Thursday, April 28, 2005

I didn't want to post new stuff in the middle of my retrospective series, so let's get to some of the things that happened earlier this week:

1. We took two out of three from the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

Yes, I know that team is struggling right now. Yes, I know we faced the burnt-out husks of Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown. Even so, Brown pitched a good game, and any lineup with Jeter, A-Rod, and Sheffield is still a formidable lineup. The Angels managed to shut down everyone except for A-Rod (thank you, bullpen), and even then, his destruction was pretty much limited to one game. John Lackey demonstrated he can get out of a jam -- next, let's stay out of them altogether, shall we? And Jarrod Washburn had another good start on his quality rollercoaster that has begun the season.

Dallas McPherson was 4-11 in the series, hitting 364/417/636 to demonstrate signs of coming out of the slump that began his major league season. Vlad had an even better series, going 5-11 with 3 RBI and 3 runs scored, and a line of 455/500/545. So that was nice to see.

I'm actually more worried about this Twins series than I was about the Yankee one, I think. The Lads have to face Johan Santanadana on Sunday and Brad Radke, a longtime Angel killer, on Saturday. And tonight they face off against Carlos Silva, who's been hot to start the season, with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings.

Worst of all, up against Radke tomorrow the Angels send Kelvim Escobar. Radke is 12-6 lifetime against the Angels with a 2.10 ERA, and the Angel batters appear to not realize that scoring runs while Escobar is on the mound is in the team's best interests. So that's a fun combo -- though, in fairness, most of Radke's domination against the Halos has come prior to many members of the current lineup were assembled. Kelvim has struggled against the Gemini over his career, posting a 6.09 ERA in just over 44 innings. The problem isn't so much the Twins as it is the Metrodome; he has a 6.23 ERA in 21 1/3 innings in that stadium -- and 5.52 ERA in 234 2/3 career innings under a dome. Kelvim struggles on turf in general:
Surface    IP    BFP  K/BF  BB/BF  HR/BF  H/BF   ERA
Grass 528.3 2293 .205 .100 .024 .209 4.12
Turf 535.0 2410 .196 .101 .021 .233 4.73
As you can see, the really big difference there is in the hits allowed. Kelvim has been a slight groundball pitcher over his career, but he's not very extreme in that regard. But the difference is so extreme that it seems like something must be afoot. Hopefully, the Angels can cure what ails him in tomorrow's game.

2. Tim Brown wrote on article about how the Angels aren't Moneyball, and get runs without walks and on base percentage. Mike Scioscia is quoted as saying, "I'm not going to sit here and tell you on-base percentage isn't important. But there are things you can compensate with if your on-base percentage isn't off the charts. What's more important is getting guys in scoring position and getting runs .... You won't ever hear me knock on-base percentage."

In support of these tenets, the Times prints the following chart:
Year     Avg      Walks   On Base%    Runs      W-L
(Rank) (Rank) (Rank) (Rank)
2002 .282 462 .341 5.25 99-63
(1) (11) (4) (4)
2003 .268 476 .330 4.54 77-85
(7) (9) (8) (11)
2004 .282 450 .341 5.16 92-70
(1) (14) (6) (7)
2005 .255 48 .308 4.84 11-8
(9) (11) (10) (6)
The thing to notice there, I think, is how well the team's OBP rank correlates with their runs scored rank. If the Angels are deriving some advantage from having an average-driven OBP, that fact toesn't seem to reflect itself in their runs scored totals.

Scioscia also says, "Our on-base percentage is relatively low. But the number of times we're in scoring position is incredible. That's where we make up for the perception that as a team we don't walk a lot and swing the bats. We get into hitters' counts, we get a pitch to hit and we usually put it in play hard."

Addressing that last point first, info at The Hardball Times seems to indicate that the Angels hit more line drives last year than the average team (I say "seems" because there is no team total, and you have to estimate from the individual player totals), though they are slightly below average thus far in 2005.

Addressing the first point ... we don't have anywhere a public listing of how many times runners were in scoring position. But last season, the Angels had 1,739 plate appearances with at least one runner in scoring position -- and the A's, the villains of advancing runners -- had 1,743. But the Angels performed much better in such situations, hitting 278/343/440 to bring in 659 runs; the A's hit 260/352/410 in such situations to score 573 runs.

That means the Angels scored 177 runs over the course of the season when no one was in scoring position, and the A's scored 220. I don't really know what that means ...

... in terms of getting guys into scoring position, we can estimate some of the ways:
Team   2B   3B   SB   SH   TOT
ANA 272 37 143 56 508
OAK 336 15 47 25 423
That ain't perfect; both stolen bases and sacrifice hits can advance a runner from second to third, as opposed to from first to second.

So maybe the Angels really are better at getting runners into scoring position. Or maybe that was a one-time thing. I don't know if that kind of skill is repeatable at all. But we can hope ...

Part One.
Part Two.

Nursing a twelve game lead in the standings, the Angels played Seattle on August 3, and Gary DiSarcina tore some thumb ligaments sliding into second base. He was sent to the DL, and the next day the Angels signed Dick Schofield with the hopes that a minor league stint would ready him for some major league play. As the non-waiver trading deadline had passed, the Angels were forced to rely on internal options. That meant more playing time for Spike Owen and Rex Hudler at second base, and that Easley, hitting all of .213, would be the man at shortstop.

It took a few days for that to shake out, however. Easley stayed at second for a few games, with Owen and Rod Correia getting time at short. The Angels also had Jose Lind sitting around, so he could play second when Easley moved over.

Despite the loss of offense and defense represented by losing DiSarcina, the Angels actually fared well for the next twelve games, going 8-4 to make their record 64-38, 12.5 games ahead of Seattle. The Mariners had thrown a six-game win streak into the mix, but had only picked up a game.

The Angel disintegration started slowly, and the Mariner comeback started auspiciously. For the Angels, a three-game losing streak here, a three-game losing streak there. But for the Mariners, on August 24, Griffey returned to the Mariners and hit a walk-off home run against the Yankees.

The next day Scott Erickson and the Orioles lambasted the Angels 11-2. So began a nine-game losing streak that left the Angels 67-53 on September 3. Seattle went 6-3 over those nine games, knocking the Angel lead down to 5.5 games, still a manageable lead.

The Angels went 5-3 over the next eight, but on September 13 began another nine-game losing streak. The Mariners passed the Angels on September 22, in the midst of their own seven-game winning streak.

The Angels finally won again on September 24, and found themselves two games behind the Mariners.

What the hell had happened?

The explanation at the time, and for many people since, is that DiSarcina's injury deflated the team. One, he was considered a team leader. Two, it obviously helps to have a guy hitting 317/355/473 batting ninth. Three, the dropoff in offense and defense to the other guys is pretty huge.

But then, why did the Angels go 8-4 in the twelve games immediately following the injury, if DiSar was such a huge factor? Don't get me wrong, obviously his being missing really hurt the team, but can we blame his loss for what happened to the whole lineup?
           On August 3    On Sept. 23
Phillips: 290/414/485 264/394/466
Edmonds: 309/371/558 289/354/538
Salmon: 323/442/583 332/435/609
Davis: 343/468/559 317/431/506
Snow: 308/371/478 284/349/458
Anderson: 353/392/618 325/354/513
Myers: 249/317/373 261/307/409
Easley: 213/296/308 219/292/304
Hudler: 279/317/449 230/269/373
The Angels went 16-32 in that period, being outscored 269-201, or a score of 5.6-4.2 per game.

DiSarcina returned to the starting lineup on the 23rd; Easley had actually been back at second base for about a week or two, as Schofield had come up and hit 250/375/250 in his limited time.

Here's the question: do you really think Tony Phillips lost 25 points of batting average because DiSar was no longer on base in front of him about a third of the time? Do you think Chili Davis, who was 1000 years old and played for many years and many teams, was so rattled by the absence of DiSarcina's leadership that he dropped 26 points of batting average?

Though obviously losing DiSarcina hurt, what really happened here was that none of these guys was really a .350 hitter. Chili Davis couldn't sustain a .468 OBP because he was Chili Davis, and though he was a fine hitter, come on. This was called regression to the mean, and it got almost everybody. The team just wasn't as good as they had been playing, and that eventually caught up with them.

Coming into play on September 28, the Angels were two games behind Seattle, and had a four-game series hosting Oakland. Seattle had four games at Texas.

