Los Angeles Angels: Los Angeles Angels
The 95 baseballs affixed to the wall of their clubhouse for every game they have won this season guaranteed it would happen sooner or later.
In the end, the Angels were finally able to celebrate their first AL West Division title since 2009 after huddling around the television sets in their clubhouse, watching the Texas Rangers' improbable six-run ninth inning comeback win over the Oakland A's to seal the championship.
It was, of course, the Rangers and the A's over the past four seasons that ruled the division the Angels controlled from 2004 to 2009, winning the AL West five times in six years. A lot has changed over the past four years. The Angels went from a small-ball team to big-league spenders that were in the mix for every big name free agent, winning their fair share of battles by adding Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson.
With those big names and big contracts came big expectations that they failed to match over the past four years. But along the way they added young players who would turn into young stars who would eventually outshine their overpaid teammates.
And no player has shined brighter over the past three seasons for the Angels than Mike Trout, who was selected with the 25th pick in the 2009 draft when he was only 17 and the team was a postseason regular. Five years later, Trout closed his eyes tight as champagne was poured over his head. He was in left field attempting to high-five every Angels fan who reached out of the stands.
"I can't explain it, it's an unbelievable feeling," Trout said as he wiped champagne out of his eyes. "It feels awesome. I'm speechless."
While Trout, who turned 23 last month, is already regarded as the most talented player in baseball, he has picked the brains of older players since he came into the league. He has been talking to Pujols for the past three seasons about playing in the postseason. This year he has added Pujols' former teammate with St. Louis Cardinals, David Freese, to the conversation. Freese was the World Series MVP in 2011.
"I picked their brains every once in a while," Trout said. "Albert has been there and Freese has been there. They'll lead us the right way. It gives us all in the clubhouse an edge."
Pujols, 34, was expected to be the leader of the Angels on and off the field after signing a 10-year, $254 million contract following the 2011 World Series victory, but he understood quickly the Angels have something special in Trout. As Trout enjoyed his first champagne celebration, Pujols smiled from afar.
"Trout is a special player," Pujols said. "I said it over the last couple of years. Players like Trout don't come around often; maybe once every 30 or 40 years. This city is really blessed to see a young player like Trout and hopefully he wins the MVP this year. I'm pretty sure we're going to continue to talk, but I'm going to make sure he understands that this is just a little taste of what's better for us in the future when we hopefully get to a World Series and win it."
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRookie Matt Shoemaker has defied the odds to claim a spot in the Angels' rotation.
Meanwhile, Friday starter Matt Shoemaker will remain in the Angels' rotation for the foreseeable future.
The rookie right-hander has been solid since transitioning from long relief to the rotation. His one major hiccup came when he gave up 11 hits and eight earned runs in his last start of June in Kansas City.
Diamond in the rough
Unlike his rotation mates, Shoemaker wasn’t drafted at all, let alone in the first five rounds like Wilson, Skaggs, Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver. The Angels signed him as a free agent in 2008.
By 2011, the Eastern Michigan grad was the star of the double-A affiliate in Arkansas, throwing five complete games en route to being named Texas League player of the year.
Shoemaker struggled in two-plus seasons at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League, but has actually pitched better from an ERA standpoint at the big league level.
He’s also an extreme bargain at $500,500 this season. Albert Pujols makes that in three-and-a-half games. The Angels are paying Joe Blanton $7 million more than that NOT to pitch.
With all the big contracts on the team, Shoemaker’s contributions this season have been a god-send.
The righty has always flashed solid strikeout rates throughout the minor leagues (7.4 K/9 IP), but he has strangely been able to boost that at the big league level (9.1 K/9 IP).
This season, 12 percent of Shoemaker’s pitches have resulted in a swing-and-miss. That ranks 11th among all MLB starters, just ahead of the likes of Zack Greinke, David Price and Yu Darvish.
