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Angels Bolster Bullpen, Acquire Joe Thatcher

July 5th, 2014
Joe Thatcher, newest Angel.

Joe Thatcher, newest Angel.

 

The bullpen has easily been the Angels’ biggest weakness this season, so for the second consecutive week, the front office sought made a tweak to hopefully improve the unit. On the heels of last night’s A’s-Cubs mega-deal, the Angels and Diamondbacks completed their own blockbuster trade, with the Angels receiving left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher and outfielder Tony Campana in exchange for outfield prospect Zach Borenstein and pitching prospect Joey Krehbiel.

Okay, this trade probably can’t tip the balance of power in the American League like the A’s trade might, but it still should improve the Angels and strengthen their position for a run to at least the Wild Card coin flip. The 32-year-old Thatcher owns a 2.63 ERA and 3.28 FIP — he has also struck out 25% of hitters and walked only 3%, the latter of which would mark a career high. With the Angels already owning a decent stable of right-handed relievers in Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Keven Jepsen, and recently acquired Jason Grilli, it’s likely Thatcher will take over the role of left-handed specialist. In his career, Thatcher has struck out 33.2% of lefty batters and held them to a .213/.280/.341 slash line.

Thatcher is under contract only through the rest of this season, so if he flames out for the Angels at least there isn’t any additional money attached to him. Unlike, say, Jonathan Papelbon, another reliever rumored to be on the trade market — he is owed $13 million in 2015, and possibly another $13 in 2016 if his option vests. Yeah, no thanks.

Already rostering four solid outfield options in Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun, and Collin Cowgill, it’s doubtful Tony Campana makes the 25-man roster, but he is at least a solid addition for depth. He can’t hit a lick, as his .262 career wOBA can attest. But he’s fast, which helps him steal bases and play defense. In his career he’s stolen 66 bases on 74 attempts (89.2% success rate) and UZR rates him as a plus defender, particularly in the corner outfield spots. His presence in the trade is more shrug-worthy than anything, but it never hurts to have a player that can play defense and pinch-run late in games.

Heading the other way, Borenstein was rated the #9 prospect in the Angels’ lackluster system by Baseball America before the season. In 78 games between Triple-A Salt Lake and Double-A Arkansas, Borenstein has struggled with a .262/.316/.402 slash. In 18 innings of relief work in the lower rungs of the Angels’ developmental system, Krehbiel has a 2.00 ERA with 23 strikeouts and seven walks. Neither of these players will probably haunt the Angels down the road, so it’s a worthy gamble for Jerry Dipoto and the Angels to trade them for a proven relief pitcher that can help end the Angels’ October drought.

Newcomb Lone Holdout Among Angels Top Draft Picks

July 3rd, 2014
Hey, look! A pitching prospect!

“Hail to the king, baby!” – Sean Newcomb, probably

With just over two weeks remaining until the deadline for signing 2014 draft picks hits, the Angels seem to be in pretty good position: The club has come to terms with 35 34 of its 40 draftees, and the only unsigned player from the top third of the team’s draft board is first-rounder Sean Newcomb.

Of the four five other unsigned players, only infielder Blaine Prescott (16th round) is potentially still open to negotiations1. The three four others have decided to take another stab at college ball: Catcher John Bormann (19th round) is returning to UTSA for his senior year; first baseman Kyle Martin (20th round) is returning to the other USC; catcher2 Kholeton Sanchez (32nd round) is transferring from a junior college to Texas Tech; and left-hander Caleb Wallingford (35th round) is returning to Memphis.

(Hat tip to @TurksTeeth for noting that Kyle Martin hadn’t actually signed. It seems we were led astray by a Twitter account pretending to be Martin earlier this month.)

The lack of draftees floating in the ether means that the Halos’ front office can spend much of the next two weeks–when not signing international prospects and finding potential trade partners–working on coming to terms with Newcomb and whomever his agent advisor is from The Legacy Agency3. Jerry Dipoto said a week ago that the two sides “were not close to anything,” but a lot can happen between now and July 18.

Angels Trade Frieri for Jason Grilli

June 27th, 2014
Jason Grilli hopes to give the Angels bullpen a boost.

Jason Grilli hopes to give the Angels bullpen a boost.

The Angels and Pirates completed a challenge trade Friday afternoon, swapping embattled former closers Ernesto Frieri and Jason Grilli.

