Los Angeles Angels: MLB

Richards tough to replace for Angels

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
12:39
AM PT

AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Angels were 19-7 (.731) in games Garrett Richards started this season.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is expected to miss 6-9 months after an MRI exam Thursday revealed a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. He sustained the injury while running to cover first base in Wednesday’s start against the Boston Red Sox.

With Richards done for the year, let’s review his breakout season and his importance to the Angels.

Breakout season
Richards entered the season 9-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 29 career starts (167 innings), but the 26-year-old figured things out this year. Richards will finish the year 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings. In 1 2/3 more innings this year, he gave up 32 fewer runs as a starter than the previous three years.

He has become one of the best starters in the American League, ranking first in opponent slugging percentage (.261), second in opponent batting average (.201), eighth in ERA (.261), 10th in strikeout rate (24.2 percent) and sixth in ground-ball rate (51.3 percent).

Richards’ opponent slugging percentage is the fourth lowest in a season in Angels history and the lowest since Nolan Ryan in 1977. It’s also the third lowest by any pitcher in the last 20 seasons. The only two lower? Pedro Martinez (.259) in 2000 and Greg Maddux (.258) in 1995, both of whom went on to win Cy Young awards those years.

So just how did Richards put it together this season? His plus stuff finally started missing bats. From 2011 to '13, Richards’ strikeout rate was only 15.2 percent as a starter. That ranked 168th out of 230 pitchers who started at least 20 games over that span. This season, he has increased his strikeout rate to 24.2 percent, which ranks 16th out of 95 qualified starters. In fact, only one starter in baseball has increased his strikeout rate more than Richards from last season to this season (Brandon McCarthy 8.0 percentage points; Richards 7.9).

Importance to Angels
The Angels are 19-7 (.731) when Richards starts this season and 57-43 (.570) when anyone else does. According to Elias, the Angels' .731 win percentage with Richards on the mound is the best for any starter in the American League this season (minimum 15 starts).

Richards has been worth 4.4 Wins Above Replacement this season. Entering Thursday, all other Angels starters had been worth 3.3 WAR combined. The loss of Richards could have an effect on the Angels' bullpen as well. No bullpen has thrown more innings since the All-Star break than the Angels (122).

Replacing Richards
While it’s unclear who will take Richards’ spot in the rotation the rest of the season, the Angels will surely look for their other starters to step up, as Matt Shoemaker did Thursday night against the Red Sox.

Shoemaker no-hit the Red Sox through 6 2/3 innings and finished with 7 2/3 scoreless innings along with nine strikeouts. Since giving up a career-high eight runs against the Kansas City Royals on June 27, Shoemaker is 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA in seven starts.

Sum of little mistakes Dodgers' new plague

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
11:55
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in a series with a lot at stake in a stadium filled with revved-up fans stoked by a rivalry, they played their best baseball of the season, outscoring the San Francisco Giants 17-4 over a three-game sweep at AT&T Park two weekends ago.

Where did that team go?

A sloppy weekend against the last-place Chicago Cubs seemed pretty easy to explain, as the back of the Dodgers’ rotation continued to sputter in two of those games.

But the lights were bright again Monday night, the steamrolling Los Angeles Angels were in town and it felt as if it would once again bring out the Dodgers’ best. Their second-best starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, was on the mound.

[+] EnlargeCarl Crawford
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsCarl Crawford misjudged a ball off Mike Trout's bat that led to an RBI double in the first inning. It was one of several miscues for the Dodgers on Monday.
Instead, it brought out their bad habits. They fumbled the ball around at times, paid scant attention at times and made, according to the man who threw it, “one of the worst pitches ever thrown.”

Of course, there’s always tomorrow. The Dodgers are still in first place -- by a dwindling 1½ games -- and they have three more cracks to capture Southern California bragging rights for their fans over the next three nights, one of them behind Clayton Kershaw.

But the sloppiness that plagued the Dodgers in April and May has crept back into their play over the past four games. And it has begun to get on some peoples’ nerves. Some people who matter.

“You look at this game as a playoff-type game from the standpoint of the type of team you’re playing, and you make mistakes, you pay,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “It’s as simple as that.”

