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The Guessing Game: Projecting the Angels’ 2010 Season

The calendar has now flipped to April, which means we’re now only a handful of days away from getting back into the full swing of Major League Baseball.

Here are some reasonable expectations of production that I see out of our guys in red.

The Lineup

I’m no Mike Scioscia, but here’s my best guess at what the Opening Day lineup card will look like:

1.) SS – Erick Aybar

2.) RF – Bobby Abreu

3.) CF – Torii Hunter

4.) DH – Hideki Matsui

5.) 1B – Kendry Morales

6.) LF – Juan Rivera

7.) 2B – Howie Kendrick

8.) C – Mike Napoli (with plenty of Jeff Mathis appearances as well)

9.) 3B – Brandon Wood

Let’s take a look at what these guys should do, in my mind at least.

Erick Aybar

Last year’s line: 137 games- .312 avg./.353 OBP/70 runs/5 HR/58 RBI/14 SB

Aybar had a fantastic 2009 campaign both at the plate and with the glove. There were stretches where Aybar was the most torrid hitter in all of the MLB (hit a league-best .414 in the month of July). There also were stretches where he didn’t hit so well, but that’s what we have come to see from EA, some inconsistency at the plate. But last year, the good outweighed the bad, and plenty of people felt Erick got robbed of a Gold Glove (Derek Jeter won the award). This year, Aybar won’t be batting 9th like he did most of last season. With the departure of Chone Figgins, the leadoff spot is Aybar’s heading in to Opening Day. He’s a slap hitter with good wheels, but the question remains if he will have good enough plate discipline to be an adequate leadoff guy. I’m not quite sold on Aybar being a 100+ run scorer (OBP was 42 points lower than Figgy’s was last season), but hey, prove me wrong Erick. Wouldn’t be a bad thing.

My 2010 projected line: .295 avg./.350 OBP/90 runs/7 HR/65 RBI/20 SB

Bobby Abreu

Last year’s line: 152 games- .293 avg./.390 OBP/96 runs/15 HR/103 RBI/30 SB

Bobby Abreu proved to be a beautiful addition to the Angels lineup in 2009, as his top-notch plate discipline and ability to consistently work a count rubbed off on plenty of Angel hitters, Chone Figgins especially (drew 101 walks last year, previous career-best was 65). Although Abreu is getting up there in age (turned 36 back in March), he’s proved that he can still be a run-producer (topped 100+ RBI for 8th time in career) and a threat on the basepaths (has averaged just about 28 steals per year since 2005). He was the lefty bat the Angels had been searching for since 2004, and the Angels were smart to keep him around after his steal of a 1-year deal last season. Abreu will benefit from having Hunter, Matsui, and Morales behind him, and could be up there at the top of the AL in runs scored when September is over. Expect another productive year out of Mr. Abreu.

My 2010 projected line: .290 avg./.380 OBP/105 runs/20 HR/100 RBI/25 SB

Torii Hunter

Last year’s line: 119 games- .299 avg./.366 OBP/74 runs/22 HR/90 RBI/18 SB

Torii had some injury setbacks as the season went on, he had been one of the names mentioned as one of the AL’s first-half MVPs. If you average out Torii’s numbers to that of a 150-game season, you’re looking at about 28 homers, 113 RBI and 93 runs scored. Numbers like those will deservingly earn you a little bit of MVP chatter. Torii set new career-bests in batting average (.299), on-base percentage (.366), and brought in his 9th straight Gold Glove with his exceptional play in center. Another year with Bobby Abreu most likely batting in front of Torii will do him plenty of good, and he’ll have plenty of run-producing situations at the plate in 2010. He’ll also benefit from having Hideki Matsui and KMo to clean up behind him, and the threat of those two power bats should make pitchers be a little more honest when they throw to Torii. Although I feel his batting average will dip a little closer to his .274 career mark, I still expect Torii to build on his fantastic ’09 campaign with an even better run-producing 2010 season.

My 2010 projected line: .285 avg./.360 OBP/90 runs/25 HR/100 RBI/20 SB

Hideki Matsui

Last year’s line: 142 games- .274 avg./.367 OBP/62 runs/28 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Mark this as the 2nd straight offseason that the Angels picked up an unwanted Yankee (with the last one being the man batting in the 2-spot, Bobby Abreu). After spending the last 7 seasons with the Yankees, Matsui went out on a high note as a World Champion, and even brought in a World Series MVP trophy to add to it. Matsui turns 36 in mid-June and can be a reliable run-producer when healthy. However, Matsui hasn’t been able to piece together back-to-back full seasons since he played every game from 2003-2005. His games played from 2006 to 2009 respectively are as follows: 51, 143, 93, 142. Based on his 7-year statistics playing for New York, a typical 162 game season from Matsui averages out to a .292 average, .370 on-base percentage, 25 homers and 106 RBI… not too shabby. The transition from the right field power alley in the Bronx to the high wall in Anaheim will surely knock down would-be home runs in Yankee Stadium, but Matsui should have plenty of extra-base hits this year if he can stay healthy for 140 or so games and get some starts in the outfield as well.

My 2010 projected line: .270 avg./.365 OBP/60 runs/22 HR/95 RBI/0 SB

Kendry Morales

Last year’s line: 152 games- .306 avg./.355 OBP/86 runs/34 HR/108 RBI/3 SB

What a coming out party 2009 was for Kendry Morales. After spending years trying to defect from his native country of Cuba, KMo exploded onto the scene in his first full year as a regular, and ended up finishing 5th in American League MVP voting. He finished in the AL’s top 6 in categories such as: home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, extra base hits, and total bases. Everyone in the Angels system knew he could hit, but fielding had always been the biggest bugaboo regarding Kendry’s game. How did he do defensively in ’09? He had a fielding percentage of .994 and was fantastic in turning the 3-6-3 double play. Additionally, Kendry led the team in homers and runs driven in, and even posted the highest on-base plus slugging percentage mark by an Angels first baseman in franchise history with a .924 mark (8th in the AL). However, I’ve just had the feeling that KMo is due for a sophomore slump. I know the talent is through the roof with Kendry, but he’s still got a ways to go to prove that he can be a legitimate MVP candidate year after year and not just have last year be a fluke. Teams are going to know how to approach him much better this year, and the pitching has only gotten stronger in the AL West (King Felix and Cliff Lee in Seattle, Oakland’s young arms are progressing + Ben Sheets, Texas brought in Mr. Can-Be-Good-When-Healthy Rich Harden), so a dropoff in 2010 seems likely in my eyes.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.345 OBP/80 runs/30 HR/100 RBI/5 SB

Juan Rivera

Last year’s line: 138 games- .287 avg./.332 OBP/72 runs/25 HR/88 RBI/0 SB

Going in to 2009, I felt some good vibes about what Juan Rivera would do and thankfully those vibes held to be true. In his first full year as a regular with the Halos since 2006, Rivera posted career-bests in hits (152), homers (25), RBI (88), and runs scored (72). He also played fantastic defensive in left field and still has a cannon of an arm (10 outfield assists ranked 3rd amongst regular MLB left fielders). Much like Erick Aybar, Rivera had his fair share of major hot and cold streaks (had 5 homers, 19 RBI through first 2 months, had 8 homers, 24 RBI in the following month). Despite the streakiness, Juan still proved to be one of the more unheralded hitters in the MLB last year, ranking in the top 20 for homers and RBI among all MLB outfielders. I feel a comparable year is in order for Juan, and I think having a second year of consistent everyday at-bats can only benefit him.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.330 OBP/75 runs/25 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Howie Kendrick

Last year’s line: 105 games- .291 avg./.334 OBP/61 runs/10 HR/61 RBI/11 SB

In my mind, this is a make-or-break year for Mr. Kendrick. For years we’ve heard all about how great he hit in the minors (.360 combined average through all levels of the minor leagues) and how he can be a guy who will win a batting title during his, but it’s time to see what all the hype has been about, because frankly, there’s just been something missing with Howie’s game. Sure, through over 350 games in his professional career his batting average is a couple ticks over .300, but he hasn’t been able to piece together a full season in any of his 4 years in the bigs. Last year he played in a career-best 105 games, and had only played in 92, 88, and 72 games in the ’08, ’07, and ’06 seasons respectively prior to last year. And when it comes to be playoff time, it’s as if Howie shuts down completely (.196 average in 46 postseason at-bats). If he can put a full season together, he can be one of the better hitting 2nd basemen in the league. He can go gap-to-gap when he hits and does a great job of utilizing all fields with his line drive approach. The jury is out on Howie Kendrick this year, but he’s not the only one that’ll be under the microscope in the Angels’ everyday lineup this year (see Brandon Wood).

