grow so accustomed to their excellence that their shortcomings are magnified. Believe me, the opportunity to find annoyance with Vlad every day is a great luxury, and I can't wait to see him all season.

Troy Glaus looks like he's locked on right now, obliterating two balls out of an expansive ballpark.

And, boom, in just that much time, Rodriguez registers two k's, and the game is over. Ninety-some more along those line will do just nicely, thank you.

While waiting for the Angels' season to commence, amuse yourself with these fantasy baseball columns from the indispensable McSweeney's.

Monday, April 05, 2004

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

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

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.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Ah, the problems of blogging from work. Moving on (I've made some slight revisions to yesterday's entry, by the way) ...

Last season, Angel starters threw 928 innings and allowed 505 earned runs. So, if Angel starters all pitch at their career average, and the run environment is like last years, that's fifty runs the Angels have saved from the starting rotation alone: five wins. (I'm assuming that unearned runs is roughly a constant.)

What are the chances of the Angel pitchers pitching at their career norms? As I discussed yesterday, the chances are pretty good for Washburn. Colon should be able to; it wouldn't be hard for Escobar to be just a little bit above average, as he has been over the course of his career.

However, Ramon Ortiz may be on the greasy slide to oblivion, so he may be expected to do worse. But Lackey is climing the ladder, and I expect him to be better than league average this season. They may balance each other out.

Of course, injuries happen, trades, and you never know when the Lads may come to their senses and insert Scot Shields into the rotation. I should point out that I'm not actually predicting a five-win improvement from the rotation. But there is a lot of reason for optimism, and you can see how Bill Stoneman has put together a rotation that should handily outperform last year's incarnation.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Baseball Prospectus' unsigned "Triple Play" features the Lads pitching today, and doesn't see much improvement in the rotation. It pegs Colon, Ace Washburn, and Kelvim Escobar as being slightly worse than last year (though Colon and Escobar worse are still better than 2003's trainwreck), with Lackey seeing improvement and Ortiz seeing slight improvement -- but not enough to see him being valuable. They also pass on the useless information that Troy Percival "is 118th of 127 in inherited runners per relief appearance since 1998." Yeah, how often do we expect Troy to enter a game with men on base? Oh yeah, that's right ...

Is there reason to expect Washburn to further decline this season? We know his 2002 was far superior to his 2003 (a 3.15 ERA and 138 ERA+ against a 4.43 and 96). Why was he so much worse? How do his peripherals look, comparing 2002 to 2003?

Looking at his batting average allowed on balls in play, Ace was about the same: he was at .255 in 2002 and .253 in 2003. His career rate? Guess what: .254. So Washburn's decline last year was not due to any bad luck or aberration on this score.

The problem was that Washburn had many more balls put in play against him. His innings were the same for the two seasons (206 and 207 1/3), but look at his strikeouts and homers: his strikeouts decline from 139 to 118 and his homers increased from 19 to 34.

This was, by far Washburn's lowest strikeout rate since his first full season as a starter in 2001, and the lowest in his career (by a smaller margin, against his 2000 season). This was also his highest home run rate since 2001, though lower than his half-season in 2000.

Are these patterns reversible? Well, as we know, Jarrod fell on his left shoulder in spring training, and it was pretty clear all season that he was throwing with less velocity than the year before. Since all Washburn uses, traditionally, is his fastball, those few miles per hour were significant. One extra home run every other start, one less strikeout every start-and-a-half, and poof! Your ERA jumps. (And BPro's PECOTA system, by the way, is unaware of Washburn's freak injury.)

Will Jarrod bounce back? There is every reason to believe he should be healthy this season. I am loathe to reference spring training statistics at all, but he did have 9 strikeouts -- and zero home runs -- in 14 1/3 innings.

I think Washburn's career totals should be in reach; an ERA just below 4.00, an ERA+ right around 115. If he put up his career 115 ERA+ in 207 1/3 innings (what he threw last year), right there the Angels gain 17 runs -- nearly two wins.

(For the curious: I am using last year's standards as reported by BB-ref.com, wherein Ace's league- and park-adjusted context is a 4.26 ERA, against which he put up a 4.43. A 115 ERA+ would be 15% better than 4.26, for a 3.70. A 3.70 ERA over 207 1/3 IP is 85, meaning 17 less earned runs than the 102 Wash allowed last season. He should put expected to allow a handful of unearned runs, but not any more than last year.)

It occurred to me that I could do this analysis for all of the starters. I took the average innings pitched they have thrown their last two seasons, and applied their career ERA+ against the 4.26 to see how many runs we can expect the starters to allow. The results (sorry about the formatting):

Colon 121 237.7 3.52 93
Washburn 115 206.7 3.70 85
Escobar* 104 177.0 4.10 81
Lackey** 100 198.0 4.26 94
Ortiz 98 198.7 4.35 96
*For Escobar, I used the two seasons in which he has pitched the most innings.
**For Lackey, I prorated his 2002 innings pitched per start from 18 to 32 starts.

Totals: 448 ER in 1,018 IP, for an ERA of 3.96.

If Angels starters perform as their career averages, they should be in for a fantastic year. Last year, the Angels top five starters allowed 447 earned runs total, which takes into account the semi-seasons turned in by Ape and Sele. This isn't even counting Shields or Calloway or Bootcheck or Gregg ...

I gotta run, but I'll return to this subject later ...

The Angels official website has a brief article up on Dallas McPherson, who will start the season at AA Arkansas. McPherson had 102 at bats at Arkansas last season, where he put up a splintering 314/426/569 line, smaking 5 homers and drawing 19 walks against 25 strikeouts. That's not a whole lot of at bats (and probably a few more strikeouts than you'd like to see, but an excellent number of walks), but if he keeps that up he'll be seeing AAA soon enough.

As stirring as this past offseason has been, the Angels' longterm future is likely more dependent on decisions made after this season. With Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, and Ice Cold Anderson reaching the end of their contracts, and McPherson and Jeff Mathis likely banging on the door, Stoneman and company will have crucial decisions to make about who stays, who goes, and who competes. These should be good problems to have.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The LA Times inflicts an AL season preview on us today, and go the homer route by picking the Angels first in the West. That's a little bit more confidence than I am brave enough to have, but there's no doubt the club should compete for the title.

Ben Bolch, the Times' prognosticator, also pegs the Royals and Yanks as divisional champs. I suppose KC is a trendy pick after their surprise season last year, but I just don't think they'll be all that good. It is a weak division, though, and the differences between Minnesota, KC, and the ChiSox are slim, so it doesn't strike me as an insane proposition that the Royals could see the postseason.

Bill Plaschke has a profile of Jose Guillen. Typical nonsense from Plaschke, who once claimed that Barry Bonds reached base 1.11 times per plate appearance: "In 12 pro seasons, wearing 15 uniforms for seven organizations, nobody has ever questioned him as a player." Really? There has never been any question about a player with a lifetime .315 OBP who, until last season, had his best year at age 21 and then sputtered? I don't think so, Bill.

The Times also reports that all but six Angel games will be televised somewhere in 2004. That's pretty incredible. Great job, Arte.

Also, it looks like Kevin Gregg is going to take the last bullpen spot while we await Brendan Donnelly's return. That means we'll have three long men in the bullpen, all of whom will likely take turns bailing out Ramon Ortiz.

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