It is perhaps a move Angel fans have long waited for. Frieri exploded on the Halo scene upon his arrival from San Diego in May 2012, not allowing a run in his first 26 appearances with the club and earning the affectionate ErNasty moniker from fans. Since, though, it has been a rough go for Frieri, struggling at the tail end of 2012, regressing in 2013, and imploding in three months this season, evident in his 6.39 ERA. Frieri lost his closing job to Joe Smith a couple times, and Thursday afternoon’s poor outing against Minnesota — in which three Twins reached base and all scored, turning a comfortable 6-1 lead into a stressful 6-4 win — seemed to be the last straw for Angels brass.

Of course, if the Angels are trading a guy that has allowed homers on 21.1% of fly balls this season, the return probably isn’t very good. Grilli, like Frieri, had massive success in recent years only to struggle mightily in 2014. So it goes with relief pitchers. Grilli sports a 4.87 ERA, but last year was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball with a sparkling 1.97 FIP and the third best K/9 rate in baseball among relief pitchers. This year, though, Grilli’s peripherals have regressed across the board, striking out only 9.30 batter per nine, walking 4.87 per nine, and forcing a career-low 24.1% of ground balls. Fittingly, his 5.36 FIP would be the sixth worst for relief pitchers this season if he had enough innings to qualify for the dubious honor.

On one hand, it will be nice to no longer see Frieri throw 94 MPH meatballs that ding Honda Center. On the other, I’m not sure how this trade really makes sense for the Angels, at least with the limited knowledge we as outsiders possess. And, trust me, I’m no Frieri fan. If you’ve seen me Tweet at about 9:45 every night, chances are I’m complaining about Frieri. Grilli is 37, nine years older than Frieri, and costs a little more. But more problematic is Frieri’s peripherals are almost universally better than Grilli’s this season. More strikeouts, fewer walks, more ground balls and even a 3.20 xFIP, thanks to that preposterously high homer rate I mentioned earlier. The homers were always probably going to regress a bit — the highest homer-to-fly ball rate last season for qualified relief pitchers was Chris Perez’ 20%.

This is the problem with evaluating relief pitchers on a season-by-season basis. The sample size is so small that it can be very difficult to sift through the crap and find the truth. Even if Frieri’s peripherals are better, is it possible he or Grilli just needed a change of scenery? Sure, I suppose, and it’s possible both excel in their new locales. More likely is neither pitcher really improves that much on what we’ve seen this year. At least for the Pirates, they have a younger asset under team control through 2016 that could bounce back next year and help the club on the field or via trade; that will not be the case for the Angels, as Grilli is a free agent following the season.

Grilli doesn’t have to perform gymnastics to be more productive than Frieri. Even just a minor improvement would be a boon to the bullpen, and hopefully Jerry Dipoto will add another reliever or two on the trade market.

Angels Release Raúl Ibañez

June 21st, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

The Angels finally cut the cord. Raúl Ibañez was granted his unconditional release on Saturday, ending an incredibly disappointing two-plus month stint with the Halos.

The 42-year-old was signed on an incentive-laden, one-year deal in December to help supplement the loss of Mark Trumbo. Coming off a 29-homer season in offense-starved Seattle, the general thinking was that Ibañez would earn his keep by getting ahold of one every now and again. Though he had time and history working against him, I was cautiously optimistic about the deal when it went down:

Just a dozen players in the history of baseball have accrued more than 300 plate appearances during their age 42 seasons, and all but three of them are Hall of Famers. As if that alone wasn’t daunting enough, two of non-HOFers—Barry Bonds and Pete Rose—would be no-doubters if not for their accompanying uhh… ethical issues, and the third—Darrell Evans—has a better Hall case than you might think. For Raúl Ibañez to succeed in 2014, then, he’ll have to do something that just about no one [his age] has ever accomplished. It’s an incredibly tall task, but if there’s one person who can do it, it’s probably him.

LOL. Nope, it’s definitely not him. Ibañez hit just .157/.258/.265 in 190 plate appearances for the Halos this year, giving him the lowest wOBA (.243) of any player in the American League (min. 180 PA) by a full 20 points. The power potential marketed as his primary asset was nowhere to be found after the second week of the season: Ibañez hit three home runs in his first 44 trips to the plate, then hit none in his final 146.

Mike Scioscia gave Ibañez one final shot at keeping his roster spot last week, starting the veteran in all three games of the rain-shortened Cleveland series. While Ibañez managed to reach base safely in all three games — he went 3-for-10 with two walks, overall — it wasn’t enough to keep him aboard. He just wasn’t signed to hit singles.

