Halos Daily

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Halos Clinch AL West Crown in Split With M’s

September 19th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 8, Mariners 1 | Game 2: Mariners 13, Angels 2
Game 3: Angels 5, Mariners 0 | Game 4: Mariners 3, Angels 1

Runs Scored: 16
Runs Allowed: 17

YTD Record: 95-58 | 1st in AL West | Magic Number: 0!

Up Next: Friday vs. TEX

 MarinersSeries4

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The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the American League West Division Champions! In 2014! That’s, like, right now! How cool is that?

I’ll be the first to admit I did not expect the Angels to come away with a division title this year. From Spring Training well into August, the common refrain is our series recaps was something to the effect of: “The A’s are out of reach, so let’s temper expectations and focus on maintaining Wild Card position.” Even as September approached and the gap between Anaheim and Oakland closed I had a hard time believing the Halos could keep the good times rolling. But then the Angels and Athletics did the whole ships-passing-in-the-night routine and now I look back and wonder how I ever doubted that the team couldn’t hang with Billy Beane’s band of brigands. Not so much because the Athletics seem to have fallen into the Springfield Mystery Spot — though, holy hell what is happening up there?! — but because the Halos have been otherworldly for three-plus months now. They are 64-30 since June 6, which is good for a .680 winning percentage. Over the course of an entire season, that’d put them on pace for 110 wins — only six teams in MLB history have ever won that many. We can’t just ignore the first two months of this season, of course, but it’s plainly evident they are a very different team now than they were in May, in both persona and personnel.

Considering that the Halos get to coast for the next two weeks while their four potential ALDS opponents duke it out to determine three playoff spots, it’s natural to worry that the Angels might lose their “edge” by the time October arrives, or that one of the Royals/Tigers/A’s/Mariners quartet will have momentum on their side. Of the myriad clichés about the playoffs — i.e. players with prior postseason experience are more likely to succeed; home-field advantage is huge; teams who can’t play “small ball” don’t to well in the postseason; etc. — the only one that has actually stood up to any sort of scientific scrutiny is, unfortunately, the maxim I’ve already primed you for: that teams perform better in October if they have to fight for a playoff spot down to wire.

As you’d expect, it’s not so simple as “teams in tight races are better playoff teams,” it’s a more nuanced “teams whose playoff hopes come down to the final days of the season tend to get a slightly better performance from their pitching staffs in the postseason than would normally be expected.” (Hitters aren’t afforded that same advantage, for whatever reason.) This little statistical quirk could potentially spell bad news for the Angels, as all four of their potential opponents already boast some of the strongest rotations in the American League, but having the best offense in baseball should help mitigate the effect some.

Santiago’s Short Leash Makes Sense

September 10th, 2014
Less of this has been good.

Less of this has been good.

Hector Santiago has been surprisingly great for the Angels over the past few months. He owns a 2.71 ERA in 79⅔ innings since returning to Anaheim on June 10, with all but five of those innings coming as a starting pitcher.

As Alden Gonzalez points out over at MLB dot com this morning, Santiago has come to much of this success on a rather short leash. The right-hander has exceeded 100 pitches in only one of his 14 starts since returning from Triple-A Salt Lake, and has gotten the hook at 90 pitches or fewer in five of them. As you’d expect from any human, Santiago has expressed some frustration at not having the opportunity to go deeper into games, but seems to ultimately understand his role. Per Gonzalez:

“I feel like I can go more, but hey, who am I?” Santiago said. “I’m just out here to give us a chance to win; that’s what I’m doing right now…

“It’s frustrating … I want to go six or seven innings, and it hasn’t been seven all year. You just go inside and get your work done, and get ready for the next one.”

All that is well and good, and exactly the kind of quote you’d expect and hope for from a player. Where the hubris starts to creep in, and the whole reason for this post, is in what he says next:

“The longer I go, the stronger I get.”

Oh boy.

Pitchers, as a whole, do not get better the longer they go. On the contrary, they fall victim to something called the Times Through the Order Penalty (TTOP), which shows pitchers are slightly less effective each time they cycle through a lineup due to some combination of fatigue and familiarity. Santiago is no exception to this rule, and is even a bit of an extreme case.

