Wednesday, October 26, 2005

WE'RE #2!
White Sox vs. Red Sox in the ALDS: Three-game sweep.

White Sox vs. Houston in the World Series: Four-game sweep.

White Sox vs. Angels in the ALCS: White Sox lose one game.

We are the only team that managed to interrupt one of the more unexpected and dominant stretches of play we've ever seen. We accomplished what neither the Red Sox nor Astros could do!

Anyway, congrats to the White Sox and their fans.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Angels enter this offseason with a starting rotation of four men: Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana.

If all four of these players are healthy, that’s a superb top four. In 2005, they combined for an ERA+ of 116 in 625 innings pitched – which includes the fact that Santana was below average for the year as a whole (though it’s highly encouraging that he improved his ERA+ from 68 before the All Star Break to 106 afterward). And even with Colon and Lackey having worse years in 2004, Escobar was good enough that those three combined for an ERA+ of 102 in 615 innings that year.

It is the fifth spot that brings drama to the Angel winter. Their options are as follows:

1. Re-sign Jarrod Washburn.
2. Re-sign Paul Byrd, who is The Wyrd.
3. Sign a free agent pitcher (A.J. Burnett?).
4. Give the job to someone like Joe Saunders or Chris Bootcheck.

There is little reason to believe the Angels are inclined to do item 4. In fact, if local media are to be believed, there seems little chance that the Angels will pursue item 1. Though Wash has given the Halos a number of years of good service, he is on the wrong side of 30, and as represented by Scott Boras will likely demand a contract out of step with his value. The Angels have needs on the other side of the ball, so to speak, and may well decide to give The Wyrd another one-year contract while Jered Weaver, Steve Shell, and Daniel Davidson continue their progress toward Angel Stadium.

Would this be the right decision? Is Jarrod Washburn really going to make more than he’s going to be worth?

Let’s take a look back at Jarrod. His best year, of course, was in 2002:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2002 206.0 852 .163 .069 .022 .215 .60 .258 138
What is all that? BFP is Batters Facing Pitcher, and I like looking at strikeouts and everything as a fraction of batters instead of innings. Why? Well, say you have a guy who gives up a lot of hits, a lot of walks, but gets a lot of strikeouts. His strikeouts per inning is going to overstate his strikeout ability, because the hits and walks mean he’s facing more guys per inning than someone who allows less baserunners. So it kind of evens the pitching field.

GB/FB is groundball-to-flyball ratio, and BABIP is Batting Average on Balls in Play.

As I’m sure you recall, Jarrod was a pleasure to watch in 2002. To me, the best thing about him was how he’d basically only throw fastballs. He’d take something off of it, cut it every now and then to change things up, but it was mostly fastballs and the occasional slider.

In Spring Training of 2003, Jarrod fell on his pitching shoulder, and all of his numbers suffered:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2003 207.3 876 .135 .062 .039 .234 .68 .255 96
I believe what basically happened was that Wash’s fastball lost a bit from the shoulder injury. In 2002, he was hitting 93 or 94 pretty consistently; since then, he’s been in the low 90s. That reduces the margin of error on his fastball just enough so that he can get hit.

Jarrod also suffered an injury in 2004, and, again, his results were predictable:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 149.3 640 .134 .063 .031 .248 .96 .281 99
But something funny was going on; check out that groundball-to-flyball ratio: after being a pretty extreme flyball pitcher, Jarrod was becoming more of a groundball guy. He started mixing in other pitches, and was becoming more of a finesse pitcher, relying less on the strikeout.

A couple of things happen when a power/flyball pitcher makes the switch to finesse/groundball: you’re gonna give up less home runs (to be honest, the small amount of homers he gave up in 2002 looks like a fluke), and you rely more on your defense. Look at the batting average on balls in play, and how it jumped from the mid-.250s to .281: flyball pitchers, all else equal, will have lower BABIPs than groundball pitchers, since a number of flies are easy popups.

In 2005, Jarrod made his conversion to finesse pitcher complete, and had a very nice year, despite missing three starts due to forearm tightness:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
Now, here’s a game for you. What two pitchers seem more similar, these two:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2002 206.0 852 .163 .069 .022 .215 .60 .258 138
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
Or these two:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 149.3 640 .134 .063 .031 .248 .96 .281 99
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
If you go by results only, Jarrod v.2005 looks damn close to Jarrod v.2002. But if you look at process, at the peripheral numbers that led to those results, Jarrod’s 2004 and 2005 years look pretty identical.

So, if the inputs were so similar, why did Jarrod have such a better ERA in 2005?

Check this:
         With Runners in Scoring Position    With Runners on Base
2004 122 303 372 492 230 300 358 496
2005 122 238 310 385 262 267 315 408
Jarrod may also have been helped by his defense a bit: there were 14 double plays behind him 2004, but 24 in 2005.

But we see that Jarrod kept runs off the scoreboard by stepping up his game with runners in scoring position. Do you think he’s really going to hold hitters to a .238 batting average with runners in scoring position again? Well, it was .232 in 2002, so who knows …

… I think that Wash was a bit lucky in 2005, but a bit unlucky in 2004. I would guess that his performance with runners on base would even out over time; he was extremely poor one year and extremely good the next, so the truth can most usually be found in the middle.

So, for 2006, we’re looking at a guy who’s 31 years old and can be expected to have an ERA+ around 115, and has missed about 10 starts in the previous two years due to injury.

What about Paul Byrd?
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 114.3 482 .164 .039 .037 .255 .77 .287 110
2005 204.3 842 .121 .033 .026 .257 .89 .281 112
The only alarming thing there is the big drop in Byrd’s strikeouts; that’s a worrisome sign for a veteran pitcher. But … he has superb control (he walks guys half as often as Washburn), gives up homers about as often as Washburn, gives up hits just a little more than Washburn, and gives up hits on balls in play about as often as Washburn. He seems to be a good bet to be consistently around the 110 mark on ERA+.

So, in the immediate future, Jarrod seems a little bit better of a bet than The Wyrd, but the difference ain’t big. In the long-term, that’s probably also the case, given that Wash is around four years younger, and Byrd’s strikeouts dropping so far.

But is the difference big enough to justify signing Wash to a contract that will likely be for three or four years at around $8M-$10M per year, when Byrd can likely be signed for a one-year deal at around half the price? Especially in that Weaver et al. may only be one year away?

My inclination is to say, “no.” I have every reason to believe that Jarrod Washburn will remain effective as a finesse pitcher, but looking at the market, I can’t justify paying him. For instance, look at guys like Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. Wash is a year older than them, but otherwise he has to be considered more desirable than they were this past offseason.

Pavano got a four-year deal for nearly $40M, and Wright got three years for $21M. With Scott Boras involved, you have to believe that provides the range for the opening bid on Washburn.

It seems to me that it makes more sense to grab Byrd at one year (with a team option?) at around $5M.

I think this is what everyone intuitively thinks; that was certainly true of me. Looking at it deeper only plants a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, but not a lot. I think Jarrod’s gonna remain solid, and I’ll keep rooting for him. But I can’t root for the Angels to pay him.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Anyone here in the right age group to remember He-Man and his assorted allies? One of them was called Ram Man. Ram Man was a short little man with a big metal helmet who had incredible strength of head. He could bash that head into just about any impediment and get it out of the way of He-Man and his other friends.

Despite this awesome power, Ram Man was, as that site I link above notes without irony, "not to brite." Which brings us to a Ram Man with even more power: Manny Ramirez.

(Of course, I don't actually know if Manny is "not to brite," but he does have a rep as kind of ... let's say, a space cadet.)

It has been reported that Manny would be amenable to a trade to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If Manny is interested in the Angels, should the Angels be interested in Manny?

Ramirez is of course a very formidable hitter. His OPS+ the past two seasons have been 152 and 156 (Vlad's have been 154 and 156), and hitting in the middle of a good lineup in a good hitters' park has led to Manny driving in 277 runs in those years. I'm not a big proponent of RBI, but good hitting environment or not, that's an impressive figure.

So what Manny has going for him is his bat, and that counts for a lot. What is there against him?

There's a lot, actually. Ramirez is a poor defensive player; though playing left field in Fenway causes all sorts of problems with evaluating defense statistically, Manny's just clumsy enough out there that we all know he's pretty bad. If you check out his Baseball Prospectus card, you'll see that Clay Davenport's system says he's been -11 and -13 runs each of the last two seasons. He has also ranked dead last amongst qualifying major league left fielders in zone rating each of the last three years; part of that might be his park, but he ain't good out there.

So you have a guy who's 40-45 runs above average offensively, but gives back 10 to 15 with his glove (including positional adjustments). So he's really around three wins above average. That's very good, of course, but it brings you right up to another big negative he has "going for" him: his salary.

