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What About Bob?

Move past the .188 career batting average.

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

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

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

Bobby Wilson is a winner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

A New Season Awaits

It feels like it’s been forever since the Angels last were on the diamond, but thankfully Spring Training is upon us and Opening Day is within reach for our beloved Halos.

A new season awaits Angels fans with a barrage of questions and a lack of familiar faces to go with it.

Who’s Out

Chone Figgins

Figgy had his eyes on the Emerald City as the Seattle Mariners gave him a healthy 4-year, $36 million dollar contract (no more Gettin’ Figgy Wit It? … this still disheartens me greatly). Losing a lethal run scorer and leadoff hitter who greatly improved his eye at the plate (from 62 walks in ’08 to 101 in ’09) will be a loss the Angels will definitely feel if the streaky and slap-happy Erick Aybar (or whoever may hit first) can’t adequately hold down the top of the order.

John Lackey

The Angels lost 2002 World Series hero John Lackey to the Red Sox when he signed a 5-year, $82.5 million contract back in mid-December. The Halos lost out on a guy who emerged as a workhorse, throwing 200+ innings from 2005 to 2007 until having injury-riddled starts to the 2008 and 2009 seasons. They’re also going to feel the void of a guy with passion on the mound as John was as fierce a competitor as they come.

Vladimir Guerrero

Another fan favorite and an MVP not too long ago, Vladimir Guerrero opted for the great state of Texas as he agreed to an incentive-laden 1-year, $5.5 million dollar deal. The man became the face of the franchise back in 2004 and solidified his spot in Angels lore after putting the team on his back down the stretch and beating out the Texas Rangers to become division champs that same year. Vladdy coincidentally won the MVP that year due in large part to his marvelous final week performance, and was a guy who had .300/30+ homers/100+ RBI potential the rest of the way through his Angels career until injuries started catching up to him.

In those 3 players, the Angels lost their #1 starter, their most versatile player/arguably their best defender, and the fan favorite who, even though he struggled with the bat in ’09 was still one of the most feared hitters in the game.

Not to mention the Angels also lost one of their better relievers in Darren Oliver, who posted a team-best 2.71 ERA in 73 innings of work. Over his 3-year Angel career, DO posted a 15-3 record with 40 holds and only 3 blown saves… not too shabby. Oliver will be going back to the team that he started his career with back in 1993, joining Vladdy in heading to the Texas Rangers.

But in all fairness, it’s not like the Angels were losing guys as they were entering their prime. Lackey is 31, Figgy turned 32 almost a month ago, Vladdy turned 35 earlier this month (but judging by the way he runs it looks like he’s twice as old and needs a walker to get around the bases), and Darren Oliver is 39.

The on-field production will be there, don’t get me wrong, but from a long-term point of view, it’s what had to be done at some point or another.

Oh, and who could fail to mention the unforgettable Gary Matthews Jr.? The Halos shipped him off to the New York Mets not too long ago, but it’s hard to say Matthews will be completely gone since the Angels still have to eat $21.5 of the $23.5 million dollars left on his contract. The ghost of Gary Matthews Jr. lives on! … as does the Angels’ severe case of buyer’s remorse.

Who’s In

Hideki Matsui

The Angels made it back-to-back years where they plucked out a guy off the New York Yankees’ roster, with last year being Bobby Abreu and this year being a man they call “Godzilla” (he also was named the World Series MVP for the Yankees after they took out the Phillies in 6). The Halos signed Matsui to a 1-year, $6.5-million dollar deal, and he will act as the guy who fills Vladdy’s production void. Over his 7-year career in pinstripes, Matsui had 4 years of 100+ RBI and hit .292 over that 7-year span. The Angels let Matsui know that they wanted to give him a chance to play in the outfield, making Anaheim his preferred destination after New York had no intentions of negotiating with him.

Thoughts and expectations:

No he’s not Matt Holliday. No he’s not Jason Bay. But he’s as good a value pickup as there was on the free agent market. Don’t expect the world of Matsui, but what he will bring is a power lefty bat to the order. He hit .274, jacked 28 homers and drove in 90 runs last year for the Yanks, so I’d expect comparable numbers in terms of batting average and runs driven in, but I’d see around 20-25 home runs due to going from the short porch in Yankee Stadium to the big wall in Angel Stadium that will undoubtedly knock down balls that would’ve been home runs if we were still playing in New York.

