Halos Daily

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Clusters and the Unlucky Angels

July 28th, 2014
Angel pitchers could use a bowl.

Angel pitchers could use a bowl.

Most traditional theories suggest the Angels’ 63-41 record is justified or, if anything, a bit inflated. They’re outperforming their Pythagorean win expectancy by two games, they’re 17-13 in one-run ballgames, and they’re 6-5 in extra-inning games. Nothing too farfetched, but nothing suggesting the 2014 Angels are snake bitten.

That is, until I came across some interesting info in this week’s edition of The 30, Jonah Keri’s weekly power rankings at Grantland. Writing about the Rays, Keri discusses a theory known as “cluster luck.” Here’s a rudimentary cluster luck explanation, as relayed by Keri: teams have very little control of when they accrue hits on offense, and pitchers have very little control of when they allow hits. If C.J. Wilson allows seven hits in the first inning, that’s unlucky, but if he scatters those seven hits over seven innings, that’s lucky. On the flip side, if the Angels offense clusters six hits in the third inning, they’re going to score a few lucky runs, but if they get nine hits over nine innings, it’s possible they unluckily score zero runs. Typically, team’s will regress to the mean over a large sample. Earlier this season, Keri wrote how the Giants rode the second best cluster luck to a stunning 9-1/2 game advantage over the Dodgers — in the updated data, the Giants have regressed to 10th and now sit 1-1/2 games behind the Dodgers.

What does this have to do with the Angels? Ed Feng, someone way smarter than me, calculates cluster luck at THE POWER RANK. Per the updated data, the Angels rank only 25th in all of baseball in cluster luck, with a -20.02 figure. Figures below zero represent unlucky run clusters, while figures over are considered lucky. The Angels have actually been lucky on offense, scoring 14.20 more runs than expected, trailing only Oakland in that department. But for runs allowed, the Angels sit at -34.21, worst in baseball. Doesn’t that just feel accurate? The recent issues batting with runners in scoring position notwithstanding, the offense has had a fair share of big innings this year. As for the pitchers, it seems like opponents string together base hit after obnoxious base hit, particularly early in the season when the bLOLpen was still a thing.

I did some quick, problematic math with an assist from Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. For the purposes of the exercise, I defined a “big inning” as one in which a club scores (or allows) 3+ runs. The results support the cluster theory in regards to the Angels. They’ve scored 3+ runs in 59 innings this season — the average of the other 29 teams is about 46-1/3 innings. On the pitching front, the Angels have allowed 3+ runs in 51 innings this year — the average of the other 29 clubs is roughly 46-2/3 innings. There are problems sorting in this fashion, namely because I used “runs.” (I wanted to sort by hits per inning but couldn’t figure out how to do it on B-Ref, if it’s even possible.) For example, a team could walk three times then hit a grand slam for four runs on one hit, i.e. not a cluster of hits. Even still, big innings are often a result of several hits strung together, with a walk and the occasional error thrown in for good measure.

Oakland is by far the most fortunate team in Feng’s findings, clocking in at 49.42 “lucky” runs, well ahead of Baltimore’s second best 27.79. And yet, the Angels only trail the A’s by two games with roughly a third of the season left to play. Oakland won’t regress all the way to 0.0, and neither will the Angels, but even if the A’s see some of their fortune dashed while Angel pitchers get some fortuitous bounces, that could be all that is needed for the Angels to claim the AL West crown. The Angel’s staff allows a .283 BABIP overall, but that jumps to .298 with runners in scoring position, not a large spike but significant enough to contribute to a few extra runs over the course of a season. Meanwhile, the MLB average BABIP with runners in scoring position is .286. The Angels likely aren’t allowing too many extra hard-hit balls either with ducks on the pond –this Tweet from ESPN’s Mark Simon could prove a good omen:


No team in baseball allows hard-hit balls less frequently than the Angels. Change may not come instantly, but over the final two months of the season it is safe to expect the Angels’ pitching staff to be a little more fortuitous.

Angels Tame Tigers, Take 3 Out Of 4

July 28th, 2014

Game 1: Tigers 6, Angels 4 | Game 2: Angels 2, Tigers 1
Game 3: Angels 4, Tigers 0 | Game 4: Angels 2, Tigers 1

Runs Scored: 12
Runs Allowed: 8

YTD Record: 63-41 | 2nd in AL West

TigersSeries2

Maybe the Halos’ rotation, as it stands, could survive the postseason after all. The back-end trio of Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and Hector Santiago made a strong case over the weekend for keeping the rotation static, holding the league’s third-best offense to just two runs on 11 hits in 18 innings of work. Part of the reason for their success certainly lies in Mike Scioscia’s newfound ability to call on his lights-out bullpen at the first sign of trouble (i.e. when the lineup rolls around for a third time), but that shouldn’t take away from what the trio was able to accomplish against Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and co.–heading into the weekend, the fewest runs Detroit had scored in any three-game span this year was five.

The Angels offense continues to be mired in a post-ASB haze, but it’s at least starting to show signs of waking up. The club tallied 30 hits in the series and had as many extra-base knocks (4) against Justin Verlander on Saturday as they did in the entire three-game set vs. the Orioles earlier in the week. Their power game remains inconsistent — only Efren Navarro, David Freese, Kole Calhoun, and Mike Trout have homered in the second half — but it’s only a matter of time before Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Cron get in on the action. We hope.

