Sunday, June 29, 2008

How to find an offense?

This is about as low as you can get. Your pitchers throw a no-hitter and you still can't win. I don't think the Angel pitching can be much better than it has been since John Lackey returned to the mound, and if the Angels want to keep first place and avoid a second half meltdown they are going to have to rediscover the art of touching home plate.

Last year Garret Anderson got off to a slow start (285/286/424) and surprised us with a great second half straight out of his 2002-2003 prime. This year his first half is even worse (255/289/372). I don't think we can expect lightning to strike twice. We have options, like a guy who hit 310/362/525 the last time he was given regular playing time, or a 2nd year player who had a .391 OBP his rookie year. At the very least we need to move Anderson down in the order, maybe bring Kotchman into the #3 spot.

Back in April the offense actually looked good. Napoli was blasting dingers. Kotchman was hitting for power and average. Figgins was getting on base 5 times in every 4 plate appearances. Howie was hitting .500. Hunter began his Angel career with a bang. With Vladimir struggling, it seemed like this offense could only get betteronce he inevitably started hitting every pitch for a line drive. After April the team was hitting 279/339/427.

In May, 232/300/346, and in June 258/311/373.

At least we hit bottom in May (when we were forced to give too many atbats to minor leaguers) and June is a bit of an improvement. Right now it just looks really bad. I know the Angels are not a patient team. They are not the A's who worship walks, in fact they have been the middle finger to the A's, saying "that is BS, this is the way to really win!".

Looking back at the 2002 team, they did not draw a lot of walks but they did not swing at bad pitches either. They waited for a good pitch and put it into play. They finished last in strikeouts and first in batting average. The 2008 team has the 6th most strikeouts and is 11th in batting average. I am tired of watching an entire lineup that cannot resist swinging at every pitch in the dirt.

The highest scoring offenses in baseball are the ones that follow the advice of Ted Williams' Science of Hitting. I can accept that we aren't going to be the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to putting that into practice, but can this team at least follow the successful approach Mickey Hatcher has taught to the hitters in the past? You can't build an offense around singles unless you can put the bat on the ball. And you can't put the bat consistently on a series of balls in the dirt.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Checking on a prediction

Back in spring training, I said this about the Dodger outfield situation:

Juan Pierre in left isn't as bad as most people think, myself included. Checking the numbers, I have Pierre as -13 runs on offense (hitting 288/333/363) and Ethier at 279/348/436, a league average hitter. But I've also got Pierre as +13 for range in left field, with Ethier at +1. While I don't have the exact numbers, Ethier has a much better arm but Pierre helps you more on the bases.

Because of contracts, the ideal solution would be to salary dump Pierre and play Ethier. Even if Pierre can't be moved, it might be advisable to play Ethier because he's younger and has the potential to become something more. But given you have both players, it doesn't make that much difference to the Dodger's 2008 division chances which one gets to play. This is at odds with what most people are saying, myself included. I think I might have said Pierre playing would cost the Dodgers 2 wins or something like that. I was talking out my ass, focusing much too exclusively on hitting. The numbers don't support that.
So far in 2008 the who should play controversy never happened thanks to Andruw being a bust and then getting hurt. But since Ethier and Pierre have both played, was I right?

Hitting, Pierre is -11. Ethier is -1. On defense, Pierre is +7 in range, Ethier is -6. Pierre's baserunning advantage is probably offset by his terrible throwing (A guess since I don't have in-season PBP files). Pierre's offense is a little worse (I think my projection included a plus for his basestealing) and Ethier's defense has been a little worse.

Not much difference value-wise between the two, but they'll need more production from somewhere if they want to catch the slumping Diamondbacks and win this weak division.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Should we keep K-Rod?

Here's an article pointing out the obvious: Frankie is going to be very wealthy (wealthier, dude's raking in 10 million this year.)

I'd love to see K-Rod finish out his career in an Angel uniform, but with decisions like this you must leave your emotions at the door and make cold rational judgements on ballplayers. If Frankie leaves, it will not be the end of the world, any more than Troy Percival leaving spelled doom for the 2005 Angels. Shields can do the job. Jose Arredondo has a great arm and is probably the longterm solution at closer. Kelvim Escobar may come back but not have the durability to start, so he could be an option too.

