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Scioscia Beats Yost At His Own Game; Loses

October 3rd, 2014
/groan

/groan

 

Oh, right. THAT’S what a postseason game feels like.

After four years on the October sidelines, I’d almost forgotten the agony and exhilaration that hang on every pitch for both players and fans. I know I let the moment get the best of me a number of times Thursday night — sorry, dog, for startling you with all the yelling and the kvetching and the gesticulating  — so it makes sense that it might affect the decision-making of a manager as well, even a seasoned one.

That’s the best explanation I have for the baffling offensive strategy employed by Mike Scioscia for Game 1, in which the Angels fell to the Royals 3-2 in 11 innings. After laying down just 26 sacrifice bunts all year — nine of which were put in play by either John McDonald, Luis Jimenez, or a pitcher – Scioscia decided that his offense needed to put down *three* on Thursday, or more than 10 percent of their season total. You may have noticed that neither McDonald, Jimenez, nor a pitcher were in the lineup. No, instead those three attempts came courtesy of Erick Aybar, who inexplicably laid down two with Josh Hamilton on deck and a lefty on the mound, and leadoff man Kole Calhoun, who’s not only the third-best hitter in a stacked lineup but who also looked about as comfortable squaring around to bunt as I do juggling chainsaws on one leg over a shark tank. (NB: I’m a terrible juggler.)

Roster Expansion, Activate!

September 2nd, 2014

 

September has finally arrived, and with it comes 15 new roster spots for every MLB team to utilize as they see fit. Some have surprisingly strong negative opinions about this late-season roster quirk, but I’m mostly indifferent on the matter. On many occasions, the expansion results in fans getting their first real opportunity to watch the future of the franchise on the biggest stage, which is undoubtedly fun. The Angels are no exception in this regard: Two years ago at this time, we got our first glimpse of Kole Calhoun; last year, it was Matt Shoemaker.

This year, though, the Halos’ initial roster expansion has a slightly different feel to it. While there’s still a chance that interesting prospects like Drew Rucinski and… well, that’s about it… get a cup of coffee in the show this month, most of the 11 (!) new players suiting up in Houston this afternoon have either already had ample time with the big-league club this year—e.g. C.J. Cron, Cam Bedrosian, Cory Rasmus, Brennan Boesch, Efren Navarro—or are unlikely to be with the organization come next spring—e.g. John Buck, Wade LeBlanc, Tony Campana.

Just three of the call-ups—Buck, Campana, and Shawn O’Malley—have yet to see any action in Anaheim this season. Buck is the third-string catcher the Halos haven’t needed for two years now, Campana is essentially a full-time pinch runner, and O’Malley is utility guy whose career year (in a hitter-friendly park) has earned him his first promotion to the Show.

The club’s uncommonly large influx of fresh arms and legs—most teams have called up four or five guys—smacks of a strong desire to give the regulars as much rest as possible down the home stretch. I doubt the meat of the lineup gets many full days off this month, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more late-inning “defensive replacements” as the season winds down. The addition of four bullpen arms seems to portend that Scioscia is planning to go with Rasmus and Friends again in Garrett Richards’ rotation spot rather than try a traditional “starter” like Michael Roth or LeBlanc. So long as the club’s able to rely on the new guys and not tax Joe Smith, Huston Street, Kevin Jepsen, et al., that seems like a pretty solid plan.

In order to make room on the 40-man roster for LeBlanc and Buck, the Angels designated J.B. Shuck and Michael Kohn for assignment.

Here’s the full list of roster additions:

Angels Acquire Gordon Beckham from White Sox

August 21st, 2014
Five years ago, Gordon Beckham was really good.

Five years ago, Gordon Beckham was really good.

In the wake of Garrett Richards’ devastating injury, the Angels decided it was time to shore up the… infield?

On Thursday, the Angels acquired infielder Gordon Beckham from the Chicago White Sox, as Eric Kay, the club’s director of communications, announced on Twitter. In exchange for Beckham, the Angels will send either a player to be named later or cash to the White Sox. Beckham will join the team on Saturday in Oakland in time for game two of the club’s pivotal weekend series against the Athletics.

Per MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, the Angels initially claimed Beckham off waivers, meaning all other AL clubs passed on him, as the Angels hold the best record in the league, and are subsequently at the bottom of the waiver order.

Beckham is far from an impact player, and has struggled with the White Sox this season. In 422 plate appearances, he has slashed just .221/.263/.336 with a 62 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR, though Baseball-Reference pegs his WAR at a more palatable 0.3. He comes rather cheaply, with less than $1 million remaining on his $4.175 million salary for this season, and isn’t eligible for free agency until after next season, though he is a non-tender candidate this winter as an arbitration-eligible player. 

Angels Offense Stuck in Gridlock, Lose Freeway Series to Dodgers

August 8th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 5, Dodgers 0 | Game 2: Dodgers 5, Angels 4
Game 3: Dodgers 2, Angels 1 | Game 4: Dodgers 7, Angels 0

Runs Scored: 10
Runs Allowed: 14

YTD Record: 67-47 | 2nd in AL West

DodgersSeries1

After taking Game 1 of the annual Freeway Series, the Angels dropped the final three games against the Dodgers to fall three games behind the Oakland A’s in the division. The Angels scored 40% of their runs this series in the first inning of the series, four off Zack Greinke. After, the excellent Dodger pitching staff held the Halo bats to six runs over the final 35 innings. It’s tough to glean much from a four-game sample, but even with the Angels’ small advantage record-wise over the Dodgers, the Dodgers looked like a better and more dangerous team. Matt Kemp is apparently good again, and if he regains some of his peak form the Dodger offense could be lethal. Both clubs are probably locks for the postseason. The Dodgers are the best team in the  National League, and the Angels are still 6-1/2 games clear of Kansas City for the top wild card slot. Could we be in for a Freeway World Series? After these four games, I’m not sure Angel fans would want that.

This Week in Notable Numbers

May 4th, 2014
Has the future batting champ at last learned the art of the walk?

Has the future batting champ at last learned to walk?

+39

…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.

 

8

…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?

 

33

…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.

 

1

… 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.

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