My 2010 projected line: .310 avg./.345 OBP/15 HR/70 RBI/70 runs/15 SB

Mike Napoli

Last year’s line: 114 games- .272 avg/.350 OBP/20 HR/56 RBI/60 runs/3 SB

Big Nap made it back-to-back 20 homer seasons despite being in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system behind the plate again. Nap accounted for 43 extra-base hits last year in his first season of appearing in 100+ games. Statistically speaking, his home run ratio dipped a bit (20 homers in 227 at-bats in 2008, 20 home runs in 382 at-bats in 2009), but Napoli showed that he belonged in the lineup by being 1 of 6 catchers (despite having anywhere from 100 to 200 less at-bats than everyday catchers) to account for 20+ homers and 20+ doubles on the 2009 season (list includes MVP Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Brian McCann, and former Angel Bengie Molina). As we’ve come to see over the past several years, Napoli brings the lumber and Jeff Mathis brings the glove, which is the reason for this platoon system that Scioscia has implemented and stuck with. I really think this is the final year that the Angels have to decide who their everyday catcher is going to be, it’s got to be one or the other. If Nap improves his defense, the decision won’t even be close. But, if Jeff Mathis can live up to his 1st round potential (drafted 33rd overall back in 2001) and hit like he did in this past postseason, he’ll give Nap a run for his money.

My 2010 projected line: .265 avg./.345 OBP/25 HR/60 RBI/60 runs/2 SB

Brandon Wood

Last year’s line: 18 games- .195 avg./.267 OBP/1 HR/3 RBI/5 runs/0 SB

This is the guy all Halo fans will be watching closely this year. Like Howie, Angel fans have heard plenty about this Brandon Wood kid, and how great of a hitter he is. He tore it up through the minor league ranks, but once he got to the show, he had nothing to show. In 224 major league at-bats, he’s posted a dismal .192 average, 7 home runs and 19 RBI. Not what you’d expect out of a former first-rounder who once hit 43 homers in A-ball and accounted for 160 home runs over his 7 seasons in the minors. Granted, Wood has never had the opportunity that he will have entering this year: an everyday job that will allow him to get consistent at-bats. In all fairness, before Kendry’s first year as an everyday player, he garnered up a .249 average in the three partial seasons in the majors that led up to his breakout year. It’s amazing what consistent at-bats will do, and it’s all about getting into a rhythm, something Brandon hasn’t yet had the chance to do. Don’t expect the world from Woody, but average numbers are about what you can expect from him.

My 2010 projected line: .245 avg./.310 OBP/20 HR/60 RBI/55 runs/10 SB

That’s about what you can expect from the projected regulars, now let’s switch over to the guys on the mound.

The Pitching

We’ll start with the starting rotation, which (not really in any particular order) will probably look like:

1.) Jered Weaver

2.) Joe Saunders

3.) Scott Kazmir

4.) Ervin Santana

5.) Joel Pineiro

Although the Angels may not have the best top of the rotation (that belongs to Seattle’s tandem of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the Angels definitely have the deepest rotation from top to bottom. The rotation features 3 former All-Stars (Saunders, Kazmir, Santana), the team’s best pitcher from last year (Weaver), and a guy who could become the best #5 starter in the league (Pineiro). Now, let’s get to the dissecting of this Angels staff.

Jered Weaver

Last year’s line: 33 starts/211 innings pitched/16-8 record/3.75 ERA/174 K

Weaver was the team’s best pitcher last year, tying for the team lead in wins (16) with Joe Saunders and had the lowest ERA of all Angels starting pitchers. Weaver posted his lowest ERA since he became a full-time starter (excluding his ’06 rookie campaign where he started 19 games, winning 11 of them), and posted his best numbers as a full-time starter in strikeouts, innings, batting average against (.246), pitches per inning (16.1), and hits per 9 innings (8.4). Additionally, Weaver threw 4 complete games (hadn’t thrown one CG in prior 3 seasons), 2 of those being shutouts. Entering his 4th year as a full-time starter, Weaver looks to be the odds-on choice in being the Opening Day starter, and has garnered in 40 wins in the last 3 seasons overall. I look for Weaver to have another solid year of 15+ wins and I feel he’ll continue to lower that ERA.

My 2010 projected line: 205 innings pitched/17-10 record/3.60 ERA/180 K

Joe Saunders

Last year’s line: 31 starts/186 innings pitched/16-7 record/4.60 ERA/101 K

Saunders had battled problems in his throwing arm for the majority of the year, but finished incredibly strong. He started the year 5-1, would go 4-6 in his next 10 decisions, and then finish the year winning his final 6 decisions to move to 16-7 on the year. Saunders pitched through his shoulder problems until he needed to shut it down, which is the main culprit for his ERA being nearly 1 1/5 runs higher than it was the season before in which he made the All-Star team. In his Angel career, Saunders is 48-22, and no Angel has more wins in the past 2 seasons than Saunders’ 33. Not John Lackey, who signed with the Red Sox for $82.5 million, not even Jered Weaver who is going to be tabbed as the team’s #1 rotation. When it comes down to it, Joe Saunders just knows how to flat out win. I look for that trend to continue this year as well, I see another season over 16 wins for Saunders with a much better ERA than last year’s inflated 4.60 mark.

My 2010 projected line: 200 innings pitched/18-9 record/4.10 ERA/100 K

Ervin Santana

Last year’s line: 23 starts/193.2 innings pitched/8-8 record/5.03 ERA/107 K

Ervin wasn’t healthy for the full season, but no matter how you look at it, his 2009 season was a great disappointment compared to his 2008 All-Star season (16-7 record, 3.49 ERA, 219 innings pitched). Much like I mentioned earlier about Hideki Matsui being unable to piece together back-to-back full seasons in recent years, Ervin has been the same way in regards to having good seasons and bad seasons. In 2006 he went 16-8, in 2007 he went 7-14, in 2008 he went 16-7, and last year he went 8-8. Is this season going to follow the trend of having a good year? Ervin sure hopes so, and so does the Angels front office considering Ervin repaid the management with an ERA over 5 after they gave him a healthy new 4-year, $30-million deal. It’s time for Ervin to show that he’s worth the money, but I’m not sold on him channeling that 2008 form just yet.

My 2010 projected line: 180 innings pitched/14-11 record/4.40 ERA/160 K

Scott Kazmir

Last year’s line: 26 starts/147.1 innings pitched/10-9 record/4.89 ERA/117 K

Kazmir came over to the Angels late in the 2009 season, and pitched very well in his limited action in Halo red (1.73 ERA in 6 starts). Only a couple of years ago, Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts with 239, and was beaten out by Jake Peavy by 1 punchout for the league lead. That was when Kazmir’s slider was one of the league’s most devastating pitches, but in 2009, his slider simply didn’t slide. If pitching coach Mike Butcher can help Kazmir find that slider, and he can find the form he had when he made the All-Star team back in 2006 and 2008, Kazmir has an excellent chance of re-establishing himself as one of the league’s preeminent strikeout pitchers. Kazmir is a real sleeper pick to be one of the AL’s better pitchers, considering he has 5 full seasons under his belt and he’s still only 26. He knows what success tastes like, and as I could imagine, is eager to get back to his winning ways.