Manny is due $19M next year, $18M in 2007, and $20M in 2008 -- with a $20M option for 2009 (or a $3M buyout). This is, in technical accounting terms, a buttload of money.

And, quite frankly, he ain't worth it. Three wins above average should not be worth $19M. That's just ridiculous.

And there are all kinds of other factors to hold against Manny, as well. He's a lousy baserunner. He's (apparently) something of a malcontent. He would cost a lot in Angel top prospects -- I would guess at least two of Wood, Morales, Weaver, Kotchman, and Kendrick, along with maybe someone on the level of Shell, Callaspo, or Aybar. Current major leaguers? Unless Boston is convinced that they've solved their second base situation with the acquisition of Tony Graffanino, they could demand Adam Kennedy or even Legs Figgins (remember, they're looking for a center fielder, too).

What's more, you'd have to DH him. An outfield of Manny, Garret in center, and Vlad in right would allow roughly 3,901 doubles. Would Manny be open to being a permanent DH? I don't know, but it doesn't seem particularly in character.

So you're looking at paying $19M per year for a DH who can't run the bases and will be 34, 35, and 36 years old over the course of the contract, and to get him you'd probably have to give up some guys that project to help your team for a decade. Does this sound like a good deal to you?

I mean, it's certainly tempting; I'd like another 150 OPS+ in this lineup more than anyone. But, you know, there's more to life than OPS+. Given the likely costs involved, I don't think trading for Man Ram would be to brite.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

After discussing the 1B/CF/DH situation at exhaustive length, I now turn to other main pressing question the Angels face about position players this off-season: whether or not to re-sign Bengie Molina.

The basic dilemma is as follows:

1. Bengie has been a good player.

2. Jeff Mathis, his successor, may be one year away, having hit 276/340/499 at AAA at the age of 22. Those numbers are okay, especially as Mathis is young for his league, but hardly world-beating, and don't really indicate that he's ready for the majors right now.

3. However, Bengie will likely require a long-term deal, at least three or four years, and Mathis is highly likely to be ready somewhere in the middle of that.

4. Also, catchers over 30 are usually bad bets for long-term contracts, and Bengie turned 31 this past July.

There are also these things to consider:
Year   G    OPS+   CS%   PB/9 Innings
2002 122 60 .449 .044
2003 119 100 .444 .038
2004 97 86 .261 .071
2005 119 110 .313 .103
So though he peaked in offense in 2005 (which may drive up his price, though that performance will be difficult for him to repeat), Bengie's defense has been deteriorating. With his age, size, and injury history, there's no real reason to expect that trend to discontinue. He is no longer as spry on his feet as he once was, which was led to poor throws and more passed balls. Do you think Bengie's going to lose weight and become quicker as he continues to get older?

If we could sign Bengie to a one-year deal with a team option for the second year, of course that would be wonderful. But that of course is not going to happen.

I just can't envision a realistic scenario wherein it makes sense to re-sign Bengie. He has a lot of attractive qualities; he hits for a decent average, he has some pop, and works very well with pitchers. He should be able to turn a pretty penny. But with all signs indicating Mathis will be ready in a year or so, does it behoove the Lads to be the payors of those pennies?

If we were to let Bengie go, it would fall upon Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis to pick up the slack. This would almost certainly lead to diminished offense from the position, though the defense would likely improve a little bit, as Jose is his brother's better in that arena.

The Angels would also have to be aware of the fact that Mathis, the last two seasons, has started off hot and then slumped as the season progresses. Perhaps more days off would do him good.

What about external options? Any free agents or veteran catchers we might be able to grab for a year as Mathis Insurance?

It's interesting that bring that up ... in the comments section of the 1B/CF/DH post I link to above, two estimable gentlemen endorse the Angels pursuing Blue Jay center fielder Vernon Wells. There is, in fact, much that is appealing about Wells. He's fairly young, turning 27 in December. He's a solid hitter, having posted an OPS+ of 108 in his career (though his 2003 campaign, in which a .317 batting average drove his numbers sky-high, appears to have been a bit of a fluke). He plays good defense, having ranked in the top four in AL center fielders in zone rating each of the last three years. He's fairly cheap, due $4.3M next year and $5.6M in 2007.

Would he be available? Perhaps, as pointed out by Matt Welch in that comment section, the Jays could move young prospect Alexis Rios to center, and the Angels can package prospects like no one else. I don't actually know that the Jays are looking to move him, but, hey, it's the offseason, and the Hot Stove League is all about speculation. It's fun.

So in that spirit, I'll just throw something else out there.

The Blue Jays have another player who fits in to the catcher conversation: Gregg Zaun.

Say what?

Well, Gregg Zaun is 34 years old. But he's signed through 2006, and is only due to make $1M. He's a solid hitter for a catcher, having put up an OPS+ of 94 in each of the last two seasons, powered by an excellent walk rate (he walked more often than he struck out last year, as a matter of fact). Also, he's a switch hitter with a pretty negligible platoon split, and his career line against right-handed pitchers (248/341/379) is better than Jose Molina's (215/257/284 [yikes!]).

His defense is a mixed bag; he's only thrown out 25% of basestealers the last two years, but he's only allowed .038 passed balls per nine innings in that period, which is pretty good.

The Jays' young catcher, Guillermo Quiroz, ain't much of a hitter, so they might actually be inclined to hang on to Zaun, I don't know. But as a one-year bridge to Mathis become the full-time starter, he seems to me like a good fit.

What could we give up? I think the Angel farm system untouchables are Wood, Kendrick, Weaver, Mathis, possibly Shell, plus some really young guys like Nick Adenhart and Gustavo Espinoza. Guys I'm okay with moving include Aybar and Callaspo, Sean Rodriguez, Nick Gorneault, Joe Saunders, Chris Bootcheck, and Mike Napoli.

Could some combination of those guys fetch Vernon Wells? Could some combination of those guys fetch Wells and Zaun (perhaps we would have to throw Jose Molina in for that to happen, and the defensive difference there may or may not be enough to make the deal worthwhile, depending on the size and scope of the veteran's role)? I don't know. But if I'm Bill Stoneman, it's worth a phone call.

Assuming we can't get Bengie to sign a one-year deal, that is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When reviewing a season and what a team needs for the upcoming year, one easy shorthand tool to use is the team page at Baseball Reference. At a glance, you can see what positions had above- and below-average offensive production, and we all have enough knowledge of their defense and contract status to go from there. To abbreviate this entry:
Pos   Player    Ag    AB    AVG   OBP   SLG   SB   CS   OPS+
C BMolina 30 410 .295 .336 .446 0 2 110
1B Erstad 31 609 .273 .325 .371 10 3 89
2B Kennedy 29 416 .300 .354 .370 19 4 97
3B Figgins 27 642 .290 .352 .397 62 17 103
SS Cabrera 30 540 .257 .309 .365 21 2 82
LF Anderson 33 575 .283 .308 .435 1 1 99
CF Finley 40 406 .222 .271 .374 8 4 73
RF Guerrero 29 520 .317 .394 .565 13 1 156
DH Rivera 27 350 .271 .316 .454 1 9 106

McPherson 24 205 .244 .295 .449 3 3 98
Davanon 31 225 .231 .347 .311 11 6 81
Izturis 24 191 .246 .306 .346 9 3 77
JMolina 30 184 .228 .286 .348 2 0 71
Quinlan 28 134 .231 .273 .403 0 1 80
Kotchman 22 126 .278 .352 .484 1 1 124
There are few surprises here. We see that first base was subpar, center field a catastrophe, and DH rather mediocre. Aside from making a decision on Bengie, those are the major problems faced by the Angels this offseason. Thankfully, the 1B/CF/DH problems are somewhat intertwined.

If you ask me, any decision for 2006 should start with the following premise: Casey Kotchman is a starter.

It's not going to do any good to sit him on the bench for a year, and I don't think it's going to do any good to send him back to AAA for a third year. He already showed signs of stagnating there in 2005, as observers say he tried to alter his approach to demonstrate more power. This backfired, and he returned to good hitting after an early-season slump.

You can even see this looking at his major-league splits: after an ugly 0-10 in a cup of coffee early in the year, Kotchman was called up after the All Star Break and managed to hit 302/369/526 in 116 at-bats. Small sample size caveats apply, but he did draw 13 walks against 18 strikeouts, demonstrating a good control of the strike zone. Here are his post-All Star Break numbers prorated to 500 at-bats:
         AB   R   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG
Actual 116 16 35 5 0 7 13 18 302 369 526
500 69 151 22 0 30 56 78 302 369 526
Now, I'm certainly not saying that he would hit 30 home runs over a full season at this point in his career. But you could build a lot of regression into that, and he'd still be pretty okay.