The main pitch behind Shoemaker’s success is his changeup. Opponents are hitting just .135 against it, swinging and missing a ridiculous 27 percent of the time. That’s the second-best rate in baseball.
Of his 77 strikeouts on the season, 48 have come on changeups (62 percent).
Juan DeLeon/Icon SMIJosh Hamilton has struggled to hit for power since returning from a thumb injury.
Josh Hamilton started the season red hot, slashing .444/.545/.741 in the first 8 games of the season. Hamilton obviously wasn’t going to maintain those numbers, but it did give Halo fans hope that he could become the power threat he was with the Texas Rangers when he slashed .305/.363/.549 over five seasons.
Unfortunately, Hamilton then slid head-first into first base and tore a ligament in his left thumb.
He has now played in 45 games since returning from the disabled list. In those games he has just three home runs, after hitting two prior to getting hurt.
Thumb injuries are notorious for sapping a hitter’s power. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper suffered a torn ligament in his thumb on a head-first slide a couple weeks after Hamilton did. He has seen his slugging percentage go from .422 before the injury to .368 after.
Trouble with the curve
This season, pitchers have found success attacking Hamilton with curveballs. He is batting .200 against the pitch. League average is .247.
Hamilton has missed on 49 percent of his swings against curveballs. 22 of his 42 plate appearances that have ended in a hook, have resulted in a strikeout.
Waiting for his pitch
All is not lost for Hamilton, the main thing he needs to do is be more patient at the plate. When he gets a pitch in the middle zone vertically he is hitting .391, more than 100 points better than league average. But when a pitch is either up or down he is hitting .243.
Hamilton has swung at 37 percent of pitches he has seen outside the strike zone. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances this season, that ranks 24th highest out of 257 players. As a result, 60 percent of the pitches he has seen have been out of the strikezone. The only player who has seen a fewer percentage of strikes is noted free-swinger Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants (62 percent of pitches outside of zone).
The Los Angeles Angels have now won 16 of their last 20 games as their explosive lineup on paper is translating to runs on the field.
On Thursday they scored a season-high 15 runs, including a whopping 13 in the first three innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that tied their franchise record for most runs through three innings, last done in April 1989.
Not to be overlooked despite all the superstars hitting behind him has been right fielder Kole Calhoun. The 26-year-old looks fully recovered from a bad ligament sprain in his ankle earlier this season that sent him to the disabled list.
In his last 14 games, Calhoun is hitting .420 with a .482 on-base percentage. During that stretch he has seven multi-hit games, with three-or-more hits on four occasions, solidifying his spot atop the Halos batting order.
Thriving at the top
Out of 56 games this season, Calhoun has been in the leadoff spot for 42 of them. In those games he is batting .335, while batting only .179 when in the bottom half of the order.
Spending a lot of time batting in front of Mike Trout has had its benefits as Calhoun has seen a fastball 63 percent of the time when batting leadoff, hitting .383 against them. All 10 of Calhoun's home runs this season have come on some type of fastball and all have come while he was hitting leadoff.
For a player whose main job is to set the table for the big boppers, Calhoun has continued to show his own power stroke. Last season while splitting time between Triple-A Salt Lake and the big club, he totaled 20 homers. He's on a similar pace this season.
Among players who have made at least 100 plate appearances this season, Calhoun's ISO (which measures extra-bases per at-bat) of .236 ranks 23rd in all of baseball. The player who ranks 24th? Miguel Cabrera with .234 (albeit in a much larger sample size).
As usual, Mike Trout has played a huge role, batting .354 in that span.
Despite his youth, Trout continues to find ways to improve. This recent hot stretch has been fueled by crushing offspeed pitches. Since June 1, he is hitting .529 against breaking balls with a ridiculous 1.118 slugging percentage.
How good are those numbers? Those rates are twice as good as the numbers he put up in the first two months of the season against offspeed pitches (.277 BA, .523 slug pct). To put it in further perspective, in that same span the next highest batting average against breaking balls is .421 by Adrian Beltre.
