Has the future batting champ at last learned to walk?
…is the club’s current run differential, which is the second best in baseball. It represents a 66-run improvement over the club’s differential at the same point last season, the importance of which really can’t be overstated. As friend-of-blog Alden Gonzalez laid out very well at MLB.com earlier this week, there are few things that correlate better with playoff appearances than large positive run differentials. This shouldn’t be all that surprising, as the most basic tenet of the game is to score more runs than the opponent, but it can tough to put stock in when your team is losing a lot of one-run games like the Angels currently are (2-7 thru Saturday). If the Halos continue to push that run differential higher and higher over the course of the season, though, that record in close games is likely to even out — better teams typically win more close games – and their overall win-loss mark will be much more in line with the one Pythagoras has predicted.
…is the number of times Mike Scioscia has used a reliever to get more than three outs this year, fewest in the American League. The Angels have been in the bottom 10 in this category in three of the last five years, so their showing up in last isn’t too surprising, but it seems to be at a new extreme this year. Not a single one of the bullpen’s multi-inning appearances has come with the team in the lead, and just one has come in a tie game — and that only happened because Scioscia was down to his last reliever. Sosh’s refusal to keep guys on the mound while ahead has led to some needlessly stressful situations with low-leverage arms on the hill in high-leverage situations. Take Tuesday’s game against Cleveland, for instance: Michael Kohn relieved Jered Weaver in the 6th, as he should’ve, and escaped the two-on/one-out jam, throwing just nine pitches. Rather than go back to the obviously on-his-game Kohn for the 7th, Sosh inexplicably went to scrap-heap pickup Yoslan Herrera, who lasted all of three batters before getting yanked. When all was said and done, four relievers were used to get the five outs needed to bridge the gap between Weaver and the set-up man, when it easily could have been one. I don’t have the data to back this up at the moment, but it makes sense to me that the more guys you throw into the fire, the greater the probability that one of them is going to spontaneously combust. If you have the opportunity to stick with a guy who’s throwing well, why take the chance on what’s essentially an unknown quantity?
…is most free passes Howie Kendrick has ever taken in a season, which makes his 12 walks through Saturday quite the aberration. Howie has walked in 9.0% of his 134 plate appearances so far this season, double his career rate (4.5%) and the only time he’s ever come anywhere close to a league-average mark (8.4%). Before we start salivating at the thought of Kendrick becoming an on-base machine at the top of the order, though, it’s worth noting that he’s done this kind of thing before. He walked 13 times in his first 126 plate appearances of 2011, then drew just 20 more over his final 457 trips to the plate. The only thing that really stands out among Kendrick’s plate discipline numbers so far this year is that he’s seen fewer pitches in the strikezone than usual (43.2% in 2014 vs. 48.2% overall). His swing rates both in and out of the zone are down from the last two years but right in line with his numbers from 2009-2011, when he still had just a 4.9% walk rate, so if/when pitchers start throwing more strikes, his walks should, sadly, become more scarce.
… is the number of games, out of 29 this season, in which the Angels failed to record an extra-base hit. They’re currently averaging 3½ XBHs a game, the best rate in the American League and just shy of the Rockies’ top mark (3.7). The Halos have tallied eight or more extra-base knocks in a game three times already, which equals the number of times the club accomplished the feat all of last season and is halfway to the franchise record. That all three of those games have come with Josh Hamilton on the shelf — not to mention the latter two coming without Kole Calhoun — speaks to how well the offense has been gelling over the season’s first month-plus and how strong (most of) the bench contributions have been. To wit: The only bench player (15 PA min.) with a below-average OPS this year is the recently demoted J.B. Shuck. The non-Shuck irregulars, as a unit, are hitting .290/.340/.477 with 19 extra-base hits in nearly 200 plate appearances. Oh, and that one game without an XBH? It was a win.