Daily Distractions: Fishing for answers in Salt Lake.

Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo’s power is unquestioned. Who can save the Angels’ sinking ship remains to be seen. (Keith Birmingham/Staff Photographer)

Many comparisons have been made between the 2013 Angels and the 2012 Angels, with both teams beginning the season with high expectations and underachieving badly in the first month. Here’s another point to consider: The Angels’ answer a year ago didn’t come from their major-league ranks.

Rather, it came from Triple-A Salt Lake in the form of Mike Trout. Trout was batting .403/.467/1.091 when he bid the Pacific Coast League adieu, likely for a long time. The biggest problem facing the Angels now is health, with Ryan Madson, Kevin Jepsen, Mark Lowe, Sean Burnett and Jered Weaver forming a potent disabled list. If the five are healthy, 2013 is a different story already.

Since they’re not, it’s tempting – but disappointing – to peek at who’s waiting in the wings at Triple-A. There is no Mike Trout.

If you’re looking for pitching help, the Bees’ top five starters are 6-12 with a 6.43 earned-run average. That doesn’t include recent signee Kip Wells, who allowed two runs in seven innings in his debut Sunday. And it’s not as if the Angels aren’t already auditioning arms — they’ve used 18 pitchers already this season with a 19th, Ryan Brasier, on the 25-man roster waiting to make his debut. No major-league team has used more than 19 pitchers this season.

As position players go, Luis Jimenez has been a nice lift in the lineup and on the field since being recalled. But a number-nine hitter can only do so much; his three singles in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position (.273, two RBIs) are sadly above average for this team (.225).

Bill Hall and Matt Young, two veterans who vied for major-league jobs in spring training, are hitting .206 and .241, respectively. Brad Hawpe is batting .237 with one home run to show for his first 38 at-bats.

So it’s probably not a question of who is ready to step up from Triple-A. It’s who will start pitching, who will start hitting, and who is available on the trade market?

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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: The ugly signifiance of 9-15 for the Angels.

Josh Hamilton

The Angels couldn’t come back from a 9-15 start last year. Will Josh Hamilton make the difference this year? (Associated Press photo)

The Angels are 9-15.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that was the Angels’ record on May 1 of last year — otherwise known as The Day The Angels Turned It Around A Little Too Late.

The Angels went 80-58 after May 1, 2012. Will that be enough for them to catch at least two of the three teams ahead of them in the American League West standings? (And would a wild-card berth even be a satisfying outcome for this team?)

History says the answer is no.

Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe wrote today about the Toronto Blue Jays’ odds of overcoming their 9-17 start, which leaves them a distant fifth in the American League East. He threw out a series of dire stats, all of which are applicable to the Angels:

• Since 1995, the first year that the postseason included wild card entrants, only six teams have gone 11-15 or worse through their first 26 games and still made the playoffs. That’s six out of 146 (4.0 percent) who either won the division or a wild card spot.

• Only one of the six teams, the 2001 A’s, had a worse record than the Blue Jays [and Angels] at this juncture, yet they still finished with more than 100 wins, offering a sliver of hope that Toronto might still be a juggernaut.

• Three of the six reached the postseason by securing wild card slots (something that’s even easier now given the expanded format that added two playoff teams last year). Two of those teams, the 2005 Astros and 2007 Rockies, went on to win pennants, though they were both swept in the World Series.

Any way you look at it, the Angels’ odds aren’t good. If you desire a dose of optimism, Baseball Prospectus still gives the Angels a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs, and a 3.7 percent chance of winning the World Series. Study the chart, and BP’s simulated seasons also acknowledge that the Angels are in a really tough division.

My Monday bullet points:
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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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Daily Distractions: Angels get ready for the Rangers’ self-proclaimed Cy Young hopeful.

Derek Holland

Derek Holland is 1-1 with a 1.64 earned run average in three starts for the Texas Rangers this season. (Associated Press photo)

The Angels’ opposing starter tonight entered the 2013 season with a 4.71 earned-run average and a 39-29 record. Derek Holland is three games into a new season and he’s already talking about winning a Cy Young Award.

So far he’s backing up the talk: Holland is 1-1 with a 1.64 earned-run average. His first win of the season came at the hands of the Angels back on April 5.

Holland may have bragging rights, but he may be the only Rangers starter who’s in a position to boast. Their pitching staff is experiencing a “crisis,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

So maybe it’s a good time for the Angels to be facing the Rangers, the current first-place team in the American League West. The Halos’ hole is deep enough that they will still be in third place in the division even if they manage a three-game sweep – following a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

First pitch is at 7:05.

