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Pujols and Calhoun Named Gold Glove Finalists

October 24th, 2014

Michael Jackson: more Gold Gloves than Mike Trout

 

Awards season provides bored baseball fans with a bridge to free agency madness, something to get worked up about for a few hours and help us forget the long hours of boredom that is the MLB offseason. The early stages of award season have already begun, as yesterday Rawlings announced the Gold Glove finalists for each position. It’s not surprising the Angels only have two finalists, but it is surprising one of them is not Erick Aybar, who was beaten out at shortstop by Alcides Escobar, Alexei Ramirez, and JJ Hardy (the probably deserving winner).

Measuring defense is always tricky, but whether using the eye test or fielding metrics, Aybar seemed deserving of a spot in the finals. Aybar ranked second among AL shortstops among DRS* and UZR. His 10 errors were also the fewest he’s committed in a season since 2007, when he only logged 79 innings at short. Fielding percentage is in the conversation with saves and pitcher wins as the most useless stats around, but some people pay attention to it. Aybar’s .982 rate was tops in the AL among shortstops. Using traditional and modern defensive measures, Aybar checks out. It’s a bit puzzling Aybar isn’t a finalist, but this is also the award Derek Jeter won five times. Voters might be throwing darts at a bulletin board for all we know.

* Yes, according to DRS Aybar actually cost the Angels three runs, but that’s still good for second best in the AL. The moral of the story: shortstop is hard.

As for the Angels that are finalists. Pujols, a two-time winner when he was in the NL, graded as a top-three first basemen in DRS and UZR, a welcome sight after his injury-plagued 2013 season. At some point in his mammoth contract the Angels will convert Pujols to a full-time DH. The fear after last season was that day was fast approaching, but with a year of solid defensive play Pujols may be able to hold that day off for a little longer. He still runs like a slug, but he has good instincts and an accurate throwing arm at first. The longer Pujols can play in the field, the more value he will bring to the Angels.

Calhoun’s nomination was a bit of a surprise just because he’s a relative unknown, but per FanGraphs there are only seven qualified right fielders in the AL, so Rawlings had to pick somebody. Not that his inclusion is unwarranted — Calhoun saved the most runs and had the second best UZR in the AL, in addition to numerous Web Gem plays the voters love.

Meanwhile, the only other Angels that have a claim for a nomination are Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick. Trout only has a case in name recognition only. He was snubbed in 2012 when he probably should have won, and now it looks like he might not have another chance to win. DRS and UZR say Trout was the third worst center fielder in the AL — this is where my eye test is going to call “bull.” I don’t think Trout is as good as he was in 2012, but he’s not among the worst defensive players in the American League, either.

Kendrick didn’t have much Gold Glove chatter over the summer but he did have another solid season at the keystone. Kendrick rated as the third-best second basemen by DRS and fourth by UZR. Having Aybar and Kendrick man the middle of the infield for nearly a decade has been a huge boon for the Angels. It’s a luxury to roll out guys on Opening Day in two key positions and know you’re going to get 145 games of reliable play. Kendrick and Aybar were huge reasons the Angels won the division crown this year, and if the Angels succeed in 2015 those two are likely going to be underrated, but key, contributors again.

Exclusive: 2015 Angel Stadium Giveaways

October 22nd, 2014

 

In order to push back at the cloud of baseball sadness that’s hovered over Southern California the past two weeks, the folks in marketing have given us a exclusive first look at five of the Angel Stadium promotional giveaways for the 2015 season. Sure, the promotions are a bit on the unorthodox side—one might even say they’re not real!—but there’s nothing here that Bill Veeck wouldn’t have marketed the hell out of.

Without further ado:

 

AlbertAnkleWeights

 

Albert’s Ankle Weights – April 16

When I was six, what I wanted more than anything was to “Be Like Mike.” But as I was a four-foot-nothing kid with the coordination of a horse on ice, I decided my best was to focus on being like Mike in non-basketball arenas. My first-grade teacher was a bit taken aback at my insistence on placing wagers on classmates’ test scores in the days before an exam, but eventually came around when I assured her I was good for the watermelon Jolly Ranchers I’d promised, and that I was just doing what the catchy song on TV told me to do. I lost a lot of candy that year.

In the same vein, most of us will never swing a baseball bat like The Machine, but we can sure as heck learn to run like him. Available to the first 20,000 fans in attendance, the commemorative Albert Pujols Ankle Weights don’t just slow you to a snail’s pace, their patented Shin Splinters™ also dig into your leg on every step to ensure you aren’t without Albert’s signature look of pain and agony as you go about your day. You think taking short, strained breaths with pursed lips is a weird thing to do while running? You won’t after five minutes in Albert Pujols Ankle Weights! And if you’re not afflicted with a chronic hitch in your step after a week, we’ll give you a second pair free, no questions asked!

