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Spoiled Salami: The 2014 Angels’ Bases Loaded Struggles

August 29th, 2014

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For my money, the best moment of the season so far came on June 8, when, trailing 5-1, Mike Trout took a Chris Sale pitch deep to even a game the Angels eventually won. A late-inning, game-tying grand slam is always great, but the moment was heightened because a) It was Trout, b) Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he threw a great pitch that Trout hit anyway, and c) Hawk Harrelson was so sad!

Those bases loaded victories have been rare for the 2014 Angels. The Angels defeated Oakland last night in spite of their continued ineptitude with the bases loaded. In the bottom of the ninth the Angels wasted a golden chance to end the game, sending the top of the order to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, needing only one run to end the game. Promptly, Calhoun popped up and Mike Trout grounded out, ending the threat. On the night, the Halos were 0-for-3 with the sacks loaded, nothing new for a team that is now batting 20-for-100 with ducks on all the ponds, an easy-to-calculate .200. Considering the low batting average, the club has a relatively decent .275 OBP in these situations thanks to 12 walks and a hit-by-pitch. The slugging percentage is even more pitiful than the batting average, though — the Halos rank sixth overall in MLB slugging at a .407 clip, but with the bases loaded the slugging drops to .260. That’s what happens when you have four extra-base hits (three doubles and one grand slam) with the bases juiced in 120 plate appearances. If you weren’t counting, that’s a .535 OPS. The worst OPS for any individual qualified player this year is Zack Cozart’s .586. So basically, whenever the bases are loaded, the Angels are sending a worse Zack Cozart to the plate.

Angels Fry Fish, Hold Onto First Place

August 28th, 2014

Game 1: Marlins 7, Angels 1 | Game 2: Angels 8, Marlins 2| Game 3: Angels 6, Marlins 1

Runs Scored = 15
Runs Allowed = 10

YTD Record: 79-53 | 1st in AL West

Up Next: Thursday vs. Athletics

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The Angels took two of three from the visiting Miami Marlins to cap the season 12-8 in interleague play and maintain a one game division lead over Oakland. Sandwiched between two critical series against the A’s, the Marlins were easy to overlook for fans and maybe even the players. But the Angels did what they’ve done all season: beat up lesser teams. Miami teed off on Triple-A pitching Monday night, but the Angels responded by winning the last two games of the series by a combined score of 14-3. An encouraging sign for the Halos is they have now scored at least six runs in three of the past four games, and all three games were started by quality pitchers. Prior to Sunday’s 9-4 win in Oakland, the Halos had scored 6+ runs only three other games in August. Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Erick Aybar are busting out of recent slumps just in time for a critical four-game set against Oakland this weekend.

Angels Roasting on an Open Fire

August 21st, 2014
bart chalk board

Aybar has braces. Dental plan. Aybar has braces. Dental plan. Aybar has braces. Dental plan. Aybar has bra…

Starting today, FXX will air every episode of The Simpsons (and the movie) non-stop until the run completes. Given the series is now 25 seasons in, it’s going to take nearly two weeks for this project to end. Before the boom of TV dramas in the early 2000s, there was a case to be made The Simpsons was the greatest show in television history. Even with all the excellent series the last decade and The Simpsons’ mediocrity for the better part of a dozen years, it still could be a consensus top-5 show anyway — there might not be a better TV season than Season 4 of The Simpsons. (Last Exit to Springfield is the best episode and I’ll fight you if you say otherwise. Homer at the Bat is the only other acceptable answer.)

In celebration, I have taken Angels — and some other baseball personalities — and likened them to characters in the Simpson universe. With how enormous that universe is, it was impossible to hit on every character. But if you have better ideas than me let me know in the comments.

This is the third year in a row I’ve used this hacky template, previously for The Dark Knight Rises and the fourth season of Arrested Development. Unlike those two pop culture duds, we know The Simpsons marathon will be good, at least through about season 10. With the preamble out of the way, let’s start at the top.

