Well, I almost got to witness a perfect game yesterday. Somehow, I have missed all 15 of those that have been pitched in the majors since 1900. That would be something to see. But with two out in the 8th, Adam Kennedy lined Freddy Garcia’s 100th pitch into center for a clean single.
With the score 9-0 and history in the making, the crowd mostly was on Garcia’s side by the 8th. Count me among those on the pitcher’s side. I was rather astonished by the folks who called in to the postgame show to claim that those could not be real Angels fans if they were rooting for Garcia to complete a perfect game against their team. Hogwash. To his credit, the show’s host treated those callers as not being good baseball fans.
I suppose it should not be so surprising that some people would react that way. Some people are so tribal about their sports interests (or their politics, religion, etc.). At least these people knew what was going on. I could not believe the number of people who left in the middle of the seventh–perhaps a bit less than in a typical game, but still way too many. Hey folks, you are watching history unfold!!! (After the hit, there was a substantial exodus; again, at least those people were aware of the situation.)
The Angels were like putty in Garcia’s hands. I don’t think Freddy threw anything harder than 86 all day. And he did not go to a 3-ball count on anyone till he went 3-1 on Vlad in the 7th (Vlad grounded weakly to short on the next pitch). Kennedy hit a long lazy foul fly down the right field line that was not all that far from the foul pole, then went to 3-2 before getting the hit. There were no tough plays made behind Garcia, as the Angels mostly were just pounding the ball into the ground and hitting a few popups. There was one hard liner right to the first baseman, and that was the only ball hit hard before Kennedy’s in the 8th (which was not, as I heard on ESPN News last night, a “bloop.”)
Garcia left to a standing ovation at the end of 8 with 102 pitches thrown. He seemed to be running out of gas a bit and I’d be skeptical that he could have made it through 9 without walking someone or giving up a hit even if Kennedy had made an out. But I would have liked the chance to find out.
With the deadline approaching for non-waiver trades, we are hearing the usual high demands from the non-contending organizations holding the players contenders want. For instance (via 6-4-2) Nationals’ GM Jim Bowden supposedly wants, in exhange for Alfonso Soriano:
one from column A of John Lackey, Ervin Santana, or Jered Weaver, and one from column B of Howie Kendrick or Brandon Wood.
I wonder, in these conversations, when Bowden (or another “seller” GM) says something that ridiculous, what does Stoneman do? Hang up? Ask how the wife and kids are doing? Comment on how DC-like the weather has been out here?
For the record, I would not trade one of those players for Soriano (or Abreu or Lee, for that matter).
Meanwhile, with 101 games under the belt, the Angels are in a first-place tie in the AL West (which happens to be good enough only for seventh in the fortunately irrelevant overall league standings). It’s now a 61-game season, and I while I still think the A’s are the favorite, I think they will regret not burying the Angels when they had a golden opportunity to do so.
The Angels do not need that “one more bat” to ensure winning the division (let alone beyond that). Three more bats and retirement parties for Garret Anderson and Adam Kennedy (and Darin Erstad, but he’s contributing by cheerleading from the DL), sure. But I can wait for those.
Congratulations to Orlando Cabrera for getting on base today for the 59th straight game–the longest streak any active player has had in his career. And then stealing home–a straight steal, one of the most exciting (and rarest) plays in baseball! He was over halfway home before the other LA team’s rookie pitcher, top prospect Chad Billingsley, even looked up from his windup.
And if anyone can give me a good reason why Cabrera (.362 OBP*) continues to hit second (or recently third) while Chone Figgins continues to lead off despite a .322 OBP (which ought to scream “#9 hitter!”), please tell.
* Quite low for someone on the kind of streak Cabrera has been on, but very high for an Angel!
The much-anticipated arrival of Cuban defector Kendry Morales to the majors occurred today, and he has not disappointed. He has singled and homered in his first two at bats. Morales is the 10th player the groping Angels have summoned from their minor-league system already this year. Unlike Mike Napoli, Morales did not homer in his first at bat (as he did last year in A-ball in his first professional at bat). He waited until his second. [Update: Another hit in this third at bat! In his fourth, he grounded out weakly. His batting average plummeted to .750.]