Joel Pineiro

A former American League West foe (with Seattle from 2000-2006), Pineiro had a bounce-back year with the St. Louis Cardinals in ’09. He compiled a 15-12 record, a 3.49 ERA, and had a career-best 214 innings pitched. His 15 wins were the most since 2003 and his season ERA is also the lowest since he finished ’03 at a 3.78 clip. The Angels inked Pineiro to a 2-year, $16-million dollar deal, as he was the best pitcher left on the market after Lackey left and the Angels missed out on dealing for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee.

Thoughts and expectations:

I’m not fully sold on him. Was 2009 an aberration or a case of Pineiro catching a 2nd wind in his career? Only time will tell, but what we do know is that Pineiro is a hurler who pitches to contact, resulting in a very low strikeout rate per 9 innings (career-low 4.22 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched last year), but consequently was one of the league’s best ground ball-inducing pitchers. The Angels did what they needed to do, and that was to get another pitcher after Lackey left for Beantown, and Pineiro happened to be that guy. Although not all Angel fans are satisfied with having him over a guy like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, the Angels were able to hold on to some important pieces in Erick Aybar, Joe Saunders/Ervin Santana, and up-and-comer Peter Bourjos who the Angels would have had to ship out to get one of those guys in return. While the Angels don’t have the best 1-2 punch in the AL West (the Mariners easily hold that title with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the Angels have the deepest rotation in the division, and adding Pineiro helped bolster a rotation that struggled mightily a year ago. If Pineiro can channel his 2009 stuff, this will be a fantastic addition and a great #4/#5 starter in the rotation, but if he reverts back to his old form, consider this another time the Angels bought up on a player after one good year out of nowhere (reference Gary Matthews Jr.).

Fernando Rodney

The Angels put $11 million into Rodney over the course of the next two seasons, after having been with the Tigers since 2002. Rodney became Detroit’s main closer in 2009, posting 37 saves to only 1 blown save. Rodney is a fireballer through and through, as he’s hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun plenty of times over his career, but what worries many is the high ERA and porous strikeout-to-walk ratio he has.

Thoughts and expectations:

I really think the Angels could have spent those $11 million dollars a little more wisely. For being a flamethrower, his strikeout rate dropped to its lowest mark in his last 6 seasons (7.26 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched). His ERA was 4.40 last year (that’s 47 points higher than Brian Fuentes’s mark of 3.93 last year… and we all know how many times he nearly gave us a heart attack when he took the mound). He’s only posted a sub-4.00 ERA twice in his career, none of which have come in the last 3 seasons. While his 37 of 38 save conversions is a nice statistic, we all know it’s not the mark of a great closer, considering Fuentes posted a league-best 48 saves last year and was as shaky a closer as there was in all of baseball. I’m not quite certain who is going to be the closer and who is going to be the setup man between Rodney and Fuentes, but one thing is for sure, pitching as Rodney did last year isn’t going to fill the void that the departure of Darren Oliver left. Not even close.

3 Under the Microscope

Last year, the 3 players who to me were the biggest question marks entering the season were Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar, and Juan Rivera. The much-hyped Morales had some big shoes to fill at 1st base, Aybar had a botched suicide squeeze in Boston still in his mind, and Juan Rivera was getting his first chance in a handful of years to get regular playing time in the outfield. What happened? All 3 produced much more than I could have asked of them. Morales finished 5th in American League MVP voting, Aybar (in my opinion) got robbed of a Gold Glove and marked his first season of a batting average over .300 (.312 on the year), and Juan Rivera posted new career highs in hits, runs, home runs, and RBI.

So who are the 3 to look for in 2010? Let’s get to it.

Brandon Wood

If there’s one player to watch this year it most certainly is Brandon Wood. He made more trips to and from Salt Lake that it seemed like Brandon Wood call-ups and send downs were daily occurrences. This year, there’s no more of that. He’s got 3rd base with his name all over it. Chone Figgins is gone, meaning it is finally his chance to prove what all the hype has been about ever since the Angels drafted him with the 23rd overall pick back in 2003. Wood tore up the minor leagues, but once he got to the majors, his bat was non-existent. In his time up in the majors, B-Wood has compiled some pretty miserable statistics… a career .192 hitter in the majors to go along with a .222 on-base percentage. And while his power hitting ability is something that stood out greatly in the minors (hit 43 home runs in 2005), he’s only hit 7 home runs in 224 career big league at-bats. It’s make or break time for Brandon Wood, no ifs ands or buts about it. While he won’t have a Kendry Morales-like impact on the team this year, he doesn’t need to, if he provides the Angels with a .260 average and 20+ home runs, that’s really all I think the Angels can ask of him.

