Daily Distractions: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols juxtaposed; rekindling Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols’ running can be painful to watch; lately his batting average has been suffering too. (Associated Press photo)

A visiting beat writer at Sunday’s game watched one of Albert Pujols‘ three strikeouts and marveled at what he saw. The swing-and-miss at strike three, down and away, simply wasn’t the same Pujols. In fact, it looked a little like Josh Hamilton did earlier this month.

Hamilton seems to be coming around, as I wrote in my game story yesterday. Pujols, who is batting .198 since April 21, does not.

Writes Joe Posnanski: “After years of being the best player in baseball, Pujols is now sort of beside the point.”

Mike Scioscia said something interesting after the game. I asked him if the Angels’ patience at the plate (they walked twice with the bases loaded and Hamilton averaged five pitches per at-bat) was evidence of a team that isn’t pressing as much, something Scioscia reprimanded his team for a couple nights earlier. His answer:

“I think we’re seeing some guys maybe use the whole field. As you try to get simpler, get more comfortable in the game, the things you talk about show up — you see the guys get in deeper counts, get a pitch, take a walk, hit the ball the other way, get better pitches to hit. Those things start to go in a positive direction. Hopefully he’ll keep taking strides toward it.”

Wait, who’s “he”?

I didn’t ask that because I didn’t catch Scioscia’s choice of pronouns until I listened to my tape after the game. But it isn’t hard to figure out — it’s Hamilton, who was hitting line drives to the opposite field, taking a walk, and going deeper into counts as if he was Mike Trout. Pujols was not.

For Pujols’ legacy, sure, we’re witnessing a turning point. As a key to the Angels’ success, it remains to be seen how long they can survive Pujols’ slump.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:

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Daily Distractions: More on Billy Buckner, Jose Guillen, Ian Kinsler, replay options.

Billy Buckner is a good story, beyond his name.

Billy BucknerWhen the Angels added him to their 40-man roster and flew him in from Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday, it was Buckner’s first major-league opportunity in three years. The last go-around didn’t end well – he pitched four innings and allowed seven runs in each of his final two games with the Kansas City Royals in May 2010 – and it’s been a long road back. The Angels are his fourth organization since then.

Just a year ago, he was a free agent coming off surgery to remove bone spurs in his right (pitching elbow). He signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox and began the season with Double-A Portland (Maine) of the Eastern League.

“They gave me a chance to come back and pitch,” Buckner said.

The Angels’ unfortunate reality — a pitcher who just last year was in Double-A is being counted on to stabilize the pitching staff — is Buckner’s great fortune. As is his collection of Bill Buckner swag.
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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: Going to WAR over the Angels’ pitching woes.

<strong>Jered  Weaver</strong>Like you really needed WAR to tell you the Angels’ pitching is awful after Mike Scioscia did so Sunday?

Here it is anyway: FanGraphs recently calculated the WAR (wins above replacement) for every team by position. (For an explanation of the frequently misunderstood statistic, which is calculated differently by FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com and has gained popularity in recent years, click here.) According to FanGraphs’ WAR, the Angels have the 22nd-best pitching staff in the major leagues.

Broken down further, their starters rank 20th and the relievers 23rd.

The chart has its limits. Add up the Angels’ position-by-position WAR, and they should have the fourth-best team in baseball. In reality the Angels are 10 games under .500. The Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East, yet their combined WAR ranks 21st in the majors.

This is why you play the games, why the experts say that you can’t win without pitching.

More bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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