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TroutMike

Not to scale, and not too scaly.

 

The Trout Mike – June 8

The only thing better than a good pun is a bad pun that lingers in your mind for weeks, like an earworm of equivocality. These puns begin life painfully unfunny but somehow become less and less reprehensible the longer they stay in your mind, to the point where you eventually find the wordplay amusing and decide to share it with a friend or family member. This is a huge mistake, without fail. BUT, I’ll be damned if that friend or family member doesn’t think back on it at some point and smirk. And that’s all you can ask for, right?

With that in mind, we introduce the Trout Mike. A vintage microphone of the piscine persuasion, this battery-powered and bad-pun-inspired collectible has speakers built right into the tail so that you can provide amplified play-by-play or color commentary to any occasion. Whether it’s creeping people out at the park or pranking friends into finding the nearest white courtesy phone at the airport, the Trout Mike will be your MVP. You thought your co-workers didn’t like you before? Man are they gonna hate you now.

Note: Please, for the love of god, don’t use your Trout Mike until you leave the ballpark. Two broadcasters is more than enough. Let’s be better than TBS.

2014 Highlights: The All-Star Game

October 21st, 2014
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Mike Trout was indeed wearing his speckled Nike Lunar Vapors when he hit this triple that scored Derek Jeter.

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game, The Sweep, The Streak

Angel fans were disappointed that Garrett Richards didn’t make the 2014 All-Star team and that Erick Aybar, who should have been a starter, simply squeaked in as a reserve player only after an injury opened up a spot on the roster, but all of that resentment was soothed over and then some by Mike Trout, who picked everyone up with his spectacular performance.

The Angels’ center fielder followed Derek Jeter’s first-inning double by hitting an RBI triple off of Adam Wainwright to right field.  Yasiel Puig could not handle Trout’s bullet off of the wall, and Trout was off, hitting speeds of 20.9 mph — Usain Bolt hit 23.3 mph on a straightaway in his world-record 100m dash — as he headed for third.  Trout easily beat the ball into third base, then scored the second run of the game when Miguel Cabrera hit a home run to left.

Trout hit the ball hard again in his next AB, driving a deep line drive off of Alfredo Simon in the third, but it was tracked down by Carlos Gomez.

In the fifth inning, Trout came up to bat against Pat Neshek with the game tied 3-3.  Mike squeaked a double just inside the third-base bag to drive in Derek Norris with what would turn out to be the game-winning RBI.  The double also moved Alexei Ramirez over to third, allowing him to score on Jose Altuve’s subsequent sac fly.

All in all, Mike Trout had his hand in four of the five runs the AL scored that night, despite playing just five innings.  The Kansas City Royals should remember to thank him for home-field advantage in the World Series the next time they meet up with him.

Trout’s stellar performance earned him the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award, making him the fourth Angel to claim that title — Leon Wagner in 1962; Fred Lynn in 1983; and Garret Anderson in 2003 are the others. Trout is now 4-for-7 in three All-Star Games with three extra base hits, a walk, a stolen base, and one really nice Corvette.

Hey, ma!  Look what I won!

Hey, ma! Look what I won!

 

2014 Highlights: The Streak

October 20th, 2014
Kendrick

Howie Kendrick, temporary clean-up hitter extraordinaire.

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game; The Sweep

Entering September, the Angels’ second-half record was solid (26-16) but the offensive juggernaut that carried them through the season’s first three months and change was nowhere to be found. The team that averaged an MLB-best 5.1 runs per game in the first half was managing only 3.8 a game post-All-Star break. Strong pitching allowed the Halos to gain ground despite their impotence at the plate, but with Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs out for the season, the bats would have to come alive in September if the club wanted to secure the AL West title.

Does 86 runs in 10-game span qualify as coming alive? I feel like it might.

After two milquetoast losses to Astros to begin the month, the Halos put in their Game Genie and went into god mode for nearly a fortnight, mashing their way to a 10-game winning streak. The team averaged almost nine runs a contest during the stretch, never once scoring fewer than five runs and only twice plating fewer than seven. When laid out in a row–5, 7, 8, 14, 12, 9, 8, 7, 11, 5–their runs read more like hit totals than anything else. The streak matched a number of franchise records, including consecutive games (8) with 7+ runs, and consecutive games (6) with a margin of victory of four or greater. In just 10 days, the team raised its second-half scoring average by close to a full run, up to 4.7 per game, and extended its division lead to an uncatchable 11.

