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The St. Louis Cardinals Connection

April 17th, 2014
Little did he know. . .

Little did this poor Cardinals fan know. . .

With three of the key players from the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series Championship team (Albert Pujols, David Freese, Fernando Salas) currently playing for the Los Angeles Angels, the connection between the two teams is obvious, but the connection between the two teams runs deeper than you might think.

You may know that Yadier Molina, perhaps the Cardinals’ best current player, is the younger brother of two former Angels backstops, Jose and Bengie Molina, but do you remember that Jered Weaver’s brother Jeff played a crucial role in the World Series the Cardinals won in 2006 against the Detroit Tigers?  And did you remember that it was the Angels who traded Jeff Weaver to the Cardinals in July of 2006 (for minor league outfielder Terry Evans)?  Weaver had a miserable 3-10 record and 6.29 ERA for the Angels in 2006, but Cardinals starting pitcher Mark Mulder was having shoulder problems and his spot in their rotation needed to be replaced, so the Cards made the deal with the Angels for Weaver.  Jeff was hit and miss in his starts for St. Louis, but when the playoffs began, the tall right-hander caught lightning in a bottle.  He won a game in each round of the playoffs and had a 2.52 ERA in five 2006 playoff starts.  Jeff Weaver even out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the World Series to win the clinching game of the series.

Jeff Weaver was not the only former Angel getting doused with champagne in the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series clubhouse celebration.  There was also David Eckstein, who was that year’s WS MVP, Scott Spiezio, and Jim Edmonds.  And how did former Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds find his way to the Cardinals?  He was traded in March of 2000 for pitcher Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy.  This was a trade that helped both teams win a World Series Championship — the Cardinals in 2006 and the Angels in 2002.

But Adam Kennedy wasn’t the only former Cardinal who helped the 2002 Angels win the World Series.  That championship probably never would have happened without the help of Cardinals Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog.  The skipper had just retired from a successful managing career.  He had taken the Cardinals to the World Series three times in the 1980′s, winning the whole thing in 1982.  One of his first coaching jobs was with the Angels in 1974.  He even served as interim manager for four games when Bobby Winkles got sacked half way through the season.  So when Gene Autry called him up to ask him if he would consider coming out of retirement to help the Angels turn into a contender, Herzog agreed.

In 1991, Whitey Herzog was named the Angels’ senior vice president in charge of player personnel.  In his autobiography, White Rat:  A Life in Baseball, Herzog said, “The thing was, ever since I’d gotten to Anaheim, all I heard was how horseshit our farm system was.  ‘Cupboard’s bare, Rat,’ everybody said.  ‘Big trouble down there.  We got nothing in the pipeline.’”

Does that sound familiar?

Well, Herzog wanted to see for himself, so when the Angels went on road trips, Herzog visited all of the Angels’ minor league teams.  He made sure to see all of the pitchers at least twice in games.  When he was ready to make his own evaluation of the Angels’ farm system, he disagreed with the general opinion.  He saw players he knew would one day help the Angels win.  He began to champion players like Tim Salmon (“He’s no good,” people told Whitey.  “He strikes out too much.”), Garret Anderson, Gary DiSarcina, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, and Jorge Fabregas.  When Herzog left the Angels in 1994 (by this time he was serving as their general manager), he told the Autrys that if they stuck with their young players, they would have a winner.

Fortunately for those of us in Angeltown, the organization heeded Herzog’s advice and held on to its young talent.

But we can go even farther back to see the Angels-Cardinals connection.  One of the early voices of Angels baseball was the radio play-by-play man, Buddy Blattner.  He was a former Redbird second baseman who had been calling Cardinal games in 1960 and 1961.  At the end of the ’61 season, Angels owner Gene Autry offered him the Angels job, which he accepted.  Blattner called Angels games on the Autry-owned KMPC from 1962 to 1968.