He's most likely not going to hit .320 to start with. But he has to start somewhere, and he was the team's second-best hitter on a per-at-bat basis in 2005. When your top hitting prospect puts up a performance like that in part-time, I think you gotta give him a shot. The question becomes, what do you do with him? The options are:

1. Put Kotchman at first and Erstad in center.
2. Put Kotchman at DH, keep Erstad at first, and find another CF.

I know we all would love (1). But whether Erstad's body could take the outfield at this point -- and whether or not he would even still be a superlative outfielder -- are open questions.

As for center field, we have both internal options and external options:

Internally, beyond Erstad, the Angels have Steve Finley. If the Angels choose this option, they're out of their ever-loving minds.

The other internal option is Legs Figgins. The biggest risk here is that this would remove Figgins from his valuable utility role. But is he needed at that role?

This year, he played a lot of third base. But next year, hopefully McPherson will be healthy, and both Quinlan and Izturis should be around to back up third.

Figgins can play second base. Well, so can Izturis, if we need a back-up there. And there's a decent chance Callaspo or maybe even Howie Kendrick might be ready to cover an injury for a few weeks next year.

Of course, in 2005 we saw a situation where McPherson, Quinlan, and Izturis were all hurt. So maybe Figgins couldn't stay the season in center; you still have Finley to back him up (blecch), not to mention the likes of Jeff DaVanon.

I'm not necessarily endorsing making The Legs the permanent center fielder; I'm just saying that the Angels could make it work, and if they're not willing to move Erstad out there, Figgins is the most viable internal option.

How about external options?

There are two center fielders out there rumored to be available via trade. Thankfully, they both hit right-handed, and the Angels have an apparent desire to acquire a right-handed power hitter. (This has led to talk of the Angels pursuing Paul Konerko, which strikes me as ill-considered. Sure, he's a good hitter, but signing him to DH without moving Erstad to the outfield violates my starting premise about finding playing time for Kotchman. Furthermore, it further clogs the easy end of the defensive spectrum, costly at a time when Kotchman and Kendry Morales are making strides for the majors, not to mention that Garret Anderson will likely require more and more time at DH as he continues to break down. And that doesn't even account for possible NRI Tim Salmon, though I doubt his body has much left to offer him.)

Anyway, the two center fielders reportedly on the block are Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron. Let's check out their career numbers, prorated to 162-game seasons:
Player    AB   R   H   2B  3B  HR  BB   SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  SB  CS  OPS+
Hunter 583 86 156 34 4 23 41 116 267 321 458 17 8 100
Cameron 553 88 138 30 5 22 71 153 249 340 442 29 8 106
Hunter will be 30 next season, Cameron 33. Both players are coming off of injuries in 2005 that cost them a lot of games. Cameron hasn't played in more than 150 games since 2002, and Hunter has not since 2003. Hunter will make $10.75M in 2006, Cameron $8M. Both have superb defensive reputations.

Let's say, for a moment, that the Angels wanted to acquire one of these guys. Could they do it? With the Angels farm system, they could acquire nearly anyone. Would the Twins or Mets likely require a major-league-ready player? As a matter of fact, both of those teams had huge holes at the same position in 2005: second base.

If we acquired a full-time center fielder, would we have a second baseman to spare? We would indeed; Figgins could play second, and Adam Kennedy could be traded.

I should emphasize that I'm not making an endorsement on any of this, beyond starting Kotchman. Making Figgins the regular second baseman would, as discussed above, remove him from his utility role. Figgins is also a lesser defender than Kennedy, and we should also mention that Kennedy was one of the few Angel regulars with an OBP better than league-average (Vlad, Bengie, Figgins, and Kennedy were it).

It's also worth asking whether "upgrading" center from Figgins to Hunter or Cameron is worthwhile financially. Though both have better defensive histories than Figgins, they are both on the wrong side of 30, and I'm not sure that what defensive improvement they might provide would be worth the $5M-$7M more they earn than Adam Kennedy. And there's also a chance that if he devoted all of his time to playing the position, Figgins could become a very good defensive center fielder indeed. He has the speed to do it, and we've seen him become very adept at third base after some initial shakiness.

And note that the only theoretical advantage to having a Hunter or Cameron in center instead of Figgins is defense: Figgins is as good an offensive player as they at this point, more durable, cheaper, and younger. So, say, trading Kennedy for Hunter and installing Figgins at second full-time would mean the Angels would be spending an extra $7M to have better defense in center and maybe slightly improve the offense (Hunter and Kennedy do not differ as much with the bat as you may think). Is that worth $7M? I don't know.

Now, if we move Erstad back to the oufield, what does that do to the DH position? Well, we'll still have Juan Rivera, who was solid but unspectacular in 2005. Rivera can ably play both outfield corner positions, allowing Garret and Vlad to get half-days off at DH. Rivera also has a pretty negligible platoon split, allowing him to start nearly every day, if we think he can do it.

One thing the Angels haven't really seemed to realize is the one thing their best offensive teams of the past few years have had in common: a consistent and skilled DH. 2002 is the best example: the Angels ranked 4th in the league in runs scored, and benefitted from having Brad Fullmer. Yes, he was a platoon player, but Tim Salmon and Shawn Wooten were around to help out against lefties. In 2004, Troy Glaus returning to DH down the stretch was a big help to the team.

In other years, the Angels have used the DH spot as a revolving door for the injury of the week. There is some value to that, but the fact remains that DH is a position where strong offensive production is requisite. I like Rivera, but I don't know that he's quite good enough; he turns 28 in June and his career-high OPS+ is 118.

Konerko might help for a year, but as mentioned above, Morales and Anderson will both be around in 2007, and what are you going to do with those guys and Kotchman and Konerko? I don't think that's a viable signing for 2007 and beyond.

So, despite all this talk of getting right-handed bat, I'm not sure I see it happening. Kennedy-for-Hunter? Maybe, but it doesn't seem too likely, given that it's Bill Stoneman we're talking about. Here's how I see our lineups looking for the next two years:
C (we'll get to this another day)
1B Erstad
2B Kennedy
3B McPherson
SS Cabrera
LF Anderson
CF Figgins
RF Vlad
DH Kotchman
Finley and DaVanon will be available to play CF in case of Figgins
having to play 3B or 2B; Rivera will be available to DH if Kotchman
has to play 1B

C (stay tuned)
1B Kotchman
2B Kendrick
3B McPherson
SS Cabrera
LF Morales
CF Figgins
RF Vlad
DH Anderson
Finley, Erstad, and Kennedy will be gone; Morales and Anderson can
split LF/DH duties, and Rivera will still be under contract; Callaspo
will be the backup infielder; shortstop might be an issue with Aybar
and Wood both ready (if McPherson flames out, Wood might be moved to
third, and if not [or Aybar plays well] Cabrera might be traded for a
center fielder)
Basically, I think Angel fans are going to have to suck it up and prepare for one last year of Darin Erstad sucking runs out of the offense. If they weren't going to put him in the outfield in 2005 after Finley struggled, they're just not going to do it.

There are of course a host of other scenarios: Stoneman might finally pull the trigger on a trade, we might get silly and sign Konerko, one of the middle infield prospects gets moved to center, etc. So I doubt that everything will proceed as I have outlined above.

And if Steve Finley is playing center field for the Angels on Opening Day 2006, someone's gonna get hurt.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I'm stealing a format here that Bill James used in his 1992 Baseball Book, where he did this "Team in a Box" thing. I'm adapting it to my purposes here, and you'll get the idea as it goes along. There are a lot of subjective elements, so feel free to disagree; there's a comments section and everything!

2005 Won-Lost Record: 99-73, including a 4-6 record in the postseason

Best Player: Vlad

Weak Spots: Center field, first base, DH, bullpen depth

Best Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon

Best Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez

Staff Weakness: The back of the bullpen, which led to overwork of the primary bullpen guys

Best Bench Player: Whichever of Rivera or Kotchman was more "bench" than the other

Most Pleaseant Surprise: Ervin Santana

Biggest Disappointment: Steve Finley

Park Characteristics: It's a pitchers park; 91.8% runs were scored in Angel home games (by both teams) than road games

Ownership -- A+
Upper Management -- B+
Field Management -- A
Front-Line Talent -- A
Second-Line Talent -- B
Minor League System: A+

Background: The Angels won the World Championship in 2002, the Injury Championship in 2003, and the AL West Championship in 2004, falling in three ALDS games to the Boston Red Sox.

Outlook: With the A's retooling, the Angels were the pick to win the division for a second straight year. I predicted the Angels would go 95-67.

Getaway: The Angels went 13-11 in April, 17-11 in May, and 17-9 in June, separating themselves from the Rangers and A's.

High Point of the Season: Would have to be the ALDS victory. As for the regular season, it would be the clinching in September.

Low Point of the Season: Either the ALCS, or that brief period late in the season when Oakland caught up and surpassed us. The bad time began with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners right before the All Star Break. The trademark game of the Angel summer was the 2-1 loss in 18 innings in Toronto.