Sometimes, groping works. Mike Napoli, starting at catcher the day after his call-up from AAA, became the 92d player in major-league history to homer in his first major-league at bat. And a 26-year-old call-up, Tommy Murphy (whom I had never heard of) also had a good game starting as the center fielder.
Four games out of first place in the young season, the Angels are groping for a way to jump-start the offense. Howie Kendrick, one of the best hitting prospects in any organization and a second baseman, was called up last week, despite having no obvious place to play. He is the heir apparent to incumbent second baseman and impending free agent Adam Kennedy, who is one of the few Angels actually hitting the ball right now. It is not in the Angels’ standard operating procedures to call up prospects early, or to call them up to be backup players. So, what to do with Kendrick? He started at first base last night–a position he says he had never played before, even in Little League.
The team sent down rookie catcher Jeff Mathis (hitting about .100 with one homer). At one time, sabermetric prospect evaluator, John Sickels, thought Mathis was the next Carlton Fisk, but his stock has fallen a bit in recent years. He is probably still a pretty good prospect, however. But he’ll have to go back to AAA and prove once again that he can hit.
The LA Times* this morning once again shows its lack of understanding of sample size, claiming that Mathis is also struggling defensively, because the team is 2-9 in his starts.
The Angels called up Mike Napoli to replace Mathis. Napoli is a very un-Angel kind of prospect, in that his minor-league profile is that of a moderate-average, good power, high-strikeout hitter–who also walks a lot. With power and walks, he has skills the lineup sorely lacks. Will they give him a chance, or will Jose Molina (a dreadful hitter) get most of the playing time? I am guessing the latter.
Meanwhile, Casey Kotchman struggles, and has been playing less (losing the start last night to Kendrick, as noted above). The LA Times reports that Kotchman has mononucleosis and has had it since spring training, leading to an obvious question: Why not put him on the DL so he can rest and recover for the rest of the season?
With Bartolo Colon still out and Hector Carrasco more valuable in the bullpen (despite an excellent start Monday against Oakland), Jered Weaver might get a call-up to start this weekend. That would be something to watch.
Or, actually, a head-popup. But I’m getting a-head of myself…
Venezuela completed its sweep of the Caribbean Series by beating the Dominican Republic, 5-4. It was a great game, with numerous spectacular defensive plays, which makes it all the more ironic that several of the game’s runs scored because of errors and the game ended on a really bad fielding play.
The D.R. had led the entire game, from the first inning until one out in the ninth. Then Ramon Hernandez, who had singled to start the ninth off Jorge Sosa and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Franklin Gutierrez, came around to score on a single by Alex Gonzalez.
Next up was Henry Blanco, who you might say hit a double-header to win the game. Or should that be a header-double? It was actually a routine popup to shallow left. Erick Aybar, the Dominican shortstop (and top Angel prospect) went back on the ball and lost it. Really lost it. The ball bounced off his head, away from the left fielder, and rolled all the way to the warning track. Gonzalez thus scored the winning run and the Leones were the champs.
Apparently, Darin Erstad will, at last, move back to center field. As I have noted, not once, but twice, it never made sense to play him at first, where his offense made him one of the worst at the position and his defense could never make up for the woeful hitting. Actually, his hitting (it’s hard to believe he once hit .355) has so fallen off a cliff in recent years that he would be below average as a center fielder, and who knows if his body will let him play center with the incredible range he had when he last played the position regularly–which, I might note, was the year the ANGELS WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!! (I still have to shout those words.)
This means Casey Kotchman, one of the most promising young hitting prospects anywhere, should finally get the chance to play regularly at first base. Unfortunately, the team still does not have a regular designated hitter, and so unless Kendry Morales is ready (which I doubt) the team could put Chone Figgins at third and Dallas McPherson at DH. Not my first choice, but an improvement–all made easier by the dumping of free-agent bust Steve Finley.
Meanwhile, the court battle between the city and the ballclub over the name of the team continues, and the city won a round in state appeals court yesterday over what sorts of evidence will be permissible (e.g., the intent behind the lease).
