Daily Distractions: A tale of two cities; quarter-by-quarter records; is Mike Scioscia tradeable?

Angel Stadium

Angel Stadium has seen declining attendance in May. (photo by J.P. Hoornstra)

Both the Angels and Dodgers are off to poor starts this season, but the Dodgers have something important that the Angels do not: The best attendance of any team in Major League Baseball.

In case you missed it, the Dodgers are 17-22 and feature a list of injured stars including Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke (prior to Wednesday). Most tickets aren’t getting cheaper and it’s no easier to get in and out of Dodger Stadium than it was two years ago, when the Dodgers averaged 36,236 at every home game.

Yet the Dodgers’ average attendance of 42,706 through 24 home games is the best in the business. They became the first team to surpass 1,000,000 tickets sold on Wednesday. Their season-ticket base of approximately 31,000 is a major boost. So is Clayton Kershaw, whose six home starts attracted an average of 47,905 fans. The Dodgers’ average attendance in their other 18 home dates: 40,974.

We mention this only because fan loyalty in Southern California can’t be taken for granted.

The Angels’ average attendance of 37,232 represents 82 percent of capacity at the smaller Angel Stadium (the Dodgers are at 76.3 percent capacity), but these numbers are shrinking. A season-low 31,917 fans attended Wednesday’s loss to Kansas City. The Angels are averaging about 4,000 fewer fans per game in May than April (34,656 compared to 38,735).

Having been to most home games at both stadiums, I feel confident in writing that fans in Anaheim are leaving games early this season at a Chavez Ravine-like rate — with less traffic to beat. I also feel confident in writing that Angels players and coaches notice this.

The lesson for the Dodgers: Southern Californians will only tolerate losing to a point.

The lesson for the Angels: Trade for Clayton Kershaw.

Some bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Daily Distractions: Ernesto Frieri’s tweet heard ’round the world.

It had 137 retweets and 57 favorites as of this writing. It was painful, accurate and popular. It was not the first instance of an Angels player speaking from the heart, but it was presented without filter, which is often the best way to present your thoughts:

You’ve got to hand it to Ernesto Frieri. He got our attention. On a day when the Angels hit three home runs, C.J. Wilson struck out 12 batters in 6 ⅓ innings, and the bullpen (which consisted entirely of Mark Lowe on Tuesday), the mood was still the same after a 7-6 loss to the Houston Astros. Frieri took time to write back several tweeters with a more uplifting tone. Even this guy:

Onto some bullet points:
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Has moving Mike Trout to second in the batting order had the desired result?

Sunday marked Mike Trout‘s 23rd game as the Angels’ number-two hitter. Say what you want about the Angels’ record in the meantime — they’re 9-13 with him batting second compared to 2-6 when he led off — but the move seems to have helped the second-year outfielder.

Trout has 20 RBIs in 22 games since the switch. His batting average is down (.267) but his on-base percentage (.340) and slugging percentage (.511) are both up a tick.

The move hasn’t always connected Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, which was one of manager Mike Scioscia‘s goals when he made the move seven games into the season. Hamilton was demoted to fifth in the batting order prior to Sunday, when Pujols got the day off and Hamilton batted third.

But Mark Trumbo has stepped into the cleanup hole and given the Angels the dangerous 2-3-4 combo they were looking for. Trumbo has home runs in five of his last six games and is batting .295/.363/.557.

Here’s what Mike Scioscia had to say when asked if moving Trout to the number-two hole has had its desired effect:

“Primarily, what Mike really needs to be in a position to drive in runs,” Scioscia said. “He’s a guy you want guys on base with. He can draw a walk with guys on base to really set the table for the middle of the lineup. Connecting him, Josh and Albert is one thing we talked about. There’s no doubt he’s getting more opportunities with runners in scoring position.

“I think it’s accomplished some things. It maybe got Mike back to where he needed to be to be more productive driving in some runs. Right now Josh isn’t connected with them the way we envisioned. Mark is. Mark’s a guy that, I think there’s no doubt Mark Trumbo’s gotten more out of being connected with Mike and Albert than anywhere else he’s hit in the lineup. I think it’s going to be tough to evaluate all the components until Albert and Josh hit stride.”

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Angels’ Albert Pujols gets his first day off of the season against Baltimore Orioles.

Albert Pujols isn’t in the Angels lineup for the first time this season.

He’ll get a day off as the Angels host the Baltimore Orioles, with Mark Trumbo playing first base and Hank Conger as the designated hitter. Josh Hamilton is batting third, the first person other than Pujols to bat third for the Angels this season.

“Albert’s trying to move forward from where his foot is. He had some treatment yesterday after the game,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Pujols has been receiving treatment consistently on his left foot. Scioscia later clarified the nature of Pujols’ treatment to say “he had some different forms of treatment yesterday. It’s just a good time right now to get him to kick it up a notch and hopefully get him back here on Tuesday.”

