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Halos Add Giavotella To Keystone Mix

December 19th, 2014
Dipoto is adding one new middle infielder for every tie he'll get this Christmas.

Dipoto is adding one new middle infielder for every tie he’ll get this Christmas.

 

The Angels made yet another trade early Friday afternoon, acquiring recently DFA’d second baseman Johnny Giavotella from the Royals for minor-league reliever Brian Broderick. The addition of Giavotella runs the total of Halos right-handed hitters jockeying for work at second base to four, which should make things interesting come Spring Training.

Giavotella, 27, was a top prospect in KC’s system a few years back, but never found a way to stick on the big-league roster. He put up solid numbers at Triple-A each of the last four seasons — good for a combined .315/.384/.451 slash line — but had trouble translating that success to the big-league level. In 465 MLB plate appearances over those same four seasons, Giavotella hit just .238/.277/.334. Plate discipline is his biggest asset in the batter’s box in the minors — his career K/BB ratio is nearly 1-to-1 – but it mysteriously disappears every time he arrives in Kansas City. The New Orleans native never got more than 120 big-league plate appearances at any one time after his inaugural cup of coffee back in 2011, so it could be that he just needs a little more time to adapt to MLB pitching. It’s hard to adjust to something fully when opportunities come in small spurts over large swaths of time. Can you imagine being a successful anything if you were given only a month every year to ply your trade against the best in the business?

On the offensive side of things, there really isn’t much to separate “Gio” <sic> from his trio of keystone competitors in Anaheim. If one could combine the best assets of each player, the Halos would have a great, young-ish second baseman on their hands. Apart, though, each has his limitations: Josh Rutledge has the most power potential, but he lacks Giavotella’s eye; Grant Green probably has the best bat-to-ball skills, but he doesn’t have Taylor Featherston’s speed out of the box. Given the similar offensive profiles, the deciding factors in the campaign for the starting second-base gig will likely be some combination of defense/versatility and Spring Training numbers, which are functionally useless but somehow still alluring to teams.

I presume that Giavotella’s signing finally closes the door on bringing Gordon Beckham back into the fold. With four right-handed hitting second basemen already on the roster, there’s no reason in paying seven figures for another, especially when his upside is equal to that of the existing quartet. However, I would be surprised if this latest acquisition ends the team’s pursuit of middle infielders entirely. For instance, switch-hitting grit machine Nick Punto just landed on the open market, and could be a nice fit for the Angels. He doesn’t really hit worth a darn anymore, but he does play the entire infield with aplomb and it’d be nice to have at least one left-handed hitting option on the infield. I wrote a 1,200+ word article Thursday on how Dipoto doesn’t seem to like switch-hitters all that much, so now would seem the most obvious time for him to sign someone like Punto. Just because.

Oh right, the other part of the trade…

Brian Broderick, 28, spent all of 2014 playing independent ball and only joined the Halos earlier this month after lighting up the radar gun in the Mexican League, so his absence should have close to no impact on the team going forward. He could become another live-arm guy in KC’s bullpen when all is said and done, I suppose, but he was never a big part of the Angels’ plans.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Giavotella, the Angels released fellow infielder Shawn O’Malley.

Angels Renouncing Switchcraft

December 18th, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

 

Now that Jerry Dipoto has been around for three seasons, we have enough data at our fingertips to begin looking for patterns—or at least the semblance of them—in the way he and the front office operate. We touched last month on how Dipoto seems to love trading with anyone and everyone at all times, which is a complete about-face from the stylings of his predecessor, but we have yet to really investigate his methods on a micro level. The query for today: Is there certain type of player that Dipoto has seemingly moved away from?

The short and snarky answer to this question, “well, duh, low-OBP guys…” is accurate but boring. We didn’t need any data to know that the additions of Chris Iannetta, Albert Pujols, David Freese, J.B. Shuck, Collin Cowgill, Raul Ibanez, and Matt Joyce were all made with their history of solid on-base skills in mind—”history” being the operative word there… *side-eyes Pujols*. The longer and less obvious answer is far more interesting, and concerns my favorite baseball oddity: switch-hitters.

As usual, let’s delve into a little history before focusing in on what the Angels are doing in the present. It’s believed switch-hitters have been around just about as long as organized baseball. Bob “Death To Flying Things” Ferguson is widely regarded as the first switch-hitter, attacking pitchers from both sides of the plate as early as June 14, 1870. By the time the American League and National League joined forces 31 years later, kick-starting baseball’s modern era, switch-hitting had become a common occurrence in the game.