My 2010 projected line: 175 innings pitched/15-10 record/3.90 ERA/150 K

Joel Pineiro

Last year’s line: 32 starts/214 innings pitched/15-12 record/3.49 ERA/105 K

At the age of 31, Pineiro caught a 2nd wind in his career last year with the St. Lous Cardinals, posting the most wins in a season for him since 2003, and putting up his lowest ERA since 2002. Pineiro’s 214 innings pitched was a career-high for him as well. He started his career in the AL West, playing with the Seattle Mariners from 2000-2006, and was at his best with the M’s during 2002 and 2003 when he posted 30 total wins and had an ERA in the 3.50s over those 2 seasons. However, in his final 3 seasons with the Mariners, Pineiro went 21-35 with ERAs of 4.67, 5.62, and 6.36 respectively. Plenty of critics are saying that Joel Pineiro’s 2009 season was a fluke, and I have to admit I’m not sold on Pineiro either. The Halos brought him in with a 2-year, $16-million deal, a hefty amount to be paying a #5 starter. However, if he throws the way he did under Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan, 15 wins would be a fantastic total to get out of your end-of-the-rotation arm. If Pineiro can master that new slider, he can be an excellent groundball-inducing pitcher, and chew up more than his fair share of innings. Last year was the first time since 2003 that Pineiro had more than 8 wins in a season, so will his 2010 campaign prove that last season was a fluke or a true finding of a 2nd wind?

My 2010 projected line: 12-13/190 innings/4.30 ERA/100 K

And lastly, moving away from the guys who start the games, let’s look at the guy who will start the year closing the games for the Angels.

Brian Fuentes

Last year’s line: 65 appearances/1-5 record/3.93 ERA/48 saves/7 blown saves

To say Brian Fuentes had a shaky 2009 would be an understatement. Fuentes always got my heart rate up when he’d come in for the save in the 9th inning. One way or another, Fuentes couldn’t quite dominate game in and game out, he always had to make it interesting. Whether it would be giving up a couple walks or a couple hits, it always seemed to be a little too close for comfort. After spending the previous 7 seasons in Colorado, he posted his highest season ERA (3.93) since 2004. However, he set a career-high with his 48 saves, which also happened to be the best mark in all of Major League Baseball. On the flip side, his 7 blown saves was tied for the 4th worst mark in all of baseball. I look for Fuentes to settle in better this year. Maybe he won’t get as many saves, but I look for that ERA to go down, as well as those blown saves.

My 2010 projected line: 3-4 record/3.50 ERA/35 saves/4 blown saves

Those are my takes on what to expect out of the 2010 everyday Angel players, starting pitchers, and closer. I hope you get a good feel on what to expect out of our guys in red this year, and now it’s just a matter of counting down the hours till the ceremonial first pitch.

Here’s to a successful 2010 season, and hopefully another AL West crown!

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Filed under Angel Stories, Offseason

Lackey Notches 100th Career Win

lackey 100

It seems like the milestones have come pouring in for Angels players this year.

Vladdy hits home run #400 of his career.

Vlad and Figgy get their 1,000th career hits in their Angels careers.

Bobby Abreu hits home run #250 and picks up career hit #2,000.

The list goes on.

This time, it wasn’t a positional player reaching a noteworthy milestone.

Staff ace John Lackey picked up his 100th career win on Sunday vs. Oakland in typical John Lackey fashion. He fired 8 innings of 1-run ball (the run he allowed was also unearned), scattering 5 hits and punching out 6 Oakland batters in a 9-1 rout in the Angels’ favor.

Lackey became only the 5th pitcher to garner 100 wins with the Angels organization, joining the likes of Chuck Finley, Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, and Mike Witt… that’s some pretty good company right there.

Lackey was drafted in the 2nd round back in the 1999 MLB Draft by the Angels out of Grayson County College in Denison, Texas, a team that Lackey helped win the Junior College World Series that same year.

Angel fans remember John Lackey being the young man who Mike Scioscia controversially made the Game 7 starter of the 2002 World Series, at the time he had just turned 24 years of age.

“Big John” threw 5 innings of 1 run ball (like his 100th win, the run was also unearned), helping catapult the Angels to their first World Championship in franchise history. Lackey became the first rookie pitcher to win a World Series Game 7 since Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates (roughly 93 years if you’re counting, give or take a few days).

The two seasons following the ’02 championship run would be difficult for Lackey. He was on the losing ended 29 times during the course of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, with ERAs of 4.63 and 4.67 respectively.

But 2005 would be Lackey’s turning point in his career. He went 14-5 with a career-high 199 strikeouts on the year, while getting his ERA to a respectable 3.45 mark.

He would continue to develop into a staff ace through 2006, and 2007 would be Lackey’s best season on the bump. He would compile a 19-9 record with a fantastic ERA of 3.01. He’d throw a career-high 224 innings and strike out a total of 179 batters and walk a then-career best 52. Lackey would finish 3rd in AL Cy Young voting.

The ’08 and ’09 seasons each started with injury troubles for Lackey, but he would remain (and continues to remain) a vital piece to the Angels’ rotation and deep playoff run aspirations.

Congratulations, John. Don’t stop now! (… oh, and even though your contract is up after this year, how about you come on back and keep winning more games!)

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, August Game Recaps

Don’t Worry, We Got Your Back

figgy maicer

The morning of July 10th seemed like the Angels’ 2009 fortunes were going to take another turn for the worst, and reasonably so.

Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels’ hottest hitter on the season and their .300+ avg., 30+ homer, 100+ RBI man respectively were placed on the Disabled List. Neither was expected back until sometime in August (expected to miss roughly 20 games, potentially more barring setbacks).

Their consolation? A 3-game series with the New York Yankees before the All-Star Break.

Fantastic.

They had gotten whomped by the Texas Rangers 8-1 the night before and had gone 4-5 entering the series with the Bronx Bombers.

The Halos had a record of 46-37 when Vlad and Mr. Hunter hit the DL, but for whatever reason, that may have been the best news the organization had received all year, believe it or not.

The Angels would go on to sweep the Yankees to go in to the All-Star Break with a 49-37 record, with the offense averaging just under 10 runs per game during the course of that 3-game set.

The Halos would have 3 representatives on the American League All-Star team in St. Louis in Brian Fuentes, Torii Hunter (withdrew due to injury), and of course Chone Figgins and his day-of-the-game addition to the squad.

Following the All-Star Break, the Angels would pick up right where they left off following the series with the Yankees, and that was hitting the ball hard, and scoring runs in bunches.

They would go 6-1 on a road trip beginning the 2nd half of the season, and would go 9-1 in their first 10 games of the 2nd half.

Until Vlad’s return to the lineup on August 4th, the Angels had compiled an eye-opening record of 17-3 that caught the baseball world’s attention. 10 of those games also were with the Angels’ lineup missing Juan Rivera, possibly the hottest hitter in all of baseball that many have never heard of.

How could they play their best ball all year without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters in the lineup?

In my opinion, most teams would go into a tailspin if they were without their 3 best hitters in the lineup. The offense would become anemic. They’d be lucky to post a 2-spot in the run column. You’d see that team slip farther down in the standings, unsure if they’d be able to make a late run at a division title.

Not this team. No way, no how.

First and foremost, winning 17 of 20 games without one of the lead guys in the MVP race (Hunter, who hit .305, with 17 home runs and 65 RBI before hitting the DL) as well as one of the most naturally gifted hitters the MLB has ever witnessed is a testament to one thing and one thing alone, the depth of the organization.

Torii Hunter’s out. Alright, time for Mike Scioscia to show his faith in Gary Matthews Jr. who had displeased the organization so much in 2007 that it made the Angels bring in Torii Hunter to relieve him of his everyday center field duties by Opening Day of 2008 (Matthews had hit a dismal .252 in ’07, one year following his All-Star year in Texas where he hit .313. He’d hit at any even worse .242 mark in 2008).

Vladimir Guerrero’s out. This was probably the most comfortable move for Scioscia to make considering Vladdy had been DH-ing the majority of the year. He gave Mike Napoli consistent at-bats as the designated hitter, and Nap came up with plenty of big hits, including a walk-off knock back on July 24th against the Twins (it marked the Angels’ 9th time the Angels had come back to win in their past 12 victories). Nap’s currently hitting at a .291 mark with 16 home runs, giving the Angels some great pop from the 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

Juan Rivera’s out. Now time to really dig deep and pluck a head out of your selection of pine-riders. Now was a time to give the Angels’ notorious “guy who plays like once every 2 weeks” Robb Quinlan a spot in the everyday lineup for a small period of time. Quinny had been hitting a mere .222 in limited at-bats before being called to more often by Mike Scioscia. When the month of July had ended, Quinny had hit .350 for month (7-for-20) with 2 home runs, 6 RBI and 6 runs scored. That’s just Robb doing what he’s always done during his 6 1/2 years as an Angel, and that’s getting the job done when his name is called.