Seattle won the first two games of their series, but lost the next two. The Angels stepped up to the challenge by sweeping the A's, and securing a tie for first place on the back of a strong Chuck Finley performance on the last day of the regular season.

The stage was set for a one-game playoff, which took place in Seattle on October 2. The Seattle ace, Randy Johnson, was to face off against Mark Langston -- the pitcher whom the Mariners had traded to acquire Johnson in the first place. Both guys were strikeout-happy lefties, and both had started their careers as pretty wild pitchers. Johnson was 17-2 on the year, Langston 15-6.

The game was taut for six innings, with Seattle picking up one run in the fifth. Randy Johnson retired the first 17 Angel batters he faced, with Rex Hudler singling with two outs in the sixth to break up the perfect game.

It was the seventh when Seattle got in business, loading the bases with two outs. With the score still 1-0 in favor of the Mariners, former Angel Luis Sojo stepped up to the plate.

Disclaimer: I was never a big JT Snow fan at all. I always thought his defense was overrated -- he was great within a step-and-a-half, but pretty hopeless if he had to run for two or more steps for a grounder. I thought it was a joke that Snow was getting all kinds of acclaim for his glove while Wally Joyner had never won a Gold Glove himself, and I thought he was a much better defensive first baseman.

So I had this running joke, that whenever a ball would get by Snow, no matter if it was his fault, I would say, "Wally woulda had it." Foul pop fly, fifteen rows up in the stands? "Wally woulda had it."

Well, this ball that Luis Sojo that hit with two outs in the seventh inning on October 2, 1995: I am telling you, without one sliver of doubt in my mind: WALLY WOULD HAVE HAD IT.

It was a cue shot off the end of the bat that hugged the right field line, with some crazy spin, apparently. Snow's glove kept going and going and this slow-moving ball kept going and going, and never the twain met, and the ball got down the field.

One run scores. Two runs score.

Here comes the third runner, and here comes Tim Salmon's throw, and --

-- and, inexplicably, instead of doing his job and backing up home, there's Mark Langston to cut the ball off. He turns around and heaves it toward home plate at about Mach 9 -- from about 20 feet away. And it's high. It's his hardest throw of the day, probably, but it's not accurate and the catcher has no chance. Hell, the broad side of a barn would have had no chance.

But now, since there's no one backing up home because the pitcher's relaying the ball for no reason, now the catcher has to take off for it. Luis Sojo has advanced to third on the throw, so now he comes home, where Langston has to cover. The catcher heaves a desperation throw back to Langston, but it's not close. 5-0, Seattle. Langston falls to his back over home plate, his arms stretched out to his sides, looking plaintively at the Kingdome ceiling.

I forgot who it was, but an LA Times writer the next day said this image should be captioned "Here lies Mark Langston."

But it wasn't only Mark Langston lying there; it was the 1995 Angels and all of their chances. With Randy Johnson on the mound, it didn't matter that Seattle got four more runs off the bullpen the next inning, or that Phillips got a home run in the ninth. It was done, right then and right there.

There is a reader and contributor to the comments section of this site who has said that you can see in the slump of Brian Downing's shoulders the exact moment that the Angels lost the 1986 ALCS. He's right; Here Lies Mark Langston is that moment for the 1995 team, at least for me.

Randy Johnson struck out Salmon looking to end the game, and the season was over. Same old Angels.

I just pretty much covered this, but whenever a team with a lead collapses like that, people begin to ask questions. The fact that everyone had been playing over their heads for four months didn't really seem to be the answer, that I recall, but my memory's kind of hazy on that point. It was usually DiSarcina;s injury, or maybe some blamed manager Marcel Lachemann, the longtime Angel pitching coach who seemed very uncomfortable in a manager's skin. Some probably blamed it on the fact that Troy Percival and his stellar 1.95 ERA was setting up for Lee Smith and his 3.47, instead of closing himself.

In addition to the whole regression to the mean thing, another big factor in the Angel collapse was the absolute sinkhole that was Damion Easley and the second base situation. Easley played 114 of the Angels' 145 games, and hit a microscopic 216/288/300. It's really hard to win a division when a guy like that is getting a lot of playing time, and once DiSarcina went down, he was playing nearly every day. Spike Owen, one of Easley's backups, played 82 games and hit 229/288/312. Getting even a remotely competent second baseman into the lineup would have been worth more than one game, but the Angels just stuck with these guys and Rex Hudler, whose 265/310/417 looked pretty Ruthian in contrast to the other guys.

Despite the fact that everyone had been playing over their head, there was a lot of optimism coming into 1996 -- probably because we didn't know to what extent those guys, even Salmon, had overperformed. The young core of Salmon, Edmonds, DiSar, and Percival was intact. Veteran Randy Velarde was brought in to fill the second base hole. Phillips was gone, but George Arias could step up at third, along with the veteran Tim Wallach. Finley, Langston, and Abbott could anchor the rotation.

I'm sure you recall how awry that team went ... Snow, DiSar, and Garret all turned into pumpkins, Wallach was old, Arias couldn't play, and Abbott went through one of the most painful seasons you can imagine, going 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA. Marcel Lachemann resigned, then interim manager John McNamara resigned. It was a lost year.

But over the next few years the Angels remained competitive, often hanging around in the division until something crazy would happen and they would fall short. Chuck Finley broke his arm, Todd Greene broke his arm, Tony Phillips freebased cocaine, etc. It was a team that always seemed just a little bit away from breaking through, that could win if everyone just managed to stay in one piece for a whole season. They ended up playing bridesmaids to Seattle in 1997 and Texas in 1998, and they never got over the hump. Snow was dispatched to make room for Erstad, Edmonds went away, but Salmon, Anderson, and Percival remained from the 1995 team -- a core that appeared to have missed its moment.

I started this off talking about the ten-year period from 1995-2004, but that 1995 team really saw its fruition in the 2002 team. Salmon and Anderson were the best hitters on that team, and, as mentioned above, several key pieces were brought into the organization that year. Troy Percival, of course, was a rookie in 1995. And the opposing dugout contained JT Snow, while Edmonds and Finley both made it to he NLCS. It was the year when everything finally stopped breaking wrong for the Angels. 2003 was a transitory year, leading into the Vlad era in 2004.

But I look back on that 1995 team, and at the team we root for ten years hence, and I can't really argue that the current team is better. Going around the diamond ... okay, the Molinas and Paul are better than Fabregas and Allanson, but Greg Myers was also in the mix, and he had an OPS+ of 86. But let's go ahead and give that one to the current team.

At first base, you have JT Snow having one of his "best" years ever (111 OPS+), against Darin Erstad, who thrilled some of us last year with his OPS+ of 95. No contest.

Okay, obviously the current team is better at second base.

Tony Phillips played third most of the year and had an OPS+ of 122. Do you really think Dallas McPherson is going to be 22% better than average as a rookie this year? I wouldn't hold my breath, but it's not impossible. But right now, it goes to Phillips.

Gary DiSarcina in 1995 had an OPS+ of 107, and played great defense. Cabrera's career high is 97, and though he's pretty good at defense, I don't think he's any better than DiSar was that year.

Garret Anderson had an OPS+ of 121 and played very good defense. If he's healthy this year, that could be in reach, but that's a big if.

Jim Edmonds was a damn fine centerfielder with an OPS+ of 128; Steve Finley is a lesser glove, and has only met or exceeded the 120 mark in OPS+ four times in his sixteen-year career.

And I'd argue that Tim Salmon's 1995 was better than Vlad's 2004. He has the OPS+ lead, 164-157. Salmon grounded into only nine double plays in his 537 at-bats, Vlad grounded into 19 in his 612 -- and Salmon, batting after Edmonds (.352 OBP) probably had more opportunities for double plays than Vlad did behind Darin Erstad. And while Vlad last year was an average defensive player, we have to remember that Tim Salmon was an excellent defensive player in his prime, one of the top couple of defensive right fielders in the game. Vlad got more from basestealing than Salmon (Vlad was 15 of 18, Salmon 5 of 10), but I think that's fairly small potatoes. I give Salmon's '95 campaign the edge.

And Chili Davis was the DH, and he had an OPS+ of 145. The 2005 team has Jeff DaVanon and Juan Rivera.

(I do realize that I'm comparing our current guys' typical years to a lot of the 1995 guys' best years, in some cases; I'm talking about reasonable expectations. Maybe Orlando Cabrera will break out with a 115 OPS+ this year; it's just as unlikely as DiSar and his 107.)