For MLB’s first three decades, the impact of switch-hitters on the game remained remarkably steady. From 1901-1931, switch-hitters always made up between 5-8% of league’s hitters, and they always had at least a couple stars in their midst1. Then, for reasons unknown, switch-hitters began to disappear from the league. Their numbers dipped below 5% for the first time in 1932, and moved to the brink of extinction by 1950: of the 290 non-pitchers to get at a big-league plate appearance that year, only five were switch-hitters. If the switch-hitter didn’t want to become a historical footnote alongside old quirks like sharing gloves, player-managers and the catcher cam, it needed a savior quick.

Angels Acquire Matt Joyce From Rays For Kevin Jepsen

December 16th, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

 

It seems the Angels are fixed on working in pairs* this winter. The club has made two trades with the Dodgers, two waiver claims from the D’Backs, a trade and a waiver claim with the Astros, a trade and a Rule 5 Draft selection with the Rockies, and, now, two trades with the Rays: The Halos acquired veteran outfielder Matt Joyce from Tampa Bay in exchange for Kevin Jepsen on Tuesday, giving the team some much-needed depth at designated hitter and an extra lefty bat to man the outfield corners.

Joyce, 30, immediately bolsters what were very low expectations at DH next season. ZiPS projected the tag team of C.J Cron, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Efren Navarro to combine for 0.7 WAR at the position in 2015, which was the second-lowest expected total for an AL team. With Joyce added to the mix, that total jumps to 1.6 WAR, right into the middle of the pack.

Jerry Dipoto is saying that Joyce will serve as the primary DH, but I’d be surprised if that title is more than semantic. In a league that’s still dominated by right-handed pitchers, of course the lefty hitter would be the primary guy. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start every game. For as good as Joyce is at crushing righties (.355 wOBA!), he’s undeniably terrible (.257 wOBA) against southpaws. Knowing that—and you can bet the Angels are well aware of the dichotomy—there’s no reason for Mike Scioscia to start Joyce against lefties when Cron is waiting in the wings. For all C.J.’s troubles with plate discipline, I think he can be counted on to at least be better than Joyce vs. LHPs. Cron didn’t have much of a platoon split in 2014, but his K rate was seven percent better when he had the handedness advantage.

Oddly, Joyce has always been a much better player in the first half than the second. Over the last four years he’s averaged a 145-point drop in OPS after the All-Star break, and for his career holds a .356 wOBA vs. a .325 wOBA between the two halves. There’s no way of knowing what causes his annual second-half dip in numbers, but I think it’s safe to say it’s more than just random noise, and thus is something to be addressed. Just how the Halos plan on dealing with his seemingly inevitable post-ASB decline is unknown, but it should be interesting to keep an eye on.

Joyce is expected to make ~$5 million this winter–his final season of arbitration–which represents only about a $2.5 million pay hike over what the club would have paid Jepsen. If we assume Jepsen would have earned roughly $4 million next season, his final arbitration year, then the Halos just saved a couple million. Sort of. Not really.

In Kevin Jepsen, the Angels lose a late-innings reliever who appeared to be finally coming into his own in 2014. The right-hander, also 30, posted career bests in just about every meaningful statistical category last season, including earned-run average (2.63), innings pitched (65), and strikeouts per nine (10.4). If you believe that Jepsen is a safe bet to repeat that performance next year, then his loss is pretty massive hit to the bullpen. If you’re like me, though, and believe that relievers are the biggest gambles in the game and that there was a slim chance he’d ever be that good again—Hello, .547 OPS-against!—then his jettison to St. Petersburg looks like a master stroke. Two years of a solid but injury-prone reliever for one year of an affordable, quality lefty bat? Yes, please.

Even without Jepsen (and Jairo Diaz), the Halos still have a powerful and deep relief corps on their hands. Huston Street, Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Cesar Ramos, Cory Rasmus, Fernando Salas, and Hector Santiago/Vinnie Pestano should be more than enough to keep teams off the board in the late innings. And should one of them get hurt? There’s still Cam Bedrosian, Drew Rucinski, Jeremy McBryde, Danny Reynolds, and Trevor Gott standing by to fill in. Mourn the loss of a long-tenured Angel, but not what it might mean for the bullpen. It’s still in very good shape.