Why was the old cowboy interested in having Blattner call Angels games?  One reason is that Gene Autry’s favorite team growing up was the St. Louis Cardinals.  Autry grew up in north Texas and southern Oklahoma, and the closest Major League team to those parts in the 1920′s was the Cardinals.  Having Rogers Hornsby as their second baseman and winning the 1926 World Series also made it easy for a teenage boy in Oklahoma to choose them as his favorite team.

When Autry was a teenager, he had a job as a telegraph operator at a St. Louis-San Francisco Railway station in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In his spare time, he would play his guitar and sing at dances, and he would play shortstop on a local baseball team.  Gene became close friends with one of his teammates, a teenage pitcher named Jay Dean, later to be known to all of America as Dizzy Dean, one of the all-time great St. Louis Cardinals pitchers.  Much later, in 1962, Gene had Dizzy Dean join an Angels special advisory committee, which also included Walt Disney and William Frawley.

So decades before the Angels existed, there fomented a connection between them and the St. Louis Cardinals, a connection that is going strong still today.

First Base Claims its Second Victim

April 16th, 2014
Watch your step...

Watch your step…

I’m not sure who did what, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that someone on the Angels did something to seriously piss off the baseball gods. Kole Calhoun is the latest player to feel their wrath, twisting his ankle while running out a ground ball in the 11th inning of the club’s second straight heart-wrenching loss to the A’s.

Calhoun was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a ligament strain immediately after the game, joining Josh Hamilton and Don Baylor among the bizarre ranks of Halos who have suffered major injuries at or around bases in the last two weeks. I have no idea what the hell is going on there, but the Angels might want to just take a page out of David Freese’s book and avoid going near bases of any kind until this mystery is cleared up. On a related note, are there rules against Mike Trout playing while covered in bubble wrap?

Calhoun’s injury, which will reportedly keep him on the shelf for 4-6 weeks, puts the outfield in some pretty dire straits1. With J.B. Shuck and Collin Cowgill already platooning in left field to hold the Hamilton fort, the Angels are going to need to add another outfielder to the roster to man right field in the short term. This either means that Matt Long will be making his long-awaited debut, that Brennan Boesch will get another opportunity to demonstrate his poor defense and inability to hit lefties take a walk, or that a recently DFA’d outfielder like Sam Fuld will get another chance to find lightning in a bottle. (I also hear Vernon Wells is available…)

Long, who pushed his way onto the radar with a stellar spring, seems to have the best shot of taking Calhoun’s place, as he provides the most versatility on defense—in addition to the three outfield spots, he also plays second base—has some base-running chops, and still has minor-league options left, meaning the Angels can send him back to Salt Lake without passing him through waivers. He doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but he also doesn’t have any real glaring weaknesses in his game either. As friend of blog Garrett Wilson points out over at MWAH, Long is essentially “Calhoun Lite,” so he should be able to fill Kole’s shoes at the top of the order for at least a brief time.

Long, 26, is batting .244/.354/.463 with two home runs and seven walks in 41 plate appearances for Salt Lake through 12 games this year. In 210 games with the Bees over the last three seasons, he’s amassed a .283/.358/.464 line and stolen 35 bases in 44 attempts.

UPDATE: The call to #FreeMattLong has yet again fallen on deaf ears. The Angels have decided to go the *experience* route and call up former Tigers left fielder Brennan Boesch to take Kole Calhoun’s spot on the roster. Boesch, 29, was at point in time viewed as an adequate corner power bat, but that time has long past.

After a miserable year (-1.2 WAR) manning right field for Detroit in 2012, the left-handed hitting Boesch was released and subsequently picked up by the injury-plagued Yankees. Most of his time in New York—which ended in mid-July—was spent sitting in favor of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, which tells you just about everything you need to know.

It’d be one thing if Boesch was simply a platoon player, flailing around against lefties while thriving on righties. But he’s not. Instead, he’s decidedly mediocre against pitchers of both persuasions, with a 723 OPS vs. RHPs and a ripe-for-regression 763 OPS vs. LHPs. His walk rate is also well below league average and he’s limited to the corner outfield spots, where is defense still rates as pretty abysmal. Given all that, it’s difficult to parse how the Angels came to the conclusion that he’s a better option in right than Long, but here we are.