The main rotation guys of the 1995 team were about league-average, on the whole, probably a bit lower when you include guys like Bielecki. The 2005 rotation might be a bit better than that, if Escobar maintains and Colon returns to form. So maybe the current team gets an edge there.

But what about the bullpen? K-Rod can duplicate or top Percy's 243 ERA+ in 74 1995 innings, and between Shields and Donnelly they should manage to duplicate Smith's 136 and Patterson's 155 and James' 122 ... or, maybe not. It's close, though.

Even though most of the guys couldn't sustain it, that 1995 was pretty special. It's worth noting that by projecting their wins and losses by runs scored and allowed, their record should have been 82-63 instead of 78-67, but that's a small thing. For one glorious summer, the Angels had the rest of the game by the throat. Seven years might seem like a long time to deliver on that promise, but some teams never quite get there at all. At least we have the comfort of the anguish of 1995 resulting in untemptered joy less than a decade later.

This series would have been impossible if not for the deliriously wonderful Retrosheet. This Seattle Times article was also a considerable aid.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Part One.

This was the Angel starting lineup on Opening Day:
Tony Phillips, LF
Damion Easley, 2B
Jim Edmonds, CF
Chili Davis, DH
Tim Salmon, RF
Eduardo Perez, 3B
J.T. Snow, 1B
Andy Allanson, C
Gary DiSarcina, SS
The rotation was Finley, Langston, Sanderson, Anderson, and Shawn Boskie. Lee Smith was the closer, and there was a rookie reliever who used to be a catcher: Troy Percival.

Looking at that lineup, the only reasonable bets for good offense were Phillips, if he could hang on another year; Chili Davis, ditto; and Tim Salmon. The infield was a big question mark, and Jim Edmonds had been a weak-hitting left fielder the year before. And Andy Allanson? Come on. (Though Greg Myers was really the regular catcher.)

The Tigers beat the Angels on Opening Day. The next day the Angels travelled to Toronto (the schedule of 144 games was all screwy because of the strike). Mark Langston started and pitched okay, giving up three runs (only two earned) in five innings. The Angels had a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the eighth when Russ Springer and Mitch Williams combined to let the Jays tie the game.

In came Mike Butcher, and he held the Jays scoreless for 1 2/3 innings. That was enough, because in the top of the 10th Tim Salmon took Tony Castillo deep for his second home run of the year, and Lee Smith held on in the bottom of the inning to notch the first Halo victory of 1995.

The Angels took three of four in Toronto, and continued to play decently. After 10 games they were 6-4, and after 20 they were 11-9.

That's about when things picked up. After losing to Kevin Tapani and the Twins to make their record 11-9, the Angels cracked out seven consecutive wins, won by a combined score of 64-28. That put the Angels at 18-9, 3.5 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.

The team was playing well, on the whole. After the games of May 25, the last day of the streak, this is how the regulars were hitting (AVG/OBP/SLG):
Phillips:  284/434/510
Edmonds: 245/312/469
Salmon: 275/446/538
Davis: 392/492/649
Perez: 180/329/279
Myers: 278/350/500
Easley: 240/324/365
DiSarcina: 347/396/582
For added measure, the Mariners lost Ken Griffey, Jr. to a wrist injury on May 26. So while the Angels were rolling, Seattle lost their best position player for an extended amount of time.

Scott Sanderson was done in by injury at the end of May; he had only managed seven starts, and was 1-3 despite a respectable 4.12 ERA. The fifth spot in the rotation became kind of a rotating door for awhile, Mike Bielecki getting lit up for 11 games, Mike Harkey filling in starting late July; even Russ Springer got in a few bad starts. The rotation wasn't all that strong, actually; only Finley ended up having a good year, while Langston was okay, and Boskie and Anderson a bit below that. The bullpen ended up being a big strength for the team, with Percy setting up Lee Smith, but valuable contributions came from Mike James and and Bob Patterson as well.

The Angels kicked off June by taking Darin Erstad with the first pick of the draft. The second-round pick was used on Jarrod Washburn; the fourth-round on Brian Cooper (who was traded to Toronto straight-up for Brad Fullmer before the 2002 season). A few weeks later, Ramon Ortiz was signed out of the Dominican. In the span of three weeks, the Angels laid the groundwork for four key players of the 2002 team.

At this point in the season, the big surprise was DiSarcina, who had never hit anywhere this well in his life. The big disappointment was Perez, who actually had lost his job by this point. The veteran Spike Owen was getting a lot of starts at third, but he wasn't really any kind of solution to the problem.

Then, on June 13, Tony Phillips, who had played every game that season in left or right field, played his first game at third base. Left field was occupied by a rookie named Garret Anderson.

Garret went 2-4 in that game, hitting a home run off of Kevin Tapani -- his first in his career. The Angels won 7-2 to raise their record to 27-18, still 3.5 games ahead of Seattle's pace.

The dividends were not immediate, as the Angels 7-8 the rest of the month. But a 20-4 victory at Texas on June 29th demonstrated what was possible; the Angels scored 11 runs in the first inning, and oddly did so without Chili Davis in the lineup and without hitting a home run.

At the All Star break, the Angels were 39-30; they had played .500 ball since the mid-May winning streak, but were now 5 games ahead of Seattle. Here were the numbers on the Angel regulars at the break:
Phillips:  280/418/500
Edmonds: 291/354/498
Salmon: 291/423/530
Davis: 359/464/569
Snow: 305/372/586
Anderson: 256/319/415
Myers: 254/338/413
Easley: 198/282/305
DiSarcina: 324/367/488
Easley was obviously a disaster, but the Angels could spell him with Spike Owen (226/304/314 at the break) and Rex Hudler (255/291/429). So, um, yeah, second base wasn't really a source of strength. But you can see that just about everyone else was doing pretty well.

It was at this point that all hell broke loose.

The Angels won their first five games coming out of the break, and on July 25 began an eight-game winning streak. After losing to end the streak on August 3, the Angels were 56-34, and 12 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners. Here is where the regulars stood on August 3:
           At the Break   On August 3
Phillips: 280/418/500 290/414/485
Edmonds: 291/354/498 309/371/558
Salmon: 291/423/530 323/442/583
Davis: 359/464/569 343/468/559
Snow: 305/372/586 308/371/478
Anderson: 256/319/415 353/392/618
Myers: 254/338/413 249/317/373
Easley: 198/282/305 213/296/308
DiSarcina: 324/367/488 317/355/473
You can see how the outfield caught fire and started ripping people apart. The Angels went 17-4 between the break and August 3, and the young and powerful outfield was the buzz of baseball. To add to the fun, the Angels reacquired Jim Abbott on July 27, giving up pretty much nothing. Abbott won his first start with the Angels two days later.

At which point everything was poised to fall apart.

Part 3 will be posted tomorrow. This series would have been impossible if not for the deliriously wonderful Retrosheet. This Seattle Times article was also a considerable aid.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ten years ago today, the Angels began the 1995 season, and a renaissance of Halo success dawned. Over the next ten years, the Angels won one division title and their first World Championship, and also placed second three times in addition to the 2002 Wild Card year. All told, in the 10 seasons, the Angels finished with a winning record in six of them, and had a record of 812-790 for a winning percentage of .507.

This was the most successful ten-year period in club history, edging out the period 1978-1987, which saw the Angels go 792-774 (.506) and win their first three divisional titles and finish second twice. Of course, there were more divisions in the later era; it was harder to finish second in the 80s than the 90s, so it's not really fair to compare them on that basis. (Between the Angels, Oakland, Texas, and Seattle, the Angels had the best record of the four six times during the 1978-1987 period. Of course, the schedule was balanced at this time, and direct comparisons are not appropriate in many ways).

The story of the 1995 team actually begins in the early 1990s, when the organization's attempted reload after the successful 1986 season had run its futile course. The core of what was supposed to be the next successful Angel team included the following:
1B  Wally Joyner
2B Mark McLemore
3B Jack Howell
SS Dick Schofield
CF Devon White
This core gradually melted away. Mark McLemore lost his starting job in 1988 (to the veteran Johnny Ray) and was traded to Cleveland in 1990. Devon White, a splendifirous defensive outfielder, hadn't followed up on a promising 1987 campaign with his bat was traded during the 1990/1991 offseason to bring in Luis Sojo (to replace the aging Ray) and Junior Felix (to replace White). (Of course, White had his best hitting year ever and won another Gold Glove while the Jays went to the ALCS; the Angels spent 1991 going 81-81, possibly being the best last-place team of all time.)

