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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Angels Midterm

Sauce for the goose, right? Who would have thought that the Dodgers have outhomered the Angels, but is that a surprise given the Angels RPI ranking is five slots ahead of the Dodgers at fifth and tenth, respectively? RPI, or Relative Power Index, ranks teams according to strength of schedule; there's no Hudson/Mulder/Zito combination waiting in the NL West to devour the Dodgers' mediocre lineup.

It's been a long, painful year for the Halos already, and it's not over yet. 2002 MVP Troy Glaus is out for the season, maybe out for his career. Mainstay Garret Anderson suddenly found out what it feels like to be an old man wracked with arthritis, Eckstein went on and off the DL, Bartolo Colon proved a complete bust without getting injured -- that we know of, unless you count thirds at the dinner table as a self-inflicted wound. Starters Benjie Molina, Salmon, Percival, and Donnelly all spent time on the DL as well. What's amazing is this team's still got a shot at the division, albeit one that requires nearly everything to go right in a season where Murphy's been dictating every day.

A word on the reviews. For both this and the Dodgers notes, I use VORP -- Value Over Replacement Player, denominated in runs -- from Baseball Prospectus as the metric for my analysis. Projected values are -- for the Angels -- 90th percentile values (extreme optimism) for the entire year, unless otherwise specified, so divide by about two to get an idea of where each player should be at the halfway mark.

Catcher

Benjie Molina
2004 Projected VORP: 19.5
2004 YTD VORP: 9.0

Jose Molina
2004 Projected VORP: 5.4
2004 YTD VORP: 0.0

There's two guys on this list, thanks to Benjie Molina's extended injury problems; with Benjie having 177 at bats and Jose Molina 130, what's the difference between the two? Benjie hasn't had a terrible season, but Chronicles' call to release Josh Paul now seems more than a little premature, considering the number of days Benjie has missed thus far. Jose, who has had to spell Benjie for far too many games, already has started his offensive descent, and Benjie isn't that much better (.294/.316/.435 vs. Jose's .246/.269/.369). Jose is now a league-average offensive catcher, and any further decline drags him into Josh Paul's Twilight Zone career. I'm very skeptical that either of these guys reaches their 90th percentile VORP. Anybody wishcasting for Randy Johnson now needs to explain themselves in light of the black hole that the Angels catching situation is becoming, especially considering that Mathis' big draw so far is his stick.

First Base

Darin Erstad
2004 Projected VORP: 16.4
2004 YTD VORP: 11.1

Darin Erstad's actually having a decent year for himself. Sure, his days as a Gold Glove anything are over thanks to his move to a position where voters expect a power bat, but he's actually contributing offensively -- if weakly -- and plays a very competent defensive first base. Unfortunately, he might just make that 16.4 VORP by virtue of his history of middling second halves. Regardless, I don't see Stoneman renewing his contract when it expires... in one and a half ... more ... long ... years.

Second Base

Adam Kennedy
2004 Projected VORP: 44.6
2004 YTD VORP: 12.5

Here's a guy nobody knows what to make of, the sphinx at second base: he's just as troubling to me as Alex Cora of the Dodgers. One month Kennedy sizzles at the plate, another he's just so much DNA with a stick. Clearly, he won't make his 90th percentile projection unless he starts hitting like he did in Game 5 of the ALCS -- every day. He's presently on track for his 60th percentile numbers, or a .278/.339/.412 line for the year. This is what we got in exchange for Jim Edmonds? Well, at least he's not a complete bust like Kent Bottenfield.

Third Base

Troy Glaus
2004 Projected VORP: 59.7
2004 YTD VORP: 18.7

Chone Figgins
2004 Projected VORP: 28.2
2004 YTD VORP: 25.7

Another position with multiple guys filling the same spot due to injury. Glaus left the team with 124 plate appearances, which, assuming you expanded his year to something like 525 PA's, would mean he'd have a 107.9 VORP year, more than double even PECOTA's most optimistic expectation... right? Well, no, and of course it goes to show that, as some have suggested, Glaus chose a good time to get injured -- just before his annual June slump set in. IMO, his career path is with another team willing to take a bet on his six-million-dollar shoulder ("we can make him better... faster... stronger...NOT"). His nominal replacement, the speedy Chone Figgins, has surpassed everyone's expectations by hitting the tar out of the ball once again and stealing like Maury Wills. Healthy -- which he pretty much seems to be -- he's running rings around both Eckstein and Kennedy, not to mention opposing pitchers. He's on track for a monster year, barring injury; the team's other two starting infielders have to be asking themselves which of them he's likely to replace once star third base prospect Dallas McPherson gets a callup, and especially if McPherson sticks. The Angels' hardball negotiation with "Just Enough" might tip off a weariness with his ongoing injury problems, especially with the Angels minors stocked with quality middle infielders just a year or two out.