For all those longing for my position on this dispute, wait no longer. I have always felt the team should be called the Los Angels Angels. It may be redundant, but it is a name associated with the City of Angels–and the larger metro area of which Anaheim is merely one small part–for longer than there was ever a Los Angels Dodgers team. I don’t have any particular objection to “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” and I think that name fulfills the lease. (I am no lawyer, but if the city wanted to ensure that it was “Anaheim Angels” or the possible alternative of “Angels of Anaheim” or even–yuck–the “Mighty Angels of Anaheim,” the city should have seen that these options were put explictly in the lease.) Moreover, the city of Anaheim should take a view beyond its most narrow interests and get down on its collective hands and knees and thank Mr. Arte Moreno for turning the Angels brand, whatever geographical name may be attached to it, into one of the premier brands in the world of baseball. The owners between Gene Autry and Arte Moreno all liked to whine about the “small market” of Anaheim and environs. Arte said, forget that, this is one of the premier markets in the league, and it’s called Los Angeles.
John Sickels, one of the best analysts of minor-league talent, has a column on the Angels’ top prospects at Future Angels. Read it this month, as the site is being shut down, to our great loss. (more…)
See the fantastic post by Jeff Angus at Management by Baseball. According to the blog’s banner, Jeff “shows you almost everything you need to know about management you can learn from baseball.”
A few key quotes from Jeff about the Angels vs. Yankees:
It would be difficult to find two teams with [regular-season] outcomes so close to each other. But the Yankees follow informed baseball wisdom, while the Angels violate it, at least on the offense side.
He notes, as I alluded to in the previous post, how the Angels neither walk nor strike out much. In fact, as Jeff says, “The Angels belie the natural trend of low-walks –> losing teams.”
Jeff’s discussion is about strategy, and he notes how the Angels follow strategies that most statstically inclined performance analysts (Baseball Prospectus, etc.) disdain. Not only do they not walk much, they take lots of chance on the bases. They give up outs by sacrificing. They do their offense the “wrong” way, yet they have beaten out the sabermetrically correct Oakland A’s two years in a row and are in the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Jeff, who interviewed Mike Scioscia for the piece, shows that the Angels do care about numbers. They even like on-base percentage. They just do not have much OBP on their roster, so they emphasize instead other aspects of the game. And their coaching staff keeps numbers on performance. Far from the Luddite team that some of the sabermetric types take the Angels to be, this organization just emphasizes different aspects of quantifiable performance.
A Baseball Prospectus afficianado would reply that many of the stats the Angels emphasizeâ€”e.g. batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP)â€”have too-small a sample size in any one year to be significant, and correlate weakly from year to year. In other words, they are more luck than skill. Jeff does not really address this aspect, focusing in his post only on the 2005 data. And the BP types have not, that I have seen, taken seriously enough the possibility that certain offenses, like the Angels, may be systematically (i.e. not just by luck) better at skills like RISP (and RISP with 2 out). As Jeff says:
Their consistent contact means fewer strikeouts, and not-striking-out is an advantage with RISP and even more with RISP2. The relative value of the walks they’re missing have lower incremental value than those walks would have in other situations. Their putting the ball into play and successfully getting hits with runners in scoring position in RISP2 situations results in an offense that while less effective overall, produces a higher rate of two-out runs relative to the league average and a better offensive team such as the Yankees.
But best of all, Jeff recognizes that while the Angels may be the anti-BP and the anti-A’s in their approach, they most surely are not anti-Moneyball. That term refers, of course, to the book by Michael Lewis that tracks how the A’s organization (in particular GM Billy Beane and his then-assistant Paul DePodesta, who now is the Dodgers’ GM) emphasized skills that were under-valued in the marketplace, thus buiding a successful team on a low budget.
Far too many sports writers have missed the point of Moneyball, taking “the Moneyball approach” to be OBP and more OBP, rather than being about a strategy for maximizing value in the market for players. Stephen Smith of Future Angels, in calling the Angels’ style “Contactball” makes the same mistakeâ€”emphasizing the in-game strategy rather than the marketplace strategy aspect of Moneyball.