Jack Howell got traded that same year. More a victim of artificially heightened expectations than of incompetence, Howell's offense had undergone a few years of decline, and his OPS+ in 1990 dropped down to 97.

Wally Joyner was allowed to leave the team after the 1991 season. By far the best all-around player out of this group, and a fan favorite (and my favorite, to this day), Joyner's departure put the nail in the coffin on that core. Dick Schofield, another exemplary defensive player, stuck around until halfway through the 1992 season, when he was 29 years old and coming off of two injury-curtailed campaigns.

At this point, Whitey Herzog had taken over as GM -- or director of personnel, or whatever they called him at first. Aside from letting Joyner go, either by choice or by Jackie Autry's tight pursestrings, he also let Dave Winfield leave. These guys had combined for an OPS+ in the mid-120s in 1991, and drove in 182 runs between them; these were pretty much the two guys on the team that could hit.

Whitey decided they could be replaced by Lee Stevens (24 years old), Von Hayes (33), and Hubie Brooks (35).

Disaster ensued. These three guys had an OPS+ in the low 70s and drove in only 102 runs between them. It was clearly time to re-set the team.

The Angels had very good starting pitching at the time, with Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, and Jim Abbott anchoring an effective rotation. So Whitey traded Abbott to the Yankees for a package that included prospect J.T. Snow. Chad Curtis made his way to the majors with Gary DiSarcina was on his heels, as was Damion Easley. Tim Salmon had been the Minor League Player of the Year in 1992, and was ready for The Show.

The youthful core now comprised:
1B  J.T. Snow
2B Damion Easley
SS Gary DiSarcina
CF Chad Curtis
RF Tim Salmon
Eduardo Perez was knocking on the 3B door, and 1991 first-round pick Jorge Fabregas was also on the way behind the plate. Another outfielder off in the distance was the relatively underhyped Jim Edmonds -- though Mike Gimbel, one of the statiest statheads that ever statted, was singing Edmonds' praises before the 1993 season.

The Angels finished 71-91 in 1993 and Tim Salmon deservedly won Rookie of the Year. The 25-year-old Snow put up an OPS+ of 94 to go along with his acclaimed defense; DiSarcina was just awful at the bat (an OPS+ of 55), but he had a nice glove. Curtis was close to a league-average hitter and stole a ton of bases, though he was caught quite a bit, too. Easley was oft injured, but managed a 313/392/413 line in his limited action.

1994 was a step backward, as the Angels went 47-68. Snow hit rock-bottom and earned a demotion to AAA, Easley played only half a season and lost 100 points from his batting average, and Chad Curtis regressed as a hitter. Eduardo Perez hit poorly in his cup of coffee, and Fabregas hit an empty 283/321/307 in 43 games. Jim Edmonds made his debut and played left field, though he didn't hit that well.

While the offense was young and had quite a bit to prove, the rotation was consumed by old guys like Finley and Langston. However, Brian Anderson, a former first-round pick, was on his way, and pitched 100 innings of close-to-league-average ball in 1994.

Basically, coming into 1995, there was little in the way of hope for the immediate future. Any success the franchise was to have looked a few years off.

Then, on April 13, the Angels traded Chad Curtis to Detroit for Tony Phillips.

At the time, this looked like a typical idiotic Angel trade of a young player. The Angels were notorious for this, for trading away young prospects for aging veterans. Starting kind of randomly ... the Angels had a young catcher named Brian Harper, who hit .350 with power in AAA at the age of 21; the Angels traded him for a burnt-out old shortstop named Tim Foli, and signed Bob Boone, 34-years-old and coming off a season where he hit .211, to play catcher.

Why did they need Foli? Because Rick Burleson got hurt, and they had traded Dickie Thon, a promising 22-year-old shortstop, to Houston for the 34-year-old Ken Forsch.

The only reason they had an old guy like Burleson was because they had traded 23-year-old Carney Lansford in a package to acquire Burleson (who had one good year before the injury) and Butch Hobson (who always sucked); Lansford won the batting title in his first season in Boston.

Who else was there? Tom Brunansky got traded for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong, Gene Mauch's laundryman. Willie Aikens had a superb age 24 season, DH'ing for the Halos in 1979. But the Angels had Rod Carew at first, and wanted to keep Don Baylor around to DH, so they packaged Aikens with a young shorstop named Rance Mulliniks and got Al Cowens, who lasted 34 games in an Angel uniform before being traded for Jason Thompson, who was a damn fine player at the time, but who the Angels wouldn't have needed had they just kept Aikens around.

Of course, Thompson was only 25, and had hit only 317/439/526 in his half-season with the club, so he was too young and good for the Angels. They traded him to Pittsburgh for catcher Ed Ott, who hit .217 in half a season; Thompson's lowest OPS+ over the next three seasons was 140. Since Ott was such a failure, the Angels went out to sign Boone, which meant they didn't need Brian Harper, and our little carousel ride is over.

Need I mention Dante Bichette-for-Dave Parker?

Now, on the whole some of these moves worked out for the Angels. I mean, Reggie Jackson's OPS+ in 1982 was only one point lower than Thompson's that same year, and Thompson's was only 27 points ahead of Carew's, and only 42 points ahead of Baylor's. But the Angels signed high-priced veterans as part of a Win Now mode, and they very nearly won now. But in so doing, they had made a lof of mistakes, and traded a lot of very good, or at least decent, players for a bunch of guys like Ed Ott and Tim Foli who couldn't play at all.

And given that the 1995 team showed no promise whatsoever, and appeared to not be anywhere near the Win Now phase, I think you can understand the deep level of skepticism I had when I heard, on April 13, 1995, that the Angels had traded Chad Curtis for Tony Phillips. I mean, Phillips had been terrific for a number of years, but now he was 36 years old, and could he really keep that up?

On April 18, for good measure, the 37-year-old Scott Sanderson was signed to be a starting pitcher.

Then, on April 26, the 144-game 1995 season began.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow. This series would have been impossible if not for the deliriously wonderful Retrosheet. This Seattle Times article was also a considerable aid. Well, these sites won't actually prove aides until Parts 2 and 3, but there you go.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Frankie only threw two bad pitches last night: the ball he left up to Scutaro (which wasn't hit all that hard, and likely would have been an out had Figgins not have had to have been cheating toward first because the runner was held on) and the pitch to Hatteberg, which wasn't even all that awful. I guess you could argue the wild pitch, but it was nasty, and Jose did all he could but bounced the wrong way. And the hit by Kotsay was luck; he was jammed and hit a flyball that would have been an out if not for the no-doubles defense.

That just demonstrates how hard it is to play that game; you make just a couple mistakes and get a couple bad breaks and you blow a win. Basically, I'm not worried about it in the least. I'm focused on Lackey's babysteps -- he really didn't melt down at all when adversity turned against him. And coming one day after an exciting comeback victory, and two days after Colon demonstrating he can pitch two good games in a row, well, I'm beginning to be pleased with the way the team is playing. But taking the next two games against Oakland is essential.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

In the LA Times:
Scioscia said second baseman Adam Kennedy has made so much progress in his recovery from right knee surgery that he probably will begin a rehabilitation assignment with Salt Lake this weekend and return to the Angels during their next homestand against Detroit and Cleveland on May 6-11. Kennedy has been playing games in the Angels' extended spring training camp at Mesa, Ariz.
The Legs hasn't looked all that good to me at second so far this year; I checked the numbers (small sample alert) and his .825 zone rating is not so great (Kennedy is usually around .850). There have been a few plays this season that Figgins has missed the I believe Kennedy would have had.

I still think they should platoon at second, and it will be a good idea to slowly work Kennedy back in, anyway, given the severity of his injury. Oddly, Chone has hit much better against right-handers so far this season:
In 2005
vs RHP 32 313 343 531
vs LHP 24 167 231 333

For his career
vs RHP 564 293 336 402
vs LHP 265 298 368 400
If Figgins keeps this up, that would negate any platoon advantage, as Kennedy is obviously better against righties than lefties. But if The Legs can get on track with the bat, Scioscia's going to want some way to work him into the lineup. Could DH be a possibility? It will be interesting to see how Scioscia juggles Kennedy, Figgins, McPherson, Quinlan, DaVanon, and Rivera -- provided any of these guys starts hitting, of course ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I don't link to Bill Plaschke since his character assassination of Troy Glaus last season, but I'll issue an FYI that he has a column today about how the Angels miss Glaus. It's pretty typical for Plaschke to reverse his position without tacit acknowledgement; he does obliquely reference his old position this time, however:
Some of his teammates, once upset that he didn't play through the injury, came to appreciate his toughness. Even Glaus, once the clubhouse diva, seemed to mellow.
Um, okay, Bill.

