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On the Ballot: Darin Erstad and Troy Percival

January 5th, 2015
Erstad congratulating Percival on his 300th save.

Erstad congratulating Percival on his 300th save.

In 2012, former Angel great Tim Salmon received five official votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But with the current ballot crowded with so many Hall-worthy candidates, it seems unlikely that Angel greats Darin Erstad and Troy Percival will receive even that small token of recognition in this year’s vote for the Hall of Fame. (Update: Percival got four votes, Erstad got one!)

Ersty and Percy are both on the Hall of Fame ballot for a reason though, and that is because both players achieved things on the baseball field that few major leaguers have the ability to achieve.

Darin Erstad was an incredible fielder who played Gold Glove caliber defense throughout his career.  He won the award three times while an Angel, as an outfielder in 2000 and 2002, and as a first baseman in 2004. He led the American League in hits in 2000, a season in which he hit .355 and became the first and only player to drive in 100 RBI from the leadoff spot.

Darin was a two time All-Star who finished his 14-year career with a slash line of .282/.336/.407 and 179 stolen bases.  During the playoffs, Erstad was somehow able to turn up his game, slashing .339/.368/.492 in 29 postseason contests. He hit a leadoff home run in the eighth inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series to bring the Angels within one run of the Giants, even though he had a fracture in one of the bones in his wrist that would require surgery in the offseason.

And of course, the image of Darin drifting to his left for the final play of Game Seven, calling off right-fielder Alex Ochoa, and then catching the ball with two hands will be forever etched into the memory of Angel fans.

It’s fitting that the man who threw the pitch that got Kenny Lofton to hit that fly ball, Troy Percival, is on the same ballot as his long-time teammate. Troy was a four time All-Star with the Angels.  He came in fourth in Rookie of the Year voting with a 1.95 ERA as the set-up man for closer Lee Smith in 1995.  He took over the closer role the next year and flew with it.  Year after year for the Angels, he would lean in for the sign, squinting to pick up his catcher’s fingers, and then with the help of his high leg kick and powerful drive off of the rubber, pound the strike zone with upper nineties heat.

Percival finished his career with a 3.14 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 358 saves, which is the ninth most in Major League history.  Like Erstad, Percival also came through for the Angels in the postseason, throwing ten strikeouts against just one walk in nine games, converting all of the seven save opportunities he faced.

Both men are currently enjoying their positions as manager of their alma mater’s baseball teams: Erstad with the University of Nebraska and Percival with the University of California, Riverside.

Looking Towards Next Year:  Four former Angels will be eligible for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot — Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, and Jose Guillen.

 

Angels in Winter League Action

December 23rd, 2014

 

There are as many as 20 Angels farm hands currently playing baseball in one of the four offseason Caribbean Leagues, but only a handful are really worth checking in on. Here, in no particular order, are brief summaries on five Halos of note who decided not to take the winter off:

 

Jose Alvarez – LHP

1.74 ERA with 39 K, 15 BB in 51.2 IP

Alvarez has become something of a fixture in the Venezuelan Winter League. The southpaw has made at least one offseason appearance in the league each of the last nine years, all with Caribes de Anzoátegui. He’s had success in the VWL in the past — a 3.37 ERA in 139 IP from ’07-’13 — but never quite to this extent.

While 50+ innings of work during the winter might be cause for alarm with some young arms, for Alvarez it’s a welcome sight. An elbow strain limited him to all of 31.2 innings during the regular season, so his offseason time at home is acting more as an extended rehab assignment than the usual inning here and there to keep things loose.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Alvarez’s numbers are predictive of anything going forward, but it is at least nice to see that his elbow woes are behind him. If he can stay healthy, he should serve as part of the crucial barrier between the Opening Day rotation and folks of the Randy Wolf/Kevin Correia ilk.

 

Carlos Perez – C

.338/.373/.523 with 4 HR, 10 2B in 144 PA

If Perez’s hope this winter was to give the Halos a good first impression, he’s certainly succeeded. The Venezuelan backstop hit just .271/.286/.373 over 59 plate appearances in the VWL last year, but is near the top of the league in just about every offensive category this time around.

It’s tough to know whether his offseason numbers will afford him an advantage in the back-up catcher race when spring rolls around, but at least they won’t hurt his chances. Perez definitely has the most upside of the Angels’ second-string options and has little left to prove at Triple-A, so the position should be his to earn. Whether Scioscia will feel the same… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Jett Bandy – C

.213/.254/.295 with 0 HR, 5 2B in 67 PA

While everything’s looking up for Perez in Venezuela this winter, things haven’t been going so great for Jett Bandy in the Dominican. The UofA alum has struggled in his first full month on the 40-man roster, racking up just 18 total bases in 20 games so far. Bandy spent a career-high 91 games behind the dish during the regular season, so it’s reasonable to wonder if he’s simply run out of gas at this point in the year.

Whether or not he turns things around this winter, a single down month shouldn’t have much of an impact on Bandy’s standing with the Angels. His strong season in the Texas League (.762 OPS; 13 homers) should carry far more weight than anything he does or doesn’t do in the next month.

 

Atahualpa Severino – LHP

4.50 ERA with 17 K, 2 BB in 12 IP

A nine-year veteran of the minor-league circuit, Severino spent time with the Nats, Pirates, Royals and Braves before signing his minors pact with the Halos earlier this month. The 30-year-old doesn’t have the clearest path to Anaheim, but he could end up making a cameo or two — especially if he continues to demonstrate improved control of his fastball/slider combo.

The left-hander struggled to get his walk rate below 6.0 per nine in his first three seasons at Triple-A, but has limited batters to just 3.5 free passes per nine the last two years. And as his walks have gone down, his strikeouts have climbed, peaking at 10.9 per nine this past season. If Severino’s 17 K/2 BB ratio this winter is an indication of where he’s headed in 2015, the Angels might have a viable LOOGY on their hands.

 

Johnny Giavotella – 2B

.178/.260/.222 with 0 HR, 2 2B in 50 PA

Whatever it is the Angels saw in Giavotella that prompted last week’s trade, they didn’t see it in his play this winter. The newest Halo is having a rather miserable go of things in Venezuela, managing just two extra-base hits in 50 turns at the plate thus far.

Like with Bandy, Giavotella’s bummer of a winter shouldn’t affect his chances of making squad out of camp come spring. The second baseman’s track record of success at Triple-A — .835 OPS in 1,840 plate appearances — should speak much louder than a measly 50+ trips to the dish in La Guaira. As we noted on Monday, Giavotella’s strong reverse platoon split is the thing to keep an eye on.

 

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 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 Daily

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