Gonzalez points to hitters having just a .190/.306/.357 slash line against Santiago at 101 pitches or more as evidence that he does improve as the game goes on, but overlooks that those numbers are the result of only 49 plate appearances. If we look instead at Santiago’s effectiveness in his third turn through a lineup, which has a much bigger sample of 253 plate appearances, a very different story is borne out. Hitters hold a .290/.368/.522 career slash line against Santiago when facing him for a third time. That not only represents a more than 200-point jump in OPS from his first two times through an order, it’d also probably earn someone MVP runner-up honors in the AL this year.

Those alarming numbers in mind, the reasons for his short leash seem to get a bit clearer. Pitch count and fatigue have probably played some factor in Santiago not reaching the seventh inning in several months, but I’d be surprised to find they were the deciding ones. It seems more likely, to me at least, that Mike Scioscia (or some higher-up) is paying more attention to the number of batters Santiago has faced, which probably has as least some correlation with his recent success on the mound. Santiago has faced 23 batters or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts since returning to the team, allowing just nine earned runs in 53⅓ innings (1.52 ERA) in those outings. In the four other starts, the 24+ group, he’s allowed 15 ER in 21⅓ IP (6.23 ERA). Now, obviously some of those runs came early in games and had nothing to do with the TTOP, but a good portion do, including last week’s three-run home run to Eduardo freaking Nunez, of all people.

Santiago might not be a fan of the short leash, but he probably should be–it’s giving him the best chance to succeed.

Angels Rock Cleveland in Make-Up Game

September 8th, 2014
TroutDestroysCleveland

Boom Goes the Dynamite

The Angels traveled back in time Monday morning to finish up a four-game series in Cleveland they started back in June. If given the opportunity to travel in time, I’m not sure Ohio would be my first (or last) stop, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do, I guess. When this series was first played out in C-Town, things did not end well, resulting in an 8 on the Pain Scale. You may remember it as “the time Nick Swisher hit a walk-off grand slam,” or what years from now baseball historians will fondly refer to as Frieri’s Final Fiasco.

Luckily for the Halos, this time they were allowed to bring their blazing hot offense with them in the DeLorean. The club followed a 14-run, 19-hit shellacking in the rubber game of the Twins series on Sunday morning with a 12-run, 16-hit effort on Monday, giving them 26 runs and 35 hits across two Midwest states in a little under 24 hours. That’s probably a first.

Kole Calhoun, Howie Kendrick, and Albert Pujols again led the offensive attack, each tallying three hits (including a homer) in the game. The trio is now a combined 18-for-40 with five home runs over the last three games, driving in 18 of the club’s 34 runs. Josh who?

Mike Trout also had himself a multi-hit game Monday, churning out two hits (for the third time in the last four days) and scoring twice. Trout now has six runs in his past three games, pushing him up to 99 on the year and into a tie for the AL lead with Brian Dozier. With one more run, Trout will become just the sixth player ever to tally 100+ runs thrice before his age-23 season. The other five? Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Vada Pinson (?), and Buddy Lewis (??).

Jered Weaver pitched well even to earn his 16th win, but that doesn’t really say much when the team’s put a 12-spot on board. The Weavemeister got himself a quality start by going six frames and allowing “only” three runs, but he again struggled with his control as the game went on. He used just 49 pitches to get through the first four innings but needed 47 for the fifth and sixth, forcing Mike Scioscia to go to the bullpen for the final three frames.

The somewhat early call to the ‘pen combined with the rout did reap a reward, however, as big right-hander Jairo Diaz got the opportunity to make his MLB debut in the ninth. The 23-year-old was understandably nervous on the hill, resulting to several erratic pitches, but the stuff was still electric. His radar gun readings:

Two two breaking pitches thrown in the inning — 89 and 88(K), above — were beautiful to watch. Indistinguishable from his fastball until about 10 feet in front of the plate, gravity finally kicked in and dropped them into the dirt. Both resulted in a flailing swing-and-miss, earning Diaz one of his two Ks in the inning. The dramatic lean to the glove side he employs during his motion is sure to give him continued control issues to some degree, but if he can put up at least a league-average walk rate, his killer two-pitch combo could make him a huge asset for years to come.