Anyway, it's all a bunch of overreaction. Yes, obviously third base has been a sinkhole all year. But giving McPherson a shot is the right play.

I still think it would have made more sense to keep Glaus around -- having a healthy Glaus and McPherson would solve both the 3B and the DH problem (but good luck in assuring health for this team) -- than give Garret that big extension a year ago. But 'twas not to be.

Anyway, we now have a two-gamer against the Cleveland Spiders, one game behind us at 6-8. Tonight Bartolo Colon will try to rack up an amazing two consecutive good starts up against Jake Westbrook, a finesse right-hander who lives and dies by the groundball. Westbrook is off to a bad start, 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA, and he's also allowed three unearned runs on top of that. He's not as good as his 3.38 ERA of last season would lead you to believe.

Cleveland was a good offensive team last year, but have struggled thus far, scoring 4.07 runs per game over their first 14, a full run per game lower than The Lads have managed. Just about all their hitters are off to slow starts, and you know they'll bounce back at some point, but we need the staff to step up and keep them in their funk.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to follow up on a bunch of minor league guys every few weeks as the season went on. So here we go.

Obviously, it's very, very early in the season, so I don't want to make too much out of these numbers. It's just to show where they are now, and we can see how they develop when we come back to them in a few more weeks.

Erick Aybar
Playing short for the 9-2 Arkansas Travellers of the AA Texas League, Aybar is off to a pretty slow start with the bat.
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
43 10 3 1 0 3 2 233 292 349
This Aybar's first exposure to AA, so a slow couple of weeks is no big deal at this point.

Alberto Callaspo
Aybar's double-play partner is starting his second season at Arkansas. He struggled there last year, relatively, but is hot to begin this year. He's young enough that having to repeat AA isn't a terrible thing, especially if the hits keep falling in like this.
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
45 16 1 0 0 3 2 356 388 378
A few extra bases would be nice.

Nick Gorneault
Salt Lake is 7-4, but Gorneault has been pretty punchless so far, despite adding a few walks to his repertoire. That's kind of out of character for him, he's typically a free swinger; note that he's striking out quite a bit, too. Gorneault hasn't really amped up his game since reaching AA, which he's going to have to do to force himself into a crowded outfield situation or be desirable trade-bait.
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
39 11 4 0 0 4 9 282 349 385
Howie Kendrick
The California Leauge is made for hitters, and Kendrick is nothing if not a hitter. Read and weep (from joy):
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
58 23 2 1 4 1 10 397 407 672
The only thing to give pause there is the BB:SO rate; that doesn't really give a lot of hope in him being able to maintain this kind of production at higher levels. On the other hand, he's already 40% toward his career high in home runs, and Cal League or not, it's nice to see that kind of development.

Baltasar Lopez
Serving a suspension for drug use, Lopez has yet to play this year.

Warner Madrigal
He's coming off an injury and playing at Cedar Rapids. He does not have his stroke back yet:
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
33 6 1 0 1 0 11 182 182 303
As you can see, Madrigal swings freely, so if he's not hitting for average, he's not hitting. It's damn hard to be a good hitter when you strike out one-in-three at-bats.

Jeff Mathis
Despite a horrific season at AA last year, dragged down by a miserable second half, Mathis starts 2005 at AAA Salt Lake. So far, so good:
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
27 11 6 1 2 5 6 407 500 926
This is exactly the kind of start we wanted to see from Mathis after the collapse last year. He's obviously not going to keep that line up, but there's not more you can ask from him right now.

Mike Napoli
After a breakout year last year in the Cal League, Napoli moves up to AA.
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
32 9 5 0 1 9 11 281 442 531
Those are a lot of strikeouts, but also a lot of walks and some good extra-base power. All in all, a solid start for Napoli's first exposure to the high minors.

Sean Rodriguez
Rodriguez spent some time at Cedar Rapids last year, hitting 250/333/393 before going back to Rookie Ball to play full-time and hit 338/486/569. Now he's back in the Midwest League:
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
36 9 1 0 1 5 6 250 341 361
S-Rod has yet to find a lot of hits, but is maintaining some solid plate discipline.

BTW, am I the only bothered by the fact that Justin Baughman is the Cedar Rapids hitting coach?

Andrew Toussaint
Toussaint hasn't played yet this year; I can't imagine that he's going to start the season in Orem (which has replaced Provo in the Halo hierarcy), after he lit it up last year to a tune of 289/409/557. I haven't found any indication that he might be injured ...

Brandon Wood
With Sean Rodriguez hot on his tail, it would behoove Brandon Wood to knock up Cal League pitchers. So far:
 AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
51 15 0 0 5 6 12 294 368 588
It's good to see the power, and it will be interesting to see if he can get that average up. He hasn't been a high-average hitter in the past, however, so low-average slugger with some walks might just be what he's developing into.

Steve Andrade
Apparently, the Blue Jays also think that the purpose of Steve Andrade is to dominate AA. This is just getting ridiculous.
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
0 0 0 3 0 4.7 0 0 7 1 0.00
That seems like a good use of resources. Put the man in AAA. What else is he supposed to do to demonstrate he's earned the opportunity?

Daniel Davidson
The humungous finesse lefty is at Arkansas right now. Through two starts:
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
2 0 0 2 2 11.7 14 0 8 1 2.31
So that's encouraging.

Abel Moreno
I can't find any record of his pitching yet this year.

Ervin Santana
Also at AA, and part of a fine and promising rotation for that team:
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
2 0 0 2 2 13.0 8 0 5 5 0.69
That K:BB is not what we want to see, but of course it's early, and it's not like he's gotten burned yet.

Steve Shell
Also at Arkansas:
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
0 1 0 3 3 13.7 17 2 8 8 6.59
Well, I guess the whole rotation can't get off to a hot start. It's worth remembering that it took Shell a whole season to adjust to the Cal League, though there were also injury concerns at play. The above demonstrates that he's been struggling with control and command so far.

Von Stertzbach
The closer at Arkansas -- that team is just loaded with pitching prospects:
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
1 0 3 6 0 7.3 8 1 4 3 4.91
Those numbers are inflated by one bad outing, which can happen to relievers, as you well know; Stertzbach did manage to vulture his one win in that same game, where he allowed three runs.

Bob Zimmerman
Let's just say The Lonesome Hobo has not taken well to the Cal League so far:
 W   L   SV   G  GS    IP    H   HR   SO   BB   ERA
1 2 1 5 0 4.7 8 1 8 3 11.57

UPDATE: Mathis and Kendrick make Baseball America's Hot Sheet today, and there are some honorable mentions for a couple other Angel youngsters.

Monday, April 18, 2005

So, the Oakland series was a bunch of up and downs, and several of my remotes were strewn about the room by the end of play on Sunday.

Friday night was a great win; Colon matched Barry Zito all the way, and actually seemed worth the money. The Angels were clueless against Zito all night, and the two late runs they scratched out were pure luck -- balls that evaded defenders by inches. But you need that sort of break, and the Halos took advantage. Knocking up the bullpen after Zito left the game was also nice. It's exactly the kind of game you want to have against an opponent's ace: scratch it out against him, hold down the other team, and go crazy when he leaves the game, thus making your closer redundant.

Ace Washburn turned in his best start in a couple of years on Saturday, which of course got washed away by Rich Harden doing his best Tim Hudson and Scot Shields doing his best Bad News Bears. It's a frustrating way to lose a game, but the fact was it was a terrific game right up until the end. Wash was really on his game, changing speeds and hitting spots. He intuitively seems like a guy that would do well in the Coliseum, as the vast expanses give his flyballs plenty of room to roam harmlessly; sure enough, he has a 3.48 ERA in just over 80 innings at the Coliseam, though the 13 home runs he's allowed belie my reasoning. However, Oakland has usually had a pretty decent offense, at worst, over Jarrod's career.

