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Weaver Snubbed & A Solution to Prevent Future Unwanted Snubbage

I’ve been all for having each team being represented in the All-Star Game… until today.

Today just made me realize that the under-qualified and under-represented took priority over the clearly qualified, and that is an absolute shame.

You know the story by now.

Angels’ ace Jered Weaver was left off the All-Star roster despite his numbers giving him a fantastic shot of reaching his 1st All-Star Game… let alone with it being in his home stadium.

It’s not like Weaver was  “on the fence” to begin with.

He should be in the game.

Here are Jered Weaver’s statistics on the 2010 season:

8-3 record/2.82 ERA/124 K/26 BB/1.06 WHIP/.217 BAA

He ranks 1st in the American League in strikeouts, 3rd in WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched), and holds the AL’s 6th best ERA.

Looking at his 17 starts on the season, in his 8 wins, he has been great in each, going more than 6 innings in each win (going 7 or more in 5 of those 8 wins), and in his 3 losses, you could say he had a better chance to lose rather than win on that given day (allowed, 4, 4, and 6 runs in those respective losing decisions).

But looking at the games where he was given a No Decision shows that Weaver’s 8-3 record doesn’t do his half-season performance total justice.

In Weaver’s 6 No Decisions, he had given up 2 runs or less in 5 of those 6 starts, outings by Jered that definitely should have given him a W compared to a ND.

His record could potentially be 13-3 at this point if all happened to go right on those days (it usually doesn’t work out that way but let’s just roll with it).

So which starting pitchers did get in to the All-Star Game? Let’s run down the list here.

Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox. Deserving. The kid’s been fantastic this year. 10-4 record with the 3rd lowest ERA in the American League at 2.45, Buchholz no doubt deserves his 1st All-Star nod, but as we’ll get into later, the key to Weaver’s potential last chance of an All-Star game appearance lies in the hamstring of Clay Buchholz.

Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics. Deserving. Oakland was one of 3 American League teams to have just 1 player represent their team, but Cahill represents the A’s well. The 3rd youngest player on the American League roster (the 2 youngest are Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus [21] and Rangers closer Neftali Feliz[22], the 22-year-old Cahill got a deserving selection into the All-Star Game and should have been in regardless of whether or not each team had to be represented. 8-2 record, sub-2.75 ERA, the kid is where he belongs, on the roster for the first time in his incredibly young career.

Phil Hughes, New York Yankees. Deserving. Hughes has faltered of late, allowing 19 of his 40 earned runs on the season in his last 4 starts alone, so it’s safe to say he stumbled into the All-Star Game roster. He stands at 10-2 with a less than impressive 3.83 ERA for an All-Star, but before the string of ERA-inflated outings, he was 8-1 with a 2.71 ERA, a little more telling of how his season had been going. Still a deserving 1st-time bid.

Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners. Deserving. He joined Ichiro as the other Mariner to be selected to the All-Star Game, and he’s been downright filthy since the start. Lee’s got the lowest ERA in the AL (2.34) as well as the lowest WHIP ratio (0.95!). If that wasn’t enough, Cliff Lee has been as accurate and as tough to hit as any pitcher out there. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is an otherworldly 14.83… that’s more than 3 times as good as the American League’s next-best qualified starting pitcher… Jered Weaver. Lee is up there as one of the league’s top arms, he was an All-Star shoe-in.

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox. Deserving. Lester’s 2010 season got off on the wrong foot. After his first 3 starts, he had an 0-2 record with an ERA of 8.44 (15 earned runs in 16 innings pitched). Since that atrocious start, Lester has won 10 of 11 decisions, and cut his ERA down by more than 5 1/2 runs to be at 2.76. A top-5 American League pitcher in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and innings pitched, Lester deserved his 1st All-Star appearance.

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays. Deserving. David Price has been living up to his #1 overall draft pick potential in 2010. He currently has an AL-leading 11 wins, and the 2nd best ERA (2.42), there’s no way that someone should have gotten this All-Star spot over Price. He has been outstanding this year and is completely deserving of heading to the Mid-Summer Classic. Oddly enough, of the American League’s 8 starting pitchers, Price is one of 6 to be making their first career All-Star appearances.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees. Deserving. Joe Girardi made this an easy choice, but let’s not have that take away from what Sabathia has meant to the Yankees. The guy’s been a straight horse for Girardi’s bunch. He’s thrown the 2nd most innings pitched in the AL and is tied for the 2nd most wins with 10, as well as having the AL’s 7th best WHIP mark of 1.13. A worthy 4th All-Star selection for the hefty lefty.