As Jeff says:
This won’t be a popular thing to say, but the Angel approach on the batting side is pure Moneyball. That is, the economics side of the argument, not the specific attributes the Athletics front office found undervalued.
Well, Jeff, that position is “popular” with me. Yes, by acquiring very cheaply players like Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera (or, in previous years, David Eckstein), the Angels are scooping up players with useful talent that other organizations simply are not looking for. Going for OBP is now pretty much the new conventional wisdom, so that is no longer where the edge is to be made. Are the Angels thus setting a new standard to be emulated? It sure makes for a more exciting style of play to watch. Go Angels!
Nice post by Jeff. Nice blog. Highly recommended. He promises a second post on the topic, including some of his interview with Scioscia.
The Angels are one win away from advancing to the ALCS to face the Chicago White Sox for the pennant, a series scheduled to open Tuesday in Chicago. However, the schedule is in flux now that Game 4 has been postponed due to the heavy rain that is falling throughout the northeast.
When alleged Angels ace and probable (though undeserved) Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon could not hold off the Yankees in Game 1 in Anaheim, I feared the Angels had squandered the home-field advantage that they had secured on the final day of the regular season. The “formula” for the team lacking the home-field advantage in one of these best of five series is to split the two on the road. Then you go home and it becomes essentially a best of three in which you now hold the home-field advantage (two in your place and then one back on the road). This was how the Angels did it against the Yankees in 2002, splitting in NY and sweeping the two back in Anaheim. And the Yankees looked well positioned to implement that formula with Randy Johnson on the mound for game 3 in Yankee Stadium (where the home team was 53-28 during the regular season).
But Johnson just could not locate his pitches. He looked awful. With two out in the first, he gave up singles to Vlad Guerrero and Bengie Molina. Up stepped Garret Anderson, who has been playing for months like a man with a bad back (which he is). Some Angels fan-bloggers were calling for GA to sit out against the toughest of all tough lefties, the Unit. GA put those calls to rest by hammering a pitch well above the wall in right. Then in the second Johnosn gave up a 2-run homer to Bengie, and he was down 5-0. The Yankees came back on a poor night for pitchers, but the Angels pulled away and won, 11-7.
The Angels are hardly underdogs in this series, though I felt going in that they might not have the offense to hold off the Yankees. They do not have the same consistently relentless attack they had in 2002, when they were perceived by the media as underdogs, but should not have been. The Angels have precisely the kind of offensive approach that the Yankees are most vulnerable to: They put the ball in play a lot (i.e. they do not walk much, nor do they strike out), and the Yankees have pretty weak fielding at most positions, especially up the middle. Of course, there is nothing even the best defense can do when the pitcher is serving up the gopher ball, but after Johnson left, the Angels approach was very much in the style of the way they beat the Yankees in 2002 and in several years worth of regular-season play. The Angels have a winning record against the Yankees over the past decade and they have played the Yanks better in NY than in Anaheim. But Johnson has had his way with the Angels over many years going back to his days as a Mariner. He was just offâ€”way offâ€”last night, and he knew it, saying after the game:
To the Angels’ credit, they are a relentless team and when you don’t make your pitches, regardless of who you are, they’re going to make you pay.
Yes, for at least one rainy night, the relentness Angels hitters were back and they made The Big Unitâ€”and several relieversâ€”pay big time.
With an unscheduled off day today, Joe Torre could bring back Mike Mussina for tomorrow’s game-4 make-up instead of starting Shawn Chacon. Mussina was dominant in game 1. The Angels were ready with Jarrod Washburn for today and could start him tomorrow, or they could bring back Colon, who had been scheduled to face Mussina in game 5, if necessary, in Anaheim.
The only twist on all that is Mussina stayed behind after starting game 1 in order to get his rest for the possible game 5. If he is summoned to start game 4, he has to make a cross-country flight. They will probably stick with Chacon, who was surprisingly effective (7-3, 2.85) after being rescued from the Rockies, but is hardly the sort of pitcher you want to rely on with your entire season on the line (career ERA of 4.30 prior to this season, and that’s away from hitter-friendly Coors Field).