As for Sunday, I know I'm a relatively big supporter of John Lackey, but I'm thisclose to giving up on him. What's holding me back is the fact that he's always pretty lousy in April. I really hope it's early season kinks, as his command and concentration seem to be all over the place. And Juan Rivera's baserunning gaffe in the top of the ninth --

-- okay, I had a bunch more stuff here, but then Blogger went and wrecked everything so it's all gone.

Basically, here's what I had:

1. Bengie Molina's our hottest hitter right now, so it sucks that he's gone.
2. But Dallas McPherson and The Legs and Finley and Cabrera and DaVanon getting going should make up for the gap between what Bengie has done and what Jose's likely to do.
3. We need to rock Aaron Sele's world tonight, and not just give him outs; the team needs to make him throw strikes and punish him when he does.

Okay, that was about it ...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tonight the Angels begin a three-game series against our enemies to the north, the Oakland Athletics.

Tonight features a match-up of disappointments, as Bartolo Colon faces off against Barry Zito. After his ERA jumped by over a run between 2003 and 2004, Zito has been hit hard in his two starts in 2005, and carries an 11.57 ERA into play tonight. In his 9 1/3 innings, he's only struck out three guys, and given up six walks. Three balls have also been hit out of the yard.

I haven't seen either of Zito's starts this season, but in past years, when I've seen him struggle, it's been because he either (1) can't get his fastball over for strikes or (2) can't get his curveball over for strikes. As devastating as his curve can be, a major leaguer can hit it if he knows it's coming. And though his cut fastball has some lively movement, it's not thrown all that hard (relatively), so a batter can lay off the curve and tee off on that fastball.

Zito's struggles last year were primarily due to his giving up more home runs than usual; he allowed a career-high 28 dingers last year, after only allowing 19 in 2003. The three he's already allowed in 2005 demonstrate that he has yet to solve the problem.

All of that said, and while I've never been a particular fan of Zito, he's obviously a far better pitcher than a 11.57 ERA, as long as he's healthy.

Colon, of course, you know about. His awful most recent start, against Kansas City, wouldn't be too frightening in isolation -- any pitcher can have a bad day. But given how his disastrous first half in 2004 is still fresh in our minds, seeing Colon melt down in so familiar a fashion was a bit scary. This is the kind of game wherein Colon needs to step up. I feel like I say that a lot, but it's true a lot ...

... the LA Times brings us the strangest news of the day. Apparently, Father Time (Steve Finley) has given The Punter a pouch of, um, something, that ... does ... something. Let's just quote the paper:

Finley said the pouch is called a balance necklace, made by a company called Layers of Light International. According to the company's website, the pouch contains a "Fusion Formula" of minerals designed to "achieve alignment of body, mind and spirit" and to "address the electro-pollution, toxic vapors, scars, surgeries and traumas to the skin by organizing the quantum nature of man."


"There's an actual science to it," insists Finley, who has used innovative techniques to become one of baseball's fittest players. "It's not voodoo."

The Layers of Light website, fittingly called www.lolinternational.com, proclaims this raison d'etre: "To promote peace and transform humanity by empowering individuals to achieve higher consciousness and sustained wellness."

I'm all for these things, though I don't really understand how putting rocks in a pouch around your neck accomplishes them. But I was never a scientific mind, so what do I know? There's a lot of talk on the website about "electromagnetic fields" and "energy" and such, and I have to admit I don't know thing one about either thing. If it works for these guys, so much the better, and if Finley can slug over .500 and Erstad can can keeps his OPS in the mid 800s, I just might shell out for a pouch of scientific rocks myself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A comment over at the Pearly Gates points out this Murray Chass article in the East Rutherford Times, calling upon the courts to end fraud and reject "Los Angeles" from the Angels' appellation.

No matter what one thinks of the name change, I think Chass is mostly wet here. He insists that the Angels have no current link to Los Angeles, failing to note that Anaheim is very clearly in the LA media market, and that there are several life-long Angelenos (like me) who are ardent Angel fans and would like to see the Dodgers back in Brooklyn.

I didn't like the name change at first, but it doesn't really bother me at all now. Who cares what they're called? As long as I get to see the games nearly every day, I'm happy.

The LA Times is now reporting that Kendry Morales may not be eligible to come to the US for another year.

Now, I don't know anything about defecting, but were the Angels aware of this when they signed him? Or has the LA Times just been screwing up in its reporting? Or were the Angels just feeding the reporters a load of bull about Kendry's arrival in Spring Training being imminent?

I mean, first we heard that Morales would be in Spring Training. A couple weeks into Spring Training, we heard, "Oh, the passport process can take three months. He signed December 1, so if he waited until then, he won't show up until the first week of March." Of course, we first heard this scenario during the first week of March, and the guy wasn't showing up. Then, I'm pretty sure we had reports like, "Oh, he'll be here next week." Now we hear it might not be for another year?

And, per the Times, Morales has already cashed his signing bonus. That would hint to me, though I certainly have no inside information, that the clock is ticking on his six-year deal. If so, that means one whole year of the deal could be wasted -- and a year of his development might be lost.

Now, the money isn't too bad for one year, and he can always play in the Dominican (I would assume; maybe there's a bunch of paperwork he has to fill out, in which case I doubt he would ever end up playing anywhere), so losing a year of him playing minor league ball in America may not hurt too badly. But the whole situation seems a bit bizarre to me, like something out of Brazil.

Every single thing about this Kendry signing has been a snafu. If he ever makes it to America, and plays well, this will all become colorful backstory. If he's a bomb, it will all come across as folly -- especially if Jered Weaver goes on to success in another uniform.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Win Expectancy craze is sweeping the baseballosphere, and I am nothing if not a follower of trends and a thief of ideas.

What is Win Expectancy? WE basically says, here's a situation where your team has a 50% chance of winning (say, leading off the top of the 10th when the score is 6-6), and you did something (maybe you hit a home run) that raised the chances of your team winning to 80.1%. You would get credited .301 of a win, the pitcher would be so debited, and so forth.

It's Studes who makes this accessible, having created a user-friendly worksheet for same with Jon Daly and posted it for download on his website.

I wanted to play around with the worksheet, so I entered in yesterday's dramatic come-from-behind victory to see what it spat out. Here are the totals for the game:

Player     WPA
Cabrera .301
Erstad .286
Rodriguez .258
Shields .217
Anderson .156
Finley .130
Bootcheck .044
J.Molina -.015
Izturis -.020
B.Molina -.028
Merloni -.077
Guerrero -.077
DaVanon -.117
Rivera -.142
Figgins -.165
Washburn -.253
TEAM: .498

Rogers .193
Dellucci .098
Allen .091
Blalock .088
Brocail .083
*** .038
Barajas .021
Bukvich .019
Soriano .018
Teixeira -.025
Hidalgo -.050
Young -.092
Cordero -.129
Shouse -.155
Mench -.180
Dickey -.242
Matthews -.273
TEAM -.498

That *** you see in the middle of the Texas list is for Washburn's wild pitch.

Anyway, that doesn't account for defense at all, so it's not perfect, but I played around with it, so I just thought I would share.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

But the rest of Sunday's game was ugly to the nth. Bartolo Colon shook my faith in his having a bounceback year, and Vlad and The Legs were the only hitters on their game.

Kansas City, in the meantime, demonstrated they are a team to watch. Not that I'm predicting that they'll be competitive in their division this seaosn, though I guess it's possible. But they have a lot of young and intruiging ballplayers. John Buck didn't do much in that series, but as a young catcher with some pop, bears watching. Ruben Gotay's home run off of Bartolo came on a really nice swing where he turned on a ball belt-high and in -- normally you'll see left-handed batters get extension on balls down and in, but he cleared his hips and applied the hurt to one at the belt, which seems rarer. He doesn't look like he's going to be a big home run guy -- he hit a double off of Bartolo on a fastball over the middle knee-high, and he doesn't seem big enough to drive that ball over the wall -- but looks like a solid hitter, and certainly the most promising the guy the Royals have put at that position since, um, Carlos Febles. So health will be a factor.

You also have Mark Teahen, who's trying to avoid becoming Sean Burroughs, and Angel Berroa trying to make a comeback. In the outfield, you have David DeJesus, who demonstrated excellent pitch selection, a nice line-drive stroke, and excellent defense. And then you get Denny Bautista, a live arm that chewed up the free-swinging Angels on Friday night, and one that is filled with promise.