Scott Kazmir

The late-season acquisition of Kazmir proved to benefit the Angels as he posted a 1.73 ERA in 6 starts with the Angels last year. 2009 was Kazmir’s worst as a full-time starter, with a season ERA (4.89) that was more than a full run higher than his previous career-worst (3.79 back in 2005, his first full year as an MLB starter). If Kazmir can find the grip and release point on his slider, he’s got one of baseball’s most devastating pitches in his arsenal. That’s a big if, considering he struggled with it all of last year, hence the ballooned ERA. Kazmir only turned 26 earlier this calendar year, and already has 5 full seasons of MLB service under his belt. Kazmir was an All-Star in 2006 and 2008… the calendar now shows 2010, does this mean he’s bound to be an All-Star again? Let’s hope history repeats itself in this case.

Ervin Santana

Much like Kazmir, his better years came in 2006 and 2008, but Santana’s performance has varied greatly from year-to-year during his Angels career.

Here’s a look at Santana’s last 4 seasons:

2006 (16-8, 4.28 ERA)

2007 (7-14, 5.76 ERA)

2008 (16-7, 3.49 ERA)

2009 (8-8, 5.03 ERA)

Entering a season, you’re either getting good Ervin or bad Ervin, one of the MLB’s better cases of Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome. Santana was fantastic in his 2008 All-Star season, and when the expectations were high for him entering 2009, he struggled all year long. This year, expectations are much lower, and maybe less of a spotlight on him is exactly what the doctor ordered. Like Kazmir, it’s an even-numbered year again, and 2010 will prove to be a big year for Ervin who is entering the 2nd year of a 4-year, $30 million dollar deal that so far has been wasted money. Time to prove you’re worth it, kid.

Not to be Overlooked

The Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli situation behind the plate.

Not this again. Year after year we’re asking the same question: if you take one, who do you pick? Do you take Mathis with his career .200 batting average and better catching abilities or Nap with his power bat and below average defense? Scioscia can’t seem to make up his mind so he just platoons between both.

Joe Saunders

2010 needs to be a bounce-back year for all of the Angels’ rotation, and after pitching most of 2009 injured, Saunders threw extremely well down the stretch last year, winning his last 7 decisions on the year. He has the most momentum of any pitcher going into this year and is probably 2nd in line behind Jered Weaver for being this year’s Opening Day starter. He has a 33-14 record over his last 2 seasons and is one of the more composed pitchers on the team, and he’ll have to set the tone again this year in order for himself and the rest of the staff as a whole to be successful.

Kendry Morales

Don’t expect similar numbers to last year. Managers are going to know how to approach pitching to KMo this year, and that may mean a healthy dose of curveballs headed his way. While he could turn on a high heater with the best of them, he struggled hitting breaking balls, and until he learns how to sit and wait on pitches, you may be seeing a decline in production after his breakout 2009 campaign.

Spring Training is here and Opening Day is only 45 days away.

Here’s to a successful 2010 season, Angel fans!

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From Scapegoat to Unsung Hero

aybar hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2007, he hit .237.

In 2008, he hit .277.

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

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

Then 2009 rolled around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did he hit, you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This team… is a team of destiny.

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Where is the Love?

kendry point

Entering this year, the departure of Mark Teixeira probably had a decent amount of Angel fans worried.

By Teixeira leaving Anaheim to sign a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, and Casey Kotchman being shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Teixeira at the trade deadline in 2008, it opened the door for a capable, but unproven Kendry Morales to be tabbed as the Angels’ everyday first baseman.

Questions like, “can our offense possibly get any worse?”, “can we ever recover from Tex leaving us?” and maybe even, “who the heck is this Kendry Morales guy?” arose.

Entering the 2009 season, Morales had played in 127 games over the course of 3 seasons, while posting a .249 batting average to go along with 12 home runs.

Angel fans got a glimpse of what the big switch-hitting Cuban talent could do in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS against the Boston Red Sox when he hit a pinch-hit double off the Green Monster to start of the 9th inning in a 2-2 ballgame (which would end in Erick Aybar botching a suicide squeeze… you know what happens from there).

Kendry picked up where he left off with that at-bat, and has been absolutely scorching the ball throughout the entire 2009 campaign, which brings me to ask the following question, “where is the love?”

At this point, all you hear on TV or read about is “Joe Mauer or Mark Teixeira for the AL MVP? Who will it be?” and that’s it. No Morales. Not a hint that he’s even in the running for the MVP award. Nothing at all.

No disrespect to Joe Mauer, who’s put together an absolutely remarkable season (league-best .367 average and 1.044 OPS marks), and Tex who has definitely put up the numbers that Yankee fans have envisioned him doing (32 home runs, 101 RBI after Sunday’s game).