Angels Complete Season Sweep of Phillies

August 14th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 7, Phillies 2 | Game 2: Angels 4, Phillies 3

Runs Scored = 11
Runs Allowed = 5

YTD Record: 70-49 | 2nd in AL West

Up Next: Friday @ Texas

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For the second time this season, the Angels swept the Phillies in a two-game series. The Phillies, one of the worst teams in baseball, were a welcome sight for an Angels team needing to accumulate victories after a poor week against the Dodgers and Red Sox. The Angels now sit two games behind the A’s for first place as they approach the most important remaining stretch of their schedule. Over the next 17 games, the Angels will play 10 against teams with sub-.500 records and seven against Oakland. Two and a half weeks of great baseball could propel the Angels into the driver’s seat for the division crown, as September offers the Angels more losing teams until the last week. Mediocre or bad baseball, though, could dash their AL West hopes before September. Buckle up.

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The 1994 Angels and the Strike that Didn’t Matter

August 14th, 2014
The 1994 Strike was terrible for the game, but it didn't affect the Angels.

The 1994 Strike was terrible for the game, but it didn’t affect the Angels.

Twenty years ago on August 12, the most infamous labor stoppage in North American sports history began, eventually wiping out the remainder of the MLB regular season, the postseason, and a chunk of the 1995 season. On Baseball Prospectus’ excellent daily podcast Effectively Wild, Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed some of the more famous events lost from that season. You’re probably familiar with the greatest hits: Matt Williams closing in on 61 homers, Tony Gwynn flirting with .400, the Expos losing a chance to perhaps save the franchise, and Chuck Knoblauch chasing the doubles record (?!?!?).

If baseball fans in general and the Expos in particular were the big losers from the ’94 strike, the Angels were the big winners. The 1994 club was miserable, finishing 47-68 and threatening to lose 100 games for the only time in franchise history. As it was, their .409 win percentage is the second worst in club history, “besting” only the 1980 squad that plummeted to 65-95 just a year after winning the AL West. Behind Tim Salmon and Chili Davis, the club’s 91 wRC+ ranked 18th in baseball, which isn’t terrible, but bad enough to score the fewest runs in the AL. Kenny Rogers took advantage of that offense and threw a perfect game on July 28 while a member of the Texas Rangers. The pitching was a joke, though, with a staff ERA of 5.43, third worst in baseball and bad for any era, even in the middle of an offensive boom. Chuck Finley and Mark Langston posted 100+ ERA+, but everyone else was bad. Joe Grahe was the closer, and he had a 6.65 ERA and 5.09 FIP, giving him the retrospective nickname “Ernesto Frieri 1.0.” Predictably, the attendance suffered, as the Halos drew only 24,010 fans per game, ninth worst in baseball. The 1994 Angels were relevant for precisely one reason: Angels in the Outfield, a film proven more prescient by the concurrent suck that was the real California Angels. Poor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The timing was perfect for the Angels. What’s the point in being good in a year that doesn’t count? Expo fans don’t have bragging rights because the season basically never happened. (Also, if you come across an Expo fan, give them a hug.) If anything, being a good team would only fill fans with “what ifs.” We almost had that scenario in 2002, when a near-stoppage threatened to wipe out the Angels’ first playoff appearance in 16 years and, eventually, a World Series title.

The Angels’ 1994 incompetence gave them the first pick in the 1995 MLB Draft, where they selected future stalwart Darin Erstad; with their second round selection, they took Jarrod Washburn. Both players were key cogs for years, particularly on the 2002 championship team. Had the Angels played better ball over the last six weeks of the season and worsened their draft position, they likely wouldn’t come up with a player as valuable as Erstad — the five players drafted after Erstad were Ben Davis, Jose Cruz Jr., Kerry Wood, Ariel Prieto, and Jaime Jones. Erstad was worth more career fWAR than all five of those players, accumulating 28.3 wins above replacement in his career. (Those five players combined for 48.6 fWAR.) Don’t forget about Washburn, either, who may have been off the board whenever they selected in the second round if they picked any lower.

It takes skill to win championships, but there’s more luck involved than fans would probably like to admit. The 2002 Angels broke the Game 6 win probability chart. The Red Sox traded Babe Ruth. Nelson Cruz had his feet stuck in quicksand against the Cardinals in the 2011 World Series. Baseball history is littered with strokes of good fortune — if the Angels win the World Series this season, we could point to the 2009 Draft and wonder how Mike Trout was even available for the Angels to select. The 1994 Expos weren’t lucky. Even if didn’t feel like it at the time, the ’94 Angels were.

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