Trout will get to test his offspeed-crushing skills Friday against Houston Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, who has been one of the biggest surprises this season.
Keuchel entered this season with a 5.20 career ERA in two seasons, but this year takes a 2.78 ERA into his start against the Angels.
A big reason for his success is an extremely effective slider. This season, opponents are hitting just .143 against Keuchel’s slider. That ranks fifth-best among all qualified major league starters.
Trout does have four hits in 14 career at-bats against Keuchel, but is 0-3 with two strikeouts in at-bats ending in a slider.
The Angels have faced Keuchel twice this season, going 1-1 with the one win coming in Houston when they knocked him out after a season-low five innings.
That could be bad news for Cleveland's Justin Masterson as he tries to find some traction during the most inconsistent season of his career.
After rain postponed Wednesday's game, the Angels look for a second straight road victory for the first time in more than a month Thursday against the Indians.
The decision was made to not play a doubleheader, leaving Wednesday's contest to be made up on a mutual day off.
"It's never in anybody's best interest to play a doubleheader," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Los Angeles (38-32) had scored just 10 runs in its losses during a 1-4 stretch before breaking out for 15 hits in a 9-3 win Tuesday. Trout has four homers in his last four games after going deep twice for the second time in his career and driving in four runs. He's batting .410 with eight homers and 26 RBIs over his last 22 games and has 14 RBIs in his last 13 matchups with Cleveland.
"I'm being patient and squaring up some balls," Trout said. "I'm not anxious. I'm just comfortable."
The one bright spot during that rough patch for Frieri was that he was still striking batters out, whiffing 12 in 8⅔ innings.
He’s now settled back into his ninth-inning role, having allowed just four earned runs in 19⅓ innings. In three straight games from June 7 to June 9, Frieri closed each out, allowing just one hit while striking out seven of the 11 batters he faced.
Bringing the heat
Frieri’s fastball velocity sits at 94.5 mph, topping out at 97 mph in recent appearances. Both of those figures are up about a mile per hour from the start of the season. The small uptick has meant wonders to Frieri in the past 19 games, as opponents are hitting just .120 against his fastball. In the beginning of the season, Frieri’s fastball was getting torched at a .355 clip.
In two-strike situations, Frieri turns to the fastball as a kill pitch about two-thirds of the time. Hitters are one for their past 30 when trying to catch up to his fastball in two-strike counts.
One trend that has continued for Frieri this season is that he has been more effective against left-handed hitters (.185 BA) than right-handed hitters (.275 BA). Going back three seasons, the splits are even more severe: .141 versus lefties, .248 versus righties. Among right-handed relievers who have pitched in at least 100 games over that span, the only pitcher who has been tougher on lefties is Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara (.131).
Last season the Angels held their own by going 4-6 in Oakland. This season, despite ranking fourth in the league with a .421 team slugging percentage, they may have to manufacture more runs than they did last year when they hit 14 home runs in 10 games – five of which came from Mike Trout.
The Oakland Athletics pitching staff is tops in the big leagues with a 2.89 ERA. At home they are even better with a 2.75 ERA as O.co Coliseum is the seventh-best pitcher’s park in baseball according to Park Factors.
On the mound for the Athletics on Friday is 25-year-old lefthander Drew Pomeranz, who came in a trade from the Colorado Rockies this offseason for Brett Anderson. Pomeranz has excelled in four starts for Oakland this season, allowing just two earned runs and 13 hits over 19 innings.
Still being stretched out as a starter, Pomeranz has yet to throw more than five innings in any game this season. In his most recent start, he was pulled after four innings after throwing a season-high 90 pitches.
So how should the Angels try to get to the former fifth-overall pick?
Be aggressive early in the count
This season opponents are hitting .462 against Pomeranz in the first two pitches of at-bats. Among pitchers who have made at least four starts this season, that is the ninth-worst in baseball.