But what more do you want the guy to do? It’s hard to say that he’s been struggling at any point of this season.

He put together a career-best 20-game hit streak earlier this year. He had a 5-for-5 night a couple games back where he blasted 2 homers and drove in 6 runs. You think that would put him on the map? Nope, still no love for KMo.

Entering Sunday, KMo’s numbers look like this: a .309 batting average, 29 home runs, 91 RBI, 70 runs scored, 34 doubles, a .587 slugging percentage, and on defense (the big question mark regarding his game entering this season) he’s only had 6 errors (.994 fielding percentage).

Let’s stack those numbers up against the rest of the American League entering Sunday’s games.

His .309 batting average ties him for the 21st-best mark in the American League.

His 29 home runs ties him with Justin Morneau of the Twins and Jason Bay of the Red Sox for 5th most in the AL.

His 91 RBI is also 5th most in the AL.

His .939 OPS (on-base + slugging percentages) is the 5th highest in the AL.

His .585 slugging percentage is 2nd best.

His 65 extra-base hits gave him the 2nd most as well.

He’s up near the top for most of the power categories and it’s a shame how all of his accomplishments this year are somehow continuing to go under the radar.

Let’s get real here, Joe Mauer may just be the best player in baseball not named Albert Pujols. Not in a long, long time has a catcher come along and been able to hit like Mauer has in his young career (.326 career average, 2-time AL batting champion)… oh, and he’s only 26 years old. The sky’s the limit for this kid, and the MLB would be stupid to not begin to advertise the kid some more. He’s a player who just plays baseball the way it should be played, has no strings attached, and is easily likeable… that is, unless he’s torching your team that day, but that’s another story. He’s had an unreal year (.367 average, .435 OBP, 25 homers, 79 RBI), but his team isn’t even winning the weakest division in baseball. It just leads to the age-old argument: does it go to the best player on the best team or the league’s best player on a team that may not even make the playoffs?

Mark Teixeira has had an outstanding year following an early season slump that left many Yankee fans restless. Tex is too good of a player to stay down for that long, though, and I think all baseball fans know what kind of player he has been over the past 6 years. Tex leads the AL in RBI with 101, and his 32 home runs ranks 2nd behind Carlos Peña of the Tampa Bay Rays (37 homers). The two-time Gold Glove award winner has been exceptional at 1st base game after game for the Bronx Bombers, no surprise there. But it just seems that picking Teixeira would be the “sexy pick.” Pick the guy with the gaudiest numbers, yeah he deserves it. Not to take away from the season that Tex has been having, but if you were batting behind Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, with Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui among others hitting behind you, I’d sure hope you’re putting up numbers like that.

It’s almost as if it’s a David vs. Goliath type of situation. The Goliaths in Teixeira and Mauer are dwarfing Morales to the point where he may not even get MVP recognition by the media.

As much as I’m lobbying for Kendry to get his fair share of recognition, I truly don’t believe he’ll win the MVP award. I think Joe Mauer’s 100% got it in the bag. With the type of year he’s been having, I say how can you not vote for him? All I’m asking is that the baseball world gives KMo the respect he deserves for the season he’s been having, it is undoubtedly a season worth recognizing… especially for a guy in his first full year as an everyday player. Even 2006 MVP award-winner Justin Morneau of the Twins deserves some MVP race consideration with the year he’s been having as well.

But, hey baseball writers, all I’m asking is that you throw him a few votes, just a few! Don’t overlook our KMo!

To add to it, while writing this article, Morales hit a 3-run bomb with 2 strikes and 2 outs to put the Angels comfortably ahead 8-1 against the visiting Oakland Athletics. The Halos would go on to win today 9-1. Is that something that we haven’t seen from him this year? Nope, that’s what we’ve seen him do time and time again.

Maybe a little love shown now that he got that 30th home run? Maybe… just maybe.

As I had written back in the beginning of May in “(So Far) the Angels Look Like They Made the Right Moves“, “The future has a lot in store for KMo, and I truly believe that he could become one of the most productive offensive first baseman in the game in only a matter of years…. This kid’s gonna be something special, make no mistake about it.”

I can firmly say that I continue to stand behind those statements nearly 4 months later.

My final question that I’m asking to baseball writers is this: where would the team be if you removed that player from the lineup?

The Yankees would still be winning thanks to having 6 or more All-Stars in their lineup everyday.

The Twins would still not be leading their division.

The Angels would be nowhere near where they are today with the 2nd-best record in baseball.

That’s all I have to say.

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Filed under 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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