If the Yankees win game 4, the series will be pushed back a day with game 5 at Angel Stadium Monday. Then again, they may not be able to play tomorrow, either, judging by the forecast. If rain washes out play Sunday, too, the series would be delayed another day if it goes five and the ALCS would start a day late. Meanwhile, the White Sox are ready in Chicago, getting their rest while waiting to find out who will come to town and when.
I will be distracted for a while. The playoffs are beginning!
[UPDATE, 11:40 a.m. PDT: So much for the Padres-could-win scenario (described below): 8 runs off Peavy. What a statement by the Redbirds!]
This was one of the most exciting final weekends of baseball’s regular season in many yearsâ€”especially in the American League. We did not get the 3-way tie that I was rooting for (on the principle that more baseball is always better than less, and also because the competition being worn out while the Angels clinched early is a self-evidently good thing). But we did get three 95-win teams (and one with 99) in the AL, so the playoffs should be tense. The Indians, who came from far behind and just over a week ago led the wild card race and threatened the White Sox for the Central lead, suddenly in the last week forgot how to score, but still wound up with 93 wins and just missed out.
But before the AL gets underway, first up is the NL West winner, the Padres, with their 82-80 record, facing the St. Louis Cardinals, 100-62. Six teams in the NL finished with a better record than the Padres, and three of them (the Phillies, who were eliminated from the wild card race on the final day, and the Marlins and Mets) are not going to the playoffs. On the last day of the season, the Brewers (19 games behind St. Louis in the Central) and the Nationals (9 out in the East) lost their games to finish at .500, while the Padres won to finish with a bare-winning record. The .500 was quite an achievement for the perennially bad Brerwers and ex-Expos.
Despite finishing with 18 fewer wins that the Cardinals, the Padres actually have a chance. They got the luck of the draw in the playoff schedule. Every year there is one series that has two days off in the first five days. And this year that is the Padres. That means they can start Jake Peavy, one of the best pitchers in the league, in Games 1 and 4â€”if they can get a win out of one other pitcher’s start in Game 2 or 3. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ number 1 pitcher, Chris Carpenter, had a terrible finish (0-1 with a 9.14 ERA in his last four starts). If Peavy is on, the Padres could steal this. If not, they can probably forget it.
During the regular season, the Cardinals won 6 and lost 4 of their head-to-head match-ups with the Padres. However, three of the Padres’ 4 wins came in May, the one month when the Padres actually looked like a team that would belong in the playoffs. The Cardinals actually outscored the Padres in those ten games by a combined 43-11. Yes, 43-11. But two of those games were blowouts, 15-5 and 11-3, in games started by pitchers who are not currently with the Padres. The other games were quite close, including three decided by one run.
I like the Cardinals. They start their lineup with two of my favorite (ex-) Angels: David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds. And Edmonds gave the Cardinals a quick 1-0 lead by hitting a home run off Peavy in the first. (Right on Jim E.!)
Speaking of the Angels, by sweeping their season-ending series, and thanks to the Red Sox winning 2 of 3 against the Yankees, the team from Los Angeles/Anaheim won the home-field advantage in the first round against the Yankees. This could be important: The Yankees were a whopping 53-28 at The House that Ruth Built, but a pedestrian 42-39 on the road. That series starts at 5:00 PDT today. Keeping the fingers crossed. This Angels team is not as good as the 2002 team, and it could really go either way.
In between, we get the battle of the Sox starting this afternoon. I’m torn on that one. I have always liked the Red Sox, but would like to see someone new advance. More importantly, if the Angels should advance to the next round, I think they match up better against the White Sox than the Red ones. But that is getting way too far ahead of ourselves. But I will say that I really, really hope not to have another rematch of the Yankees and Red Sox in the ALCS, notwithstanding how spectacular that match-up was the last two years.
Tomorrow begins the rematch of the Astros and Braves, who should be quite evenly matched. The Astros were 89-73 and thus deserving wild card winners despite being 11 games behind their division winner, St. Louis. The Braves were 90-72 and have won 14 straight titles (though not in 14 straight years, as one hears said sometimes: in 1994, due the players’ strike, there was no champion and the Braves were actually trailing the Expos when the season was suspended in August).
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4