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Pujols and Calhoun Named Gold Glove Finalists

October 24th, 2014

Michael Jackson: more Gold Gloves than Mike Trout

 

Awards season provides bored baseball fans with a bridge to free agency madness, something to get worked up about for a few hours and help us forget the long hours of boredom that is the MLB offseason. The early stages of award season have already begun, as yesterday Rawlings announced the Gold Glove finalists for each position. It’s not surprising the Angels only have two finalists, but it is surprising one of them is not Erick Aybar, who was beaten out at shortstop by Alcides Escobar, Alexei Ramirez, and JJ Hardy (the probably deserving winner).

Measuring defense is always tricky, but whether using the eye test or fielding metrics, Aybar seemed deserving of a spot in the finals. Aybar ranked second among AL shortstops among DRS* and UZR. His 10 errors were also the fewest he’s committed in a season since 2007, when he only logged 79 innings at short. Fielding percentage is in the conversation with saves and pitcher wins as the most useless stats around, but some people pay attention to it. Aybar’s .982 rate was tops in the AL among shortstops. Using traditional and modern defensive measures, Aybar checks out. It’s a bit puzzling Aybar isn’t a finalist, but this is also the award Derek Jeter won five times. Voters might be throwing darts at a bulletin board for all we know.

* Yes, according to DRS Aybar actually cost the Angels three runs, but that’s still good for second best in the AL. The moral of the story: shortstop is hard.

As for the Angels that are finalists. Pujols, a two-time winner when he was in the NL, graded as a top-three first basemen in DRS and UZR, a welcome sight after his injury-plagued 2013 season. At some point in his mammoth contract the Angels will convert Pujols to a full-time DH. The fear after last season was that day was fast approaching, but with a year of solid defensive play Pujols may be able to hold that day off for a little longer. He still runs like a slug, but he has good instincts and an accurate throwing arm at first. The longer Pujols can play in the field, the more value he will bring to the Angels.

Calhoun’s nomination was a bit of a surprise just because he’s a relative unknown, but per FanGraphs there are only seven qualified right fielders in the AL, so Rawlings had to pick somebody. Not that his inclusion is unwarranted — Calhoun saved the most runs and had the second best UZR in the AL, in addition to numerous Web Gem plays the voters love.

Meanwhile, the only other Angels that have a claim for a nomination are Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick. Trout only has a case in name recognition only. He was snubbed in 2012 when he probably should have won, and now it looks like he might not have another chance to win. DRS and UZR say Trout was the third worst center fielder in the AL — this is where my eye test is going to call “bull.” I don’t think Trout is as good as he was in 2012, but he’s not among the worst defensive players in the American League, either.

Kendrick didn’t have much Gold Glove chatter over the summer but he did have another solid season at the keystone. Kendrick rated as the third-best second basemen by DRS and fourth by UZR. Having Aybar and Kendrick man the middle of the infield for nearly a decade has been a huge boon for the Angels. It’s a luxury to roll out guys on Opening Day in two key positions and know you’re going to get 145 games of reliable play. Kendrick and Aybar were huge reasons the Angels won the division crown this year, and if the Angels succeed in 2015 those two are likely going to be underrated, but key, contributors again.

Halos Claim Two Outfielders From D’Backs

October 8th, 2014

The Angels officially kicked their offseason into gear Tuesday afternoon. It was only first gear, and the clutch stuck a few times before they could get it going, but it’s still technically forward motion so I’m writing about it. What got the motor running were the waiver claims of D’Backs outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Alfredo Marte, the fourth and fifth players to make the direct trip from Phoenix to Anaheim in the last 11 months.

I fully expected the special relationship between the Angels and D’Backs to end when Kevin Towers got shit-canned last week, and I surmise it still will. We should probably consider these moves as the dead cat bounce of the relationship, especially since they were more of yard sale buys than anything else:

Dipoto: “Hey there, long time. How much for the Kieschnick?”

D’Backs: “Eh, it was our dad’s. Just take it. <pauses> <sees LaRussa in the distance, signaling to an empty bullpen> <sighs> “And you know what? As long as you’re here, you may as well take this Marte, too. We never figured out how to get it to work, but you might have better luck.”

Dipoto: “Uh, alright. Thanks, I guess.”

Angels Bring Back Dipoto for (At Least) One More Year

September 8th, 2014
Everything has broken right for Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno in 2014.

Everything has broken right for Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno in 2014.

 

Amidst a stretch in which the Angels took control of the AL West, word came out Friday afternoon that the Halos exercised GM Jerry Dipoto’s contract for 2015. The club also holds an option for 2016 and presumably a decision on that will be made next year.