Obviously, I hope that Boesch is able to find success in his time with the Halos, I’m just not very optimistic. Prior to his call-up, he was hitting .250/.308/.479 with two homers and two triples through 52 plate appearances (13 games) for the Salt Lake Bees.

____________

1 Not as dire as those facing the bullpen, but that’s a story for another day.

Hypothesizing an Optimal Catcher Platoon

April 16th, 2014
IannettaPic

Are there certain RHPs Iannetta is better equipped to handle?

Given all of 2013’s disappointments, it’s easy to overlook the things that actually went right last year (other than Mike Trout, of course). One can be forgiven for not pushing through the not inconsiderable haze of Albert Pujols’ injuries, Josh Hamilton’s frightening inability to hit lefties, and Jered Weaver’s ever-declining velocity to find more positive narratives. They are there if you squint, though. For instance, did you know that Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger put together arguably the best season by Angels catchers in Mike Scioscia’s 14 years at the helm in Anaheim? Because it sure as hell surprised me.

Iannetta and Conger were worth a combined 3.1 fWAR in 2013, marking the first time this century an Angels catching cohort has topped three wins. The surprisingly adequate duo also posted 1+ WAR each, making them only the second pair of Halos catchers to do so in a season under Sosh’s tutelage—the elder Molina brothers first accomplished the feat back in 2005.

Neither catcher lit up the stat sheet outside of Iannetta nearly earning more free passes than hits1, but they really weren’t supposed to. The whole purpose of a platoon is to create a two-headed monster of sorts that’ll equal or surpass the production of one average player, which is exactly what Iannetta and Conger did. Each started 60 games against righty starters1, and the right-handed hitting Iannetta got the nod in 42 of the club’s 44 contests versus southpaws. In the end, their combined .237/.341/.385 batting line was good for a 109 OPS+, which means that the league’s catchers, as a whole, were nine percent worse at the plate than the I/C tandem. That’s nowhere close to the league leaders, of course, but it’s still sufficiently better than just about any other unit Scioscia has trotted out behind (and to) the dish since taking over in 2000.

OPSWARCatchers

A whole lotta teh suck.

Week 3: Angels Battle 2013 Playoffs

April 14th, 2014
The bride to Trout's bridesmaid.

The bride to Trout’s bridesmaid.

After a week of facing teams that aren’t expected to contend for the playoffs deep into the summer, the Angels will take on two of the best teams in baseball this week in the A’s and Tigers. Shocking absolutely nobody, both teams currently sit in first in their respective divisions, yet the paths both teams took to their current forms could not be more different.

The A’s have won two division titles in a row, and will battle with the Rangers and Angels* for another AL West crown this year. Yet, they still feel like a fluke, especially to the more casual baseball fan. Who is the biggest star on the team? Yoenis Cespedes? Coco Crisp, because “Coco” and because hair? Their best player last season was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who posted the 7.7-win season from nowhere. If you asked a random baseball fan who Josh Donaldson was and what position he played — don’t do this because that would be weirdly specific — I assume most would guess he was a utility infielder for like the Padres.

* Ha ha just kidding the Angels will not be in the race in September.

Angels Get The Best Of The Mets, Take Series

April 14th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 5, Mets 4 (11) | Game 2: Mets 7, Angels 6 (13) | Game 3: Angels 14, Mets 2

Runs Scored: 25
Runs Against: 13

YTD Record: 6-6 | 3rd in AL West

Up Next: Monday vs A’s

MetsSeries1

I was ready to hand the Angels their second “I Want To Die” series of the year after Saturday night’s catastrophe of a loss, but they totally redeemed themselves with Sunday’s five-homer, 17-hit extravaganza. It’s nice to win a series no matter the opposition, but it’s hard to know if this kind of offensive production — an MLB-leading 20 home runs in 12 games — will continue against the league’s stronger opponents. We’ll know soon enough: Oakland arrives on Monday for a three-game set.

On to the recapping…

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top-notch Angels analysis!