Daily Distractions: How bad is the Angels’ pitching?

Jerome Williams

Spot starter Jerome Williams allowed two home runs in the Angels’ 8-4 loss Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

“Terrible” and “absolutely awful” are two ways to describe the Angels’ pitching staff. And those were suggested by their manager yesterday.

I could have cited a few more stats about the Angels’ staff in my game story from yesterday’s 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles and where they rank among the 30 teams, namely:

• Opponents’ on-base percentage .344 (29th)
• Opponents’ slugging percentage: .427 (25th)
• Opponents’ OPS: .770 (28th)
• Blown saves: 5 (t-23rd)
• Save percentage: 44.4 (t-29th)
• HR allowed: 39 (t-25th)
• Wild pitches: 17 (27th)
• WHIP: 1.48 (29th)
• Strikeouts per nine innings: 6.80 (24th)
• Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 1.70 (28th)

The Angels are among the worst in the league in nearly every pitching category. It’s almost hard to be this bad. And this is *after* two stellar complete-game efforts by Jason Vargas last week.

That’s why even Mike Scioscia isn’t pulling punches. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Nowhere to go but up, right?

Onto the 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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Josh Hamilton is the designated hitter for Angels against Orioles.

Josh HamiltonPrying Josh Hamilton out of right field isn’t like pulling teeth, but he’d rather be in the field.

“I just listen to Sosh,” Hamilton said. “I kind of fight him on it, then I’m like ‘OK.’ ”

Physically, Hamilton says he’s fine. Manager Mike Scioscia‘s motivation for using him as the designated hitter Friday against the Baltimore Orioles was pretty clear: The Angels have a 1 p.m. game tomorrow and he decided to give Hamilton an easier time Friday night by keeping him out of the field.

It’s wise to proceed with caution with Hamilton, who is 31 years old and has averaged 123 games a season in his first six major-league seasons. Hamilton hasn’t missed a game for the Angels this season, but his workload isn’t bothering Scioscia yet.

“Injuries are always going to crop up,” Scioscia said. “We monitor our guys, try to keep them above the line for risk all the time. I don’t think we’re at that right now. We’re trying to be proactive with some guys, give them a chance to maybe freshen up int he DH spot.”

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Daily Distractions: Caving to the #whiff, like the rest of Major League Baseball.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Krusty the Clown agreed to give away a free Krusty Burger if the United States won gold at certain events in the 1984 Olympics. When the Soviet Union boycotted the Games, Krusty stood to lose $44 million.

For some reason I was reminded of this episode when this came through my Twitter feed this morning:

CJ Wilson ad

Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson is a pitchman for Head & Shoulders’ hashtag-friendly “Season of the Whiff”.

You see, Procter & Gamble is donating $1 to the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) campaign every time a Major League Baseball player strikes out this season. To raise awareness of its Head & Shoulders shampoo brand, P&G is encouraging fans to tweet the hashtag #whiff along with the hashtag of your favorite team.

According to AdAge.com, Head & Shoulders spent $60 million in measured media last year, so MLB’s record strikeout rate probably won’t leave the company’s executives pulling their hair out like Krusty. Which is good, since bald shampoo executives can’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of their product.

I’ll be here all week.

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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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Daily Distractions: The All-Star ballot is out and, hey, Mike Trout is on it this time!

Mike Trout

Angels left fielder Mike Trout has the distinction of making his first All-Star ballot after making his first All-Star team. (Getty Images)

For all the virtues of Mike Trout‘s 2012 season, a place on the All-Star ballot was not among them.

Trout, who started the season in Triple-A, wasn’t one of the three Angels outfielders listed on the 2012 fan ballot. Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos were. Mark Trumbo was listed as a third baseman.

That’s because players’ names must be submitted to the league before MLB’s deadline for printing the ballots, which varies from year to year but typically falls somewhere in late April. The general manager or the assistant GM of each team is responsible for submitting the names. Even Jerry Dipoto couldn’t have foreseen Trout leading the world in runs, stolen bases and WAR last season.

Trout played in the 2012 All-Star Game anyway. He was listed on the players’ ballot distributed in June and collected enough votes to make the American League squad as a reserve.

This year, fans get their chance to vote Trout in. The ballot was released today. The Angels’ other candidates are predictable: Chris Iannetta (catcher), Albert Pujols (first base), Howie Kendrick (second base), Erick Aybar (shortstop), Alberto Callaspo (third base), Mark Trumbo (designated hitter), and Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton (outfield).

Some bullet points for a Wednesday morning:

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Daily Distractions: Josh Hamilton’s 4 for 4 night gives Angels something to think about.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton’s 4 for 4 performance Monday extended a career’s worth of success batting fifth, for whatever that’s worth. (Associated Press photo)

Josh Hamilton was 4 for 4 as the Angels’ number-five hitter last night. It wasn’t always pretty – two of the hits were weak infield grounders – but it allowed Hamilton to score twice.

“I don’t know what it is about the five hole but it seemed to work,” he said.

You’d think Hamilton would have figured this out by now. Here are his career splits by batting order position:

This is one of those tricky stats because of all the variables involved. For one, the number-five hitter is slightly more likely to bat against relievers than a number-three or number-four hitter. Given a large enough sample size, there will be a noticeable difference. (This wasn’t the case last night, when Jason Frasor relieved Derek Holland after number-eight hitter Chris Iannetta batted and doubled in the sixth inning.)

More importantly, when you see a player like Hamilton who gets a plurality of his at-bats in the three-hole then moves to the five-hole on occasion, it’s often because the manager made the move based on matchups. This was the case last night. Maybe Holland pitched Hamilton differently because he didn’t want to face Howie Kendrick , who owns a 1.074 career OPS in 43 career head-to-head at-bats. Maybe he pitched Hamilton differently because Hamilton’s batting average was below .200.

Either way, it was a good matchup.

Mike Scioscia said that Hamilton is likely to move down in the lineup against right-handers tonight (Alexi Ogando) and tomorrow (Yu Darvish).

Maybe Scioscia will reconisder. There’s something about the five-hole.

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:

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Slumping slugger Josh Hamilton is batting fifth against the Texas Rangers.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton is playing the Texas Rangers today.

When the Angels and Rangers hooked up in spring training, that was enough to capture a few headlines. When the Angels visited Arlington, Texas in the opening week of the season, it captured even more.

Today, the story wasn’t about Hamilton facing his old team. That’s old news.

The story was in a lineup card that saw Hamilton batting fifth for the first time as an Angel and for the first time since July 29-31 of last season. Mark Trumbo will bat cleanup and Albert Pujols remains the number-three hitter against the Rangers and left-hander Derek Holland.

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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 Scioscia on Josh Hamilton’s boneheaded double-up.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked, naturally, about the play that ended the Angels’ 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday night.

Josh Hamilton was doubled off first base when he rounded second, and reached third base, after Mark Trumbo popped out in foul territory with one out. Astros catcher Jason Castro lobbed a throw from just in front of the Angels dugout to second baseman Jose Altuve, who was covering first base, for the rare 2-4 double play.

Was that a microcosm of everything that’s gone wrong in a 2-8 season?

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