Some indicators:

His walk rate is pretty high, 18 in 32 innings. I'm not concerned, half of those were in April when his ankles were giving him trouble. His control has been as expected since then.

Strikeout rate is down, just under 1 per inning. This is a concern because his strikeout rates have been other-worldly before, including 90 in only 67 innings last year. He's been merely good instead of immortal. Unfortunately, this is tied in with a loss of velocity. He's averaging 91.8 on the fastball, down from 93.6 last year and 94.8 in 2006. Shields has had better velocity this year, as has Arredondo. This makes me leery of giving out a big multiyear contract.

28 Saves. Don't get me wrong, I love it, and hope that he breaks Bobby Thigpen's record, but it doesn't mean he's pitching better than the other top closers. He just has been given more chances, 30 to be precise. No other closer has more than 26 chances (Sherrill), followed by 24 (Papelbon). K-Rod has 9 more saves than Mariano Rivera, who has been perfect (19-19).

It all depends on the dollars. I would not complain if the Angels gave him 4 years and 50 million, or whatever the going rate is for closers, but that money could be better spent getting an complete hitter added to the lineup (somebody like Milton Bradley).

If K-Rod leaves, where would he go? The big spenders are not going to be a factor. Boston has no need because of Papelbon, and Rivera has 2 more years with the Yankees. If the Yankees had let Mo walk, given the job to Joba for a year before moving him to the rotation, they would be perfectly set up to grab Rodriguez. Won't happen though, I don't think even the Yankees will pay 12, 13 or more millions to ask him to set up, or remove Mo from his role. Detroit sticks out as my guess, the same destination Troy Percival left for 4 years ago. For all the money they spend (more than the Red Sox this year) they probably want a closer better than Todd Jones.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Forgotten Catcher

Watching O's extra, the pregame show before today's matchup between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Rick Dempsey is going over the Pirates lineup, and when he gets to Ryan Doumit, he says something like: "A catcher with power who can hit cleanup. That's a first, at least since Johnny Bench"

Ryan Doumit is hitting very well this season, but apparently Dempsey was sleeping during the entire career of Mike Piazza.

Putting the best team on the field

Are we doing it? Sure, we're in first place, but every time this team loses 2 games in a row I wonder about this. I would like to see this team do better than a first round playoff exit, and if we aren't careful, we may not even get that far if the enemy to the north, who all but gave up on the season before it started, keeps playing well.

Here are the current, updated projections for two of our starting outfielders:
The format is BA/OBP/SLG/LW runs over replacement per 650 PA

Anderson 267/311/414/+11
Matthews 257/333/406/+16

These are below average players, as average is 20 runs above replacement level. Fortunately, we have a couple average outfielders rotting on our bench:

Rivera 271/323/446/+20
Willits 272/372/350/+18

As for better options, Adam Dunn could be a trade possibility:

Dunn 233/366/457/+34

His offensive numbers would take a hit moving from the bandbox and weaker NL, but still gets on base and has much more power than our other options. He'd have to be agreeable to fulltime DH duties, as a left fielder he's bad enough to give back all the runs he creates about the other Angel options.

Just say no to this one:

Ken Griffey Jr. 247/338/415/+18

Also a terrible defender, he's not going to make this team any better. Sad to say it, but at this point of his career Griffey isn't going to make very many teams better.

Here's next year's free agent options (2009 projections used)

Manny Ramirez 268/379/484/+44 - He'd have to be agreeable to DH, but getting him would finally make sense if we only have to pay his new contract, not surrender players to the evil nation. If Boston declined his option and offered arbitration, Ramirez might take it (I think the latest news is he's happy there and wants to stay, though of course that could change at any time.) If he costs us another first round pick, I'd prefer to pass.

Pat Burrell 246/385/442/+38 - Another who would have to be fulltime DH to make sense.

Dunn 233/366/457/+34

Milton Bradley 270/367/445/+33 - Projection will look even better if he keeps hitting like the best hitter in the league this year. At this level of hitting his occasional problems are worth putting up with. Also could play a decent outfield, allowing us to continue to rotate players in and out of the DH spot. We signed a Texas switch hitting OF coming off a career year two years ago, but the difference is Bradley has serious talent. An average year from him looks like Matthews' career year. A career year from Bradley deserves MVP consideration.