Hanley Ramirez, who had a -1.0 defensive WAR entering the game, according to Baseball Reference, made two throwing errors, one of which led to an unearned run in the first inning. The end of the half-inning saw the Dodgers in a quick 4-0 hole. Carl Crawford made two failed attempts at sliding catches, one of which was hit by Mike Trout -- one of the fastest players in baseball -- and it got by Crawford and went to the wall for an RBI double.

Yasiel Puig put his head down and allowed Albert Pujols -- far from one of the fastest players in the game -- to tag up and take second base.

It was the kind of effort that would get you beaten by a team like the Cubs. Against a team like the Angels, who play strong defense and are 23 games over .500 in the powerhouse AL West, it’s a good way to get embarrassed.

It was not the way the Dodgers wanted to start off this interleague series, especially in front of more than 53,000 fans.

“We’ve had three games [in the past four] where we basically lost in the first inning,” Mattingly said.

That trend is beginning to bother Greinke, too. Like fellow starter Dan Haren, many of his worst starts have seen him labor early. He has a 5.87 ERA in the first inning.

“It seems to be the problem too often,” Greinke said. “I was not even close to hitting the spot to Trout and Pujols, and they did what they should have.”

His sixth-inning changeup to Josh Hamilton was thrown too hard and right down the middle, and Hamilton pummeled it over the right-field wall.

“That was probably up there with the worst pitches ever thrown,” Greinke said. “I just couldn’t believe I could throw that bad a pitch at that important a time.”

The Dodgers described Angels starter Garrett Richards as “electric,” and he certainly was that, touching 96 mph in the ninth inning and striking out nine batters to get the shutout. But he mostly just piled up ground balls, 12 in all. The Dodgers got only four balls airborne off Richards.

There are games when the opposing pitcher is simply going to be better than you. It hurts more when you make it that much easier for him.

Rapid Reaction: Angels 5, Dodgers 0

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
9:59
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- There were more than 53,000 fans at Dodger Stadium Monday and many of them booed Mike Trout’s every move. Fans in Anaheim likely will give it to Yasiel Puig pretty good on Wednesday.

In other words, Southern California’s baseball rivalry is doing pretty well, with contending teams and young stars to energize and/or irritate the two fan bases.

Trout’s Los Angeles Angels got off to a better start in this year's regular-season Freeway Series with a 5-0 win at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.

There was just the right hint of tension, too, with Puig and Albert Pujols appearing to exchange some words after the top of the eighth inning. Puig apparently took exception to Pujols tagging up and advancing to second on a fly ball while he looked the other way.

How it happened: The Angels jumped all over Zack Greinke’s pitching and the Dodgers’ shaky defense in the first inning, grabbing a quick 4-0 lead. Angels starter Garrett Richards pretty much took it from there.

The game never felt particularly competitive. The Dodgers managed just five hits, all singles, off Richards, the game’s hardest-throwing starting pitcher, according to Fangraphs data. Greinke was good after the first inning, with the only appreciable mistake a too-hard changeup that Josh Hamilton clobbered over the right-field wall.

Hits: For the Angels, it was Richards (12-4), their best starting pitcher this year, bouncing back from two rough outings with a shutout. He struck out nine batters, but mainly the Dodgers hit ground ball after ground ball. For the Dodgers, the highlight was the major league debut of pitcher Carlos Frias, who pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just Pujols' single and striking out a batter. Frias is in contention to join the Dodgers' rotation if Josh Beckett or Dan Haren continues to struggle or goes down with an injury.

Misses: The Angels, with Erick Aybar at shortstop and Trout in center, have one of the stronger defensive teams. Fielding sometimes is an adventure for the Dodgers. When it is, Hanley Ramirez often is involved. On Monday, he made two errors, one of which was a costly throw that led to an unearned run in the first inning. Meanwhile, Carl Crawford made two unsuccessful attempts at sliding catches in the first inning. The second one, hit by Trout, got past Crawford and rolled all the way to the wall. Trout would have had a triple, but he had to retreat after missing first base. In the eighth, Puig stood there after catching a high fly ball and Pujols was paying attention, sprinting to second.

Stat of the game: The Angels have the best interleague record (92-48) in the majors since 2007, and part of that is their domination of their regional rivals. The Angels are 57-40 against the Dodgers.