On the micro level, Scioscialism was in full effect during the streak. Nine Angels had at least five hits over the 10 games and six guys had 12 or more knocks. The team batted .329/.392/.541 overall in the stretch, and no player with more than four ABs failed to tally at least one base hit. Howie Kendrick was the team’s fearless leader on offense, jumping into the clean-up role and batting .500/.532/.795 with seven extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances. No one else came within seven hits of Howie, who managed to raise his OPS by 44 points. That’s not easy to do in September.

I suppose one could make the argument that the Angels peaked too soon with their early September rampage, but that kind of assumes the team has some level of control over when they play well and when they don’t. I think everyone involved would have loved to have had The Streak coincide with the start of the playoffs, but baseball just doesn’t work like that. (Unless you’re the Royals, of course.) No, The Streak didn’t catapult the Halos to a second World Series championship, but it did propel them to their first division title since 2009 and all but guaranteed they would finish the year with the best record in baseball. No reason one can’t wish for a better October outcome and also appreciate the awesomeness of this particular feat. The second-longest winning streak in franchise history deserves its day in the sun. Now if only we could convince MLB dot com to create a 10-minute montage of The Streak’s best moments.

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One #SadFact for the road: All but the first game of The Streak were won sans Josh Hamilton. The idea the Angels needed his lagging bat in the lineup during the ALDS was already pretty ludicrous. When you add the fact that arguably the most productive offensive stretch in franchise history was ostensibly achieved without him just three weeks earlier? Looks real bad, Bob.

Up Next: The All-Star Game

2014 Highlights: The Sweep

October 18th, 2014
The exact moment the Angels stole the A's mojo.

The exact moment the Angels stole the A’s mojo.

 

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game

Let’s set the stage. The Angels have spent the last 14 days dancing between two games back and two games ahead of the A’s in the AL West. Oakland has faltered some in the month, but still holds a +61 run-differential advantage (!) over the Halos and remains the consensus Best Team in Baseball. On one side, a rotation ace has just been lost for the season; on the other, two new aces are adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum.

It is the final four days of August, and the Angels are hosting their division rivals for four games. Anything other than a sweep for the Halos will preserve the back-and-forth status quo. No one expects a sweep. Against the gauntlet of Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir, the most anyone is asking for is a split. Anaheim has swept Oakland only once the last three seasons, and not in a four-game set since 1997. The odds, they are long.

And yet…

The opening contest is a battle, with the Halos squeaking out a 4-3 win in 10 innings, but the rest are more or less a cakewalk. The Angels flat out dominate. Oakland scores just one run in the final 31 innings of the series, going 29 frames scoreless at one point, and is shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006. Weaver outduels Lester, a desperation bullpen experiment outduels Samardzija, and Shoemaker outduels Kazmir. The Angels waltz to the sweep, expanding their division lead to a full five games and increasing their odds to win the West by a full 31 percent, from 61% to 92%.

***

I honestly cannot remember another important regular season series ever going so well. I wrote a bit about the catharsis the sweep brought right after it happened, and reminiscing about it nearly two months later still brings with it a wave of endorphins. It was the pivotal point of the season for both teams: the Angels turning upward, into the best team in baseball; the A’s spiraling downward, into a near-full collapse.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Sweep. After it, the Angels needed to simply be mediocre down the stretch to take their first division title in four years. (They weren’t, of course, but that’s a story for another day.) They entered September an MLB-best 86-56, with 12 of their next 13 coming against sub-.500 opponents. With any other result in the series, who knows how the rest of the season plays out. Maybe the A’s aren’t so deflated for the stretch run, and maybe the Halos don’t click until it’s too late.

There were a lot of great individual moments in the series — e.g. the bullpen shutout, Coco Crisp robbing then dropping Chris Iannetta’s home run, Matt Shoemaker extending his scoreless innings streak — but my personal favorite was the obliteration of Scott Kazmir in the series’ final game. I don’t typically take pleasure in the pain of others, but Kazmir falling to pieces anytime he has anything to do with his former club is just too good not to revel in.  The southpaw allowed just 1⅓ innings on the day, and is now the not-so-proud owner of a 22.10 ERA against the Angels over three starts the last two seasons; he has not made it through the fourth inning nor allowed fewer than five runs in any of the three outings. I’m don’t know what kind of psychological hold the Halos have over Kazmir, but it sure makes for some fun baseball.

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Up Next: The Streak

 

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!