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

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

But wait, there’s more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All salaries rounded to the nearest 100,000

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

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

Getting more production for just under half the price.

And if you reeeeeeally wanted to know…

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

You get the point.

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

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

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

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

FAN POLL

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Comeback Kids Channeling ’02 Mojo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the key.

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

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

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Filed under Angel Stories, June Game Recaps