Which brings us to our final All-Star starter…

Fausto Carmona, right-handed pitcher of the Cleveland Indians making his first career All-Star appearance.

The only player on the roster from the Cleveland Indians (it should have been outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to be the Indians representative if anybody). So this was really the “have-to-put-somebody-in” pick for the AL.

On the season, Carmona’s 7-7 with a 3.69 ERA, and a 1.29 WHIP ratio. Carmona’s 7 wins is the lowest of the AL All-Star starters. His 7 losses is the most of the AL All-Star starters (the next lowest is 4). His 3.69 ERA is the 2nd worst of the AL All-Star starting pitchers, and by a slim margin.

Let’s compare Carmona’s 2010 numbers to Weaver’s 2010 numbers side-by-side:

Weaver-      8-3 record/2.82 ERA/124 K/26 BB/1.06 WHIP/.217 BAA

Carmona-   7-7 record/3.69 ERA/57 K/39 BB/1.29 WHIP/.250 BAA

Who has more wins? – Weaver

Who has fewer losses? – Weaver

Who has a better ERA? – Weaver

Who has been tougher against hitters? – Weaver

Who is clearly the more deserving pitcher here? – Weaver

In conclusion, Weaver has won more, lost less, held a lower ERA by close to a full run, struck out over 60 more batters, walked 13 fewer batters, allowed fewer baserunners, and allowed allowed fewer hits to opposing batters.

No-brainer, right?

Wrong, buddy.

Because of the “everybody gets represented” rule, Carmona, the clearly inferior pitcher in this comparison gets the All-Star nod because his team had nobody else to put in. Let’s be clear here, the Indians are not what you’d call an above-average baseball team (32 wins is tied for the 3rd lowest in all of baseball). The Indians would need way more than Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Willie Mays Hayes, and Pedro Cerrano to even be considered a middle of the pack ballclub (but shipping off Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee as well as All-Star catcher Victor Martinez in the past few years kind of put them in this spot).

This representation rule lets fans know that it’s about quantity over quality.

Statistically speaking, was Fausto Carmona more deserving than Jered Weaver? No.

But representatively, he was “more deserving” because the Indians had no one from their team selected while the Angels already had Torii Hunter penciled in as a reserve.

It’s ridiculous to me, but hey, it is what it is. Me writing this won’t tell Joe Girardi to get up and erase Fausto’s name out and throw that lanky kid Weaver’s name in there instead.

So as it stands, Jered Weaver is left out of the All-Star Game… for now.

But back on June 26th, BoSox’ All-Star right-hander Clay Buchholz injured his hammy while running the bases, and this injury might just set him on the Disabled List, potentially paving the way for Jered Weaver to be his All-Star replacement. If this indeed happens (it appears likely Buchholz will miss his next start), don’t sleep on Felix Hernandez, though. His 6-5 record doesn’t quite do him justice, but when you look at the numbers, the scales tip in Jered’s favor if you had to pick between him or King Felix for the spot.

Update: Andy Pettitte selected through player voting to replace Buchholz

The “every team needs to be represented” rule isn’t just negatively affecting the American League (I could also get into the snubs of deserving guys like Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young and Andy Pettitte, Alex Rios even?), it’s just as prevalent if not even more so in the National League.

Let’s first look at the case of Cincinnati Reds’ first basemen Joey Votto (a first-half National League MVP candidate, I might add). Despite being in the top-5 in the National League in batting average (.312), home runs (19), RBI (57), runs scored (53), on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.572), and OPS (.984)… Votto is still not on the team. It’s tough to make the squad when you’re competing against guys like Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez (all who made the team), and it wouldn’t make much sense to carry 4 first basemen, but in this case, it would have.

You’re telling me outfielder Michael Bourn of the Astros, hitting a not-so-eye-popping .260 with 20 RBI is more deserving than Joey Votto because he didn’t have another player on his team worthy of being an All-Star? I know they don’t play the same position and hence couldn’t fill the same roster spot but still, come on, really?

Let’s also take a look at Mat Latos, the talented 22-year-old starter for the San Diego Padres. The youngster’s been unbelievable for the Pads this year, putting together a 9-4 record with a 2.62 ERA and a league-best 0.96 WHIP ratio. The guy’s had 5 outings of 7 or more innings without allowing a run this year and has been instrumental in vaulting the Padres to the National League’s best record as it currently stands.

He didn’t make it either. However, Brewers’ hurler and All-Star-elect Yovani Gallardo injured an oblique muscle… which may just lead to a more than deserving All-Star nomination for the youngster Latos (a similar case could easily be made for the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey as well).