All that said, it's still a bit embarrassing to give that team two out of three at home, especially when two of those games involved our pitchers getting rocked from here to hell and gone. Hopefully, The Ballpark and the Texas rotation will reinvigorate the Halo bats ...

Now Jeanne Douglas has an Angels blog. Don't we have enough former alt.sports.baseball.calif-angels in the Halosphere already?

If Nelson Lu starts popping by to comment on Jeanne's blog every day, it might become the most unmissable blog in the Halosphere, just for the explosions that will ensue.

Anyway, welcome to the Halosphere, Jeanne!

Friday, April 08, 2005



This refers to the print edition, not to the online edition. The print edition has a completely different article about the game, and one that says the Angels had to overcome Vlad's "baserunning mistake" to win the game.

The baserunning mistake, of course, came on the contact play, which is a play the Angels ran for all of 2004 to their ruin. You'd think the beat reporter would realize that and not assign blame to the individual player; it's not like when Vin Scully expressed surprise at Maicer Izturis running home on a contact play during the Freeway Series -- DiGiovanna sees every Angel game, and should know this.

Anyway, it's not online, so you'll have to just believe me.

Last night's game was one of those games where I couldn't really be happy when we won because it was so obvious we should have won, and Father Time's game-winning hit seemed more a relief than anything else.

John Jekyl and Lackey Hyde spent four innings making me look smart, and then the world came a-tumbling down on him. Lackey often has those starts that are good but for one inning, and last night was the prototype. And it can mostly be pegged on Adrian Gonzalez's 15-pitch walk, which clearly left Lackey rattled and upset (he shook his head at himself immediately following the walk). He began to lose focus, it seemed to me, and ... well, you know the "and." By the time he was mercifully lifted from the game, he had doubled his pitch count and was throwing pitches that would have been in the dirt had he been standing on the mound in Williamsport. He insisted on throwing his curve over and over and over, despite the fact that he was bouncing it off the catcher's face. And when he revved up to throw a fastball on his last pitch, it looked like a tennis serve.

Lackey really needs to work on his focus to realize his potential; it also seems like he tries to do too much in tough situations, constantly resorting to his out pitch when it's not yet necessary.

The ninth revealed that Scot Shields doesn't really have a rubber arm, no matter how many pitches he threw one game in college. I'm a big supporter of Shields, but I groaned when he took the mound last night; it seemed pretty obvious that he wouldn't be in tip-top shape after two straight outings, and when Shields is off his pitches and their wicked movement are all over the place.

This is as much a consequence of Kelvim Escobar (and Matt Hensley) being on the DL as Troy Percival being on the D.E.T. Removing Kevin Gregg from the equation really leaves a hole, as neither Bret Prinz nor Jake Woods have the trust of Mike Scioscia in crucial situations. Hell, going to the still-surprisingly-unsucky Esteban Yan is risky enough -- actually, given his tateriffic ways of late, going to dependable old Brendan Donnelly is risky enough.

On the whole, I'm still optimistic about the bullpen being effective, though not as good as over the last few years. But getting Escobar back and healthy is key to the bullpen, so we can get Gregg back into the pen and relieve Scotcisco Donriguez of having to pitch in every game.

But look at me, all pessimistic and Cassandraish in the wake of winning a series against a primary division rival, and on the eve of a series against a team that should be a relative weak sister in the Kansas City Royals. The Wyrd goes tonight, and a deep outing to relieve the relievers is his prescription.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

No longer in reach.

It's tempting to say that last night's loss could be pegged on the shallowed depth of the bullpen, as Bret Prinz drew the loss, but remember it was Brendan Donnelly that gave up the big hit in the eighth. (We should also recognize that Esteban Yan's Halo debut was shockingly suck-free. But, hey, even John Wells wrote a good episode of The West Wing last night, so maybe the planets were perfectly aligned.)

And the offense was stale, too, hitting into three double plays, including a bizarre one in the third where The Legs hit a line drive and Darin Erstad, of all people, got double off second base. Ersty's normally a fine baserunner, so I was surprised by his apparent wrong break on the ball, and with Vlad looming in the on-deck circle, getting doubled off second was particularly harmful.

Also destructive was The Indispensable Josh Paul's pathetic sacrifice attempt in extra innings. Egad. Though it was nice to have him running in the ninth, that's the kind of play your third catcher has to execute more often than not.

Somethine else fun happened last night: Father Time, Steve Finley, batted seventh against a lefty. Finley has a career 285/347/471 line against right-handers, but only a 254/311/400 against southpaws. So that's an exciting thing to have from a purported middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Even Garret hangs in against lefties for a career 291/307/447 line.

So Finley has limited range afield and can't hit lefties. *Sigh* ...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

People like to make a lot of the first game of the season (see The LA Times today, as Richard points out), so let's try not to do that. It's a human reaction, of course, to assign maximum value to the most recent event, especially when we haven't had baseball for so long.

I've come to a place where the season doesn't really end for me; the games just go on pause for awhile while some rosters reshuffle. Thankfully, most of the Angels seem to be on the same page. Going back to the ALDS, Vlad homered to right-center on two consecutive swings, and The Big Mango had a typically queasy but effective game.

However, I must also admit that I wore the same shirt yesterday as I did a year ago on opening day, and can't help but notice that Bartolo Colon victories in the first game of the season involving the Angels turned out quite nicely in 2004 and 2002. Despite the ridiculous 0-15 stretch Angel batters put up in the middle of the game, nothing discouraging happened last night. Now there are only 161 more.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Last season, I made two predictions for the Angel final record. My initial prediction was 96-66, but later I used some systematic analysis and revised that to 92-70.

You may have noted that the Angels were indeed 92-70 last season, and you may wonder how I devised such an accurate prediction.

The answer: dumb luck.

In that vein, I predict the following for 2005:


I see it breaking down like this:

The offense will be about the same.

The rotation will pick up about four wins: 20 runs from Colon, 10 from Lackey, and 10 from Washburn and Byrd offsetting a very slight decline from Escobar. I'm including defensive improvement here.

The bullpen and its decreased depth will give back a win, so that gives us three more wins than a year ago.


Here are the pitchers I plan on checking up on every few weeks this year. Hopefully, these fellows will stay steroid-free:

Steve Andrade: What's that you say? Steve Andrade isn't with the Angels anymore? That's right, but I want to follow him anyway. Andrade rocked the house in AA in 2003, putting up a Brendan Donnelly line of 13.06 K's per 9 innings against only 3.35 walks, adding up to a nifty 2.65 ERA. Starting 2004 at AAA, he pitched 13 2/3 innings and struck out 17 men, allowing a reasonable number of hits (15). He did, however, walk 8, and reportedly the Angel braintrust took this "struggling" as conclusive evidence that Andrade's rather common arsenal would be insufficient to retire batters at higher levels. How this can be decided after 13 2/3 innings that don't actually qualify as bad is a bit beyond me, but needless to say Andrade lit up AA again upon his return, striking out 11.06 guys per nine against 2.25 walks and a 2.44 ERA.

So, over two seasons, we have Steve Andrade with 99 innings pitched at AA, with 133 strikeouts, 31 walks, 6 home runs, and only 63 hits. ERA: 2.55. Yeah, so he was a 26-year-old in AA; so what? I think he's proven that he can get guys out in AA, and deserves more than a couple of weeks in AAA to show he can't do it there.

In the meantime, the Angels have acquired Bret Prinz, who in 368 2/3 career minor league innings has an ERA of 3.81, striking out 7.64 men per nine innings. Prinz did pitch pretty well at AAA last season, and has a live arm; I'm not saying he's gonna be a disaster or anything. But you have to give Keith LawToronto credit for taking a chance on Andrade; the upside is Donnelly, and the downside is Anthony Chavez (a former Angel farmhand that pitched well every year, got no respect, and managed only 9 2/3 major league innings -- with an ERA of 0.93, thank you very little). As the subject of pretty much a dare between Eddie Bane and Voros McCracken, Andrade's 2005 will be worth watching. The Angels have been great with relievers, but they ain't perfect.

Daniel Davidson: Described in the BPro book
as a "finesse lefty," the 6'4''-225 Davidson (at that size, he's a finesse pitcher?) will likely be at AA this year (I'd check the official roster, but of course Arkansas' official site is down as I type this). He was okay last year in the Cal League, striking out 6.67 guys per nine while keeping down the homers, so the transition to AA will be interesting.