Stretch Drive: After two months of mediocrity (26-27 over July and August), the Angels finally turned it on in September and October, going 21-9 and winning 14 of their last 17 games.

Major Injuries: Dallas McPherson as hurt for most of the year, providing a big power deficit for the offense. Bartolo Colon was injured in the ALDS and unavailable for the ALCS, and Vlad fought shoulder injuries off and on all year, and seemed visibly bothered by his left shoulder in the playoffs.

Offense: Mediocre and inconsistent. The only hitter better than decent was Vlad, meaning that the pressure of the whole offense rested on him. When he went through slumps, as he did and any player is bound to do, the offense was lost at sea. Overall, the team ranked 8th in the league in OPS+.

Defense: The infield defense was superb, with even Dallas McPherson performing adequately when he could play. The outfield, not so much, with Finley stinking up center and Vlad and Garret Anderson providing average range on the corners. The Angels ranked 6th in the league in Defensive Efficiency (turning balls in play into outs).

Pitching: Both the starting rotation and bullpen were excellent. The Angels were tied for 4th in the league in ERA+.

Number of players having good seasons by their own standards: Vlad's rate stats were fine, but his injuries kept down his counting stats. Bengie hit much better than he usually does.

Over-Achiever: Bengie

Under-Achiever: Finley

Infield: Decent. The two best players on the infield were Kennedy and Figgins, both of which are good fielders and better-than-average offensive performers. Cabrera and Erstad are good defenders, but their offense was predictably subpar.

Outfield: Okay. Vlad was Vlad, but Finley was done and Garret struggled through injuries to put up a pretty mediocre year, with declining defense to boot.

Catching: Bengie was the bat and Jose the glove and arm.

Starting Pitching: Excellent.

Relief Pitching: Excellent, but overworked at times.

Hall of Fame Watch: Vlad, the only real Hall of Fame guy the Angels have, did nothing to hurt his career numbers. Despite playing in only 141 games, he still hit 32 home runs and drove in 108.

Players with a chance for 3000 hits or 500 home runs: By Bill James' Favorite Toy, Vlad has a 62.2% chance of hitting 500 home runs and a 30.7% chance of 3,000 hits. Garret Anderson has a 12.5% chance of 3000 hits.

Best Interview: Ervin Santana

Best Fundamental Player: Probably Kennedy or Cabrera. Erstad might have an argument, and Rivera has terrific fundamentals in the outfield.

Worst Fundamental Player: Vlad

Best Defensive Player: Erstad, maybe Kennedy and Cabrera; and Jose Molina

Worst Defensive Player: Steve Finley

Best Knowledge of the Strike Zone: Casey Kotchman, with a shout-out to Jeff DaVanon.

Least Command of the Strike Zone: Darin Erstad has a fascinating combination of no walks and many strikeouts. Steve Finley was also a total mess, and Garret Anderson was his normal free-swinging self, with an increased strikeout rate the last couple of years.

Fastest Runner: There's a reason I call him The Legs.

Slowest Runner: Everyone knows this.

Best Baserunner: Cabrera. Okay, maybe it's Figgins with the speed, but The OC really does a good job on the basepaths and deserves some credit.

Most Likely to Still Be Here in 2015: Ervin Santana

Best Fastball: Colon

Best Breaking Pitch: Frankie, when he's on. Otherwise it's Lackey's slurve. Or Shields' fastball.

Best Control: Paul Byrd is The Wyrd.

Most Overrated Player: Darin Erstad

Most Underrated Player: Adam Kennedy

Manager's Pet Strategy: Arguing with everything and wasting the #2 spot in the order.

Most Fun to Watch: Vlad

Least Fun to Watch: Finley

Managerial Type: Josh Paul

What Needs to be Done for 2006: This will be the subject of various posts to come, but the short list:

1. Sort out the 1B/CF/DH situation.
2. Decide if Bengie returns as catcher.
3. Decide which of Jarrod Washburn, The Wyrd, or a Free Agent gets to complete the rotation.
4. Get some real bullpen help so Scot Shields doesn't die.

Outlook for 2006: It's good, but with some caveats. The A's' young pitchers will be one year better, and the Angels have a lot to figure out in the next couple of months.

Due for a better season: If Garret Anderson can stay healthy, he can be better. Ditto Dallas McPherson.

Likely to have a worse season: Bengie's bat is likely to decline a little.

Just look at that for a second.

Including the postseason, we won 99 games, losing 73, for a winning percentage of .576.

You could do a lot worse.

And, honestly, there's not that much shame in being eliminated in series:

1. Where you played the team with the best record in the league
2. without your best pitcher,
3. with your best player playing hurt (Vlad had a bad left shoulder, and it was clear to me that he was pullling that shoulder off the ball and not staying through the ball on his swings; I decline to believe these things are not connected),
4. with the rotation completely unset, and
5. coming off a tiring and intense series against another good team.

The one frustrating thing is that we know the team could have played better than they did. But the offense went cold, as it did so often over the course of the season, and the team ran into a buzzsaw. The White Sox are now 7-1 this postseason, having wiped the Red Sox out of contention with apparent ease. This is a good team playing great ball right now, and there is no shame in falling to them.

I want to thank Juan Rivera and Adam Kennedy for being the guys that looked like they cared in Game 5. I'm not saying the others didn't, by any means, but these guys, along with Figgins and his double, were the guys that came through. Rivera hit every ball hard and put in a great effort on defense. A.K. went 2-3, with his out being a pretty well-hit ball, and played good defense, jumping for a blooper and giving his all to try and prevent Aaron Rowand from scoring on an infield hit (which was only an infield hit because Adam made a terrific play, and as for the the throw, no one would have made the out there). Kennedy was charged with a ridiculous error on a bad Bengie Molina throw, and hopefully the official scorer will revisit that and strike the silliness from the record.

One more thing, and sorry for the somewhat random organization of this post: moving Garret Anderson to center for the first time in Game 172 strikes me as the ultimate in desperation. We lucked out somewhat in that I can't recall even one ball being hit to center all game. (Wait, that's can't be right, can it? Okay, Crede's sac fly went to center, apparently ... Iguchi flew out to center. Fine. I just have a bad memory.) Hopefully, that put the nail in the Finley Playing Time Coffin, but I think we all realized last year that that experiment was, shall we say, misguided.

Anyway, I'll be getting a post up later today looking forward, hopefully. The Angels have some big decisions to make this winter, so we'll start diving into that.

2006 starts today.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Halosphere has these last two games pretty well-covered. To sum up:

Bad Pitching + MIA Offense + Umpire Ineptitude = Embarrassing Losses

The biggest of these problems has been the MIA offense. The Angels got away with having one substantially good hitter over the course of the season, but when Vlad goes dry, there's not really anyone to pick him up. Sure, Figgins, Kennedy, and Molina are on the good side of average (as well as Kotchman, when he plays), but only Garret Anderson and Juan Rivera have drawn close to the median out of the rest of the team.

I think an added problem is that Vlad can sense when he's needed, and tends to press. He can work through those slumps over a season, but if one hits during the postseason, someone else needs to step up. That hasn't happened. No matter what happens for the balance of this postseason, this will have to be addressed for 2006. Finding a way to work Kotchman into the lineup, along with a healthy Dallas McPherson, might be part of the solution.

As our rotation has been bailing out our hitters all year, it would be a bit curmudgeonly to start ripping on the likes of John Lackey or Ervin Santana now, so I won't. Obviously, neither had anything, and it would have helped if they had. But the offense has done them no favors.

There's a lot of negativity out there, and the missed calls tonight only serve to add insult to injury. The Angels have caught zero breaks in the ALCS, but also haven't done anything to create their own breaks.

But the Angels' own history is proof enough that things can change. The Angels had a commanding three-game-to-one lead in the 1986 ALCS, and we all know what happened there. This team is better than they have shown us over the last three games, and starting Sunday evening they have three games to prove it.

Will they? I have no idea. But they can. And if there is one thing I've learned watching sports, it's never to underestimate a team with its back to the wall.

Friday, October 14, 2005

One quick little last thing on Eddingsgate … Steve Palermo and Mike Port, both MLB officials in charge of umpiring (Palermo, of course, is a former umpire) allege that Eddings was in the right. This quote from Mike Port, a former Angel GM is ... well, check it out:
Summarily, Doug Eddings did nothing wrong. He gave the same signal for all swinging strikes. If the question is, “Did he call Pierzynski out on strikes?” The answer is no. He was indicating the batter swung at the pitch.
Um, dude, “Doug Eddings did nothing wrong” and “He gave the same signal for all swinging strikes” are mutually exclusive, in this case. The fact that he gave the same signal he did for all swinging third strikes that did not hit the ground is what led everyone on the Angel defense to not make a play on the rolling ball!