The biggest snub in my mind is Miguel Olivo, catcher for the Colorado Rockies. How in God’s beautiful green earth he isn’t the starting catcher for the NL is beyond me. Fan voting put Yadier Molina (really? … the guy isn’t even hitting .230!) in for his 2nd career All-Star appearance (another part of the All-Star game that needs to be altered somehow is the usage of fan voting… read on to see my solution). And the reserve catcher nomination went to the Braves’ Brian McCann. I can deal with McCann being an All-Star, but not Molina. Here’s why.

Here are the statistics of those three backstops: (bold indicates the best mark among the 3 players)

Molina-    .229 avg./3 HR/31 RBI/12 XBH/16 R/.309 OBP/.302 SLG/.611 OPS

McCann- .265 avg./10 HR/34 RBI/23 XBH/38 R/.381 OBP/.449 SLG/.830 OPS

Olivo-       .307 avg./11 HR/39 RBI/22 XBH/37 R/.363 OBP/.538 SLG/.901 OPS

It’s safe to say that this year, Yadier Molina isn’t quite in McCann or Olivo’s class. But yet, there he is. Starting in the All-Star game despite hitting 78 points lower than a guy who isn’t even on the squad. Of those 8 statistical categories, Olivo is best in 5 of them amongst the three listed catchers, and loses 2 of those categories by only 1 extra base hit and 1 run scored.

Fact: there will always be snubs. Somehow, someway there will always be at least 1 All-Star snub.

Problem: fan voting, while necessary to give baseball fans a feeling of importance that they can potentially select the starting lineups all by themselves, is not implemented in the best possible way.

Quick and easy two-part amendment/solution to avoid roster snubs and to just plain “get it right”:

#1.) First, get rid of the “each team gets represented rule.” If you’re deserving, you’re in. If you’re the best player on a bad team and you don’t meet the qualifications for an All-Star bid, too bad. Some form of equal representation will not unfairly help you get in over someone else whose team already has somebody into the All-Star Game.

Case in point: if you’re good enough, you’re in. Doesn’t matter if you already have a player from your team on the roster or not, if your season’s numbers should earn you an All-Star appearance, you’ll be rewarded for your performance fairly.

#2.) Second, to select All-Star starters, you take a little bit of both in regards to the current system. What I mean by this is that you effectively combine how All-Star starters are selected (fan voting) and how reserve All-Stars can be appointed (All-Star manager’s selection). What you do is you allow fan voting to take place, but once voting ends, you take the top-3 vote-getters at each position, and the manager will choose the most deserving of those 3 to be the starter at that particular position. You still allow fans to have a say in who could start in the All-Star Game, and with the manager’s approval, you just about eliminate the chance that an oft-injured fan-favorite who has spent most of the season on the DL will start in the All-Star Game, leading to at least 1 fewer snub if that were the case.

Case in point: who the All-Star team’s manager views as the best player of the fan-voted top-3 at each position will be appointed a starting job in the All-Star game. It keeps the fan in a position of power without completely stripping fans of their individual vote’s significance, and by the manager selecting 1 of the top-3 vote-getting players at each position, I feel that this could be a reasonable and realistic solution for the All-Star Game and its rosters to be almost as right as they could possibly be

Enough of hearing about the snubs, it’s time for the All-Star game to get a face-lift.

Heck, if the All-Star Game can change it’s rules to where the outcome of the game decides something unbelievably important (who gets home field advantage in the World Series), why can’t it change its rules to where the Mid-Summer Classic rewards baseball’s best players, regardless of team, instead of rewarding a decent player on a team that can’t seem to rack up more than 8 wins in a month over a guy who is clearly deserving but already has his club represented in the game?

We all know that something has to change. There’s nothing worse than seeing a guy you pull for being snubbed in favor of some middle-of-the-road guy on a last place team… the sentiment Angel fans are currently feeling.

It’s just not right.

And it’s time that that changed.

If you have any resolutions that you’d like to see implemented into the All-Star Game, feel free to comment or let me hear it on Twitter by replying to @TheHalosBlog!

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What About Bob?

Move past the .188 career batting average.

Don’t look too deeply into the sub-.270 career on-base percentage.

Disregard the fact that the guy has driven in exactly a handful of runs in 31 career games.

Statistics don’t do justice to what Bobby Wilson brings to the Angels.

Bobby Wilson is a winner.