Dipoto replaced Tony Reagins following the latter’s removal in 2011. Almost instantly, Dipoto made a mark as the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to massive free agent contracts in December 2011. Perhaps unfairly, Dipoto’s Angel tenure will likely always be associated with Pujols and Josh Hamilton, two risky signings widely thought to have been Arte Moreno’s making.

Even though the 2012 Angels won 89 games, they missed the postseason and failed to live up to the World Series hype. The 2013 Angels won only 78 games, and there were murmurs Dipoto and/or Mike Scioscia could get the boot. Presumably, Moreno took the patient approach and it has worked out in 2014 — Baseball Prospectus projects the Angels have a 20.4% chance of winning the World Series, the highest in baseball.

Even if we assume the Pujols and Hamilton contracts were Moreno moves, Dipoto rightly deserved blame for the ancillary players brought in his first two seasons. Bullpen arms like Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, Sean Burnett, and Ryan Madson were all disasters for different reasons. Trading Jordan Walden for Tommy Hanson felt like a decent idea, but backfired almost immediately. Paying Joe Blanton actual American currency was a thing that happened.

However, Dipoto has had the hot hand of late. Trading Mark Trumbo for two viable starting pitchers was a master stroke. So was unloading Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli. It appears he traded Alberto Callaspo at just the right time, netting a useful bench player in Grant Green. Nobody knew who Cory Rasmus was when the Angels acquired him last year for Scott Downs, but he has been a very effective long relief man out of the bullpen. I, and many Angel fans, hated trading Peter Bourjos (and Randall Grichuk) for David Freese and Fernando Salas; the Cardinals may very well win that trade, but Freese has admirably filled a black hole on the roster and Salas has even become a very solid middle-innings relief arm. If the point was to win in 2014, then the Freese trade worked out.

Like anything with sports, much of Dipoto’s 2014 success can be attributed to good fortune. He inherited Mike Trout when he took the job. Garrett Richards developed into a legitimate ace before his injury. Kole Calhoun was a projected fourth outfielder that turned into one of the best right fielders in baseball. The lowly regarded Matt Shoemaker has become the rotation’s savior. The bullpen, a disaster in 2012 and 2013, now has a case as the American League’s deepest and best; Dipoto deserves credit for building it back up, but relief pitchers are prone to high year-to-year variance. Nobody expected this type of season from Kevin Jepsen. But, if we criticize general managers when everything falls apart — whether by bad luck or poor design — then we should also credit them when a team succeeds.

It remains to be seen if Dipoto is actually a good GM. Sean Newcomb was his first first-round pick, so now begins the process of trying to rebuild a farm system lacking in talent. It should be noted Dipoto bears a large chunk of responsibility for that lack of talent, thanks to trades for Zack Greinke, Freese, Joe Thatcher, and Huston Street. The lack of young organizational talent could bite the Angels as soon as next year: the entire infield is on the wrong side of 30 and other big-money players like Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson are declining. This could be the last year in a while the Angels are legitimate pennant contenders.

But if the Angels win the World Series this year nobody will care about future or the farm system, at least not right away. And I think it’s fair to assume Dipoto’s 2016 option would be picked up sometime before ring-sizing.

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.

Surveying the Post-Richards Pitching Situation

August 21st, 2014
1st

It strikes again.

You know that nightmare scenario we all dreaded where the Angels’ rail-thin rotation fell to pieces right before they made the final push for the playoffs? Well, it’s here. First, it was Tyler Skaggs and an ominous appointment with Dr. James Andrews; now it’s Garrett Richards and a gruesome knee injury at the hands of the club’s arch-nemesis this year, first base. (You may remember it from such episodes as “Calhoun Twists an Ankle” and “Hamilton Stubs his Thumb.”) An MRI revealed that Richards tore the patellar tendon of his left knee in Boston on Wednesday, meaning that he’ll be sidelined until at least Spring Training next February.

I suppose it could have been worse — i.e. at least it’s not his ACL, throwing arm, etc. — but there’s no dancing around the fact that the injury is a crushing blow to the team’s title hopes this season. Richards was the glue that held the rotation together and was easily the club’s best shot at surviving a one-off Wild Card game, should it come to that. What’s more, a playoff rotation of Jered Weaver/C.J. Wilson/??? is a far more frightening proposition for the Angels than anyone they might face in a best-of-[number] series.

So, yeah, the Angels are in a pretty rough spot, even as the team currently with the best record in baseball. Rather than pull a Jeremiah and lament for thousands of words, though, let’s take a (slightly) more productive approach and survey the club’s best options for replacing down the stretch and into October.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!