Abel Moreno: Moreno doesn't walk guys or allow home runs, which is a nice combo. He was 21 a year ago at Cedar Rapids, and was apparently not a part of the steroid ring that was in play there, so that's good. The next step on the Angel ladder is Cal League Rancho Cucamonga, so we'll see how much control he can maintain as he climbs up.

Ervin Santana: The Artist Formerly Known as Johan (psst, Baseball Cube: it's the same person!) was shut down at AA Arkansas last year for precautionary reasons, so he'll start again there this year. He's 22, so there's still a lot of future ahead of him if he can keep his arm attached to his person. Health is really the only question mark for Santana at this point, so you need to watch the trainer's docket as much as his performance.

Steve Shell: Repeating the Cal League at age 21, Shell had an excellent season, striking out over 10 guys a game and walking barely over two. He'll join Santana in Arkansas this year for what promises to be a top-notch top of the rotation. It would be loverly for these guys to climb the ladder together, getting their cups of coffee in late 2006 before stepping into middle relief/spot starter roles on their way to the rotation in 2007, when they'll still be only 24 year old apiece.

Von Stertzbach: What a kickass name. Stertzbach was 23 last year in Rancho, and pitched exclusively in relief, but struck out many, many men (54 in 48 innings) and walked very, very few (13), all while giving up less than 0.40 home runs per nine innings, a phenomonal rate, especially in the hitter-friendly Cal League. It looks like the Angel relief legacy is destined to continue.

Bob Zimmerman: Must ... resist ... Dylan ... references. Oh, the hell with it: The Lonesome Hobo made opposing hitters a desolation row in 2004, with their bats stirring up an idiot wind as he struck out nearly 11 guys a game in Cedar Rapids while keeping the ball in the ballpark. He'll be 23 this season, and likely be in Rancho, where a hard rain is likely to fall when he's on the mound. He obviously has more than five believers, and appears destined to lead the Halos along paths of victory for years to come.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

So, I'm going to add a few new features this season. Over to your right, at the top of the sidebar, you'll notice a few of them. Two of them will monitor the Angels' success on the inane Contact Play, wherein whoever is on third runs home when the batter makes contact, regardless of whether the infield is in or where the ball is hit. This whole thing is, I assume, part of the Angels' desire to pressurize the defense, but what it certainly seemed to do last year was curtail a lot of scoring opportunities. I say "seemed' because no one was keeping track; I'm gonna change that.

Another feature is the Darin Erstad "4-3" Count, which will also count 4-6 plays and the 4-6-3. Ersty hit over 50 groundballs to second last year, I learned on a BTF thread, so we'll go ahead and make 50 the over/under, if you're the wagering type. I'll take the over.

Another thing I want to start doing is the Watch List, which will focus on the Halos' minor league prospects. Now, I don't talk about prospects very much during the season, for the simple reason that I don't see any minor league games. Also, a big corner of the Halosphere is taken by Future Angels and its coverage of the Angels' minor leagues. What I want to do is complement that coverage with updates on how prospects are doing.

You see, it occurs to me that others, just like me, want to follow some of these guys, but don't always have the time to do so. So I want to make it a little bit easier, both for me and for others.

So here's the prospect watch list for 2005:

Position Players
Erick Aybar: Aybar's 21 this season, and after putting up a 330/370/485 performance in the California League last year will move up to AA Arkansas. The Cal League is easy on hitters, so Aybar's first taste of AA will be important. His power amped up last year, as Erick hit 14 home runs after a previous career high of 6. One problem is that his stolen base success rate deteriorated, as he was successful on only 51 of his 87 attempts. If he keeps that up, stealing bases will not be part of his skill set if he makes it to the majors. Aybar has hit well at every level, never registering a batting average below .308 or an OBP below .346. He's young enough to afford a false start on AA, but maintaining numbers akin to his career 321/366/467 in the low minors would be a wonderful thing.

Albert Callaspo: Aybar, a shorstop, will be reunited with double play combo mate Callaspo in AA. Callaspo, who turns 22 in a few weeks, hit AA last year and was moved to shortstop; it didn't work out wo well for him, offensively or defensively. His offense dropped off from a 327/377/428 in the Cal League at age 20 (not as good as Aybar did in the same league at the same age) to 284/338/376. His power has dropped as he has moved up the levels, and his stolen base rate has taken a hit similar to Aybar's (he was 15 of 29 last season). Hitting a road bump at age 21 in AA is no crisis, so his repeating the level doesn't bother me. But he does have to perform at some point to move up in the crowded middle infield situation of the Angel system.

Nick Gorneault: Gorneault, a free-swining corner outfielder with some pop, will be at AAA this year. He stalled a little bit at AA last year, at age 25, hitting only 281/341/481, which was fairly low by his standards. Given the Angels depth at the position at the major league level, it doesn't seem too likely that he'll see time in Los Angeles of Anaheim, though with the injury curses the team sometimes suffers, you never know. Given his age, he's not a big prospect, but he might be the type of guy who could get included in a late-season trade.

Howie Kendrick: Second baseman Kendrick has smacked the ball around in his young career, hitting .367 in 549 at bats between Rookie and Low A ball. He'll be in the Cal League this year, so it will be interesting if he can maintain that. He doesn't walk a lot, but he finds his fair share of gaps with that average, hitting 44 doubles at those two levels. Kendrick turns 22 in July, so is somewhat behind Callaspo on the organizational depth chart, but hitting .360 has a way of changing that.

Jeff Mathis: As I'm sure you know, Mathis came into last season trailing only Joe Mauer amongst catching prospects, and left it with a horrible 223/308/391 line in his first exposure to AA. Sure, he was only 21, so if he bounces back this year, no big deal, but that's a frightening line to read from a guy who was supposed to make the Molinas redundant in 2006. FWIW, his walk rate did go up last year, and his isolated power was right around his career norms. So the question is, where did the singles go? If he can find them, he should be on the fast track.

Baltazar Lopez: I know nothing about this man; he's a lefty first baseman listed at 6'1''-180, and he hit 314/368/513 at Cedar Rapids last year at the age of 20, his first real exposure to professional ball. That's good enough for me to check his line this year, which I would guess to be in the Cal League, but I don't know (not all of the rosters have been announced as I type this).

Warner Madrigal: This free-swinging outfielder blew apart the Midwest League (369/394/581) at age 19 in 2003, but got hurt and only managed 26 games at Cedar Rapids last year. So he's kind of a blank slate.

Mike Napoli: The guy angling for Jeff Mathis' rearview miror, the 22-year-old came out of nowhere with a 282/393/539 last year in the Cal League. Now, he was both a bit old for the league and repeating it, and being pretty big for a catcher may see more time at first base. But he's always had a patient eye, and it's certainly possible that last year was a corner turned. His perf in AA will be key.

Sean Rodriguez: Where a lot of people see the Callaspo/Aybar combo as the DP keepers of the future, you have to wonder if Kendrick and S-Rod shouldn't have the inside track. It's awfully early to say that, despite Rodriguez's utter dismantling of Rookie ball last year, hitting 338/486/569 at age 19. He'll probably go to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League this year, where he spent about 200 at bats last season.

Andrew Toussaint: The 383rd pick in the draft last year, this 3B/OF out of Southern University hit 289/409/557 in 149 at bats at Rookie League Provo in 2004. This is right off of a 392/478/811 line in college, which, as I noted after the draft, was good for ranking 119th in the country by Craig Burley's college hitter rankings. I would guess he'd be off to Cedar Rapids this year, but sometimes the Angels go slow with guys, so maybe he'll be at Provo again.

Brandon Wood: Wood is two months older than Rodriguez, and as the Angels' first-round pick in 2003, got to spend the whole season at Cedar Rapids. He held his own, hitting 251/322/404 in 478 at bats. This is the same level where Rodriguez hit 250/333/393 in limited action. I don't really see the argument for Wood being a better prospect based on their performance to this point, despite their order on the organizational depth chart. Wood is likely find himself next to Howie Kendrick again, this time at Rancho Cucamonga, and he'll have to kick the offense up a notch to stay ahead of Rodriguez. That doesn't even regard the fact that as a pretty big buy (6'2'' or 6'3'', depending on your source), Wood may find himself moved off of the shortstop position at some point.

I'll get to the pitchers later, but those are the hitters I'll be following up on every few weeks throughout the season.

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