Another guy who had to be called upon was Reggie Willits, who up until the New York series had started only 1 game over the course of the ’09 season. Willits, who finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 after hitting .293 with 27 stolen bases, hit the “sophomore wall” in ’08, hitting .194 in limited at-bats. Willits had a fantastic series in Kansas City, which featured him going 5-for-12 with 2 RBI, 5 runs scored, and a stolen base.

All of these players stepped up and picked up the slack for the aforementioned absent players.

And since we’re talking about players who have stepped it up, it would be impossible not to mention both Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu, who both put together some monster numbers in July.

Kendry hit .326 for July, belting 7 home runs, and posting 20 RBI. His success would even trickle into August, where in the first 2 games played in August, he’d smack 3 more dingers. His hot hitting wouldn’t go unnoticed, as he would earn American League Player of the Week honors for the 1st time in his career during the week of July 27th to August 2nd. During that 6-game stretch, Kendry went 11-26 (a .423 average), blasting 5 home runs and driving in 13 runs.

As if it was hard enough to top hot hitting like that, Bobby Abreu one-upped KMo.

Abreu earned July’s Player of the Month honors after he hit .380, with a league-best 28 RBI for the month. Abreu also jacked what would turn out to be the game-winning homer back on July 19th against the Oakland Athletics.

Abreu’s 77 RBI ranks him 4th in the American League and 8th league-wide. His .322 batting average ranks him 6th in the AL and 11th league-wide. His .416 on-base percentage is 3rd in the AL and 7th in the MLB.

Let’s not fail to mention a few other players who have stepped up in a major way since the start of July.

Returning to the majors after a dismal start (.231 average through June 11th-last game before demotion to AAA), Howie Kendrick was ready to show that his ice cold start was a mere fluke. His July numbers let Angel fans know that the real Howie was back. Kendrick hit a sizzling .387, with 2 home runs, 15 RBI, and 13 runs scored in the 18 games he appeared in during the month of July. He’s now raised his average 41 points (currently hitting .272) since his demotion to AAA Salt Lake in mid-June.

And arguably the hottest hitter across all of baseball for month of July had to be shortstop Erick Aybar who hit a ridiculous .414 (yes, you saw that right, .414) over the course of the month. His totals for July were: 1 home run, 17 runs scored, and 18 RBI, more than double the total of his next highest RBI total for a month (9 RBI in June).

The Angels are currently tops in the majors in hits (1,062), with a league-best .289 team average (next highest is the LA Dodgers at a .279 mark). They trail the Yankees by 2 runs for the most runs in all of the MLB (averaging about 5.7 runs scored per game). Their .352 team OBP is 3rd best in the MLB.

A surprising statistic has to be that the Angels now rank 4th in the MLB with a .449 slugging percentage (they were 15th in ’08, 17th in ’07, 18th in ’06, 19th in ’05), and this was all after losing one of the most talented power-hitting sluggers in all of the game in Mark Teixeira, as well as the franchise’s RBI leader in Garret Anderson. The normally free-swinging “go ahead and give it a rip” Angels also rank 17th in walks taken after ranking 25th out of 30 last year (you can thank the plate discipline of Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins for that). The Halos also have struck out fewer times than 24 other teams league-wide.

To really put in perspective how hot this lineup has been all year, take a look at the top 17 batting averages in the American League, and look at how many Angels pop up.

6- Bobby Abreu – .322 avg.

10- Juan Rivera- .314 avg.

12- Erick Aybar- .311 avg.

17- Chone Figgins – .305 avg.

That’s 4 Angels in the top 17. No other team currently has more than 2.

The depth that the Angels’ organization has prided itself in ever since the new millennium rolled around continues to pay dividends. Depth can help win championships, only time will tell if the Angels’ remarkably deep bench can contribute to a World Series Championship. At this rate, I can’t quite tell if another team rivals the Angels’ depth from player #1 down to player #25 on their 25-man roster.

The losses of Hunter and Guerrero over that stretch could turn out to be the biggest blessing in disguise in the history of the Angels’ franchise.

It’s not too often that a team can feel confident when they lose an MVP-caliber player and a potential Hall of Famer for a month due to injury. How many other teams can say that?

I can’t exactly speak for the others, but I can confidently say that the Angels can.

kmo abreu hk

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

Angels Getting Plenty of Bang for Their Buck

dolla bill

It was an offseason that began with plenty of Angel fans hoping and praying that the front office could ink 1st baseman Mark Teixeira to a long-term deal, and somehow find a way to bring back their star closer Francisco Rodriguez, despite GM Tony Reagins saying the front office had “turned the page” on him. They were 2 of the 4 hottest commodities on the free agent market to go along with C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez.

Fans were hoping that (for once), the Angels would open up the wallet and spend the money they needed to improve… but when it was all said and done, the Angels roped in none of the big-namers.

Teixeira got 8 years, $180 million from the Yankees.

C.C. Sabathia got 7 years, $161 million from the Yankees.

K-Rod got 3 years, $37 million from the Mets.

Manny got 2 years, $45 million from the Dodgers.

Some Angel fans were down because they felt that by not forking out the doe for one of the aforementioned A-list free agents, the Angels lacked that powerful punch in the middle of the lineup and at the back end of the bullpen.

But as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

By not signing re-signing Teixeira or K-Rod, the Angels now had roughly $31 million of unspent money that they could choose to throw at other free agents out on the market.

Looking back, Tony Reagins spent wisely.

On December 19th of 2008, the Halos kept outfielder Juan Rivera in the mix by signing him to a 3 year, $12.75 million deal ($3.25 million spent for ’09).

On New Years Eve of ’08, the Angels went in a new direction for closing out ballgames by getting former Colorado Rockies closer and a California native in Brian Fuentes. Fuentes received a 2-year deal worth $17.5 million deal (total of $11.75 million spent for ’09).

On February 12th of 2009, Bobby Abreu was signed to sport the Angel red as he was inked to a 1-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives. In 2008, Abreu had a $16 million salary, and the Angels were able to get a guy who hit nearly .300, scored 100 runs, drove in 100 runs, and hit 20 home runs for $11 million dollars less than he earned in that $16 million 2008 season. Nice bargain, I’d say (total of $16.75 million spent for ’09).

Time to go by the numbers, side-by-side.

Comparing signed and unsigned closers:

K-Rod: 1.85 ERA/43.2 IP/23 saves/3 blown saves/1.21 WHIP/44 K/25 BB

Fuentes: 3.03 ERA/32.2 IP/28 saves/3 blown saves/1.13 WHIP/35 K/9 BB

Frankie has been dominant this year for the Mets and his ridiculous 1.85 ERA reflects that, but Fuentes has converted a higher percentage of his saves to date, has a lower walks to innings pitched ratio, has a lower hits to innings pitched ratio, strikes out more per inning and walks less per inning compared to Rodriguez’s numbers. Fuentes’ 28 saves leads the majors. As of now, looks like they made the right move here.

Comparing signed and unsigned hitters:

Teixeira: .280 avg./.381 OBP/.551 SLG/96 H/58 R/24 2B/0 3B/23 HR/67 RBI/50 BB/61 K/1 SB

Abreu: .306 avg./.399 OBP/.439 SLG/96 H/50 R/17 2B/2 3B/7 HR/60 RBI/51 BB/57 K/19 SB

Rivera: .309 avg./.352 OBP/.522 SLG/93 H/39 R/16 2B/0 3B/16 HR/53 RBI/21 BB/31 K/0 SB

So the “vaunted power hitter” may not be in the lineup, but I’d say Abreu and Rivera have done a darn good job of performing for nearly a combined salary that is $13 million less than that of Teixeira’s alone. Abreu currently has the most RBI in all of the MLB since June 1st and Rivera has been the most consistent hitter this year for the Angels outside of the presently sidelined Torii Hunter. Abreu’s presence in the lineup also has helped leadoff man Chone Figgins‘ on-base percentage rise drastically, so the impact of Bobby in the lineup goes far deeper than the numbers.