But once you get to pitch number three, it is advantage Pomeranz, with opponents hitting just .132 against the lefty. Among pitchers to start at least four times this season, the only pitcher with a lower opponent’s batting average once the count gets three pitches deep is Chris Sale (.101).
Lay off the curveball
To say Pomeranz’s curveball has been effective this season would be a huge understatement. He has ended 24 plate appearances with a curve, striking out 11 and inducing 13 groundballs (three went for hits).
Pomeranz’s throws a knuckle curve which his father taught him because he felt it put less strain on the arm than a traditional curveball. Pomeranz described the pitch in a 2011 interview with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus:
“I hook my middle finger on a seam, and my thumb on one of the seams, and I push off the top of the seam, holding it kind of like a two-seam, but turned out to the front.
The knuckle curve has been especially effective against right-handed hitters as Pomeranz has been able to locate the pitch so it often lands on the low-outside corner or breaks towards the hitter’s feet out of the strike zone. As a result, righties have just 1 hit in 16 at-bats with eight strikeouts against Pomeranz curveballs.
In Pujols' first two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels he hit a total of 16 home runs in the months of April and May. This season he already has 13 home runs with a week left in May.
Pujols is currently slugging .545 on the season, more than 100 points better than last year’s dismal .437, and his best since slugging .596 in his second to last season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010. Having their slugging first baseman produce at a high level will be crucial for the Angels given the Oakland Athletics' hot start.
Fixing The Machine
One of the big problems for Pujols last season was that he hit only .283 on pitches in the strike zone, while missing on 12 percent of swings. This season his average against pitches over the plate is .322 with only an 8 percent miss rate. All 13 of his home runs this season have come on pitches in the strike zone.
Pujols is also back to being able to hit off of left-handers (.288 average) after last year's debacle when he hit just .213 against lefties. Before 2013, the lowest Pujols ever hit in a single season against left-handers was .279. That was as a rookie in 2001.
Areas of concern
While Pujols' start is encouraging, there are some warning signs about his game. The first one that jumps out is his walk rate, which sits at a career-low 6.9 percent. During his MVP years, he walked 15 percent of the time. Those rates were inflated with intentional walks and pitch-arounds that Pujols no longer commands, but it would be good to see him get that up to at least 10 percent.
One contributing factor in the decrease in his walk rate in recent years has been his increase in chasing pitches out of the strike zone since joining the Angels. This problem is compounded by the fact that unlike earlier in his career when Pujols hit well against pitches out of the strike zone, he currently does not, as .114 batting average against such pitches proves.
The last area concern is that 99 of the 166 balls Pujols has put in play this season have been pulled (60 percent). In the previous five seasons, he had a 50 percent pull rate. With the success teams have had with defensive shifts recently, this type of tendency could be exploited to hurt Pujols.
Last season, the Rangers dominated the Halos, winning 15 of the 19 games, including the final five meetings. In 11 of the 19, the Angels were held to three runs or fewer -- and they lost every one of those games.
This season, the Angels have one of the best offenses in baseball, averaging 5.5 runs per game. One of the under-the-radar reasons why has been the hot start of Howie Kendrick.
The Angels' second baseman already has 12 walks this season. That isn’t an exorbitant amount, but for the usually aggressive Kendrick, it is more than halfway to his total from all of last season (23) and more than a third of the way to his career high of 33, set in 2011.
As a result, Kendrick sports a .382 on-base percentage, which, if he can maintain it, would blow away his previous career best of .347. Manager Mike Scioscia has taken notice, too, moving Kendrick into the leadoff spot. In two games batting in front of Mike Trout, he has two hits and two walks in nine plate appearances.
This season he is hitting .478 against sliders -- tops in the big leagues among players who have seen at least 20 plate appearances end with a slider.
Kendrick hasn’t tried to do too much when he recognizes sliders -- all 11 of his hits against the pitch have gone directly back up the middle or the other way. When he has tried to pull the pitch, the result has been soft contact to the left side of the infield.