Up next: The four-game series continues with the last of two contests starting at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Dodgers Stadium. Clayton Kershaw (13-2, 1.71 ERA) goes for the Dodgers, while lefty Hector Santiago (3-7, 3.76) pitches for the Angels.

Matt Shoemaker coming up big for Angels

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
9:42
AM PT

AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRookie Matt Shoemaker has defied the odds to claim a spot in the Angels' rotation.
The Los Angeles Angels were dealt a potentially big blow Thursday night when southpaw Tyler Skaggs had to leave his no-hit bid in the fifth inning with an apparent injury to his pitching arm. If Skaggs lands on the disabled list, the timing should work out as C.J. Wilson is set to come off the DL Saturday.

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.

Killer change
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).

Thumb sapping Josh Hamilton's power

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
9:51
AM PT

Juan DeLeon/Icon SMIJosh Hamilton has struggled to hit for power since returning from a thumb injury.
The Los Angeles Angels have gone 15-6 since the start of July. A big reason for the surge has been their offense, which has scored 114 runs since July 1, the most in baseball. But should the offense be even stronger?

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.

Thumbs down
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).

As Trout hits, Angels continue to climb

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
11:01
PM PT
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesMike Trout has been leading the Angels up the AL West standings.
The Los Angeles Angels continue to creep up on the Oakland Athletics in the AL West after going 18-11 since the start of June, sitting just 3 1/2 games back.

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.

Friday's matchup
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.

Angels rained out in Cleveland

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
6:22
PM PT
CLEVELAND -- Even during a brief slump for the Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout continued to supply offensive firepower. His teammates joined him in an explosive showing in their most recent game to help avoid another loss.

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."

(Read full post)

Five trade ideas involving David Price 

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:00
AM PT
David PriceMike Carlson/Getty ImagesIt makes more sense for the Rays to trade David Price now than wait until this offseason.
The top-of-the-rotation pitcher most likely to be traded between now and the trade deadline is David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeff Samardzija and Cliff Lee are also in the conversation, but the Cubs still could re-sign Samardzija, and a Lee trade would require a return to full health for him and a willingness to be traded to specific teams. The Rays don't have either obstacle with Price.

The Rays also know the best time to trade Price is now; the return won't be as high this offseason or next July as it will be over the next six weeks. So it's only matter of time before he's dealt to the highest bidder.

The most interesting aspect of a potential deal is that there aren't as many contending teams looking for a top-of-the-rotation starter as in the past. For example, in the National League, teams such as the Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Giants, Dodgers and Nationals all have enough pitching at the top that they have no reason to empty their farm system to acquire Price. In fact, I would argue the Braves (who, by the way, have the best starting pitcher ERA in the league) are the only NL team likely to inquire about Price.

In the American League, two of the top teams -- Oakland and Detroit -- also probably won't be bidding, though I'd never put anything past A's GM Billy Beane, based on his track record.

The Rays could get a large package for Price -- as many as four or five prospects -- but it's more likely they'll shoot for quality over quantity and end up with a two-for-one or three-for-one deal, with the possibility of more players being thrown in by either side. For the purpose of this exercise, I'll try to find the best two-for-one or three-for-one deals that could be offered for Price.

Here are the five teams I view most likely to trade for Price, along with potential deals involving each club:

1. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels appear to be the favorite to win the American League's first wild-card berth, and they actually have a legitimate shot of overtaking the Oakland A's and winning the West. A deal for Price would certainly seal the deal, and the Angels have enough to make it work. They might not have the young starting pitching the Rays would ideally seek, but they do have the bats to get it done. C.J. Cron would have to be the central piece in the deal, and given his potential to develop into a 30-homer, middle-of-the-lineup hitter, he'd be a perfect fit for the Rays, who are trying to build the middle of their lineup to complement Evan Longoria and Wil Myers. Sure, the Rays have James Loney signed for two more years, but the Rays could have Cron and Loney share the first base and DH slots until Loney's deal is up, or they could trade Loney this offseason, given his affordable contract.

Angels' approach key vs. Drew Pomeranz

May, 30, 2014
May 30
10:37
AM PT
AP PhotoDrew Pomeranz has been dominant for the Oakland Athletics since joining the rotation.
The Los Angeles Angels have a chance to pick up ground on the team they are chasing in the American League West as they head to Oakland for a three-game weekend series.