Shortstop

David Eckstein
2004 Projected VORP: 39.0
2004 YTD VORP: 11.7

As I mentioned above, Eckstein has to be getting pretty nervous about having Figgins around, especially after his repeated injuries and early-season slump. Even though Eckstein is actually underrated defensively, he's redundant in the leadoff role with Figgins in the lineup; even though Kennedy would be the player to lose offensively, Kennedy's contract is less moveable, making Eck prime tradebait for whatever-it-is the team needs -- in this case, starting pitching. Helen reminds me that the Cubs have a mess of quality starters in their system, and so superficially, at least, there would seem to be a good match there. But that match can't happen until the offseason, or the Angels get a real third baseman.

Left Field

Jose Guillen
2004 Projected VORP: 25.5
2004 YTD VORP: 27.0

Hello, boys and girls! We're going to learn about badasses today. Can you say that -- badass? Do you know what that means? Well, what it means is Jose Guillen, who single-handedly kept the offense going immediately after Glaus went buh-bye for the season and possibly his career, this despite leading the majors in hit by pitches (12). He's already screamed past his VORPal projection. Whether he busts through his projection or just becomes a bust, he's earned every dollar of his salary and then some. One tough hombre.

Centerfield

Garret Anderson
2004 Projected VORP: 52.4
2004 YTD VORP: 15.1

Garret Anderson's one of those good guy players, like Erstad and Kennedy, that the Angels front office just seems to have a crush on. Stoneman frequently loses his head when it comes time to re-up these guys, and he never asks any of the hard questions, such as "is this guy going to earn the dollars we give him?" In GA's case, unlike Erstad's, the answer is a resounding "maybe"*. He's lost about a month of starts due to his arthritis; so far, the medicine he's taking has allowed him to play fairly well, though his power has taken a surprising dip since returning. Garret sports a .398 SLG in the time since his return, despite five homers. He's forgotten how to hit doubles, with only three in 108 at bats. He's far from a lock to achieve his 90th percentile VORP, but he might make the 75th percentile (35.1, .298/.334/.504 line) with some luck and continued health. We know what was wrong with him in May; arthritis is a nasty condition, and while we have the drugs to treat him today, who's to say what might happen two years down the road?


* On the other hand, we didn't sign Spiezio to a three-year contract, like the M's. Stoneman can fool himself, and maybe Arte can make him do something foolish (read: Colon), but he's not a total fool.

Right Field

Vladimir Guerrero
2004 Projected VORP: 63.6
2004 YTD VORP: 53.2

Worth every penny of his contract, too. Vlad and Manny Ramirez have been trading off top VORP in the AL for a while now. Let's hope Vlad's back stays healthy. Like Bonds and the Giants, the temptation is to believe that one player can muscle a team into the playoffs; the counterexample is Griffey, Jr.

Designated Hitter

Tim Salmon
2004 Projected VORP:52.2
2004 YTD VORP: -2.0

That Tim Salmon might have a bad year would come as no surprise following a season where he lost time from a knee injury he got roaming the outfield. His defensive days past, he's looking rickety at the plate as well, picking up only his first hit against a left-handed pitcher in the last game of the first half against the Jays. Salmon's PECOTA comparables are littered with great and near-great players, names like Boog Powell, Sal Bando, Gil Hodges, David Justice, Fred McGriff, and Dave Winfield. For him to collapse like this is simply shocking; the team had better hope he finds his swing, and quick. Fortunately, Jeff DaVanon -- Salmon Lite™ -- is waiting until a better solution can be found at the DH, or until Salmon himself returns to form.

Starting Rotation

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises.
-- All's Well That Ends Well, Act II, Scene i
 VORP
StarterActualProjected
Colon -7.273.5
Escobar26.434.9
Lackey15.156.9
Ortiz12.745.9
Sele13.427.8
Washburn16.849.1

Colon

We all know how awful he's been. The tragedy is that he's not even on pace to make his tenth percentile projections (-4). His last few starts, while encouraging in the main, hardly qualify as "turning it around" when taken in sum. The pressure's far from off, and he needs a string of convincing wins in the last half of July and August or he's off to Siberia, or wherever it is they put big, fat Mangos.

Escobar

Not a stopper, but definitely an underrated guy when we got him. I was pleased if not overwhelmed by the acquisition, and despite his periodic struggles, he's been a fine starter, a ray of sunlight in a year where so much in the rotation has gone bad. He's already on target to exceed PECOTA's most optimistic projections, but that has to be taken along with his struggles prior to his last start.

