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Monday, June 25, 2007

CAUTION 

These are heady time in the Halosphere, and for Angel fans everywhere. As Matt Welch pointed out over at Halos Heaven, if we played .500 ball the rest of the year and Oakland played at a .600 level, we'd end the season tied with 92 wins. We've won 103 of our last 162 games, and have been playing over .600 for more than 200 games now.

These are obviously good things, and I love the way our team is playing. But to play wet towel for a second, is there any reason to believe that our guys are do for any sort of decline?

There are a couple of guys who are more likely to see a decline in performance than a sustenance of their current levels, and both of them reside at the top of the order. Both Reggie Willits and Orlando Cabrera are succeeding at levels heretofore unseen by human eyes.

I spoke of Willits over a month ago, and anticipated something of a decline. Well, believe it or not, he has declined since then; he's hit 324/432/410 since that post, when he was hitting 366/449/409. Not much of a decline, and one we can certainly live with, but the general point remains that he is unlikely to be as good over the next 85 games or so as he has been until now.

Orlando Cabrera is in the same boat. He's a 32-year-old who's hitting above the league average for what would be the first time in his life (his basestealing has led to him to having been better than the league average as an offensive player in the past); do you really think that Orlando Cabrera has turned into a .335 hitter? Odds are his production will decrease. Yes, flukes happen, and they last over a whole season (Brady Anderson hit 51 home runs one year, remember, and you can bet people were maintaining that power surge would abate for much of that year), but you can't expect that.

And while Casey Kotchman is having the kind of year many of us thought he had in him, the fact is he has yet to do this over a year, and stay reasonably healthy. I think the fact that Scioscia protects him against lefties will help (I do think Casey will have to learn to hit southpaws as his career progresses, but as long as Robb Quinlan earns playing time by bashing them, we don't need to press the issue).

On the pitching side of the ledge, I'm not convinced that Dustin Moseley and Chris Bootcheck can continue their success. Moseley only strikes out one out of every ten batters he faces, and Bootcheck is little better at 1 per 8.5. Both have achieved what they have by minimizing walks and keeping the ball from going over the fence, and this is what they'll have to keep doing.

Of course, there's a flipside to all of this, and these are the players that we can expect to improve. Howie Kendrick was going well before his injury, and after taking a few weeks to get back up to speed, has started producing once again. Over the last three weeks he's been hitting 375/400/528, and though he's unlikely to keep the average that high, I think we can certainly look forward to more production out him. And while Shea Hillenbrand is nothing special, over enough at-bats he's going to be roughly a league-average hitter, which he hasn't live up to so far this year.

We can also expect some improvement on the other side of the ball. Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon have both been inconsistent, but, health permitting, should be able to be at least average for the rest of the year. I actually have more faith in Ervin on this point than in Bartolo, mostly due to health. I didn't really mention John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar as candidates for decline over the rest of the season, as I suppose they technically are, but even if we see some small decline from them, I think it will be counter-balanced by these two guys.

On top of all that, we have two guys on the DL who will be a big boost if they can come back healthy: Juan Rivera and Justin Speier. We don't need Rivera to be as good as last year or Speier to be as lights-out as he was in April to help the team.

All in all, while some decline from our lofty heights may be unavoidable, there no reason to believe any such fall would be fatal, and there is reason to believe that the fall of some may be met by the rebound and return of others. This team has a broad base of talent, and should be able to sustain a high level of play for the rest of the year.

Comments:
I think Weaver might be the most likely to improve the most among the pitchers (along with Santana).

My worries, besides the collapse of the offense bubble, are these:
1) If Vlad gets hurt, especially before Rivera can hit again, we're still super-screwed; and
2) This success might give Scioscia some bad ideas about rabbit-ball -- more using DH to get Erick Aybar in the lineup, or maybe Izturis, or Haynes. I worry about competing in October with slappies at 3B/LF/DH....
 
I think Weaver could improve, and nearly mentioned it, but the fact is he's doing pretty well. ERA's at 3.80, an ERA+ of 112. That's more than serviceable, and I'm not sure that any improvement would necessarily be huge.
 
If they rest Vlad at DH regularly - once per series please - his un-tired offensive BOOSt would compensate for Willits' and Cabrera's coming regressions.
-RevHF
 
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