This new approach could be put to the test Friday, when Kendrick is slated to face Rangers righty Colby Lewis -- who features an above-average slider. Over the past three seasons, Lewis has thrown a slider 22 percent of the time, with opponents hitting .161. The league average over that span is .216.
This season the Angels will hope to pitch better at Yankee Stadium than they did last year when they dropped three of four games and were outscored 31-19.
For the Angels, the series starts with C.J. Wilson on the mound, who owns a 2.41 career ERA in five previous starts at Yankee Stadium, giving up two runs or fewer in the last four of those.
Cause for concern?
Through four starts, Wilson's ERA is up nearly a run over last year, but it isn't anything to get too concerned about yet. Most of the blame for the inflated ERA can be placed on a home run per at-bat rate that is more than twice Wilson's norm. He has given up one homer per start this season after giving up 15 all of last year.
Last season Wilson used his slider 19 percent of the time, but so far in 2014 he has thrown the pitch only eight percent of the time. Instead, he has been leaning on more changeups, throwing it 13 percent of the time, compared to six percent last year.
The decreased slider usage isn't an indication Wilson isn't happy with the pitch. It is still one of his most effective pitches (.222 Opp BA in 2014), but he has been saving it for two-strike counts and higher-leverage situations.
The increased changeup rate on the other hand seems to be a strategy to keep right-handed hitters off of his fastball as 57 of the 58 changeups he has thrown this season have been to righties.
Wilson vs. Yankees
Among players on the Yankees that Wilson has faced at least 20 times, his numbers are very favorable against Ichiro Suzuki (.196 BA, 12 strikeouts) and Mark Teixeira (.118 BA).
The Angels lefty will need to pitch Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano carefully as they own .381 and .556 averages against him, respectively. After a slow start to his season, Soriano has been hitting nearly .400 over the last week and a half.
Pujols became the first player to hit his 499th and 500th career home runs in the same game. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that two players hit their 500th and 501st home runs in the same game -- Mark McGwire and Harmon Killebrew.
Pujols is also the fourth player to hit his 499th and 500th home run within a span of three at-bats or fewer, along with Ted Williams, McGwire and Willie Mays.
The 34-year-old Pujols is the third-youngest player to join the 500-home run club, which now numbers 26 members. He trails then-32-year-olds Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx.
Pujols is the fourth player to reach 500 home runs within his first 14 seasons, along with McGwire, Rodriguez and Mays.
Pujols is also the fourth player born outside the United States to hit 500 home runs, joining Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez.
He is the second player to hit his 500th career home run as a member of the Angels, joining Reggie Jackson on Sept. 17, 1984.
Pujols entered the day with a career batting average of .321. Only three members of the 500-homer club have hit for a higher average: Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342) and Foxx (.325).
This wasn’t the first milestone home run he hit at Nationals Park. He also hit his 400th career home run there against Jordan Zimmermann.
Pujols now has eight home runs in 2014, his most before the end of April since hitting eight in 2009. He's hit more than eight by the end of April only once (2006, when he had 14).
Getting his swing back
Pujols' 500th home run went 430 feet, his longest of the season (and longest since June 21, 2013, a 448-footer off Gerrit Cole). It came on a fastball at the top of the strike zone.
Pujols has four home runs on 35 swings against pitches in the upper-third of the strike zone or above. He had six home runs on 226 such swings last season.
Well, that's the best part of what happened Tuesday night in Washington. It's the best part about round numbers like 500 home runs because they remind us to stop and pay attention. They remind us to take stock of the man who just met the milestone. And when we take stock of Pujols and the path that led him to home run No. 500, you know what we find?
We find a guy who did so much more than just make home run trots. That's what.
How does Pujols compare with the rest of that 500 Homer Club? It's an incredible thing to behold. Let's take a look:
The .300/.400/500/.600 Club
This is one of my favorite sets of numbers because it provides us with one of the most exalted groups of hitters who ever lived. You need:
- .300 batting average or better.