Orioles Silence Angel Bats, Hand Halos Home Series Loss

July 24th, 2014

Game 1: Orioles 4, Angels 2 | Game 2: Orioles 4, Angels 2 | Game 3: Angels 3, Orioles 2

Runs Scored = 7
Runs Allowed = 10

YTD Record: 60-40 | 2nd in AL West

Up Next: Thursday vs. Detroit

OriolesSeries1

The Angels lost two of three against Baltimore, dropping their first home series since May 5-7 when they lost two of three games to the Yankees. Put another way, the last time the Angels lost a series at home you were still days away from forgetting Mother’s Day and hastily buying flowers at the grocery store. The Angels pitched well enough, holding a strong Baltimore offense, albeit one missing stud third baseman Manny Machado for two of the games, to only 10 runs over the three games. But the Halo bats couldn’t wake up with runners in scoring position, scoring only seven runs over the three games. The offense has been quiet since the second half started last Friday, scoring only 18 runs in that span. (I can math. That’s…not very many runs per game!). And remember, they technically have played six games, but given the 16-inning and 12-inning games against Seattle over the weekend, it’s like they played another 10-inning contest in that span too.  Let’s have some fun with small sample sizes. Since the All-Star Break, the Angels are 26th in wOBA, 24th in wRC+, and 22nd in runs scored entering play Thursday. The offense is doomed!

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Halos Walk-Off Twice On M’s, Take Series

July 21st, 2014

Game 1: Angels 3, Mariners 2 (F/16) | Game 2: Mariners 3, Angels 2 (F/12) | Game 3: Angels 6, M’s 5

Runs Scored = 11
Runs Allowed = 10

YTD Record: 59-38 | 2nd in AL West

Up Next: Monday vs. Baltimore

MarinersSeries4

Entering the All-Star break, the Angels were the hottest team in baseball, rolling into the weekend winners of five straight and 12 of their past 14. Following an eventful few days off, things continued to roll this weekend against the Mariners, as the Halos took two of three from their division rivals. However, it wasn’t the smoothest series victory.

In all, the Angels and Mariners played 37 innings this week, twice going into extras, with the clubs splitting the two games. Friday’s game was particularly intriguing as the Angels’ bullpen miraculously held together for 10 innings.

Speaking of the Angels’ bullpen, the big news of the weekend for the Angels was the acquisition of Huston Street, who would make his Angels debut during Saturday’s game. Personally, I’m not a fan of the deal. As fickle as prospects can be, it’s tough to justify trading four of your 10 best to add 1.5 seasons of a reliever, and while Street’s pretty damn good, it’s not as if they’re adding Aroldis Chapman here (or even vintage K-Rod).

The issue isn’t as much with the future value being given up – if you want to sell the farm to win now, be my guest – but with the present value. For the quartet the Angels gave up (Jose Rondon, Taylor Lindsey, R.J. Alvarez, and Elliot Morris), they should be receiving more than just Street. Heck, I’m not even sure San Diego could get close to that much for Ian Kennedy, who is without a doubt a more valuable entity than Street. Even when talking about future value, it’s worth considering that Alvarez has a good shot at turning into what Street currently is, and both Rondon and Lindsey could end up being serviceable regulars at the big-league level, and will be incredibly cheap for at least the rest of the decade. Even Morris, the final piece of the deal, has real trade value, as I’ve received numerous positive reports on him in recent weeks.

Chances are, none of those four names reaches their ceiling, and maybe Street does maintain his current performance through the end of next season. However, I can’t help but wonder if the Angels overpaid out of pure desperation. Then again, that’s probably why I’m sitting here typing this and not cashing checks from the team itself.

Anyways, here’s how this weekend’s series went…

The Pros and Cons of the Street Acquisition

July 19th, 2014
"Wait, so I take the 5 Freeway *that* way?"

“Wait, so I take the 5 Freeway *that* way?”

The Halos front office went for broke Friday night, sending four prospects to the San Diego Padres to acquire closer Huston Street and minor-league reliever Trevor Gott. The price for Street was a steep one, as the Padres’ return includes three of the Halos’ top 10 prospects—second baseman Taylor Lindsey, shortstop Jose Rondon, and reliever R.J. Alvarez—and a fourth player—righty starter Elliot Morris—who has turned a lot of heads this season and may have creeped into the top 10 come September.

As a Proven Closer™, Huston Street will immediately usurp Joe Smith as top dog in the Angels bullpen and push everyone down a rung on the reliever hierarchy ladder. Just who exactly will be pushed off the ladder remains to be seen1 and is unlikely to be resolved until C.J. Wilson returns from the disabled list in the next couple weeks.

If one ever wondered the kind of ultimatum Jerry Dipoto got about what was required to keep his job at the end of the year, this trade provides a very clear answer: Either the Angels win big in 2014/2015, or he takes his ball and goes home. There’s really no other way to explain the jettisoning of five (!) top prospects in a three-week span from an already barren farm system for the purpose of netting roughly 100 combined innings from two relief pitchers. Dipoto has gone all-in on the present at the expense of the future, and either you really like that course of action or you don’t.

Let’s look at it from both sides:

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