Lackey

Another guy who can just drive you nuts on the mound, there's a strong temptation to lump him and Washburn together, as both have flyball tendencies and few strikeouts. Lackey's most recent string paints a positive trend, but the disparity between his projected and actual VORP are so large as to either make you want to kick some sense into him or else try not to drool thinking about the guy's ceiling. Hopefully he'll keep up his recent string of good starts.

Ortiz

Despite the late recanting of everyone, including myself, at season's start, there was no way Ortiz deserved to be in the rotation. And up until May, Ortiz was allowed to lose games until his ERA soared to 9.28. His time in the bullpen calmed him down, and he's more than halved that figure. Angels fans might find his "Baby Pedro" nickname trying, but he's far beyond useless. Still, like so many of the Angels starters, he's a guy with a ton of potential who never seems to live up to it.

Sele

Like Escobar, a guy who's figured things out this year. After a shoulder injury during the Angels' 2002 championship run, Sele had a simply awful 2003. But this isn't uncommon for shoulder problems, and his rebound has been a positive for the Angels this year. I expect he'll continue to do well, and the Angels won't renew his contract at year's end. Some team starving for pitching will take him and his surgically repaired shoulder -- maybe Houston after Clemens finally retires this year?

Washburn

Never trust a pitcher who's run-support lucky. As if we didn't need to be reminded that wins are a terrible indicator of how to judge pitchers, his 4.62 ERA should tell you plenty about how hittable he's been. For a time, some of the idiots at ESPN were even blabbing about how Wash might, if he were to continue to amass wins, qualify as a Cy Young candidate. Fortunately for John Kruk's already strained credibility, the Angels got injured, the bats fell asleep, Washburn proceeded to lose games, and the matter was never spoken of again. But the trend, overall, has been positive, and he acquired his first complete game shutout in his career just a few games ago, so I'm -- again -- cautiously optimistic on this guy, another Angel pitcher who's chronically underperformed.

Bullpen

As with the Dodgers bully, I intend to go through this one lickety-split. Donnelly's broken nose will pretty much ensure he won't earn his 39.7 projected VORP this year (2.7 YTD VORP). Kevin Gregg regressed hard from his early water-walking, but maybe this we can attribute to overwork thanks to all those awful starts we got from Ortiz and Colon. K-Rod is and will continue to be a stud, despite a couple lousy games here and there; his 13.6 K/9 rate is just inhuman; likewise for Scott Shields, who ought to have a sub-3.00 ERA at year's end. Derrick Turnbow, Matt Hensley, and Dusty Bergman were emergency callups we can assume won't return due to inexperience and/or poor performance, though among them, Turnbow stands the greatest chance of coming back, thanks to the hoopla that once attended his name. Still, he's got a ways to go: despite his 0.00 ERA in 6.1 IP, his seven walks don't make anybody think he's ready for the show. Ben Weber imploded after two solid years and compares unfavorably with other teams' bad starters; he has been diagnosed with tendinitis after a DFA to Salt Lake and is on the DL.

Bench

This year marks two straight years that Stoneman has made awful picks for the bench. No, Figgins doesn't count; it was obvious he belonged on the team. Here I'm talking about Shane Halter; last year it was Eric Owens, who apparently hasn't caught on with either Detroit or Seattle, both offseason magnets for weak-hitting fifth outfielders. Jeff DaVanon, on the other hand, has proven a fantastic fourth outfielder, and at this point, a better offensive option than Tim Salmon. One of the big questions facing Scioscia will be how much playing time to give to him, especially with Salmon thirsting for at-bats.

Despite skepticism from some quarters, Stoneman's decision to add third catcher Josh Paul has proven useful as Benjie Molina's hamstrings come and go, and especially in the absence of utilityman and emergency catcher Shawn Wooten. Alfredo Amezega can't hit, and that's a problem, even if he's a better defensive option at third than Figgins; the team doesn't have a 30-man roster.

About Raul Mondesi, the less said, the better.

Once the second baseman of the Dodgers' future, Adam Riggs is now the utilityman of nobody's future; his bat just doesn't hold up in the show. We'll see him on and off, but at this point it's clear he's going nowhere even as a bench player. Similarly though not quite so decisively, Robb Quinlan, whose hot early start has cooled tremendously.

The big question for Angels fans: was Casey Kotchman's weak hitting a mirage or a harbinger? Unfortunately, we just won't know for some time, so his first trip up -- an emergency stint -- could easily qualify as too much, too soon. But he's become a contact hitter, even at Salt Lake; we'll have to wait some more.

Now What?

What the Angels need: If all those things happen -- and any two of them could derail the team -- we've got a shot. It might be useful if the team I'm not as optimistic as I was at the start of the season, but the team's not out of it entirely.

Go Angels!


Comments:
Really enjoyed both your Angel and Dodger writeups, Rob.
 

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