- .400 on-base percentage or better.
- 500 home runs or more.
- .600 slugging percentage or better.
Here are the three men in history who get to hang out in this clubhouse:
- Ted Williams .344/.482/521/.634
- Babe Ruth .342/.474/714/.690
- Jimmie Foxx .325/.428/534/.609
And that's all, folks. Ever heard of them?
Uh, that'll still work. Because here's the thing: Even if we lowered the slugging percentage cutoff to below .600, to whatever The Pujols Line is at any given moment, there would still just be those three men and Pujols.
So maybe the .300/.400/500/.599 Club doesn't have quite the same ring to it as .300/.400/.500/.600. But it's just as rarefied a group.
Now one more thing: I understand that Williams, Ruth and Foxx all had those numbers at the end of their careers, not in the middle. But I've taken a look at the entire 500 Homer Club. And nobody except those three had Pujols' slash line at the time of his 500th. Not even Barry Bonds, who finished his career at .298/.444/762/.607.
So the moral of this story remains the same: Lots of men have hit baseballs over many, many fences. Only the greatest hitters who ever lived have been the all-around offensive forces that Pujols has been. And that's a fact.
Not Your Average 500-HR Man
But suppose we take all those other numbers out of this and focus just on batting average -- which isn't a measure of power at all but merely of a man's ability to hit baseballs where nobody with a glove is standing.
At .321, Pujols has the fourth-highest average in the entire 500 Homer Club -- trailing only those same three men from the previous list: Williams (.344), Ruth (.342) and Foxx (.325).
And just to answer the next logical question, that ranking doesn't change, even if we take final career average out of the equation. He still owns the fourth-best batting average, at the time of his 500th homer, in history. The next-highest, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is .314 -- by Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Manny Ramirez.
So is it safe to say there's nothing "average" about Pujols' average, except that word itself?
The Most Striking Stat Of All
Wait. We almost "missed" the coolest stat in Pujols' entire collection. And that's that this man has hardly "missed" at all, especially compared with the rest of his generation: 500 home runs -- but only 843 strikeouts.
In an age when strikeouts have become more common than the seventh-inning stretch, how astonishing is that stat? Well, let's tell you exactly how astonishing. That comes to 1.69 strikeouts for every home run. And you know how many members of the 500 Homer Club can beat that? Exactly one: Ted Williams (1.36).
Now we know that Ted, of course, was a freak. But if we invite in the rest of that 500-homer group, from across the eras, we'd still find only three others with ratios better than two strikeouts per homer. Here's that top five, which, I'm guessing again, won't require you to Google any names:
Whoa. But what do you say, just for further perspective, that we compare Pujols with the other big sluggers of his time. The next man down on the active career homer list is a fellow named Adam Dunn. This isn't fair. But for amusement purposes only, here's how Dunn stacks up against Pujols:
Heh-heh-heh. Get the picture? But even if we take Dunn and the suspended-in-animation Alex Rodriguez (3.17) out of the conversation, Pujols is still whiffing about half as much as the other active members of the 400 Homer Club -- if that:
So in a world where every other masher roaming the planet is shopping at Kmart two or three times a day, Pujols remains a mind-warping anomaly. He still has never struck out 100 times in a season in his career -- 500 homers later.
Five More Fun Pujols 500-HR Facts
• At 34 years, 96 days old, Pujols is the third-youngest player in history to reach 500 homers, trailing only A-Rod (32 years, 8 days) and Foxx (32 years, 337 days).
• Just seven men in history reached 500 homers in fewer at-bats than the 7,390 it took Pujols: Mark McGwire (5,487), Ruth (5,801), Harmon Killebrew (6,671), Sammy Sosa (7,036), Foxx (7,074), Mickey Mantle (7,300) and Mike Schmidt (7,331).
• Only six other hitters whose primary position was first base have hit 500 homers: McGwire, Foxx, Willie McCovey, Rafael Palmeiro, Eddie Murray and Jim Thome.