Anyway, I don’t expect Major League Baseball to get it right, because I expect nothing of Major League Baseball. Any mechanism that says Eddings is one of the twelve best umpires in baseball is so deeply flawed (see Josh’s links to various Eddings controversies here -- and, quite frankly, his miss of the catcher’s interference call on April 8 is sufficient for me) that relying on the people in charge to admit wrongdoing is asking too much. Fans have access to video of the man, we all know he signaled an out, and if MLB officials want to go all 1984 on us (OUT IS SAFE), that’s fine with me. Mike Port is not the ultimate arbiter of truth.

Anyway, the time has come for the Angels to move on, and I will follow suit. I have no doubt that Mike Scioscia will have the team focused on the task at hand. This is a team that has dealt with adversity before, both self-inflicted (K-Rod dropping the throw from the catcher) and, yes, inflicted by umpires (Larry Young lying about Orlando Cabrera not tagging up on a foul fly).

What’s more, there’s a lot of good that came out of our trip to Chicago. Remember, we came into Seitztown on a brutal travel schedule, with our rotation not set, with our bullpen tired, and faced a rested team coming off a great season and a dominant divisional series. And, in the second game, we sent out a pitcher who had thrown two innings in two weeks and had suffered from a debilitating case of strep throat.

What happened? A 3-2 win on Monday, and a 1-1 tie through nine on Tuesday. In addition, neither run the ChiSox scored in Game 2 was an earned run. The Angel pitchers have kept a tight leash on the Chicago offense.

Of course, you can also say that the White Sox pitchers have adequately subdued the Angels, and Mark Buehrle did pitch a marvelous game. This series has started off as the tight, pitching-and-defense match-up it promised to be.

But the split in Chicago is, I think, a great result for the Angels, especially given the circumstances. We get three games in Los Angeles of Anaheim to set the tone for the rest of the series; it’s now a best-of-five in which we have home-field advantage. Even if the Angels keep doing what they have been, they should be in good shape. But if The Legs and Vlad can warm up their bats, our Lads will be even better off ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I posted this in another forum, but after reviewing the videotape, here is my take on Doug Eddings being wrong:

Eddings, on strikes three that hit the ground earlier in the game, always waited to pump his fist until after the batter was tagged, in some sense "completing" the strike.

In fact, this happened to Aaron Rowand, the batter immediately prior to Pierzynski. Strike three was in the dirt; Eddings extended his right arm to mark that no contact was made, Paul tagged Rowand, and then Eddings makes the fist motion. The exact same scenario played out with the final out of the White Sox 8th, the first out of the White Sox 6th, and the last out of the Angel 6th.

The fist pump is indeed the motion that Eddings makes for all strike calls. But it also true that there are zero instances of him pumping the fist before the tag on a swinging strike in the dirt.

Here's an instructive example: when Brendan Donnelly struck out Dye to end the fifth, Dye swung and missed at a ball nowhere near the dirt. Eddings extended his right arm to indicate no contact, and then made the fist. Everyone walked off the field with no problem.

Top of the sixth: Bengie Molina at the plate. Swing and a miss on a ball in the dirt. Eddings puts out the right arm. AJ tags Molina -- and then Eddings pumps the fist. It's clear that the fist, in this context, means that he's out.

Bottom of the sixth: Konerko strikes out on a ball in the dirt. It was a check swing. Eddings points at the bat to indicate he swung, but didn't make the forceful out call until Konerko was tagged.

Bottom of the eighth: Konerko strikes out on a ball in the dirt. Eddings points at Konerko's bat to indicate he swung (he had tried to check, but it was a clear swing). He does not make the fist pump until Konerko is tagged.

I already discussed Rowand in the bottom of the ninth.

On AJ's strikeout, Paul rolls the ball behind Escobar ... who did not go for the ball. He's looking toward home ... but no clip shows whether or not he saw the fist pump. BUT ... as Pierzynski is running to first, Escobar makes a motion to Eddings that seems to indicate that he did see it. There's a great shot of this on the Fox broadcast after Escobar's first pickoff throw to first, that is aimed right up the first base line. (UPDATE: Jim Caple quotes Escobar as saying, "I was right there, how many feet away. I didn't see if the ball hit the dirt, but I saw the umpire point and call him out. That's all I needed to see." If you view the play from the center field camera on the live view, which is roughly 2 hours 55 minutes into the MLB.tv broadcast, you can see that Escobar never takes his eyes off of the home plate area after the pitch, so there is credence to his claim that he saw Eddings make the out call.)

Orlando Cabrera, Adam Kennedy, and Darin Erstad immediately protest, miming the fist pump that Eddings made. Basically, everyone in earshot who was watching the umpire had a chance to tell Escobar to go pick up the ball, and they didn't, because Eddings behaved in the exact same manner as he had after every strike three had been completed.

Eddings third-strike-in-the-dirt MO was clear; pump the fist when the tag is made. As he pumped the fist, Escobar, Cabrera, Kennedy, and Figgins all believed the out was recorded. If he truly believed the ball was in the dirt, he should not have pumped his fist, as his hand to the side motion had already demonstrated that no contact was made on the pitch.

The rulebook is not clear on Eddings' obligations in the case of a third strike hitting the ground. But it is clear that his actions on this play were exactly like those on strikeouts where the ball did not hit the ground, and that the four players with the opportunity to either pick up the ball or yell for someone else to relied on his actions.

This doesn't even take into account his possible mis-call to say the ball even hit the ground, as no one on the field thought it did, including Pierzynski, who clearly takes a step toward the third-base dugout before realizing that Eddings had not verbalized the call.


[LA Seitz, on the same forum] quotes from the Rulebook, 9.05, that umpires are supposed to:
Wait until the play is completed before making any arm motion.
This is incredibly germane. On every strike three in the dirt, Eddings waited until the play was over before making the strike call. On every noncontroversial swinging third strike, he did the same thing. In this case, he made the call in the same way. It's a big screw-up, and in the neighborhood of Denkinger and Garcia. It didn't lose the game for the Angels, but the game was not decided by the teams.

UPDATE: A commenter named Michael, at 1:59 AM, makes a post on this thread at Baseball Musings pointing to a play in the April 8 game Eddings umpired between the Angels and the Royals. Erstad strikes out swinging, Buck drops it, and Eddings extends his right arm to indicate no contact was made. At no point does Eddings clench his fist to indicate "strike," which he claimed to be his normal strike call in the post-game press conference. Buck threw to first to retire Erstad.

I think there are a fair amount of smoking guns here, all of which indicate that Eddings was calling Pierzynski out. This is a humongous snafu, and though it's not right to say the Angels lost because of the call, it's obvious that they were wronged. It might be asking too much for MLB to make the teams stay in Chicago and commence play with the 10th inning tomorrow, but there's a pretty strong and unavoidable taint on this game.

I started hating Doug Eddings on April 8.

My opinion of him has not improved.

The Angels won Game 1 last night exactly as they are designed to do. They got a very good start from The Wyrd, had a lights-out bullpen, and took advantage of their opponent’s mistakes (thank you, A.J. Pierzynski).

All the scoring in happened while I was at work, so I caught up to it on the highlights. One of the biggest offensive plays in the game was Orlando Cabrera’s takeout slide at second, annihilating a double play and allowing a run to score. The Angels have benefited from their good (and lucky) baserunning all postseason; a reader reminds me to acknowledge that the Contact Play worked well when Vlad scored on Darin Erstad’s squibber in Game 5 against the Yankees (had I not fallen so woefully behind on the sidebar counter, I’d update it), but that play was set up by Vlad getting a great read on a blooper to right. These things can make a difference in close games, and the White Sox have good enough pitching that these games promise to be close.

Tonight shapes up to be an even tougher game. As Seitz points out, it’s often the second day after an intense travel schedule that can be the toughest; when you think about it, that makes sense: after traveling every day, one’s body might begin to think it’s normal, and be in for a real shock when some sense of normalcy returns.

The other worrisome element is Jarrod Washburn. I haven’t had strep throat in a long time, but I recall it to be a pretty unpleasant experience. He’s had a lot taken out of his body, and we just don’t know how much he can offer physically at this point. But Kelvim Escobar and (gulp) Kevin Gregg should both be available tonight, as well as Esteban Yan, who sucks.

More good news: with Mark Buehrle on the mound, Steve Finley will not be in the starting lineup. Hopefully Robb Quinlan can do something with the time he’s given.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bartolo is not on the ALCS roster.

Some how, I'm unworried.

Two speed-defense-pitching teams meet for the American League Deathmatch.

                          Pythag  Park-Adjusted  
Angels 95 67 761 643 94 68 794 671
ChiSox 99 63 741 645 91 71 722 629
You are likely to hear about how the White Sox have more power than the Angels. In terms of home runs, that is true, as they hit 200 homers to the Angels 147. But the Angels scored more runs despite playing in a pitchers’ park.

