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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The 30% Solution: Angels 4, Rays 2

Jay Jaffe pounded together a piece at Baseball Prospectus today asking which teams were getting the most out of their pitching staffs. Unsurprisingly, the Angels lead the majors in that particular category:
There are a million places to begin here, but we'll start at the top, where the AL West's usual suspects are battling it out for the lead. The two teams' rotations are about even, a surprise in and of itself. John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, second and sixth in last year's rankings in SNLVAR, have been limited to five starts between them (all Lackey's), but Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, who entered the year as the team's fifth and sixth starters, have ably picked up the slack; they rank sixth and tenth, respectively). Meanwhile, the A's have ably replaced the traded Dan Haren (fifth last year) with excellent performances from two pitchers acquired in that deal, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland (17th and 21st in the league, respectively). Having Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer both healthy of late hasn't hurt, either.

As for those two teams' bullpens, Oakland's unit has a Fair Run Average that's nearly a run lower than the Angels' relievers, yet they trail in WXRL by about 0.7 wins. Turning to their Adjusted Runs Prevented numbers (not pictured, but ranked here), the A's lead the Angels, 31.0 to 8.5, a massive difference concealed by moving from a run-expectancy-based framework--which doesn't account for the relative score of the game, so blowouts and tight contests are weighted equally--to a win-expectancy-based one. In other words, Oakland's bullpen successes haven't been particularly timely relative to those of the Angels.

Nowhere was the Angels' dominance in starting pitching in better view than in today's game with John Lackey keeping down a very tough Tampa Bay lineup. The Rays scratched out a run in the first, and looked poised to do more with the bases loaded, but with two out Lackey got Dioner Navarro to ground out to Casey Kotchman and that silenced the threat. The other run came in the sevent following Evan Longoria's leadoff double that Navarro then cashed in on a sacrifice fly.

But if the Halos have been getting excellent starting pitching, they've only just been able to get enough offense to squeak out victories. Proof of this was the fact that Maicer Izturis provided the game-winning RBI single with the bases loaded following a controversial ball four call in Reggie Willits' at-bat. (Rays manager Joe Maddon came out of the dugout, not following Willits translation to first, but after Izturis whacked the game-winner into center field, earning himself an ejection.)

Willits' appearance in the lineup was actually a function of Garret Anderson's late scratch. He's seen only eight plate appearance against lefties in the season, which to me says he's not nearly ready to be productive against a top-drawer lefty like Scott Kazmir; but faced with no better alternative, in he went. He actually proved to be pretty useful, walking twice, though he embarrassed himself with a fairly desperate-looking leadoff popup to first on a botched first-pitch bunt attempt in the first. It was a bad day for Angels bunters: Mike Napoli tried to get one down in the eighth as part of a suicide squeeze, and all he accomplished was to hit into a rare 1-5 double play as he lined out to the pitcher.

In fact, Napoli got the strikeout hat trick, and following that last failed attempt, you have to wonder whether the equally futile-at-the-plate Mathis is subtly moving ahead of Mike in the starting time department. He's one of a fairly large number of players right now who really are kind of marginal offensively, but at least his difficulties can be chalked up to inexperience. One other in that tepid pile is Gary Matthews, Jr., who homered on the first pitch he saw in the fifth to tie the game; like Napoli, he also struck out three times, once looking. At least Mike Scioscia had the sense to bat him sixth.

Back of him was Casey Kotchman in the seven hole, and — well, why? He had two hits and a walk besides in four times to the plate; is there some secret handshake he doesn't know to get respect against lefties? I guess I should be grateful he's playing at all, but the third base situation has sort of forced Mike's hand with respect to Quinlan (whose seventh-inning single was a big part of the Angels' late rally).

Lackey went seven and a third, and as if by some contract, out he went after chasing Bartlett on a 5-3 groundout that almost wasn't, as defensive replacement Brandon Wood nearly pulled Kotchman off the bag with his throw. That got Scot Shields into the game, giving up a single and a convenient 5-4-3 double play for Wood to redeem himself on. Frankie then pitched a ninth inning with a four-pitch walk to Longoria; no strikeouts, but a save nonetheless.

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To clarify, GMJr.'s HR came on the first pitch he saw, but not the first pitch in the 5th. Kazmir retired the first two batters in the 5th; in fact, he retired the first 14 hitters consecutively. The HR broke up the perfect game.

As for Napoli, the guy is a streaky hitter. He's in a cold spell right now, and I'd say he's due for one of those 7-10 game stretches where he'll hit a few dingers and bring his average back up close to .250. I don't know why Scioscia had him squeezing in that situation; I think he'd have a better chance of hitting a sac fly, but whatever, they won.
Corrected on the GMJ homer.

I think you could argue as well Napoli was a very good DP candidate anyway in that circumstance; that they got it on the bunt attempt was certainly unusual.
Re the Rays 1st: when the first batter hits a solid triple, and the next batter follows with a single, to describe that as a 'scratched' run doesn't seem quite like the right verb to use.

i think you're just to used to writing about how the Halos score their runs all year - lol!
Yeah, partly true. On the other hand, considering the Rays loaded the bases and got nothing for it — well, what of that? It seemed fair to me considering the effort involved.
you had the rest of the inning correctly described i thought, but it wasn't relevant to what the first two batters did.

i see what you were saying, but when a team leads off with a triple, 'scracthed' is imediately out the window as a description if that runner eventually scores.

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