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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.

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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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Hunter and Fuentes Selected to ’09 All-Star Team

fuentes and hunter
After today’s All-Star team rosters were announced, I’m proud to say that two very deserving Angels made the squad, those two being the Halos’ first half Superman in Torii Hunter, and first-year closer Brian Fuentes.

In 75 games played, Torii has posted a .304 batting average, along with a club-best 17 home runs and 63 RBI to go along with some stellar center field play (still 0 errors on the season… hopefully this won’t jinx him!). He’s been on fire all year long, and without his hot bat during Vlad’s DL stint, who knows where the Angels would be. One thing’s for sure, they sure as heck wouldn’t be sitting atop the AL West.

He will be making his 3rd All-Star appearance, as he finished 4th in outfield voting, barely missing a starting spot behind Seattle Mariner hit machine Ichiro Suzuki, Boston Red Sox slugger Jason Bay, and the Texas Rangers’ comeback kid in Josh Hamilton, who has only played in 35 of the team’s 80 games this year (but I guess that’s what you get when the fans vote).

And for Fuentes, he’s been successful on 24 of 27 possible save opportunities this year, and that 24 saves is tops among all MLB closers. After a rocky start to the season (blowing 2 of his first 7 save opportunities), Fuentes has been in a groove, shutting the door in 19 of his past 20 opportunities. He hasn’t given up a run since May 30th and in 10 appearances during the month of June, he allowed no runs and only surrendered 3 hits to opposing lineups.

Fuentes was selected in by the players and coaches, with this being his 4th All-Star appearance of his career (All-Star from 2005-2007 with the Colorado Rockies).

The 2009 All-Star game takes place on Tuesday July 14th under the Gateway Arch in beautiful St. Louis, Missouri.

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