And those were just the offseason additions.

Let’s not forget to mention the guys who are already on the team who are far and away outperforming their current pay.

Let’s start with Jered Weaver, who has gone 10-3 with a 3.48 ERA this year, has undoubtedly been the ace of the staff since day 1. Entering this year, Jered hadn’t pitched a complete game (a span of 77 starts). He’s thrown 3 complete games this year, including 1 shutout (coming in a span of 8 starts). Opposing batters are hitting a mere .231 against him, and he’s been striking out a career-best 7.77 batters per 9 innings pitched.

So what do you think he’s earning? $4 million? $5 million? $6 million? More? I mean, his agent is Scott Boras after all.

Try $465,000. Yeah, not even 1/2 of a million dollars for those numbers (Robb Quinlan makes close to 2 1/2 times the amount of what Jered makes… try that one on for size).

How about Kendry Morales, he’s put together quite a season in his first year as a starter for the Halos over at 1st base. He was coming in with some massive shoes to fill after Teixeira bounced for the Yanks, but he has no doubt held his own.

The switch-hitting “K-Mo” has posted a .291 batting average, slugged 17 home runs (tied for team-high with Torii Hunter), driven in 52 runs, and has slugged at a .547 mark, good for 2nd best on the team. He’s also in the midst of a career-high 18-game hitting streak, and has provided some pop from the 1st base position that the Angels haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Kendry’s making $1.1 million this year, a.k.a. about $20 million less than Teixeira. Not too big of a drop-off from player to player in my opinion. He’s on pace to hit 32 home runs and post 97 RBI at this rate, a pretty good value by any standards.

Crafty veteran Darren Oliver has the team’s best ERA with a 2.88 mark, and has a 4-0 record, all for $3.67 million.

Mike Napoli, one of the Angels’ two catchers in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system, has the 4th most home runs on the team with 11, despite having roughly 2/3 the at-bats that the regular starters get. He’s also 4th on the team in terms of his on-base percentage (.376) and his slugging percentage (.502). And it’s been Nap Time for the low, low price of $2 million!

But wait, there’s more!

The two shortstops have been providing some value of their own.

With a 2009 salary of $1.1 million, Maicer Izturis has hit .303, with 28 RBI and a .359 OBP, all while playing exceptional defense at both shortstop and 2nd base when called upon.

Erick Aybar has hit .299 with 32 RBI and a .347 on-base percentage, also while playing some career-best defense over at shortstop. He’s earning $465,000 for the 2009 season.

And last, but certainly not least (except for amount of height among Angel players) is Chone Figgins. Chone is hitting a team-best .310, with a .395 OBP, 108 hits, an American League-leading 72 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases. And he’s been “Gettin’ Figgy Wit It” for roughly $5.8 million, earning him his first All-Star invitation of his career.

Heck, Torii Hunter is earning $18 million for this season, and even he’s outperformed his season’s contract (given that much money, that’s really saying something).

Now, it’s time to have a little more fun. Time for some more number-crunching.

*All salaries rounded to the nearest 100,000

2 players departed: Rodriguez, Teixeira = $30.9 million for 2009

3 players arrived: Fuentes, Abreu, Rivera = $16.6 million for 2009.

Getting more production for just under half the price.

And if you reeeeeeally wanted to know…

10 players: Fuentes, Figgins, Abreu, Rivera, Weaver, Morales, Oliver, Napoli, Aybar, Izturis = $32 million for 2009

You get the point.

I just thought I had to throw that last one in there to really drive home the value/productivity point.

“Less is more” seems to be a fitting slogan for the Angels (but then again, they’re getting more production from more players… oh, I’m just confusing myself).

On second thought, I’ll leave it up to someone else to think of a slogan for the ’09 Halos.

In the meantime, I’ll just let the numbers do the talking.

FAN POLL

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Comeback Kids Channeling ’02 Mojo

kendry napAs of late, the Halos have found themselves trailing early in ballgames, digging themselves into holes that we really haven’t seen a Halo squad dig themselves out of since that magical 2002 season.

Table-setter and offensive catalyst Chone Figgins, the only offensive player left from that World Championship team, and the rest of the Halos’ attack have been channeling that 2002 mindset and magic this year.

After Saturday’s come-from-behind 14-8 win over the visiting New York Yankees, the Halos had recorded the most comeback wins in all of the MLB with 26.

Normally, you’d like to be the team that jumps out in front and puts runs up early, right?

For the Angels, not exactly. They’re saying, hey, you score some now… we’ll score more later.

Entering Sunday’s finale with the Yankees’, the Angels’ last 5 wins have all been in come from behind fashion.

July 4th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 3-0) — win 11-4

July 5th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 4-0) — win 9-6

July 6th vs. Texas Rangers (down 2-0) — win 9-4

July 10th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 10-6

July 11th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 14-8

So, if you add it all up, after allotting opposing teams 17 runs to start in the past 5 games, the Angels have outscored their opposition 11-1, 9-2, 9-2, 10-2, and 14-4 (added all up that’s 53-11).

Keep in mind that Friday’s win in the Yankees series opener, the Halos didn’t have Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero, the regular #3 and #4 spot hitters in the lineup. Then on Saturday in game 2 of the series, they were also without their #5 hitter and arguably the hottest hitter of the MLB since the beginning of June in Juan Rivera.

They Angels are getting timely contributions from different players. And lots of them.

July 4th- 17 total hits. Vladdy has 4 RBI, Torii has 3 RBI. 3 more Halos with 1 RBI each.

July 5th- 8 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI.

July 6th- 10 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Mathis with 3 RBI, Torii and Juan each with 2 RBI.

July 10th- 13 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Morales and Aybar each with 3-run homers.

July 11th- 16 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Abreu, Napoli with 3 RBI each. Wood, Kendrick, Matthews each with 2 RBI.

The Angels put up their most runs in a single game this season on Saturday, without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters… go figure?

Here’s the key.

In his first game since being called up when Torii and Vlad went to the DL, Brandon Wood nailed a 2-run home run. Howie Kendrick and his anemic season-long hitting slump mustered up a 3-for-5 showing with 2 RBI. Gary Matthews Jr. even pitched in 2 RBI late in the game. It’s a good day when your 6, 7, 8, and 9 (both Quinlan and Willits) hitters are picking up the slack by going a combined 8-16 with 1 home run, 6 RBI, and 5 runs scored. Pretty good I’d say especially when the rest of your lineup gets you the other 8 hits and the remaining 9 runs.

It’s a long way away from telling if this is a team of destiny (or history repeating itself), but neither me nor anyone else can’t deny that this team is as resilient a ballclub as we’ve seen in recent memory, on and off the diamond.

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First Half Report

The Angels now have 81 games in the books following last night’s 9-4 win over the Texas Rangers, and the Halos find themselves where they usually have been at the halfway mark over the past few seasons… in first place.

At this point last year, the Angels (who would go on to win a club record and MLB-best 100 games), were 48-33. This year’s Angels, with all the ups and downs, would only be 2 games off that pace with a record of 46-35.

The Halos have won the AL West division 4 of the past 5 years, so being #1 isn’t all that new to them.

But this year, things are much different. It was a year of big changes and adaptation for the Angels.