Bobby’s been another one of Mike Scioscia’s interchangeable parts of late with the slew of injuries that have plagued the Angels. As of a few days ago, the Angels were missing 4 of their Opening Day starters due to injuries (1B Kendry Morales-broken leg, SS Erick Aybar-meniscus damage, C Jeff Mathis-broken wrist, 3B Brandon Wood- uh… does he even count?) as well as the Angels’ most versatile position player in Maicer Izturis.

The Angels’ day-to-day lineup card has been a jigsaw puzzle in motion ever since Kendry went down on May 29th, and with Jeff Mathis out and being down a first baseman in Morales, it forced Scioscia to put players in unfamiliar spots. The prime example has to be Mike Napoli, a catcher by trade who has been playing first base for Mike Scioscia of late, and has performed admirably. That left a catching vacancy at times, paving the way for Bobby Wilson to get his shot.

Wilson, a product of Dunedin, Florida was drafted in the 48th round of the 2002 Amateur Draft by the Angels and got his first taste of the big leagues when he made his debut on April 28th, 2008, and got a hit in his first professional at-bat as a pinch-hitter (the Angels got blown out 14-2 by the Oakland A’s that day).

Playing through nearly 650 minor league games from 2003-2010, Bobby Wilson had hit at a respectable .284 clip working his way through the minor league ranks, and actually had his highest batting average in AAA ball, hitting .291 in 212 games for the Salt Lake Bees.

Through 2008 and 2009, Wilson had only registered 11 major league at-bats to his name, seeing limited duty in his time in the bigs. Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli were platooning behind home plate, and Ryan Budde was even in the catching mix, leaving not much of a spot for Wilson.

The early part of 2010 would prove to be a different story. If in the previous 2 seasons it seemed like the Angels had no need for Bobby Wilson, this year would be a complete 180 from that statement.

The 28-year-old Wilson has played a vital role in the Angels winning 15 of the 20 games since Kendry Morales went down with a fluke season-ending leg injury.

In the 11 starts Wilson has made this season, the Angels have gone 10-1.

In his last 7 starts, the opposing team has scored more than 2 runs on the Angels only once, with the Angels having a fantastic team ERA of 2.14 during those starts. Subtracting a performance where Angel pitching allowed 6 runs to the Oakland A’s, the team ERA of those games is a ridiculous 1.50.

Wilson makes starting pitchers better, there has been no disputing that.

Outside of one poor outing by Joe Saunders (4.1 innings, 7 earned runs), starting pitchers have gone 63 innings in Bobby’s 10 other starts with a combined ERA of 2.00 in those starts. Starters have given up 14 runs in those 63 innings, 8 of those given up by Ervin Santana.

Jered Weaver has gone 14 innings in his 2 starts with Wilson behind the dish, striking out 17 batters, and allowing only 5 hits. Furthermore, Weaver is yet to have an earned run charged to his name when he’s tossing to Wilson. He outduled last year’s Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez in one start and Ted Lilly in his first start following a near no-hitter of the White Sox in the other.

Scott Kazmir has worked with Bobby on three occasions, going 17 innings and giving up 4 runs in that span. Kazmir won each of those 3 starts, with an ERA of 2.11 in those outings. In all of his other outings this year, Kazmir has gone 4-5 with a fat ERA of 6.03.

Joel Pineiro put forth one of his better efforts of the year in his one start with Bobby Wilson, throwing 8 innings of 3-hit, 1-run ball. Pineiro held down a Milwaukee Brewers offense who exploded for 19 runs against the Angels in the previous two games, and also currently have the 2nd most home runs (82) and are only 15 runs back of first place for most runs scored as a team in the National League.

Whatever Bobby’s been doing, it’s been working.

Even though he’s taken his lumps at the plate (.189 batting average this year) and blocking the plate (check out the video below in case you haven’t seen it), Bobby has brought the most important statistic to the Angels: wins.

(On a side note, this was probably the roughest home-plate collision baseball had seen since ex-Angel Darin Erstad slammed into Johnny Estrada back in 2005.)

So next time you want to see how Bobby Wilson did in his most recent game, don’t look for his name in the box score.

If you look for his name you might find an “0-for-3” or “0-for-4 with a strikeout” performance. That’s not what Bobby Wilson brings.

Instead, look at how the starting pitcher did. Did he get the win? How many innings did he go? How many runs did he allow? How many hits did he allow?

That’s where you’ll find the true value of Bobby Wilson.

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How Far We’ve Come

angels clinch

As you know, the Angels punched their postseason ticket Monday night thanks to an 11-0 walloping of the Texas Rangers.

This marks the 3rd consecutive year and 5th time in the last 6 seasons that the Angels have won the American League West division.