The Angels have an off-day Monday before visiting the Houston Astros for three games.

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Daily Distractions: Where Hank Conger shines on defense; Yu Darvish gif, etc.

Hank Conger C.J. Wilson

One aspect of Hank Conger’s defense has been surprisingly pleasant to watch this season. (Getty Images)

One of the Angels’ catchers is among the top five in the league at framing pitches.

Who would have guessed it’s Hank Conger?

Oh, and the Angels’ starter, Chris Iannetta, is among the bottom five.

Treat everything you read in today’s Baseball Prospectus article with the caution due a 21-game sample size — four, if you include only the games Conger has caught. But there was a point in spring training where merely making an late, accurate throw to second base was enough to lift Conger’s spirits, and this article sheds light on another area of his progress defensively.

Conger hasn’t made an error yet this year. That isn’t to say all his throws have been accurate; some have short-hopped an infielder but were caught anyway and didn’t go down as an error. (None have short-hopped the pitcher.)

For all the nuances that go into fielding the catcher’s position, framing pitches is an easy one to miss. It’s dependent on the pitcher (to find the corners of the plate) and the umpire (to be swayed into calling a pitch based on how it’s received), in addition to the catcher.

Some more recommended reading for a Sierra Leone independence day weekend:

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Albert Pujols is the Angels’ designated hitter in rubber game against the Houston Astros.

Albert Pujols flipped spots in a last-minute lineup change and will be the designated hitter for the Angels against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium today. The Angels, who beat Houston last night on a walk-off double by Pujols, can win their first series of the season with a win today.

Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Philip Humber:

Bourjos CF
Trout LF
Pujols DH
Hamilton RF
Trumbo 1B
Kendrick 2B
Conger C
Jimenez 3B
Romine SS

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Mike Trout is batting second, Alberto Callaspo first, as Angels shuffle lineup.

Alberto Callaspo

Albert Callaspo batted leadoff 12 times for the Angels in 2010, hitting .148 with a .179 on-base percentage. He returns to the top of the lineup Thursday. (Associated Press)

Mike Trout has one career start as the Angels’ number-two hitter.

Alberto Callaspo said he didn’t remember the last time he batted leadoff.

Yet that’s where they’ll be batting tonight against the Oakland A’s, and for the immediate future.

It was the first thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked about in his pregame media scrum. The first thing he said in response: “I think it’s just really a common sense move.”

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Postgame notes: A’s 11, Angels 5.

Dane De La Rosa

Angels pitcher Dane De La Rosa kisses his wife Katie before making his 2013 debut against the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

This afternoon, Mike Scioscia bristled at the notion that he and reliever Sean Burnett were not on the same page about the non-blister on Burnett’s pitching hand Tuesday. After the game, an 11-5 loss to the Oakland A’s, the Angels did something that teams do when they need to get on the same page. They held a team meeting.

From the outside, it’s easy to misconstrue team meetings as a red flag or a panic button. To the players inside a clubhouse, they’re typically constructive. So it was no surprise that Albert Pujols left Wednesday in what seemed to be an upbeat mood.

“We’re having a good time,” Pujols said. “We’re having fun. We’re talking about eight games.”

The Angels are 2-6 for the second time in the last four seasons. That’s only four games under .500, which is an easy hole to climb out of in a 162-game season — even if the American League West standings look like this:

Oakland 7-2
Texas 6-3
Seattle 4-6
Houston 3-6
Angels 2-6

“Everything always looks worse at the start of the year,” pitcher Joe Blanton said, and right now he couldn’t be more correct.

So why hold a team meeting after eight games?

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Postgame thoughts: Rangers 10, Angels 9.

If it were a regular-season game, you’d be talking about it tomorrow. Josh Hamilton’s first game against the Rangers was overshadowed by a lot of things: a walkoff hit, a four-homer inning, a complete implosion by Jerome Williams and — stop the presses — three damn fine throws from behind home plate by Hank Conger.

But since it’s only spring training (checking my watch, yup, one more week…) it’s getting the postgame bullet-point treatment for posterity.

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For Albert Pujols, plantar fasciitis is really nothing new.

It seemed that manager Mike Scioscia was adding another boo-boo to the Angels’ list of injury concerns Tuesday when he revealed that slugger Albert Pujols was dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

In fact, Pujols has been dealing with the condition on and off for seven years.

“It comes and goes, feels good, then comes and goes,” he said.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, plantar fasciitis involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain.

Pujols pledged to be smart about the condition and is trying orthotics this year for the first time, even though he’s been resistant in the past. Orthotics are custom-fitted arch support pieces that distribute pressure evenly around the foot.

“I think the whole reason it flared up this spring is because of my knee,” said Pujols, who underwent knee surgery last October.

Pujols will be the Angels’ designated hitter today against the Cleveland Indians after playing first base for the first time Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“Right now I’m just focused on keeping my knee strong,” he said.

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