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.

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


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!


Revisiting “Angels in the Outfield,” 20 Years Later

July 14th, 2014

“That’s where your career is going to end up, Mr. Glover.”

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Disney released Angels in the Outfield, a movie that nobody has watched in at least 16 years. Unlike the ironic joy people of a certain age take from the loathsome Space Jam (I am one of these people), Angels in the Outfield never developed that cult following, even though it’s really not that much worse than Space Jam. Angels’ domestic box office take was only $50 million and it peaked at #4 at the box office in its opening weekend behind a who’s-who of 90s cinema: True Lies, Forrest Gump, and The Lion King. In fifth place, we have Speed. Four of those top five at the box office have an afterlife that extends through today. True Lies is many people’s favorite James Cameron movie, and with seemingly dozens of Avatar sequels in the works, possibly his last relatively modest success rather than box office behemoth. Gump won all the Oscars and is probably on AMC right now. The Lion King has a Broadway musical. Speed’s 20-year anniversary a few weeks ago sparked internet nostalgia and remembrances.

Then there’s Angels in the Outfield, the 1994 summer movie misfit. Based on the eponymous 1951 film — starring Psycho’s shower-taker Janet Leigh and focusing on the Pittsburgh Pirates — the story seems more or less the same, just with a male lead character and an American League team. If you don’t remember the plot, here’s the gist: a boy in foster care is told by his dad that if the last-place Angels somehow win the pennant, then they can be a family again; the boy prays that God will help the Angels win; God sends angels (lowercase) to help the Angels (uppercase) win. Fin.

Given this was one of my favorite childhood movies, I decided to re-watch it to see how it holds up. The answer is…not great. But I took notes during, so below you’ll find my reactions while watching this forgotten masterpiece movie.

Angels Bolster Bullpen, Acquire Joe Thatcher

July 5th, 2014
Joe Thatcher, newest Angel.

Joe Thatcher, newest Angel.


The bullpen has easily been the Angels’ biggest weakness this season, so for the second consecutive week, the front office sought made a tweak to hopefully improve the unit. On the heels of last night’s A’s-Cubs mega-deal, the Angels and Diamondbacks completed their own blockbuster trade, with the Angels receiving left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher and outfielder Tony Campana in exchange for outfield prospect Zach Borenstein and pitching prospect Joey Krehbiel.

Okay, this trade probably can’t tip the balance of power in the American League like the A’s trade might, but it still should improve the Angels and strengthen their position for a run to at least the Wild Card coin flip. The 32-year-old Thatcher owns a 2.63 ERA and 3.28 FIP — he has also struck out 25% of hitters and walked only 3%, the latter of which would mark a career high. With the Angels already owning a decent stable of right-handed relievers in Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Keven Jepsen, and recently acquired Jason Grilli, it’s likely Thatcher will take over the role of left-handed specialist. In his career, Thatcher has struck out 33.2% of lefty batters and held them to a .213/.280/.341 slash line.

Thatcher is under contract only through the rest of this season, so if he flames out for the Angels at least there isn’t any additional money attached to him. Unlike, say, Jonathan Papelbon, another reliever rumored to be on the trade market — he is owed $13 million in 2015, and possibly another $13 in 2016 if his option vests. Yeah, no thanks.

Already rostering four solid outfield options in Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun, and Collin Cowgill, it’s doubtful Tony Campana makes the 25-man roster, but he is at least a solid addition for depth. He can’t hit a lick, as his .262 career wOBA can attest. But he’s fast, which helps him steal bases and play defense. In his career he’s stolen 66 bases on 74 attempts (89.2% success rate) and UZR rates him as a plus defender, particularly in the corner outfield spots. His presence in the trade is more shrug-worthy than anything, but it never hurts to have a player that can play defense and pinch-run late in games.

Heading the other way, Borenstein was rated the #9 prospect in the Angels’ lackluster system by Baseball America before the season. In 78 games between Triple-A Salt Lake and Double-A Arkansas, Borenstein has struggled with a .262/.316/.402 slash. In 18 innings of relief work in the lower rungs of the Angels’ developmental system, Krehbiel has a 2.00 ERA with 23 strikeouts and seven walks. Neither of these players will probably haunt the Angels down the road, so it’s a worthy gamble for Jerry Dipoto and the Angels to trade them for a proven relief pitcher that can help end the Angels’ October drought.

I Believe That The Angels Will Win (A Road Series)

July 3rd, 2014

Game 1: Angels 8, White Sox 4 | Game 2: Angels 7, White Sox 5 | Game 3: White Sox 3, Angels 2

Runs Scored: 17
Runs Allowed: 12

YTD Record: 47-36  | 2nd in AL West

Up Next: Thursday vs. Astros


Amid poor weather conditions in Chicago, the Angels won their first road series since May 14, when they completed a two-game sweep in Philadelphia. The Angels swept a Tuesday doubleheader against the White Sox after Monday’s game was postponed due to rain, but dropped the finale on Wednesday in constant drizzle. Thanks to the Detroit Tigers sweeping the A’s this week, the Angels picked up two games on Oakland and now are only 3½ games out of first place in the division, roping in suckers like me that are convinced the Angels can’t win the division but are forced to care anyway. On the more likely Wild Card front, the Angels sit a game above Seattle for the top spot in particular and are 2½ games clear of Baltimore for a Wild Card spot in general. Even when finally winning a road series, the Angels lose — the Mariners have won four straight and the Orioles have won three straight.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!