It has been the Angels’ division to run away with the past few years, mixed in with moderate competition from Oakland, Texas, and Seattle… but there never had been any doubt that the Angels were the clear-cut team to beat in the AL West.

This year started off the same way, but just 3 days and a handful of hours into the season… everything changed.

The Angels organization was rocked after receiving news of the sudden and unsuspected passing of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, a victim of a deadly drunk driving accident that killed 2 others in the car he was in and internally decapitated another.

The Angels went into a tailspin.

They started the season at 6-11, their worst start to a season in 7 years.

Vladimir Guerrero clearly wasn’t his normal slugging himself.

The Angels were without all-star starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana to begin the season.

Signs were beginning to point to the Angels having a long and disappointing season ahead of them.

Being the heavy favorites to win the AL West at the beginning of the year, the Angels had plenty of expectations heading into the ’09 campaign.

But being dealt an indescribable loss of a fellow teammate 3 games into the season just threw any expectations out the window.

Baseball became irrelevant.

It went from an everyday job to an afterthought.

It opened the eyes of many to what was really important in life… family.

Nick Adenhart was buried in his hometown of Williamsport, Maryland on April 17th, a service that drew a crowd of over 1,500 people, all remembering the fallen 22-year-old.

It was a moment that turned the surreal into the real.

The Angels had lost a teammate, but more importantly, the Adenhart family had lost a son.

From that point forward, the Angels were no longer a team.

They were no longer an organization.

They were a family.

A family that banded together, embodied resiliency, and rose above all obstacles to attain a common goal.

The 2009 Angels personify resilience.

Not only did they have to rise above the tragedy of Nick Adenhart to begin the season, but they also had to fill the voids of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter being injured and missing a month’s worse of time simultaneously midway through the season (with Juan Rivera missing a week and half’s play during that time as well).

Did the Angels throw in the towel and cave in?

No way, no how.

The Angels would win 17 of 20 games with Vlad and Torii out of the lineup, a streak that spoke volumes of the depth and perseverance of the Angels’ organization as a whole.

It also spoke volumes of their manager, Mike Scioscia; the most level-headed manager in all of baseball who regardless of any scenario or situation, would always keep calm and remain on an even-keel.

The 2002 Angels will forever be remembered as the Comeback Kids.

But the 2009 Angels never quit. They had every reason in the world to quit, and no one could blame them for doing so.

They could have packed it up, threw in the towel, and called the ’09 season a wash.

I couldn’t have blamed them if they did. Not after a blow like that to the organization, no way I could even think of blaming them.

But despite all the adversity, they didn’t give up. Not once.

This is a team of heart.

This is a team of perseverance.

This is a team of champions.

From tragedy to triumph, regardless of how the Angels do this postseason, they’ve won it all in my mind.

Tonight, when I saw the entire team walk out to the image of Nick Adenhart on the center field wall (http://www.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=6901489 for video of that moment)… I realized why I’m an Angel fan.

The reason?

Because this team is a family… and I feel like I am a part of that family.

And family… is loved.

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Fighting To Keep His Halo

vladdy pointing

In 2004, he came to the Angels as the best baseball player many fans had never heard of.

Just about 6 years later, everyone in the baseball world knows who Vladdy is.

The Angels got one of the biggest bargains baseball has seen this decade.

Earning himself nationwide superstar status (American League MVP in his first year with the team), Vladimir Guerrero had emerged as the face of the Angels franchise from Day 1 in Halo red… so why would it seem that the Angels may have turned the page on him?

Now 34 years of age and relegated to the Designated Hitter role with an abundance of injuries this year, Vlad’s durability has become a major concern.

His power numbers and run-producing numbers are way down, but he’s still shown that he can still put the bat on the ball.

His knees have all but given way, and he has grounded into more than his fair share of double plays.

And he’s doing this all in the final year of his contract, which leads Angel fans to ask, “What are the Angels gonna do with Vlad?”

That’s the burning question on everybody’s mind.

But it’s not like Vlad has done all bad and no good this year.

He’s still muscling balls as he has his entire career.

He’s still hitting over .300 on the season as he has every season in his career.

And lastly, he’s still the most recognizable face in all of the Angels organization.

You can’t go a handful of steps in Angel Stadium without seeing a fan wearing a Vlad Guerrero shirt or jersey.

All of this leads to the front office will have to answer, “do we want to keep him around or look elsewhere to fill a very “fillable” void?”

Although he will be 35 next season, I still firmly believe that Vladdy can play baseball at a high level.

Will he be able to play regularly in right field as he always had? My guess is no.

Will he put up 30+ homers, 100+ RBI as he has regularly during his career? Again, probably not.