Ibañez’s departure not only opens the door for C.J. Cron to establish himself as the club’s full-time DH, it also gives Efren Navarro the opportunity to lock down a long-term bench spot with the team as the go-to lefty bat. It’s no guarantee that Cron/Navarro will continue to be as productive as they have been in the early going, but it’s near impossible for them not to at least improve on Ibañez’s results.

In addition to releasing Ibañez and recalling Navarro on Saturday, the Angels also made a change in the bullpen. Cam Bedrosian, who struggled in his first MLB cup of coffee, was sent back down to Double-A and replaced in the ‘pen by right-hander David Carpenter, who’s put up a sparkly 0.95 ERA in 28 ⅓ IP at Arkansas this year. An extreme groundball pitcher, Carpenter last made an appearance in Anaheim in the first month of 2013.

As every MLB contract is guaranteed, Ibañez will receive all of his $2.75 million base salary from the Angels, plus an extra $1 million in incentives for reaching 150 PAs. That $3.75 million total accounts for roughly 2.5% of the club’s payroll for 2014, so his early departure doesn’t hurt too much (from a financial standpoint). It’s at least better than the $26.1 million they’re paying Vernon Wells and Joe Blanton to sit at home and watch the World Cup this year.

Hector Santiago Returns

June 10th, 2014
Less of this would be good.

Less of this would be good.

There were a lot of question marks surrounding the Angels’ starting rotation heading into the season, but things have gone surprisingly well through the first 63 games of the year. Through Monday, the starting corps owns the AL’s highest innings total at 390 ⅓, second-best ERA at 3.67, and third-best FIP at 3.65, which is a pretty solid and unexpected trifecta. The one exception to this excellence: Hector Santiago.

Beginning the year as the club’s de facto No. 3 starter, Santiago struggled through seven starts, got demoted to the bullpen, and then was optioned to Triple-A to “stretch his arm out.” You already know this part. What you may not know is that things only got worse for Santiago upon his demotion. In three starts for Salt Lake, the southpaw allowed 23 hits (!), 10 earned runs, and seven walks in 14 innings of work, striking out just nine. And yet, despite his apparently increasing struggles, Santiago will return to Anaheim on Tuesday to take the hill against the first-place A’s.

Why Santiago? Well, because he’s essentially the Angels’ lone option with Tyler Skaggss on the DL. Matt Shoemaker is already in the rotation, Wade LeBlanc was claimed off waivers by the Yankees last week, Jose Alvarez is nursing an elbow injury, and Jarrett Grube and Brooks Raley were just outrighted off the 40-man roster last Friday. The only other pitchers in the entire Halos’ farm system with any experience in a big-league rotation are Anthony Lerew, Joe Martinez, and old friend Joel Pineiro, whom the club added on a minor-league deal over the weekend. The combined number of MLB starts those three have made over the last three seasons?… Zero. Pineiro hasn’t thrown in the majors since posting a 5.13 ERA in 24 starts with the Halos in 2011, and Lerew and Martinez haven’t seen action in the Show since 2010.

This is what is commonly referred to as “rotation depth issues,” and what makes the decision to reinstate Santiago back into the rotation an entirely reasonable one–for the time being, at least. With Skaggs’ DL trip backdated to June 6, it’s possible that the Angels will need only two spot starts from Santiago, which is about as long as you’d want to rely on any sixth starter1.

Mike Scioscia says that Santiago is “making progress with his command,” but 1) the numbers don’t bear that out, and 2) it’s not something one can fix overnight. Of the 164 pitchers who have thrown at least 200 big-league innings since 2012, Santiago’s 4.56 BB/9 is far and away the worst. Some small tinkering isn’t going to make that go away. Unless the things he’s worked on at Triple-A include a complete overhaul of his timing mechanism–which is presently a disaster–then command and control are always going to be sticking points for him.

Rather than perpetuate the illusion that Santiago’s going to miraculously discover the secret to repeating his wonky delivery, we should accept that his outings are going to frustrate more often than not, and appreciate the times when he goes out there and doesn’t walk every fifth batter. He’s definitely got the stuff necessary to be successful in short spurts, so anything is possible in a two-start stint.

Let’s hope for the best.

___

1 Even if Skaggs is sidelined longer than expected, Santiago might not get more than a couple chances to improve his stock. Jerry Dipoto booted three players (Grube, Raley, and Michael Brady) from the 40-man roster last Friday, leaving a few openings for potential additions from without (Trevor Cahill?) and within (Random Starter Guy? R.J. Alvarez?).

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!