Bob Abreu 264/376/406/+29 - I would prefer to pass. As a one year player his OBP is good enough to make him useful, but he's 35 and the power is going away fast. A multiyear deal would be a mistake.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

NBA Finals

It's Lakers vs Celtics! What a great historic matchup, conjures memories of Magic vs Bird, Russell vs Chamberlain, West vs Havlicek.

Sorry, but I just can't get into this one. Sure, Boston is the center of everything that is foul and wrong with the universe and I guess I'd like to see the Lakers win, but even I can't look at a matchup of Garnett vs Bryant and conclude that Kobe is the good guy.

But it's more than that. Just seems too scripted. How exactly did the Celtics get Kevin Garnett again? And the Lakers traded who for Pau Gasol? We know at least one NBA ref was fixing games. Kevin McHale is certainly unethical (we know this from the Joe Smith fiasco), it would not surprise me if his whole GM tenure was a Red Auerbach plant, waiting for the perfect time to gift the Celtics his superstar. I wouldn't put it past the NBA to fix some transactions to create winners where the money is. They just don't collectively cash in the same way in another Detroit-San Antonio defense-fest.

Strange Draft

Of the 20 position players taken in the first round, 8 of them are (or very likely will be) first basemen. Pedro Alvarez I'd say is 50/50 to play 3rd or 1st, Brett Wallace I'd be shocked if he played 3rd in the majors, and the other 6 already have nowhere to go on the defensive spectrum.

Of these 8, 7 are lefty hitters and the other (Smoak) is a switch hitter. Only one outfielder was taken in the first round. Altogether, there are 11 lefty hitters and only 6 righties, pretty much the opposite ratio you normally find in big league position players. Part of this is the unusual number of first basemen, but 2 of the 6 shortstops and 2 of the 4 catchers also hit lefty.

It makes me wonder if the top rounds of drafts of the past have been so lefty dominant, and if so, righthanded hitters are almost certainly undervalued, since righties are what make up the bulk of eventual major league hitters.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Seattle and Defensive Inefficiency

The Mariners have the worst defensive efficiency in the American League, which makes it impossible for pitchers like Silva, Batista, and Washburn, who don't miss many bats.

They have one good defender, Adrian Beltre. Ichiro rates as an average CF so far this year, according to my calculations based on the zone rating stats from the Hardball Times. Who's killing the defense?

Yuniesky Betencourt was supposed to be a defensive wiz, but comes in at -12. I don't know if he still has his defenders, but it's hard to make a case for the numbers being wrong when you've got the tangible evidence (team DER, groundball pitchers getting killed) that points in the direction of this guy not getting the job done.

Raul Ibanez is a -4 so far, that's actually better than usual for him. That's no surprise, he's not in there for his glove.

No other Mariner comes in at worse than -2, with Jose Lopez at -1. This is where the observation does not match up with the stats. Granted I only watch the Mariners when they play the Angels, but if you asked me, without looking at stats, which Mariner is the worst defender relative to position, I'd pick Lopez.

There have been a lot of ground balls hit to second, and my reaction off the bat (based on my experience watching similar hit balls) is "Damn, another ground out to 2nd" Then, to my delight, it rolls just past the reach of Lopez.

If I ran this team I'd be looking to replace both middle infielders, plus Sexson, Ibanez, Vidro, and a few of the pitchers. Hard to believe this team gave us a scare last season, it looks like it will be awhile before they do so again.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tinkering with the projection system

Right now I have a step in the projection process that estimates what a player's peak (age 27) should look like. Data is only through 2007, what they've done this year is not incorporated yet.

Brandon Wood: .248/.320/.459 - Not quite what we were hoping for, but if he can play good defense he'll be a useful 3B and #7 hitter. Hope I'm wrong and he's got more upside.

Howie: .302/.339/.461 Damn, he's already hit better than this. So far in 2008, Howie has cut down on his strikeouts. If he can keep that up, I think he's got to have a .350 season in him at some point.

Aybar .267/.315/.377. In there for the defense.

Sean Rodriguez .233/.328/.379

Casey Kotchman .278/.359/.438 Not even as good as the last year and a half. The lost 2006 season still hurts him. Rerunning with his 2008 stats thrown in - .286/.359/.447.