Preseason

Noteworthy Re-signings:

  • OF- Juan Rivera (3 yrs./$12.75 million)
  • OF- Vladimir Guerrero (1 yr. club option/$15 million)
  • SP- John Lackey (1 yr. club option/$9 million)
  • 3B- Chone Figgins (1 yr./$5.775 million)
  • SP- Ervin Santana (4 yrs./$30 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • SP- Joe Saunders (1 yr./$0.475 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • 2B- Howie Kendrick (1 yr./$.0465 million)
  • SP- Jered Weaver (1 yr./$0.465 million)
  • INF- Maicer Izturis (1 yr./$1.6 million)
  • RP- Darren Oliver (1 yr./3.665 million)

Noteworthy Additions:

  • CL- Brian Fuentes (2 yrs./$17.5 million) – 3-time All-Star with Rockies in ’05, ’06, ’07 seasons
  • OF- Bobby Abreu (1 yr./$5 million) – .300 batting average, .405 on-base percentage for his career

Noteworthy Subtractions:

  • 1B- Mark Teixeira (Yankees – 8 yrs./$180 million) – .358 avg., 13 HR, 43 RBI with Angels in 54 games
  • CL- Francisco Rodriguez (Mets – 3 yrs./$37 million) – MLB record 62 saves in ’08, 194 saves in 4 full seasons as closer, 208 total saves with Angels, won 5 games in ’02 postseason as 20-year-old phenom
  • OF- Garret Anderson (Braves – 1 yr./$2.5 million) – Was an Angel for 15 years, 2,368 hits, 489 2B, 272 HR, 1,292 RBI with Angels, starter in left field for ’02 World Championship team

To this current point in time, the Angels haven’t exactly had that gold-paved road to the top of the division, that they’ve seemed to have in years past. Injuries decimated the Angels’ rotation to start the year, and an unexpected tragedy would rock the Angels organization and the baseball world in the opening month.

April

Month record: 9-12

Highest point: 1-0 (the only time during the month they had over a .500 record was after the Opening Day win)

Lowest point: 6-11

3+ Game Winning Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 26, 28, 29)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 17-19)

April Player of the Month: Torii Hunter (.325 avg./.379 OBP/8 HR/16 RBI)

A look back on April

It all started great, nothing like an Opening Day shutout of an in-state division rival. Joe Saunders would dazzle in the April 6th season opener, en route to a 3-0 Halo win against the visiting Oakland A’s.

The A’s would take game 2, and then the bullpen would blow a tremendous outing (soon to become a recurring theme) from young hurler Nick Adenhart in game 3 of the series, a game in which he threw 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 5 Oakland batters.

But just hours after that April 8th Angels loss, the Angels would be dealt a loss that no one saw coming.

In the early hours of April 9th, that same Nick Adenhart who threw 6 magnificent innings for the Halos in his season debut, would be killed by a drunk driver, as well as 2 of the other 3 people in the car. He was only 22 years old. This was a kid who you just knew was going to be special. At 22 and having good, yet still improving control of a knee-buckling curveball complimented by a mid-90s fastball, as well as having composure and resiliency on the mound… not many come around like that, especially that early in a career. He was exuding with promise. Such a promising career that I believe in all my heart he was going to have, now is just a “what could have been” thought.

The final game of the series against Oakland was postponed in wake of the tragedy.

It just put baseball on the shelf and really put into perspective what’s important in life.

The Angels’ first game following Adenhart’s death would be Friday April 10th against the Red Sox. Before the game, the Angels put together a brief video in memory of Nick Adenhart that I thought was pretty neat, and you can hear (as well as not hear for the moment of silence) the fan appreciation for the fallen Angel.

It still kills me to see that face following the end of the “Calling All Angels” video that the Halos play just about 5-7 minutes before the first pitch of every home game at the Big A.

In that game against Boston, Jered Weaver, who was scheduled to move in and room with Nick Adenhart within the week, was the scheduled starter. When he was removed from the game in 7th inning after throwing 6 2/3 ball where he allowed 1 unearned run, he pointed up to the sky on his way back to the dugout, as if he was saying, “this one’s for you, Nick.” They’d win the game 6-3.

The rest of the month would come with it’s fair share of anemic bats and horrendous bullpen work.

It would also take the Angels the longest amount of time to string together back-to-back wins, becoming the last team in Major League Baseball to do so (wins on April 26th, 28th).

The overall character, resiliency and companionship of the Angels’ organization was tested early by having all-stars John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Vladimir Guerrero all on the DL at the same time to go along with Kelvim Escobar among others. Then with the additional blow of losing a teammate, the Angels showed incredible heart to finish the month at 9-12, a success in my honest opinion.

I think a lot of that reflects upon Mike Scioscia and the way he runs his team. He treats his major league squad not as a team, but as a family. It was a month that I believed would go 1 of 2 ways: the Angels fold completely or they rise up and persevere.

Towards the end of April, perseverance was beginning to break through.

May

Month record: 16-12 (25-24 overall)

Highest point: At 18-15, Halos had won 9 of their previous 11 games.

Lowest point: 9-13 to start the month, tough 10-9 loss to the Yankees to begin May.

3+  Game Winning Streaks: 2– 3 games (May 2, 4, 5), 4 games (May 7-10)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (May 15-17)

May Player of the Month: Matt Palmer (6 starts/4-0 record/1 blown lead/3.76 ERA/26 K)

A look back on May

To sum it up quickly, May was a very “up-and-down” month for the Halos. Right when you think they’re picking it up and starting to play quality baseball, they go on and lose 2 or 3 in a row. And then, right when you think they’re stuck in a rut, they go on and win 2, 3, or 4 in a row.

Their hottest hitter, Torii Hunter, continued to kill the ball for the Halos game in and game out, recording 26 RBI during the month of May. Had it not been for Hunter making up for the lack of a clean-up hitter (Vladdy on the DL), who knows where the Angels who have been after May, and even now into early July.

But Torii’s stellar player was not even close to being the story of the month.

No doubt about it, the story of the month would be that of 30-year-old rookie right-hander Matt Palmer.

Palmer, a journeyman for years in the minor leagues who could never seem to get his shot with a major league ballclub, contemplated giving the game up altogether at one point. Although it took some convincing, Matt’s wife Michelle convinced him to keep giving baseball a try (Matt wanted to start a landscaping business if baseball didn’t work out for him in his hometown of Caruthersville, Missouri… a small town of just over 6,000 people!).

He would break through with the San Francisco Giants in 2008, and have 3 rough outings, prompting the Giants to let him go after the ’08 season.

The Halos would sign him as a minor league free agent in January of 2009, and by the end of May, Palmer would find himself to be 5-0 to begin his Angels career. Palmer still continues to wear his wedding ring underneath his glove as a reminder of why he’s still on the mound.

The Angels’ play of the year, and a top candidate for the top play in all of Major League Baseball to this point in the season came in the 9th inning of a 1-run game against the Royals on May 10th from Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. Check out the video below to see his absolutely incredible grab.

As much as the ground he covered and the catch itself are just flat-out remarkable, you can’t help but love the passion, fire and competitiveness and that Torii shows after the catch. That’s what baseball is all about.

June

Month record: 17-9 (42-33 overall)

Highest point: 42-32 (highest amount of games over .500 all year to that point)

Lowest point: 29-29 (Scioscia would give the team a tongue-lashing, and would finish the month by going 13-4)

3+ Game Winning streaks: 3– 3 games (June 3-5), 7 games (June 12-17, 19), 6 games (June 23-24, 26-29)

3+ Game Losing streaks: 1– 3 games (June 20-22)

Player of the Month: Juan Rivera (.290 avg./29 hits/6 2B/8 HR/24 RBI)

A look back on June

July would mark the start of the Angels… well, playing like the Angels. While relying on small ball to win in May (36 doubles, 20 home runs, 37 stolen bases), the Angels would start pounding the ball and playing uncharacteristic long ball (53 doubles, 33 home runs, 15 stolen bases), en route to their most successful month of the season.

Juan Rivera would no doubt be the hottest hitter of the month with his aforementioned June statistics, but guys like Torii Hunter (9 XBH), Bobby Abreu (10 XBH) and Kendry Morales (15 XBH) would compliment Rivera’s hot hitting with some consistent extra-base hitting of their own.

The Halos would rack up 2 impressive winning streaks (7 games and 6 games respectively) and really start to hit their stride on their way to getting as high as 10 games over .500.

Pitching stayed solid and consistent, and meanwhile, the arms of the bullpen seemed to have settled in and really calmed down after a rocky 2 months to start the season (thankfully).

Matt Palmer’s remarkable run would continue, with him ending June with a 7-1 record in 11 starts.

But Jered Weaver would no doubt be the Halos’ best pitcher through the first 3 months. Weaver would compile a record of 8-3 by June’s end, and post one of the MLB’s lowest ERAs with a mark of 2.65. To compliment his ERA, his command would be nothing short of outstanding all the way through June by recording 83 strikeouts to only 32 walks.