But can he still be a productive player that Angel fans can root for and love?

No doubt about it, yes.

In 91 games this year, Vladdy’s numbers look like this:

.299 average, 14 doubles, 15 homers, 47 RBI, 15 doubles, 54 runs scored.

By far the weakest year of his illustrious and Hall of Fame-worthy career, but he’s still getting on base and he’s still hitting at a very respectable mark of just a smidge under .300. He’s also begun to catch some fire as the season has wound down.

I view the decision that the front office has to make to be one very similar to that of the decisions they made regarding players like Garret Anderson and David Eckstein.

These were players who were adored by the franchise, could still play, but were let go of. It will be a big PR move for the Angels and I hope they elect to hold on to Vladdy for a 1 or 2-year contract for low money.

I was let down by the Angels when they let Eck go, but he was replaceable. Orlando Cabrera did a great job of filling his void. I was able to move on from that front office decision pretty quickly.

I was incredibly disappointed to see the Angels let go of a lifetime Halo in Garret Anderson this past offseason, but it’s been a decision that’s been almost too easy to cope with thanks to the play of Juan Rivera in left.

I just don’t think I’d ever be able to move on from the departure of the Big Daddy.

That violent, crazy swing.

That awkward, painful running motion he has thanks to his knees getting run down after years in Montreal on astroturf.

The dreads (which he had for quite some time).

That helmet with more pine tar on it than any other helmet in the league.

And of course, that smile that could light up the city of Anaheim.

Regardless of how he plays, you just can’t replace a guy like Vlad. Plain and simple.

After all, he’s only one of 6 players in Major League Baseball to have career numbers of 400+ home runs and a .320+ batting average (the others only happen to be Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Stan Musial… 5 of the all-time greats).

On a side note, the Angels do not have 1 player representing the team in the Hall of Fame. Not 1. Who better to have potentially represent the organization in the Hall of Fame than a guy whose career is in the same class in some regards as The Babe, Gehrig, Teddy Ballgame, Foxx, Stan the Man?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Angel fan through and through, but I could never forgive the Angels for letting him go.

You can’t replace a once-in-a-generation player, let alone a once-in-a-century player.

Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed to see Vladdy in Halo red for just one more year.

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From Scapegoat to Unsung Hero

aybar hero

Although the Angels’ 2008 season ended on a walk-off hit by the Red Sox, many remember it ending with Erick Aybar at the plate.

With 1 out and a pinch-runner Reggie Willits on 3rd, Mike Scioscia opted to win or lose by doing what they had done all year… play Angel baseball.

A suicide squeeze was the call, but when the pitch ran up inside on Aybar and he couldn’t get the bat on the ball, Willits, like the rest of the team, was done for. You could feel the momentum shift away from the Angels, it was that monumental. Pack it up. Head home. Season over.

One could only imagine what had gone through Aybar’s head on that flight home, and for the entire offseason for that matter. Many people (including myself) blamed Aybar for ending the Angels’ postseason run. Many people blamed Mike Scioscia for putting on a high-risk play in such a crucial situation.

When a suicide squeeze is called, the manager puts the absolute utmost confidence in the batter to at least hit the ball into the field of play, because if not, the runner is a sitting duck, and the team squanders a potentially vital run-scoring opportunity.

But, as the great Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” It’s time to recognize what’s been going on in the present day.

Since day 1 of  being part of the Angels’ system (just like that fateful at-bat in Boston), the club had invested the utmost of confidence and placed immensely high hopes in this “Aybar kid”. He’s quick, he’s a slap-hitter, his range in the field is jaw-dropping, he’s acrobatic, you name it. Over his minor league career, Aybar hit at an impressive .312 mark. When he was 20 years old, he stole 51 bases over the course of his season in Advanced-A ball.

Management had touted Aybar as a player where “the sky’s the limit” for him in terms of potential and the type of player he could grow to be.

In 2007, he hit .237.

In 2008, he hit .277.

An improvement, yes, but me like plenty of other Angel fans out there were missing something. If this kid is supposed to be “so good”, don’t you think he could lay a suicide squeeze down? You’d think. This guy’s our future everyday shortstop? Yeah right.

As you can tell, I was not impressed with Aybar whatsoever since he had been called up to the Angels’ big league squad. I had seen flashes of him being who the Angels hyped him up to be, but he was way too streaky. He’d go on a tear for a few games with the bat, then go ice cold for a week. Consistency was nonexistent.

Then 2009 rolled around.

A redemption year for Aybar, if you will. And a year where I finally understand why the Angels’ front office loved this kid so much.

