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Week 4: Angels duel Tampa’s rotation and take talents to Cleveland

April 24th, 2012

Future Tampa Bay ace Matt Moore, during his dominant playoff performance in Texas last October

After a disappointing week in which the Angels went 3-4 against expected cellar dwellers Oakland and Baltimore, the Angels will hit the road this week for a 6-game trip. The season is nearly 10 percent complete, so while I’m sticking to my April mantra of “It’s still early,” the Angels need to start playing well soon if they want a realistic chance at catching Texas.

Their first opponent this week, the Tampa Bay Rays, present a difficult obstacle. Preseason pundits almost exclusively selected the Angels as the best starting rotation in the American League, but the few that didn’t usually picked the Rays, who boast an embarrassment of young pitching riches. The Angels this week will face David Price (age 26), Jeremy Hellickson (25), and lefty phenom Matt Moore (22). Those 3 are respectively the 2010 Cy Young runner-up, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, and a consensus top 3 prospect in baseball heading into 2012.* This isn’t even including James Shields, who led all of baseball with 11 complete games in 2011.

* From prospect rankings I saw, most sites had Moore, Nats’ OF Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout as their top three prospects in some order. It really depends on the type of prospect you prefer.

For as good as both teams’ starting pitchers are, the bullpens are horrendous. Like the Angels, if the Rays want to make a World Series run, they will need contributions from the offense and bullpen to support strong starting pitching. Unfortunately for Tampa, their pen has been a disaster this year, to the tune of an 8.25 ERA.** This figure makes the Angels and their 5.06 bullpen ERA look excellent by comparison. Nevertheless the Rays have overcome the slow bullpen start and are a reasonable 9-7 thanks to a 3.75 starter ERA and 76 runs scored (6th best in MLB, backed by my MVP pick Evan Longoria, who doubles as a superstar third basemen and Jason Bourne). When the bullpen turns around, this will be an elite team that will make a serious bid at October baseball.

** This is despite reclamation project Fernando Rodney striking out 7 batters in 7 1/3 innings so far this season while only walking 2. Angels fans are well acquainted with Rodney, who complained about playing time last year even though he walked 28 batters in 32 innings.

After playing three in Tampa, the Angels will head to Cleveland for a weekend set versus the tribe. The Indians are off to the necessary good start (8-6) if they want to have a shot at beating out Detroit this season. Carlos Santana, coming off a recently-minted extension, is vying for the Best Catcher title; he’s only hitting .239 but is sporting an impressive .407 OBP due to 13 walks in 59 plate appearances. If Santana can maintain his improved walk rate and combine it with his prodigious power (27 homers in 2011), the Indians have an elite, MVP-caliber catcher just entering his prime, whose bat will also play at first base if they need to move him. The sky’s the limit for this kid.

Shin-Soo Choo, another Indian of note, is off to a slow-ish start, disappointing for a player that looked like one of the best players in baseball just two seasons ago. Those hoping Choo would quickly rebound after a forgettable 2011, in which Choo dealt with injuries and a DUI, are still waiting. His OBP is still solid, but with a .250 batting average and 0 home runs, he isn’t yet showing the same hitting prowess he showed in 2009 and 2010. Both years, his WAR exceeded 6.0.

Two solid clubs this week for the Angels. Given how this team has played so far, a 4-2 week might be too much to ask. Hopefully coming off a series victory, even if it was against the lowly Orioles, is a good omen.

Probable Pitchers so far, according to Angels’ official team site

Rays

Tuesday: Ervin Santana vs David Price

Wednesday: CJ Wilson vs Jeremy Hellickson

Thursday: Jerome Williams vs Matt Moore in a battle of former top prospects!

Indians

Friday: Jered Weaver vs Justin Masterson

Saturday: Dan Haren vs Jeanmar Gomez

Sunday: Santana vs Derek Lowe

3 Bold Predictions for the week

1) Carlos Santana will allow a passed ball, and I’ll make a really terrible joke about how he has to change his evil ways.

2) Albert Pujols hits 10 home runs this week, signs extension.