Where the White Sox excelled this season was in run prevention, where they did even better than the Angels.

Here’s how the teams’ frontline position players match up, using Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average for hitters (.260 is league average, and the figure is park-adjusted); that's Caught Stealing Percentage for catchers and zone rating for fielders:
              Angels                   White Sox
Pos Player EqA CS% Player EqA CS%
C BMolina .269 .313 Pirznski .243 .225

1B Erstad .246 .913 Konerko .298 .845
2B Kennedy .264 .836 Iguchi .266 .834
3B Quinlan .228 .753 Crede .251 .799
SS Cabrera .243 .843 Uribe .240 .852
LF Anderson .254 .864 Podsdnk .252 .898
CF Figgins .272 .859 Rowand .253 .939
RF Vlad .324 .880 Dye .277 .891
DH Rivera .254 Everett .250

C JMolina .223 Widger .225
IF Izturis .235 Ozuna .226
OF Finley .224 Perez .191
DH Kotchman .284 Blum .155
Like the Yankees did against the Angels, the Halos have an offensive advantage at nearly every position. That may increase if Garret Anderson can continue his 2002/2003 impression. But the White Sox make up for some of that with defense, maintaining edges at most positions, though some of those advantages are pretty slight.

Yes, I still consider Steve Finley part of the bench, despite the fact he’ll start every game that doesn’t have Mark Buehrle. But no matter how you shake it out, the Angel bench is at least as good as the Chicago bench, due in large part to Casey Kotchman being a real baseball player.

Let’s take a look at the pitching side, with park-adjusted ERA and Baseball Prospectus' Pitching Runs Above Average (a park-adjusted figure):
                Angels                            White Sox
Pitcher IP ERA /Adj RAA IP ERA /Adj RAA
Colon 222.7 3.48 3.63 18 Buehrle 236.7 3.12 3.04 17
Lackey 209.0 3.44 3.59 16 Garcia 228.0 3.87 3.78 11
Byrd 204.3 3.74 3.90 7 Cntras 204.7 3.61 3.52 12
Washburn 177.3 3.20 3.34 18 Garland 221.0 3.50 3.41 18
Santana 133.7 4.65 4.85 -6 McCrthy 67.0 4.03 3.93 3

K-Rod 67.3 2.67 2.78 24 Jenks 39.3 2.75 2.68 4
Shields 91.7 2.75 2.87 19 Marte 45.3 3.77 3.68 3
Escobar 59.7 3.02 3.15 7 Cotts 60.3 1.94 1.89 11
Donnelly 65.3 3.72 3.88 3 Politte 67.3 2.00 1.95 18
Hermnsn 57.3 2.04 1.99 19
As you see, the White Sox pitching staff has been outstanding. The caveats are small – Buehrle gave up quite a bit of unearned runs (17, a considerable number), and Jon Garland has been pretty much getting guys out with mirrors and groundballs.

Their bullpen is good, deep, and rested: I didn’t even have room up there for Orlando Hernandez, who shut down the Red Sox in their ALDS Game 3 (though I'm unsure as to whether McCarthy will end up on the ALCS roster). This is a tough team to score runs against.

One of the more fascinating stories of this series has to do with Bobby Jenks, who emerged from the Los Angeles of Anaheim doghouse to become a formidable closer for the White Sox. When Jenks was doing well in the minors earlier this year, I said, “I wish him well, while simultaneously hoping that letting him go doesn't come back to bite us.” I still wish that.

As you know, the health of Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn is currently in question, and their potential absence/diminished ability could really harm the Angels in a long series.

Stylistically, these are two of the most similar teams in the majors. Both emphasize pitching, defense, and baserunning, and staying in the game to get a big hit from the likes of Vlad and Paul Konerko. As such, get ready for a lot of glove work and a lot of pressuring the defense, as the two teams will scratch and scratch to get what projects to be a scarce amount of runs.

High concept? It’s going to be like the 1960s out there. It could be fun.

The Angels were 6-4 against the White Sox in 2005, and many of the games have been close and marked by good pitching and big plays. However, the Angels did outscore the Sox 50-36 in those games, benefiting from a couple of blowouts.

May 23, at Angel Stadium: Angels 4, White Sox 0
Until last night, this was the Ervin Santana Game. The Kid mystified the White Sox for nine innings, registering his first major league win with a complete game shutout. This was a huge 2005 highlight for the Angels.

May 24, at Angel Stadium: White Sox 2, Angels 1
Esteban Yan sucked, as the Angels lost in the eleventh. Mark Buehrle went nine strong innings, and Bartolo Colon seven in a contest of Cy Young Award candidates.

May 25, at Angel Stadium: White Sox 4, Angels 2
Freddy Garcia outlasted Jarrod Washburn, getting home run help from Konerko and Chris Widger.

May 26, at Angel Stadium: Angels 3, White Sox 2
Dallas McPherson launched a two-run homer off of Jose Contreras to secure a victory for John Lackey.

May 30, at New Comiskey Cellular US Park: White Sox 5, Angels 4
Timo Perez, of all people, singled in two runs in the bottom of the ninth to give the White Sox the victory and hand Scot Shields his second blown save of the year.

May 31, at US Cellular New Comiskey Park: White Sox 5, Angels 4
This time Brendan Donnelly drew the loss, giving up a ninth-inning leadoff homer to Jermaine Dye.

June 1, at New US Cellular Field Park Comiskey: Angels 10, White Sox 7
The Angels were able to scrape out one game behind Paul Byrd, as Dallas McPherson drove in three runs and Frankie K. returned from the DL to shakily close out the win (a non-save situation).

September 9, at Chicago South Stadium: Angels 6, Whtie Sox 5
This was the night of Vlad’s Mad Dash, where he scored from second on a sacrifice bunt, all to make up for nearly getting thrown out at second on what should have been an easy double. It was pure Vlad – insane, ill-advised, and game-winning.

September 10, at the White Sox Place of Playing: Angels 10, White Sox 5
Bartolo was suffering from back stiffness, but still managed six solid innings. The Angels jumped on Jon Garland in the middle innings and never looked back.

September 11, at Comiskey II: Angels 6, White Sox 1
Legs Figgins, Darin Erstad, and Garret Anderson all homered in the first off of El Duque, so by the time Brandon McCarthy entered the game to calm things down, it didn’t matter. John Lackey pitched a strong seven innings for his twelfth win.

Two teams that mirror each other strength for strength and fight to the death all the way will … fight to the death all the way.

The Angels might seem at a disadvantage with the travel, and maybe they will be at one in Game 1 tonight. But perhaps they will have more continuity without having so many days off, and will maintain their level of intensity. It’s hard to know in advance, of course.

As mentioned above, the health of Bartolo and Washburn is gonna be huge. Ervin Santana proved last night that there’s still gas in his tank, but having a healthy Colon would clearly be ideal.

I would expect these games to come down to the two dominant bullpens. With the time off, the White Sox have a bit of an advantage there. But the Angels are facing a team they out-hit, a relatively rare occurrence, and the Angels have a defense good enough to not give away outs, especially on the infield.

And remember this: the Angels just took out the Yankees without any huge offensive contributions from The Legs or The Vlad. If someone finds The Vladiator’s on-switch, watch out.

Monday, October 10, 2005

And so the season comes down to Ervin Santana, who's on like eight days rest, is twenty-two, and started the season in AA Arkansas.

This is some sport we're watching ...

UPDATE: As you know, he did it.

Ervin wasn't spectacular, but after taking an inning to settle in he pitched pretty well, allowing only one run on a homer to Jeter, which wasn't even on all that bad a pitch. Santana ends his showdowns with the Yankees in 2005 with a 3-0 record and a 3.78 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Not bad for a 22-year-old rookie.

The offense was able to take advantage of some shaky defense with some good baserunning and timely hits. Since I'm in general negative on his signing, I should allow that Orlando Cabrera is a fantastic baserunner. And Vlad got a good read on a Bengie blooper that fell in front of Gary Sheffield -- it was a ball that probably should have been caught, but the Yanks are designed more for bashing the ball than catching it.

A few other moments from the game that stuck out to me, randomly collected ...

... one was the look on Bartolo Colon's face when Mike and crew came out to visit him in the second. He looked in pain, nearly in tears, as he declared, "I can do it." He was pretty obviously giving it his all, and had really gutted out that strikeout of Matsui that closed the first. But it was obvious that he couldn't, and obvious that this lack upset him greatly. Let us never question the man's desire and commitment.