Onto some bullet points:

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Daily Distractions: This is a strike now, home opener tonight, Jamie Moyer comeback?

Here’s the set-up: Two outs, two strikes, bottom of the ninth inning. Joe Nathan is pitching for the Texas Rangers with a 5-4 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. Nathan is stuck on 299 career saves. Home-plate umpire Marty Foster has a dinner bet riding on Nathan picking up number 300 tonight and his reservations are for 20 minutes after the final pitch.

OK, we made that last part up … or did we? Here’s where the pitch was relative to the strike zone (h/t MSimonESPN):

Joe Nathan strike

And here’s what the pitch looked like in real life:

Joe Nathan strike

Wait, watch that clip again.

 

Foster’s call reeked so foul of dinner-reservation theories, he second-guessed himself.

“I saw the pitch and, of course I don’t have the chance to do it again, but if I did, I wouldn’t call that pitch a strike,” Foster told a pool reporter after the game. “Joe [Maddon, the Rays' manager] was not violent. Joe was very professional. He was frustrated and I understand. He acted probably the best he can under that situation.”

Nathan didn’t disagree.

“It’s pretty safe to say we got fortunate, but I’ve seen plenty of them go the other way,” Nathan noted diplomatically. “I threw the pitch where I wanted to. He just didn’t offer at it like I wanted him to. Did I draw it up this way for my 300th? No, but I’ll take it.”

Not only did Maddon tweet about it, he still hasn’t deleted the tweet a day later.

The pitch wasn’t even framed well by catcher A.J. Pierzynski, as Jeff Sullivan points out in a very detailed FanGraphs piece.

Protect the outside corner as you peruse these links:

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Daily Distractions: Angels right fielder Josh Hamilton gave Rangers fans the football sign. What’s the football sign?

Josh Hamilton

Did Josh Hamilton strike a Heisman pose over the weekend? How does one confuse that with a middle finger? (Associated Press photo)

So a 2-4 record is no good, and losing two of three to the Texas Rangers is no good, and Jered Weaver hurting his elbow on national television is no good for the Angels. But this exchange, as relayed by USA Today, is good:

There were comments posted on Twitter that [Josh] Hamilton, who spent the last five years in Texas, reacted to the Rangers’ boos and taunts with an obscene gesture, but Hamilton vehemently denied the accusations.

“I would never do that, ever,” said Hamilton, a devout Christian. “I think it was the other way around. Many times.”

The only gesture that Hamilton made, he said, was making football signs, poking fun at the fans’ outrage over his comments calling the Dallas-Fort Worth area a “football town.”

“I gave him the football sign,” Hamilton said. “But I would never flip anyone off.”

Hamilton said he didn’t find irony in the fact that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday, whom he met before the game and took pictures.

My follow up: Do you find irony in the fact that there’s a “football sign” in Texas? Pardon my Californian ignorance, but can anyone in Texas tell me what the football sign is?

Onto some links:

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Daily Distractions: Mike Trout’s celebrity grows, Vladimir Guerrero’s quest continues.

Not long ago, fans voted online to determine who is “The Face of Major League Baseball.” The winner, of course, was Ezequiel Astacio Joey Votto.

Wait, you didn’t remember who won the most important bracket of March?

Votto’s victory vindicated his small-market heroics but it couldn’t land him in a national television advertising campaign called “I Play.” The five faces MLB chose for the campaign: David Price, Andrew McCutchen, Robinson Cano, Bryce Harper and Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whose video spot is linked above. (Apologies to the entire Midwest are in order.)

It’s another drop in the growing tide of Trout’s national celebrity. This off-season, he was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, GQ and Men’s Health. You have to figure that he’ll get more exposure before he gets less. Ryan Seacrest seems to agree.

It’s also a refreshing affirmation that it’s possible to be a star simply by being really good at what you do. Trout isn’t as flashy as Harper, doesn’t play in as large a market as Cano, and hasn’t had as much time to establish himself as Price or McCutchen. He’s just a really good baseball player — maybe the best in the game — albeit one with a .313 on-base percentage (if you want to hold up his three-game sample size from 2013).

Playing in Los Angeles of Anaheim helps, too.

The Angels are playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington in about 10 minutes. Onto the bullet points:

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