To start the season, I was hoping they would give the starting shortstop job to Maicer Izturis, a guy who was consistent, clutch, and more proven to-date. But Aybar had put forth a better spring training than Mighty Maicer, and was the Opening Day shortstop for the Halos.

Erick would hit at a disappointing .245 mark over the course of the opening month, which had me somewhat furious why Mike Scioscia kept putting him in the lineup.

He would hit .303 during the month of May, which made me a tad bit happier. His season average was just a shade under .280 after 2 months of play… not great, but not horrible either.

June gloom hit Aybar pretty hard as he batted a mere .256 during June, but then Aybar would turn on the jets.

EA had an absolutely unreal month of July. So good in fact that he had the highest batting average of every starting position player in the entire league over the course of the month.

What did he hit, you ask?

.414. Let that soak in for a moment, do a double take if you need to, you’re reading it correctly.

36 hits in 87 at-bats, 17 runs scored, 18 RBI, a homer, 2 triples, and 6 doubles. All while playing exceptional defense in the field.

In a double-header at Kansas City, Aybar collected 7 hits (yeah… 7 hits in one day!) by going 7-for-9 with 5 runs scored! I don’t know if you could draw up a more successful day of baseball for one player.

His batting average has dipped below .300 once since July 19th (September 4th’s game with the Mariners capped off an 0-for-20 slide… which brought his average to .299).

On the season he’s hitting .306 with 5 homers, 53 RBI, 62 runs scored, 21 doubles, and 5 triples, all career bests. He’s also stolen 13 bases and posted a .350 on-base percentage, also his best marks in his young career.

But as much as he’s been letting his bat do the talking, his work at shortstop has been nothing short of sensational.

Entering 2009, Aybar had possessed unbelievable range in the field, meaning he could cover so much ground that he would almost always get a glove on a ball hit in his general area. He has a cannon for an arm despite being just 5’10” and 170 pounds. But he had always been erratic. For every highlight reel play that he’d make, he would counter by messing up the simplest of grounders.

But as in almost every aspect of Aybar’s game, 2009 would be a new season.

This year has proven to be a “make a name for myself” type of year for Aybar. He would routinely make plays that even the best of shortstops could only dream of making. He’s been making appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day feature seemingly every other day.

At this juncture, I don’t think I could be any happier for Erick.

Nearly 11 months after a potentially career-defining blunder at the ripe age 0f 24, he’s helping erase Angel fans’ unforgettable memory of his ALDS Game 4 mishap by playing the best ball of his career.

And although 2009 has been a year that has shown me a lot about individual players (Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Aybar, Juan Rivera just to name a few), but more about what this team is really made of.

This team is made of competitors. This team is made of positive influences. This team is made of winners.

This team… is a team of destiny.

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Kazmir Impressing After First 2 Starts

kazmir

Before the waiver deadline last month, the Angels were hoping to find an arm somewhere in the MLB that could help solidify a struggling Angels rotation.

Scott Kazmir, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, turned out to be that guy, despite having a rough year up until the time of him changing scenery.

Don’t look too deeply into the new hurler’s 0-1 record with the Angels after 2 starts, the record misleads Kazmir’s contributions completely.

He’s faced one of the American League’s best pitchers and a potential Cy Young award-winner in Félix Hernández in both of his starts (14-5 record, 2.61 ERA), and has received virtually no run support in return (offense has produced 3 total runs in his 2 starts).

Here are Kaz’s numbers for his first two starts in Halo red:

September 2nd @ Seattle – 6.1 innings/3 hits/2 runs (1 earned)/1 walk/8 strikeouts (loss – 3-0 final)

September 8th vs. Seattle – 7 innings/3 hits/1 earned run/2 walks/4 strikeouts (no decision – 3-2 final)

His numbers combined through his first 2 starts are:

13 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts

He has now gone 6 or more innings in 10 of his last 11 starts.

He has allowed 1 earned run in each of his last 3 starts (best streak of the season).

Despite a rough first few months for the 25-year-old Kazmir, he’s apparently saved his best baseball for when it matters most… crunch time.

It looks like Kazmir seems rejuvenated to be pitching with a contender since the Rays have fallen off in the past few weeks, and you have to love the composure he brought in his first start.

After an error, a walk, and a hit batter (Kazmir’s first 3 batters he faced as an Angel), it seemed like the Angels made an awful decision to bring him in… at first glance.

How would he respond?

3 straight strikeouts to end the inning. No runs. No damage done. Inning over. Whew!

And he’s been sensational ever since. His walk-to-strikeout ratio has been outstanding. His control has been great. And he seems to have garnered a new sense of self-confidence that he hasn’t had since the Rays made their improbable run to the World Series just a year ago.