Another was the defense of Adam Kennedy, as exemplified on plays in the first and ninth off of balls batted by A-Rod. In the first, A-Rod lifted a fly ball to medium right center. Finley, playing A-Rod deep and to pull, plus having no range, had no chance. Vlad apparently didn't see the ball well. Kennedy went rushing out to make the catch. It wasn't a spectacular, highlight-reel play, but it's exactly the kind of play that separated the Angels from the Yankees in this game and series.

The other was A-Rod's double play in the ninth. Kennedy's turn was nothing short of magic, as the ball was hit slowly to Chone Figgins, who double-clutched. Not only that, but Kennedy had to hang in against Derek Jeter, a quick and tough baserunner. He made the turn at lightning speed, just nicking A-Rod. Getting the DP instead of a fielders' choice there was huge as the Yankees were able to pick up a couple of cheap two-out hits. Not every second baseman makes that turn, which we should remember as the media begins its inevitable jump on A-Rod for "choking."

And if I may interrupt the joy with something negative, it's truly incredible how clownish Joe Buck and Tim McCarver manage to be. I was appalled and annoyed as they repeatedly expressed amazement that Angel bullpen wasn't busy when Ervin got into trouble in the fifth. Buck claimed that Donnelly should be up ... had either of these guys done any research, they'd have known that Scioscia lost faith in Brendan Donnelly quite some time ago, and Santana was easily more trustworthy in that situation.

They also expressed some degree of surprise that Santana was able to remain calm and collected and deal with the "pressure." Color me less than surprised. Ervin's composure has been one of his most impressive traits, I believe. We knew he had good stuff, by his rep anyway, but he's always kept it together on the mound, even during his rough stretches and outings. I didn't worry for one moment about how he'd handle the pressure, and I don't think Mike and Bud Black did, either.

Another ridiculously comical moment was when McCarver expressed such shock that the Yanks went to Randy Johnson and not Al Leiter. Now, Leiter was warming up, so I understand that had to be addressed, but I think it's a pretty easy choice when you have The Big Ugly Unit warming up next to Al Leiter. It's like mulling over a choice between Jessica Alba and Frances Conroy.

There were several other idiotic moments. Buck and McCarver claimed that Vlad was shocked and surprised to see Jeter go for third on a single in the first; it sure looked to me like Vlad slowed down because the ball had rolled to a stop and he didn't want to overrun it. And when Bengie double-clutched on the pitchout in the second, they never realized that he did so because he wasn't in the mood to throw a ball through Santana, who was standing in his way. Well, maybe they realized it eventually ... I was watching that part of the game on tape in fast forward, and I wasn't going to listen to every little word to see if Buck and McCarver could figure out something that was right in front of their faces.

Of course, someone could write a volume on the nonsense those guys spew, so I should slow down and let it go.

I also want to issue a reprimand to Fox for not showing us Ervin's ovation as he left the game. They cruelly cut away to commercial. Yes, I know, that's how they make their money, but it was a huge moment in a dramatic game. You think if it was a Yankee rookie out there in Yankee Stadium that they would have cut away before he even left the mound, and wouldn't even have shown a replay of the ovation afterward? It was a no-class move, representative of how little Fox cares about actually covering the sport. It's the little details like that that will lead baseball fans to rejoice the day the sport is moved off that pathetic little network.

I'm not all that worried about having to go into Chicago tomorrow; it will probably be good to keep the intensity up. I plan to get to a series preview in the morning. Until then, the Halo shines tonight ...

Tonight, our season comes down to Bartolo Colon.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of game he was signed to pitch: the must-win. A game where a nominal ace needs to step up and silence the bats of the opposition.

Is The Fat Man up to the task?

Your guess is as good as mine. As you know, Big Bart's bad back has been bothering him of late. On August 30, Bartolo pitched into the 10th inning as the Angels lost to the A's. His next start was curtailed due to back stiffness; from that start forward, including postseason, Colon has thrown 40 innings, allowing 22 earned runs for a 4.95 ERA. He has managed to strike out a healthy 33 batters in that period, and has also issued only 9 walks. His ERA is pushed up by one bad start against Detroit, where he allowed three home runs.

In short, Colon has generally pitched pretty well through the pain. The Angels are going to need to his best effort tonight -- Shields and Escobar are pretty damn close to spent, one would think.

And, not to look ahead, but if the ALCS really does start tomorrow (there has been some talk of pushing back the start to Wednesday), tonight's winner's going to have some tough times against Chicago. While the ChiSox have been able to rest up and set their rotation, the Halos and Villains have to go balls-out with their top pitchers tonight.

One note about Game 4 ... Scot Shields threw 36 pitches Friday night. Kelvim Escobar threw 26. That's a pretty substantial amount of pitches, so I was a bit surprised to see Mike go to the pen so quick after Lackey gave up his only run. Sure, Big John had been a bit wild -- the Yanks are very patient with his slurve, and have walked 14 times against him in 22 innings, including the postseason. But he had thrown only 78 pitches, was keeping the ball down (8 groundouts to 3 flyouts), and that's asking a lot from your pen.

Unsurprisingly, Shields, with only one day of rest, didn't have much. Kelvim was fine, but he threw 35 pitches last night, calling into question his availability in Game 5. Shields threw 25, so he's thrown 51 pitches in three days ... not debilitating, probably, but trying to stretch these guys for more than an inning apiece may not have the best results. Frankie will likely have to step it up, and may be called upon to make a relatively long appearance.

However, there is some good news in the fact that Mariano Rivera also threw 36 pitches last night. He did have more rest than our guys, however, so who knows what effect that might have on him if he appears tonight.

It will be up to Colon and Mussina to bail their bullpens out, and give their teams some quality innings.

Bartolo: earn thy money.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

So, you've seen the first two games. You know what happened. Mike Mussina manhandled us in Game 1, and Bartolo struggled before getting into a groove in the third. Game 2 brought a typical John Lackey-vs-the-Yankees start, where he pitched well enough to keep us in the game, but was far from dominant. The Yankees' patient batters don't bit on his slurve, meaning he walks mor guys than he ought. But he avoided the big inning and the Angels were in perfect position to take advantage of the dregs of the Yankee bullpen. Gordon and Rivera were not factors, and as long as that's the case, the Angels are in good shape.

Friday will bring us The Wyrd vs. The Ugly. The best thing about facing Randy Johnson is that Steve Finley will be out of the lineup. The Unit's still good, though he ain't quite what he was. It will be up to Paul Byrd to keep the Yankee sluggers off balance, allowing us a chance to expose the Al Letiers and Scott Proctors of the world.

Monday, October 03, 2005

For the second time in four seasons, the Angels will meet the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Last time, things worked out pretty well for the Angels, but the teams have changed. Will the story remain the same?

                          Pythag  Park-Adjusted  
Angels 95 67 761 643 94 68 794 671
Yankees 95 67 886 789 90 72 864 770
Angel Stadium played as a rather significant pitchers’ park this year as the Angels and their opponents only scored 91.8% as many runs in Los Angeles of Anaheim as they did in road games. Yankee Stadium, by contrast, inflated run scoring by 5%.

This doesn’t do much to change our evaluation of the teams, however, as the park tendencies underscore what we already know to be their strengths. The Angels excel at run prevention, while the Yankees are one of the most offensive-minded teams in baseball.

Using the Pythagenpat system, we see that the Yankees appear to have overperformed to get to their 95 wins, though the Angels are within one win of what would be expected. Of course, what has happened until this point doesn’t necessarily represent what will happen, but the Angels appear to have had the stronger regular season.

Here’s how the teams’ frontline position players match up, using Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average for hitters (.260 is league average, and the figure is park-adjusted); that's Caught Stealing Percentage for catchers and zone rating for fielders:
              Angels                   Yankees
Pos Player EqA CS% Player EqA CS%
C BMolina .269 .313 Posada .272 .302

1B Erstad .246 .913 Martinez .265 .879
2B Kennedy .264 .836 Cano .261 .818
3B Quinlan .228 .753 A-Rod .338 .733
SS Cabrera .243 .843 Jeter .293 .831
LF Anderson .254 .864 Matsui .293 .820
CF Figgins .272 .859 Williams .241 .860
RF Vlad .324 .880 Sheff .303 .820
DH Rivera .254 Giambi .333

C JMolina .223 Flaherty .137
IF Izturis .235 Womack .209
OF Finley .224 Crosby .227
DH Kotchman .284 Sierra .216
As we all know, the Angel starting lineup is a bit more complicated than that; on any given night, Legs Figgins might play at third (.822 ZR) with Finley in center, and Izturis (.722) also gets an occasional start at the hot corner. Kotchman gets his share of starts at DH, though Ruben Juan Rivera has been hot of late (379/400/586 over the last week), probably buying him some playing time. It’s also notable that Rivera is probably the Angels’ best defensive outfielder, certainly in left, where he had a .917 ZR and notched 3 assists in a mere 289 innings (32 games worth); Garret only managed 4 assists in his 106 games in the field.