3) Ervin Santana, returning to the site of his no-hitter last July, won’t throw a no hitter.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

Comments

5 Comments

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  • E. Smith says on: April 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

     

    Nice report, Andrew! I think I’d take just one home run from Albert. Maybe getting one monster homer will break the seal! I’ve got a cousin staying with me from TX this week and he keeps giving me crap every time one of those awful DirecTV commercials comes on. You know, the one where Albert is carrying a stadium seat with him….maybe filming commercials wasn’t the best use of his time this off-season….

    Question – do you know if there is a no-trade on this 10 year deal? I suspect Albert will come around and be good this year, and maybe the next few years, too. But what happens when he starts his inevitable decline? Can we unload him? I’m no saber-metric type of anything, but when you look at the numbers, top players universally begin a quick decline after age 28. Albert is 31? 32? (and that’s if his age is actually reported accurately…). Thoughts?

    • Andrew Karcher says on: April 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

       

      Thanks E. If you remember last season, A-Rod did that lame DirecTV commercial, where he was rounding bases around the USA. Those 2 really are kindred spirits…

      As for your no-trade question, Pujols (turned 32 in January) does indeed have a full no-trade clause in his contract. So like it or not, the Angels are stuck with him for the next 10 years unless Pujols decides he wants to waive the clause. This likely wouldn’t happen anyway since no team will agree to a trade for Pujols unless the Angels agreed to pay a huuuuuuuuuuge portion of the contract.

  • Johnny Boy says on: April 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm

     

    E. Smith – here’s a quick primer on valuing players:
    WAR (Wins above replacement) is a stat that attempts to summarize a players total contributions into one single statistic. There are a bunch of varying calculations, but generally a scrub player has around a 1 WAR and an MVP candidate is around a 6+.

    As an example, the two top NL MVP candidates last year were Matt Kemp (8.7 WAR) and Ryan Braun (7.8 WAR). Some others – Ian Kinsler 7.7, Adrian Gonzalez 6.6, Robinson Cano 5.6…….Pujols 5.1 (worst of his career, 26th best ranking in MLB).

    One could make the argument that last year was “one-off” due to his injury that kept him out for 2-3 weeks, plus the fact that the injury was his wrist, perhaps that limited his power and that could return this year. However, the numbers probably reveal more of Albert’s impending decline. Note his WAR has gone from 9.1 to 9.0 to 7.5 to 5.0…..that looks like a trend to me. Maybe he jumps back to 6.0 this year. If so, great. However, that doesn’t justify the money he’s being paid. Give me Ian Kinsler all day long over Pujols….

    To answer your question, Pujols has a full no-trade clause for the entire 10 year deal…..enjoy all that

  • Hudson Belinsky says on: April 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm

     

    One note on WAR: it’s great, but you need to look at a bunch of different things to truly evaluate a player. WAR (a FanGraphs stat) and WARP (a Baseball Prospectus stat) aim to do pretty much the same thing but often disagree on how good or bad certain players were.

    The defensive components of each stat are the shakiest. For example, Peter Bourjos has been an elite centerfielder since the day he was called up, according to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR, the FanGraphs defensive component). BP’s defensive component, Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) rated him well below average last season.

    Just don’t look at any stat as a definitive answer and you should be able to get better at evaluating guys based on their numbers.

  • Johnny Boy says on: April 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm

     

    Hudson:
    Sure, stats may not capture the full impact of a player, although WAR/WARP comes close. My point is this: even if Albert was putting up 2011 numbers to start the 2012 season, the contract would be a joke. I travel all over the country for work and real baseball fans all seem to agree that this is the worst contract ever agreed to in professional sports. C’mon – for the price we’re paying Pujols this year, the Rangers are paying the following:

    Neftali Feliz 500k
    Matt Harrison 2.95 mil
    Colby Lewis 4 mil
    Elvis Andrus 2.625 mil
    Alexi Ogando 500k
    Nelson Cruz 6.25 mil
    D. Holland 1 mil

    That’s less than 17 mil for 3/5 of their starting rotation, the ALCS MVP, the best defensive shortstop in MLB, and the best middle relief in baseball…..sure, the rangers will have to pony up some dough to keep a lot of their players long term, but the fact is the Rangers have figured out the secret – long term control over players they develop. Problem is, you actually have to develop these players…..Hunter, Wells, Pujols, Wilson…..you can’t keep paying that kind of money, you have to build from within….

    This Pujols contract is going to be my personal hell……..

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Dedicated to bringing you top-notch Angels analysis!