For better or worse, pitching is contagious. For a decent portion of the year, pitching has been unfavorably contagious for the Angels’ rotation as well as their bullpen.

Now that September has rolled around, and Kazmir has injected a little bit of new life into this Halo rotation, I’m hoping his positive starts can continue to influence Jered Weaver (14 wins entering tonight’s start), Joe Saunders (3 straight wins), John Lackey (17 innings, 1 earned run in last 2 starts), and most importantly Ervin Santana (5 straight starts of 3 or fewer earned runs until his last start).

Hopefully, the best from this Angels rotation is yet to come.

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More Than an Average Joe?

average joe

2008 was a fluke. There’s no way that guy pitches anywhere near the way he did last year. He’s nothing special.

Those were the grumblings Joe Saunders was hearing entering the 2009 season for the Angels, and I didn’t believe a word any of those critics had to say. For showing great composure and dependability in ’08, I thought they were just plain crazy for saying that.

Coming off of a surprise 2008 season that featured him being selected to the American League All-Star team, the expectations were high for Saunders, who was tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Mike Scioscia and the Angels.

Saunders finished the ’08 season with a 17-7 record and a 3.41 ERA, over 1 run less than his ERA for the 2007 season (3.44).

His Opening Day start against Oakland was nothing short of brilliant. Saunders scattered a mere 3 hits over 6 2/3 fantastic innings of scoreless baseball en route to an opening day 3-0 shutout of the visiting Athletics.

Joe would start the year by winning 6 of his first 8 decisions, while keeping his ERA at a pretty respectable mark of 3.26 through the first two months of baseball.

Then he would hit a prolonged speedbump.

His 6.06 ERA in the month of June was nearly twice as high as his ERA for the month before (3.12).

July would be even worse. His 8.08 ERA over the course of July would be more than 2 full runs higher than his dismal June numbers.

Saunders would hit a streak that ran all the way up to 8 straights starts in which he allowed 4 or more runs in a given outing (4 runs twice, 5 runs 3 times, 6 runs twice, 8 runs once).

His ERA would just about double over the course of three months, and it was starting to seem like Saunders’ critics somehow saw something bad in him that many Angel fans including myself didn’t see.

His August 7th outing would last not even 2 full innings, but Joe would still allow 5 earned runs.

Maybe he was just an “average Joe” after all.

Following that start, Saunders was placed on the Disabled List due to shoulder soreness that had been troubling him for a majority of the season. His tight throwing shoulder wouldn’t allow him to fully extend and follow through comfortably like he normally does with his mechanics, which led to decreased velocity and leaving way too many pitches hanging out over the middle of the plate.

Saunders would come off the DL and make his 1st start on August 26th at home against the Detroit Tigers. He’d throw 89 pitches over a carefully shortened outing that lasted 5 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits while striking out 6 Detroit hitters. The Halos won the game 4-2, with Saunders the winning pitcher.

Joe would stifle the Mariners in Seattle in his next outing, throwing 7 innings of 3-hit scoreless baseball en route to a 10-0 Angels win. Saunders would, obviously, be the winning hurler in this contest.

His last outing against Kansas City would be his weakest ever since his return from the DL, but he’d still minimize the damage incredibly well. Saundo would scatter 2 runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings of work, but would earn the win in a 7-2 Angels victory.

Since he’s come off the DL, Joe’s done nothing but win the Angels ballgames while allowing no more than 2 runs an outing. He’s given up 2 runs or less in each of his 3 starts since coming off the Disabled List. His previous 14 starts would feature only 2 outings where he would allow 2 runs or less.

He now has his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since July 22nd.

As much attention has been paid to the recent acquisition of Scott Kazmir and how he may be the missing piece that can solidify the Angels’ rotation, I think people are continuing to overlook the guy who was the Halos’ Opening Day starter.

Saunders doesn’t have to be the ace of the staff. Jered Weaver‘s had a fantastic year. John Lackey‘s rounding back in to form in a contract year. They can take care of occupying the #1 and #2 starter slots in the 5-man rotation. Saunders, if healthy and pitching the way he has the past few outings, could be a fantastic #3 starter to throw at teams.

It’s been a roller coaster year for the only Virginia Tech alum in all of the MLB, but if he can channel his 2008 style of pitching, rhythm, and composure, Joe will be the missing piece to the Angels’ jigsaw puzzle.

Not “can be”, he will be.

Time to prove the critics wrong one more time.

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Filed under Angel Stories, August Game Recaps, September Game Recaps