Brian Fuentes would sit atop the MLB with the most saves (22) at June’s end, going 9-for-9 in save opportunities over the course of the month.

June would also mark the end of Interleague Play. The Halos would post the top record in the MLB against the opposing league, by going 14-4 against National League teams (11-1 against teams not named the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Player Grades

Now that we’re in early July, let’s take a look at some 1st half stats and grade some players:

(bold statistics indicate team-high)

(* denotes All-Star selection)

All statistics are as of the first 81 games.

Torii Hunter *- .307 avg./.382 OBP/86 H/56 R/19 2B/1 3B/17 HR/65 RBI/13 SB

Grade A+

The Angels’ MVP, no questions asked. He’s done everything for the Halos so far. He’s hit for average (.307 avg.). He’s hit for power (37 extra-base hits). He’s driven in runs (65 RBI is 5th in all of the MLB). He’s stolen bases (13). And like the typical Torii Hunter always does, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense game in and game out. He picked up the slack for the offense when Vladdy Guerrero was out for over a month, and is one of the first-half MVPs for the American League, no doubt. And talk about a clubhouse leader, he handled everything regarding the Adenhart tragedy so well, and really rallied his team to stick together and face everything with a smile and a positive attitude. It’s really hard to measure the impact that Torii Hunter has had on this team, because his impact reaches far beyond the playing field and stat sheets.

Chone Figgins– .311 avg./.393 OBP/97 H/63 R/16 2B/5 3B/1 HR/25 RBI/24 SB

Grade: A

He’s been the table setter for the Angels’ offense this year, and has really developed his plate discipline since the end of last season, and Bobby Abreu’s presence and influence seems to be the main reason why. For his career, Figgy has an on-base percentage of .359, and this season alone, he’s on pace to post a new career high with a current mark of .393. His defense has been spectacular at 3rd base and should be in the consideration for a Gold Glove, no doubt. He’s getting on base, he’s stealing bases, and he’s scoring runs. The Angels go as Figgy goes. If he scores at least 1 run, the Angels have a remarkably higher record compared to when he doesn’t score a run in a game. You get an A from me Chone, and deserved an All-Star nod in my honest opinion.

Bobby Abreu- .302 avg./.405 OBP/83 H/45 R/16 2B/2 3B/6 HR/51 RBI/17 SB

Grade: A-

Talk about a steal and a bargain. I was hoping and praying that the Angels would go after Abreu, because he’s the type of #2 hitter that Mike Scioscia had been begging the front office to get for years. A guy who, over his career, is a .300 hitter and has an OBP of over .400, Bobby is right at his career levels at the midway point of the year. He’s stealing plenty of bases too, so he’s still got some wheels despite being 35 years of age. He’s played adequate defense in right field, but more importantly, has been able to compliment Figgy’s high on-base percentage with that of his own, which sets up run-producing situations for Torii, Vlad, Kendry, Juan etc. Although Abreu doesn’t have his typical home run numbers (6, but averages roughly 20 per season over the course of his career), he’s been worth every penny.

Juan Rivera.312 avg./.353 OBP/87 H/34 R/15 2B/0 3B/14 HR/50 RBI/0 SB

Grade: A-

I wrote an article on Juan a number of weeks ago talking about how this is his first year being back as an everyday player for the Angels after a few years of being the odd-man out in the stacked Angels outfield. I was thrilled to hear that the Angels inked him for 3 years in the offseason, because he can be a productive hitter when given regular at-bats. He’s impressed me every bit so far this year. He’s been on a power surge after a slow start (home run-wise) and has been driving in runs, all while leading the Angels in batting average with a .312 mark. His defense has been solid in left field as it usually is, and I hope Juan can continue his success because he played the role of a true professional the past couple of years; knowing he could be easily getting everyday at-bats while he wasn’t and not making a scene about it like Jose Guillen did years ago… it’s a feeling of clarity for the man.

Brian Fuentes*- 24 saves/3 BS/3.38 ERA

Grade: A-

After blowing a save in his 2nd appearance as an Angel, Fuentes has calmed down and performed nicely late in games lately, converting on 11 straight save opportunities, as well as 18 of his last 19 save situations. I was a little shaky on him early on, but then again, the whole bullpen was imploding before Angel fans’ eyes. He’s been mowing down opponents lately, and with his league-leading 24 saves, made the All-Star team in his first year as a Halo.

Jered Weaver9-3 record/3.15 ERA/114.1 IP/95 K/12 QS

Grade: A-

As you can see, Weaver’s the team leader in every major pitching category (most wins, lowest ERA among starters, most strikeouts, most quality starts). Over the years, Weaver had been the kind of pitcher who would run his pitch count up towards 100 early, and have his night be finished after the 5th inning. This year, he’s done a much better job of controlling his pitching, to where he can pitch deeper into ballgames (recorded his first career shutout back on June 14th against San Diego). He’s been much more composed than in years past too, where sometimes his emotions used to get the best of him. He’s a special pitcher with good stuff, and has far exceeded my expectations this year by being the most consistent pitcher the Halos have to throw out, and he’s not only acted, but also performed like a legitimate #1 starter for the Angels as well.

Kendry Morales– .285 avg./.340 OBP/80 H/37 R/23 2B/2 3B/14 HR/45 RBI/0 SB

Grade: B+

Talk about coming in with some big shoes to fill. KMo had to fill the void of All-Star slugger Mark Teixeira, who opted for the New York Yankees and the 8 years and $180 million dollars they threw at him. A raw talent from Cuba with great power from both sides of the plate, Kendry has done a better job than I thought he would do. He leads the team in extra-base hits (39), and to my surprise, has played pretty good defense at 1st base for the most part. As long as he continues to hit well in the 5 or 6 hole in the lineup, the Angels will continue to have a steady attack if guys like Vladdy, Torii and Bobby continue to get on base. For having such high expectations, he’s responded incredibly well and has produced much more than I could’ve imagined going into the ’09 season.

Matt Palmer– 7-1 record/4.88 ERA/70.1 IP/42 K/4 QS

Grade: B+

What a story Matt Palmer has turned out to be. Right when Mike Scioscia needed to find another starter, when he could’ve thrown a talented young arm into the regular rotation, he took a chance on a 30-year-old journeyman… and Matt Palmer has made Scioscia’s decision look nothing short of brilliant. He won his first 6 decisions, and has been eating up innings for the Angels as a starter, and has even appeared in relief in 3 games. They say “all good things must come to an end”, but for Matt Palmer, he has been defying that old saying for just about 3 months now.

Maicer Izturis- .303 avg./.351 OBP/56 H/37 R/9 2B/3 3B/2 HR/26 RBI/7 SB

Grade: B+

He’s been a space-filler for most of his tenure with the Angels, but now people are really taking note of how Maicer’s play is deserving of making him an everyday player for Mike Scioscia. Consistent with the bat, and clutch when you need him to be, Maicer’s been very productive through the first half of the season, all while playing impeccable defense at shortstop and 2nd base. Now with Howie Kendrick back from the minors (yet still sputtering), I hope that Maicer won’t find himself as the odd man out again, because he has played far better than Erick Aybar has at the plate and in the field. I’d take my chances with Maicer over Aybar any day.

Erick Aybar– .271 avg./.314 OBP/60 H/26 R/11 2B/2 3B/2 HR/22 RBI/5 SB

Grade: B/B-

Aybar and Izturis create the problem at shortstop that Napoli and Mathis create behind the plate… who to start? Aybar is lightning fast and may be one of the most athletic shortstops in all of the league, but is a streaky hitter whose defense can be erratic at times. While Izturis doesn’t have the speed, range or athleticism that Aybar has, he is a much more consistent hitter at the plate, and is one of the more clutch hitters the Angels have to offer with runners in scoring position. Izturis has impressed me more than Aybar, but when Aybar goes on a tear, look out.