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Final Score: Angels 12, Cleveland 3

Adjusted Pain Scale: 5

Up Next: Tuesday @ TEX

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Halos Sweep Twins, Expand AL West Lead

September 8th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 5, Twins 4 | Game 2: Angels 7, Twins 6 (F/10)
Game 3: Angels 8, Twins 5 | Game 4: Angels 14, Twins 4

Runs Scored: 34
Runs Allowed: 19

YTD Record: 87-55 | 1st in AL West (+7)

Up Next: Monday @ CLE

 TwinsSeries1

It’s a good thing ugly wins count just as much as solid ones, because damn. The Angels lost eight different leads, had just one starting pitcher reach the sixth inning, and gave the Twins a whopping 42 chances with runners in scoring position over the course of the four-game series, yet still somehow left Minnesota with a sweep. I honestly wouldn’t have thought that possible if it hadn’t just happened.

Any sweep is a good sweep, of course, but the havoc wreaked on the Angels’ bullpen the last four games could come back to haunt them in the coming weeks. The ‘pen accounted for 55% of the innings thrown by Halos pitchers in the series, and that’s when not counting Cory Rasmus as a reliever. Such a large workload might be fine if there are a few nights off coming up, but not when there are 17 games over the next 17 days. With such an unrelenting schedule on the docket, more than ever the onus is on a) the rotation to pitch deep into games; and b) the offense to build big leads early. A deep bullpen is a wonderful thing to have for the postseason, but it does no good if all the biggest arms are worn out by the time the team gets there. Halos relievers have already thrown 458⅔ innings on the year, which is not only the fifth most in baseball but also already the 19th most of any relief corps in team history. If we make the modest presumption that the bullpen will throw an average of three frames over each of the team’s final 20 games, they will end the year as just the third Angels bullpen ever to end a year with more than 505 innings thrown. That’s a lot.

But enough with the hand-wringing. The Angels are now 32 games over .500 and boast a seven-game lead over the A’s with 20 to go. The club need only go 10-10 over the next three weeks to finish with 97 wins, equaling the third-best mark in franchise history. Doing so would also make it nearly impossible for Oakland to catch up, as they’d need to go 17-3 over their final 20 just to get back into a tie for first. Stranger things have happened, but the odds are certainly in the Halos’ favor, especially with the A’s mired in a month-long funk.

Farewell, J.B. Shuck

September 5th, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

 

The unthinkable has happened. Fan favorite J.B. Shuck, who was dropped off the 40-man roster earlier this week, was claimed off of waivers by his hometown Cleveland Indians on Friday. Like Chuck Finley, Garrett Anderson, Lucifer, and countless others before him, Shuck is now officially an ex-Angel. He will make his way to the Midwest this weekend in exchange for Cash Considerations, who has been dealt at least 10 times this season alone.

To honor Shuck’s brief but memorable time in Anaheim, we thought it appropriate to write him a roughly replacement-level farewell.

Things we’ll miss about J.B. Shuck:

His creepily accurate throwing arm; that he became known as the “gritty” small guy on the team even though he’s taller than Kole Calhoun; his Phiten necklace; that he has two more home runs in Angels Stadium since last August than Josh Hamilton; how that one time he made a pretty great catch and from then on everyone ignored that his defense was actually kinda terrible overall; that we don’t get to make the “Life is an oyster…” joke anymore; that he was worth a full win more (by bWAR) to the Halos in 566 plate appearances than Vernon Wells was in 791; that his surname derives from the Old English word for “demon”; that we never got the chance to parody that one song by The Darkness; that he finished fifth in the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year voting; and last but not least, that he took Max Scherzer deep in April after smelling his bat like Mary Katherine Gallagher would her hands

ShuckSniff

Mmmm, toasty.

 

So long, J.B. Shuck. And thanks for all the fish.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!