Looking at the above, the Yankee offensive advantage is clear. They have better hitters at practically every position, with only Vlad, Adam Kennedy, and Figgins v.CF besting their counterparts. The Angels pick up some on defense, but that advantage is partly negated when Rivera is consigned to DH in lieu of Garret Anderson playing in the field.

Another way the Angels help make up for the gap is with the bench. Though postseason series often come down to frontline talent more than depth, the fact that Mike Scioscia can mix and match his talent might come in handy in a close game. Jose Molina is a better defensive catcher than his brother, making pinch running a pretty good option. Casey Kotchman is a better hitter than anyone on the Yankee bench.

The Yankees will look to Tony Womack for pinch running duties, Ruben Sierra for late-inning thunder, and Bubba Crosby as the Dave Stapleton to Bernie Williams’ Bill Buckner. That’s not exactly Murderers’ Row.

Let’s take a look at the pitching side, with park-adjusted ERA and Baseball Prospectus' Pitching Runs Above Average (a park-adjusted figure):
                Angels                            Yankees
Pitcher IP ERA /Adj RAA IP ERA /Adj RAA
Colon 222.7 3.48 3.63 18 Mussina 179.7 4.41 4.30 4
Lackey 209.0 3.44 3.59 16 Chacon 151.7 3.44 3.15 23
Byrd 204.3 3.74 3.90 7 Johnson 225.7 3.79 3.70 17
Washburn 177.3 3.20 3.34 18 Small 76.0 3.20 3.12 13
Santana 133.7 4.65 4.85 -6 Wang 116.3 4.02 3.92 4

K-Rod 67.3 2.67 2.78 24 Rivera 78.3 1.38 1.35 40
Shields 91.7 2.75 2.87 19 Gordon 80.7 2.57 2.51 16
Escobar 59.7 3.02 3.15 7 Embree 52.0 7.62 7.62 -17
Donnelly 65.3 3.72 3.88 3 Sturtze 78.0 4.73 4.61 -1
One reason the Yankee run prevention has been so bad this season is that they were searching for a combination that made sense. They suffered bad performances and injuries from Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright, and firmly established that Al Leiter was done. They eventually found some degree of salvation from Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. So when we look at the season totals for the Yankees, we have to realize their pitching is better right now than it has been over the course of the season.

However, there is every reason to believe Chacon and Small have been pitching over their heads. Chacon’s strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Yankees was a poor 40:30, and 40 strikeouts in 79 innings isn’t too hot, anyway.

Aaron Small was even worse, striking out only 37 men in 76 innings, with 24 walks. These guys are winning by letting their opponents hit the ball, hopefully on the ground, and letting their defense take care of things.

Do any of the Angel pitchers have misleading statistics? Jarrod Washburn (94:51 K:BB) and Paul Byrd (102:28) are the only finesse-type guys in the rotation; Byrd can get away with the low strikeout rate because of his superlative control.

At the top of the bullpen, Gordon/Rivera might be the only combo in baseball that has a definite edge on Shields/K-Rod. That difference is solely Rivera’s otherworldly excellence; Shields’ higher ERA than Gordon’s may partially be due to the overwork Shields suffered from in late summer.

Once again, where the Angels gain on the Yankees is depth. Kelvim Escobar has been a shining bright light since coming off the DL to save the bullpen, and Brendan Donnelly, though inconsistent, is still a solid pitcher. But the rest of the Yanks bullpen has been a mess, and getting the leads to Gordon and Rivera can be a struggle.

The Angel strategy is clear: keep the game close to the late innings, and get to the scrubs of the Yankee bullpen before they can pull out the big guns. Constantly apply pressure to the Yankee defense with aggressive baserunning, and try to get guys on base for Vlad.

The Yankee gameplan: blast the Angel starters out of the game, not allowing the bullpen to factor in. Let Gordon and Rivera take care of the rest.

The obstacles to the Angel strategy: the Yankee offense is powerful, no matter who they’re facing, and Joe Torre adapts his bullpen strategy in the postseason, giving a ton of innings to his top guys.

The obstacles to the Yankee strategy: the Angels have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, and the Yankee defense is not particularly well-suited to the Angels aggressive style of offense – Bernie Williams has a poor arm in center, Sheffield has little range in left, and Matsui often looks clumsy in left; Posada is also not the best at throwing out basestealers.

The Angels cannot afford to get in a shoot-out with the Yankees. The Yankees are stacked with power, but the only slugger on the Angels is Vlad. Garret Anderson has been fighting injury all year, finally turning it on in the last few days. Continued power from Garret and Juan Rivera will go a long way toward an Angel victory.

The Yankees cannot afford for their starting pitchers to get knocked around early. They don’t have the bullpen depth to get the game to Gordon and Rivera if that happens, and will be faced with trying to come back against a deep and rested bullpen. The starters have to keep the team in the game, allowing the Yankee offense chances to outslug the Angels.

The Angels are 6-4 against the Yankees this season. As you are sure to hear several times over the next few days, the Angels are the only team to have a winning record against the Yankees from 1996 through the present.

The truth is the Angels could easily have been 8-2 against the Yankees, as you will soon see. The Lads went into the Bronx immediately following the 18-inning loss to Toronto which wasted the bullpen. The Angels blew two leads in that Yankee series, leads that usually would not have been blown – though obviously the Yankee offense and its comeback ability should not be underestimated. The Yankees actually outscored the Angels 49-47 this year, largely due to the A-Rod game.

Let’s take a look at each game the Angels and Yankees have played this season:

April 26, at Yankee Stadium: Yankees 12, Angels 4
This was the game where A-Rod erupted against Bartolo Colon, knocking in 10 runs with 3 home runs. The Angels also suffered from errors by Dallas McPherson and Legs Figgins.

April 27, at Yankee Stadium: Angels 5, Yankees 1
Even Steve Finley homered off of Mike Mussina in this game. Jarrod Washburn pitched well, handing the lead to Scot Shields in the eighth to finish off the win.

April 28, at Yankee Stadium: Angels 3, Yankees 1
John Lackey out-dueled Kevin Brown, pitching out of several jams and handing the ball to the bullpen in the sixth. This was actually a pretty big turning point in Lackey’s season, as he dropped his ERA from 6.64 to 5.61, putting it into a freefall that continued pretty much unabated.

July 21, at Angel Stadium: Angels 6, Yankees 5
Vlad Guerrero entered this game slumping, but got the last word with seventh-inning grand slam off of Tom Gordon that overcame a 5-2 deficit.

July 22, at Angel Stadium: Angels 6, Yankees 3
This time John Lackey got the best of Al Leiter, though he pitched another arduous game that relied on the bullpen to hang on to the lead.

July 23, at Angel Stadium: Angels 8, Yankees 6
The Angels were able to win this shoot-out with the help of a three-run homer from Vlad. Ervin Santana beat Kevin Brown, with the Angel bullpen once again holding on.

July 24, at Angel Stadium: Yankees 4, Angels 1
Jarrod Washburn pitched well for six innings, but Hideki Matsui got to him for a two-run homer in the seventh, and Mike Mussina ably turned away the Angels’ few chances to score any runs.

July 29, at Yankee Stadium: Angels 4, Yankees 1
Coming off a 2-1, 18-inning loss in Toronto, the Angels needed a big start from rookie Ervin Santana. He obliged with a solid 6 1/3 innings, notching his first career road win. But – the Angels had to use Donnelly, Shields, and Francisco Rodriguez, each of whom had pitched the previous night.

July 30, at Yankee Stadium: Yankees 8, Angels 7
K-Rod tends to pitch poorly when asked to pitch three straight days, and this game is a big part of that pattern. Asked to protect a 7-5 Angel lead in the ninth, Frankie struggled to find home plate, walking four men before Hideki Matsui won the game with a double.

July 31, at Yankee Stadium: Yankees 8, Angels 7
The Angels led 7-6 in the tenth, but the Yankees had loaded the bases with two outs. Gary Sheffield hit an easy bouncer to Orlando Cabrera, who just … dropped it. Inexplicably, Sheffield was credited with the hit (just mentally drop his RBI total by one, because it’s one of the worst scoring decisions I’ve ever seen), the Yankees tied the game, and Tony Womack singled through a drawn-in infield to score Matsui and win the game in the eleventh.

The one thing we can pretty much guarantee: there will be some hard-fought games.

Look at each game the teams have played thus far. With the exception of the A-Rod explosion, these have been close games that come down to one big hit or fielding play. Despite their contrasting styles, the Angels and Yankees have played each other ferociously.

The Yankees and Angels both come into the series hot, adding to the expectation of an exciting series. Obviously, either one of these teams are good enough to win the series. It’s going to come down to a few plays here and there, who executes better, who gets the big hit, who records the key strikeout. It should be baseball at its finest.

And the Angels are gonna kick some ass.

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