Joe Saunders– 8-5 record/4.44 ERA/107.1 IP/61 K/9 QS

Grade: B-

Coming off an All-Star year where he went 17-7, expectations were high for the former Virginia Tech Hokie. He started the year by throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball en route to an Opening Day shutout, and would move on to compile a 6-2 record at one point. But recently, he hasn’t quite had his pinpoint command, thus giving him his B- grade. He’s put forth 9 quality starts, but the rising ERA is worrisome. He’ll have one more start in all likelihood before the All-Star break, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does following the break. Entering the All-Star break last year, he would go 5-2, but have his fair share of rough outings. We’ll see how he responds, but as of now, he’s been fading quite a bit.

Mike Napoli – .288 avg./.376 OBP/55 H/28 R/10 2B/0 3B/10 HR/30 RBI/2 SB

Grade: C+/C

Pretty good stats for Nap with limited at-bats, so why the low grade, you ask? The defense. Napoli and Mathis foil each other perfectly. Napoli can hit the ball and get on base, but can’t play good defense. Mathis can’t hit the ball or get on base, but plays very good defense. Put them together, and they’d create the unstoppable catcher! Too bad that can’t happen or the Angels would be a juggernaut. Nap’s quietly batted .288 and still works his way on base with pretty good plate discipline, but after this year, management has a decision to make with who to keep and who to let go (if any). Both of their contracts are up following this season… will they stick with one or platoon both like they have this season and last season? Time will tell.

Jeff Mathis – .205 avg./.295 OBP/25 H/17 R/3 2B/0 3B/3 HR/19 RBI/0 SB

Grade: C-

Had it not been for his good defense behind the plate, he’d be a D- or an F. Mathis’ poor hitting continues despite hitting well in Spring Training (.340 avg./6 2B/4 HR/13 RBI in only 54 at-bats). He’s done a great job of calling games and has played waaaaaaay better defense than Mike Napoli this year. I just don’t know how much longer I can give Mathis the benefit of the doubt by saying “well, his defense makes up for it”… because his hitting has been nonexistent ever since he’s been in the majors.

Howie Kendrick – .227 avg./.275 OBP/45 H/26 R/7 2B/2 3B/4 HR/22 RBI/7 SB

Grade: D-

What an unexpected disappointment. After hitting .285, .322., and .306 in his first 3 years in the MLB, his .227 average just came out of nowhere. After being a .360+ average hitter in the minors, his hitting translated well through his first 3 seasons, but has dramatically dropped off so much that Mike Scioscia sent him down to AAA Salt Lake for 3 weeks to find his swing. His defense hasn’t been all that great either, which opened the door for Maicer Izturis, and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. Kendrick doesn’t deserve to start at this point, in my opinion, but it’s Mike Scioscia’s opinion, not mine, that matters.

Vladimir Guerrero hasn’t had enough at-bats for me to give him a fair grade, but he’s been picking up the pace ever since he shaved his head (good idea, because those dreads were getting a little nasty!). He’s starting to look like the Vlad of old, and the Big Daddy has been racking up the extra-base hits over the past week, which is a welcome sign to Halo fans as well as the rest of the lineup.

John Lackey has been regaining his stuff over the past few starts and is looking like the Lackey of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Ervin Santana has been on and off of the DL this year, but has struggled mightily in his starts.

Still 81 more games to go, but so far, the Angels have faced a lot of adversity, and have done the most that they’ve been able to do with the hand they’ve been dealt.

I still truly believe their best baseball is in front them.

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Angels Offense Rolling Lately Despite Vlad’s Absence

torii walkoffWho would have thought that the Angels lineup would be producing more runs without their most prolific run-producer of the past 5 seasons?

The man I’m referring to of course would be “The Big Daddy”, Vladimir Guerrero.

Since coming to Anaheim in 2004 as a free agent, Guerrero has done nothing more than tear it up with the bat on a game-by-game basis.

He won the American League MVP award back in 2004, his first year as a Halo, when he single-handedly put the team on his back and carried them into the postseason, only to get rocked by the BoSox.

Here’s his stat lines from the past 5 years, to understand the high-caliber hitter that the lineup is missing:

2004 (156 games): .337 avg./206 hits/39 doubles/39 home runs/126 RBI/124 runs scored

2005 (141 games): .317 avg./165 hits/29 doubles/32 home runs/108 RBI/95 runs scored

2006 (156 games): .329 avg./200 hits/34 doubles/33 home runs/116 RBI/92 runs scored

2007 (150 games): .324 avg./186 hits/45 doubles/27 home runs/125 RBI/89 runs scored

2008 (143 games): .303 avg./164 hits/31 doubles/27 home runs/91 RBI/85 runs scored

Let’s compute that out to an average Vlad-in-an-Angel-uniform year:

“Typical year” (149 games): .323 avg./184 hits/36 doubles/32 home runs/113 RBI/97 runs scored.

Your offense should be anemic if you’re missing a hitter like this in the lineup, right? I mean this is a guy who’s been consistently .300+ batting average, over 30 doubles, around 30 home runs, and more than 100 RBI per year over his entire MLB career. The normally weak and sometimes pathetic Angels offense should probably be tanking, putting up maybe 2 to 3 runs per contest right?

Well, of lately, that hasn’t exactly been the case, to the delight of Angel fans, myself included.

The Angels have put up 8 or more runs on the board 4 times in the past 5 games, a feat that only happened once in the previous 13 games (plenty of which featured Guerrero with his torn pectoral muscle in the lineup).

I think you have to look at two guys in particular who have been consistent all year: free agent pick-up Bobby Abreu and 2nd-year Angel center fielder Torii Hunter.

Abreu has been hot, batting .381 (8-for-21) with 2 doubles and 5 RBI. He’s been getting on base with great regularity all season, and is a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen base attempts. Once Guerrero gets back and starts swinging the bat to the level that baseball fans are accustomed to seeing from the free-swinger, Abreu is the ideal #3 hitter that Mike Scioscia has been looking for since 2004.

Hunter has been even hotter, batting .391 in the last 5 games (9-for-23), with two doubles, 2 home runs, and 4 RBI. Hunter also leads the team with 7 home runs in the 18 games he’s played in (19 officially but he got ejected in a game a while back in the 1st inning, so he didn’t even have an AB), after he put up 21 home runs throughout all of last season (146 games played).

The Angels are also getting sporadic sparks from different players, like Kendry Morales who exploded on April 22nd against the Tigers by going 2-for-5 with a 3-run home run and a 2-run double, giving him 5 RBI on the night.

Even a slumping Howie Kendrick was able to produce in the Angels’ final game of a home series against the Mariners, as Kendrick went 3-for-5 with 4 RBI. Kendrick knocked a 2-run home run, and had two run-scoring singles en route to a 8-0 thrashing of Seattle.

As much as the big run totals are a breath of fresh air for me, the consistency is not there with the exceptions of Abreu and Hunter. Morales has been a bit off (.266). Kendrick (.258) had been in a slump since the end of Opening Day. Neither Mathis (.227) nor Napoli (.237) can get consistent at-bats. Figgins hasn’t been able to get the bat on the ball much (.227), and Aybar (.255) hasn’t been able to get much going at the dish either.

To add to the lack of consistency, the Angels have not yet won back-to-back games, as in their longest winning streak of the year has been 1.

Three hitters are over .300 right now, in Abreu (.375), Hunter (.338), and Juan Rivera (.309). Maicer Izturis is the closest to the .300 mark at .289 and then it’s just a drop-off.

The Angels (7-11) have assured themselves of their first losing month since June of 2006 when they compiled a 12-14 mark, breaking a 15-month streak of having a winning record in the month when the calendar has to be turned.

I can’t fault the Angels, they’ve gone through more in the first 18 games of the year than some teams may go through in a year. Missing 2 All-Star pitchers in John Lackey and Ervin Santana, having your franchise slugger go on the DL for a month in Vladdy Guerrero, losing 2 more pitchers during the season in Dustin Moseley and Darren Oliver, as well as the shocking death of the young and promising pitching prospect Nick Adenhart.

They’ve had their fair share of adversity, and I’m beginning to feel confident that they will overcome all the obstacles that they’ve been dealt in this young season.

I’m learning to keep the faith in this team after feeling hopeless for a majority of the month of April, because things will turn around. It can only go up from here.

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