The one thing that gives me pause about this deal is that it’s cemented in many minds the notion that Mike Trout will hit third in 2015. This is a terrible idea. As I’ve written before, optimal lineup construction isn’t the big game-changer that many want it to be, unless it involves Mike Trout. He has been so much better than everyone else the last three seasons that willfully choosing to give him fewer plate appearances—which is all moving to the three hole actually does for sure—should be grounds for excommunication from Major League Baseball. With the combination of Iannetta and Aybar at the bottom of the lineup, Trout gets all the run-producing opportunities he needs batting second—he did just lead the league in RBI, did he not? Slotting Matt Joyce into the two hole, .342 OBP and all, isn’t going to make a difference on that front.

A potential Opening Day lineup, as things stand:

RF Calhoun
CF Trout
1B Pujols
LF Hamilton
DH Joyce/Cron
3B Freese
SS Aybar
C Iannetta
2B Green/Rutledge

__

*I guess we should expect a second transaction with the Rangers any day now…

Should The Angels Bid For Jung-ho Kang?

December 15th, 2014
kang

If Kang doesn’t work out, there’s always Kodos.

 

Korean superstar Jung-ho Kang was posted Monday evening, adding some much-needed intrigue to this winter’s market for middle infielders. MLB clubs have until Friday to submit bids for the 27-year-old shortstop, who hit a Bondsian .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in 2014, earning his league’s MVP award. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is a notoriously offense-friendly league, so it’s tough to take Kang’s numbers at face value, but there’s no denying he’s got some wallop in his bat.

The Mets, A’s, and Giants are the only teams to be directly linked to Kang so far, but there are also several other clubs who at least have him on their radar. Since Kang’s future might involve a position shift to either third or second base, where the Angels are noticeably weakest at the moment, we thought it behooved us touch on whether or not Jerry Dipoto should make a run at him.

But first, a little history…

Halos Acquire INF Taylor Featherston in Rule 5 Draft

December 11th, 2014

 

Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Angels hadn’t selected a player in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft since the start of George W. Bush’s first term in office. Now they’ve made an acquisition two years in a row: Last winter it was LHP Brian Moran from the Mariners, and this morning it was 2B/SS Taylor Featherston from the Rockies.

Like last year, the Halos didn’t actually draft the guy they ended up getting, but rather worked out a trade, for cash, with the team who selected him earlier in the process. Which teams those were doesn’t really matter, but for the sake of thoroughness, they were the Blue Jays (Moran) and Cubs (Featherston).

Featherston, 25, spent all three of his years at TCU as the club’s starting shortstop, but has received a majority of his playing time in the minors at the keystone. He’s never been young for his level, but he hasn’t been considerably older either, so it’s probably safe to read into his strong offensive numbers.

In 2014, Featherston batted .260/.322/.439 with 16 home runs in 550 plate appearances in the Texas League, leading the league in extra-base hits in his first foray into the high minors. While his .760 OPS doesn’t exactly pop off the page, it’s worth keeping in mind that the league-average OPS was .695 and that top Angels prospect Alex Yarbrough, also a second baseman, posted a .718 OPS in the same circuit. Oh yeah, and Featherston followed up his Double-A debut with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .294/.355/.456.

I think it’s safe to say his bat can play, so though Featherston’s yet to appear above Double-A, he will likely compete with Grant Green and new acquisition Josh Rutledge next spring for the openings at second base and utility infielder. Each of the trio carries some pop and strong bat-to-ball skills from the right side of the plate, so it’s tough to discern at this point who’ll end up where.

Since there isn’t much separation in the three players’ offensive profiles, a spot on the roster could come down to what they can do on defense. There’s not much information out there on Featherston’s glove, but the little we know seems to indicate that he is a much better fielder than either Green or Rutledge. According to Baseball Prospectus, Featherston has been worth 13.3 fielding runs above average in his four minor-league seasons, while Green and Rutledge are way, way in the red. Advantage, new guy.

As Featherston is a Rule 5 player, the Angels are required to keep him on the 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season if they want him to remain in the organization. If they decide to go with Green and Rutledge instead, the club must either return Featherston to the Rockies (along with $25,000), or work out a trade with Colorado so they can stash him in Triple-A. If I had to hazard a guess right now, I’d say that he’s the most likely candidate for the utility infielder gig, at least to start the year.

Featherston wasn’t the only Rule 5 acquisition by the Angels this morning. In the minor-league phases of the draft, the club selected infielder Chris Curley from the White Sox, Pedro Ruiz from the D’Backs, and outfielder Kentrail Davis from the Brewers. While Davis has first-round pedigree, none of that three are are likely to serve as more than organizational depth for the farm system.

 

Halos Daily

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