Thursday, September 27, 2007


So Gary Matthews Jr is injured, and may or not be available for the postseason. What would this mean for the Angels?

Well, first of all, let's take a look at how Matthews has done this year. As you may recall, there was some handwringing in the Halosphere when Matthews, after having put up the first good offensive season of his life, was signed to a deal that will keep him in Angel red until the year 2011. He did okay in the first two months, hitting 286/339/452 through May (an OPS+ of 111). Along with his solid defense, that was just fine.

But the second half has been nothing but struggles for Matthews, who has hit 211/296/392 since the All Star Game, and hasn't been completely healthy of late. Interestingly, if you add 75 points to that batting average, you get a line of 286/371/467, an improvement on his first half; he actually had more walks and extra-base power in the second half than in the first, but he wasn't getting the hits to fall in.

At any rate, as of now he's got a 98 OPS+, which ranks 10th out of the 21 major league center fielders with 120 or more games. His fielding stats aren't too hot, either.

Here's something simple: how Matthews has done the past few years by average, OBP, and slugging, as compared to the park-adjusted league average, reported by BB-Ref:
Year   AVG    OBP    SLG
2004 -.008 -.013 +.013
2005 -.018 -.016 +.003
2007 -.013 -.009 +.005
Pretty consistent, huh?

Oh, wait, I left out a year:
Year   AVG    OBP    SLG
2004 -.008 -.013 +.013
2005 -.018 -.016 +.003
2006 +.033 +.026 +.050
2007 -.013 -.009 +.005
So, to the surprise of no one, except maybe the Angels, Gary Matthews Jr reverted to being the hitter he was before his "breakout" season; he's an average hitter. No more. No less.

Without Matthews in the lineup, we could see any and all of these combinations:
3B     Figgins
CF Willits
RF/DH Vlad/Rivera

3B Izturis
CF Willits
RF/DH Figgins/Vlad

3B Izturis
CF Figgins
RF Vlad/Rivera
As a hitter, Reggie Willits has been a bit better than Matthews so far this year. Willits, like Matthews, has slumped a bit after a hot start, but has still managed to hit 276/377/323 in the second half (not too far off of what I speculated he might do back in May, though I'm happy to say he has maintained his walk rate to a greater degree that I thought he would). By the numbers, his defense in center seems to be worse than Matthews', and this reflect my subjective view of their relative glovework, as well.

Surprisingly (maybe), Maicer Izturis has also out-produced Gary (on a per-plate appearance basis, at any rate) this year, notching an OPS+ of 104. Ztu put up a 106 last year, so it seems like this may actually be his real level of ability. In fact, his last two years resemble each other quite strongly:
Year   AVG    OBP    SLG
2006 +.024 +.032 -.016
2007 +.026 +.019 -.006
Izturis might just be a better hitter than Matthews at this point, and seems to be a pretty good defensive option on the hot corner. And while Juan Rivera took some time to adjust, he is hitting 348/375/652 over the last two weeks, so he may be rearing to go, as well.

All things considered, I'd have to say this team could withstand Gary Matthews Jr's absence during the playoffs. I'm not saying that as a shot at Gary: the fact is this team has succeeded because of uncommon depth. I'll probably write about this sometime, but a lot of things have gone wrong for the Angels this year, but the team has managed to stay in front because of these seemingly endless reservoirs of guys like Willits and Izturis who can step in and perform at an above-average level when someone gets hurt.

I'm actually saddened by the prospect of Gary's being unable to play in October, as he signed with this team to get that shot, and regardless of my skepticism over his contract, he seems like a good guy who has worked hard and given his all, and I'd love to see him contribute. But the reason he can even ponder playing in October is that he's on a team with the foresight and resources to still get there even when nearly everything goes wrong.

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Why not put Rivera in CF, Vlad in RF and Morales as DH? Morales has a 112 OPS+ this season, much better than Willits has been lately.
Because Rivera can't run. You'd be better off defensively sticking Napoli in center right now.

Rivera is a DH. What I'd like to see is Kendrick hitting 6th, Willits (CF) 7th, Rivera 8th, and the catcher 9th. That way we have a stealing threat on if Rivera bats with guys on base, because otherwise anything he hits on the ground is an easy double play.

Varitek, Posada, Martinez. These are the catchers we face, none known for their throwing. Lets the Angels run wild in October.
When it comes to the defense, I still don't trust the numbers Ive seen as much as my eyes. It seems to me that GMJr. excels at going back and making catches near the wall, much better than Willits for example. I don't know how or why that doesn't show up, but it sure looks like he has a better chance of taking away an extra base hit than anyone else they have, and that can be the difference in a ballgame.
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