• Pujols is the 14th right-handed hitter to join the 500 Home Run Club. He needs 34 more to crash the top 10.
• The pitcher who has allowed the most home runs to Pujols? That would be Ryan Dempster (eight). The pitcher who has faced him the most times without serving up a homer? That would be Bud Norris (*41*). The Cy Young who had nightmares about him? That would be Randy Johnson, against whom Pujols hit .452, with six homers. And the active pitcher who should never be allowed to face Pujols again? That would be Kevin Slowey (two plate appearances, two homers).
Plenty has been written about whom should have taken home those last two MVP awards, but I won't attempt to pile on in this post.
What I do want to compare is the two players through the same amount of MLB games played. Trout has now played 351 career games, and while Cabrera definitely hit the ground running when he was brought up as a 20-year-old in 2003, the slight edge so far, through a little over two seasons worth of games, is definitely with the Angels center fielder.
It's tough to do a straight comparison between the two as the players have filled different roles offensively for their teams. But when you factor in that Trout was a little younger when he debuted and has batted primarily in the one or two hole in his career, the comparable power numbers to Cabrera are incredibly impressive.
Add to that Trout's impact on defense and on the basepaths and his recently-signed six-year, $144.5 million contract extension was a no-brainer for the Halos' front office.
Matchup to watch this weekend
Trout will face one of the best power pitchers in the league Saturday in Max Scherzer. In 10 previous plate appearances against Scherzer, Trout has three hits, including a line-drive homer on a slider to the low-inside portion of the strike zone.
Despite the small sample size, Trout's history against the Tigers' righty suggests he should try to take advantage of offspeed pitches. He is 0-6 with five strikeouts in at-bats against Scherzer that have ended in a fastball.
Oakland’s economical pitching
The Athletics are going with a very low-budget starting rotation this season as they’ve spent only $11.3 million on their five starters. Only the Marlins ($3.2 million) have spent less.
Scott Kazmir accounts for $9 million of the starting pitching budget. The next highest paid starter, Jesse Chavez ($775,000), starts Monday night.
Chavez, a 42nd-round pick in 2002, is now pitching for his seventh major league team, and he seems to have found a groove early this season.
In 13 innings pitched, Chavez has posted a 1.38 ERA, 13 strikeouts and only two walks (6.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio). He has done most of the damage with his cutter.
Chavez has thrown his cutter on nearly 37 percent of his pitches, second only to Travis Wood (44 percent, min. 2 starts). Opponents have gone 4-for-24 (.174) against the pitch with eight strikeouts and no extra-base hits in 2014. The Angels have struggled against cutters so far this season, batting .160 against those pitches.
A more aggressive Mike Trout
Mike Trout mentioned this past offseason he wanted to be more aggressive early in the count. While the sample is small, so far he’s staying true to his word.
Trout has increased his swing percentage on the first pitch by 47 percent, which has led to him doubling his chase percentage against the first pitch as well.
Trout hasn’t put many of these balls in play (just 1-for-3), but falling behind early hasn’t been a detriment. Trout is batting .346 this season after falling behind in the count 0-1.
Josh Donaldson’s early slump
Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson has gotten off to a slow start in 2014, hitting .222 through the first dozen games. The biggest difference for Donaldson is in his strikeout and walk totals. He’s struck out 15 times and walked only once this season, after 110 strikeouts and 76 walks in 2013.
An early issue for Donaldson has been the inside pitch. He’s 3-for-22 (.136) against pitches thrown to the inner third of the plate or off the inside corner this season, after hitting .330 against those pitches last season.
Hector Santiago’s fastball a concern
Hector Santiago pitches tonight for the Angels. He has posted a 7.71 ERA in his first two starts, both losses.
Opponents have posted a .346/.485/.577 slash line against Santiago’s fastball this season, which is compounded by Santiago throwing the pitch 74 percent of the time. Against Santiago’s other pitches opponents have hit .250 with a .500 OPS.