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.

ESPN Stats & Information


My fingers that are on the top are like two legs that are crossing, and I just pretty much flick it straight forward, no wrist-breaking action or anything.”

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.

Richards, Angels look to tame Blue Jays

May, 9, 2014
May 9
11:01
AM PT
The Los Angeles Angels will send power righty Garrett Richards to the mound Friday as they start a series against a Toronto Blue Jays and their lineup of mashers.

Richards will look to exorcise his Rogers Centre demons after putting up a 6.57 ERA in four previous appearances in Toronto. That is his third-worst ERA at any opposing park.

This season has been different so far for Richards as he tossed four quality starts already after having eight all of last season. Let’s take a look at some of his improvements.

Bringing the heat: The righty’s fastball has improved by a full mile per hour in terms of average velocity -- from 95 to 96 -- topping out as high as 98 miles per hour.

This has translated to a swing-and-miss rate of 21 percent on heaters -- ninth-best among starters.

In the past, Richards missed his spots too often in the strike zone, especially up. And we all know what happens to mistake fastballs up in the zone, no matter how hard you throw them. It appears pitching coach Mike Butcher addressed that this offseason because Richards has been doing a better job keeping the ball down in the zone this season.

From 2011 to 2013, opponents hit .293 against Richards’ fastball, but this season that has been cut to .230.

Sapping opponents power: When Richards debuted in 2011, he allowed four home runs in 14 innings, as he was torched for a .618 opponent slugging percentage.

In each successive season in the big leagues though, he has lowered that slugging percentage.

This season? Richards is allowing a .243 slugging percentage, which ranks tops among all qualified starters -- just ahead of Florida Marlins’ phenom Jose Fernandez.

Finishing hitters: A situational improvement Richards has made is in his ability to end at-bats when he gets two strikes. Entering this season he allowed hitters to bat .214, while striking out 35 percent of batters when getting to a two-strike count. This season, those numbers have improved to a .101 opponent’s average and a 52 percent strikeout rate.

Trying to tame Toronto: Several Blue Jays have had success in their career against Richards.

Jose Reyes and Colby Rasmus have each gone 3-6 lifetime against him with two extra-base hits. Edwin Encarnacion’s battles against Richards have been all-or-nothing as he has struck out four times in eight at-bats, but also has three hits including a home run.

Top stats to know: Athletics at Angels

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:24
PM PT
The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels face off in part two of an ESPN doubleheader Monday night (read about part one here). Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be tracking from that matchup.

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.

Angels 2014: Could this be the year?

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
8:00
AM PT


The other day, a reporter asked Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto to assign blame for the acquisition of pitcher Joe Blanton, the occasion being the Angels’ unconditional release of the, ahem, struggling right-hander. Dipoto’s answer was refreshing.

“It’s a mistake on my part. There’s no one else to blame,” Dipoto said.

That little bit of accountability had to be music to Angels fans ears. For four long years, a team with three of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, a strong manager and one of the best starting pitchers in the game has been shut out of the playoffs, and the atmosphere in Anaheim has been a bit more drab with each passing season.

It should be noted, by the way, that owner Arte Moreno didn’t do Dipoto any favors in recent seasons by jumping in on the big-splash signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, leaving Dipoto scant resources to build a pitching staff.

Jered Weaver
AP Photo/Jim CowsertJered Weaver still has the deception, movement and savvy to serve as a legitimate No. 1 starter.
Perhaps Angels fans didn't realize how spoiled they had become by the team’s run of excellence under Mike Scioscia from 2002 to 2009, a stretch that included a World Series title, three trips to the ALCS and six trips to the postseason.

Did the release of Blanton and Dipoto’s frankness signal a new era for Orange County’s baseball team?

The Angels' offseason makeover wasn't all that different from what the Boston Red Sox underwent going into the 2013 season. It was a bit of a reboot, with an emphasis on quality, low-impact moves rather than the big winter meetings splash that winds up weighing the team down.

Dipoto has certainly been making every effort to improve the team’s pitching, which -- even more than underperformance and injuries from Pujols and Hamilton -- has been this team’s demise. Presuming even a marginal uptick in those two sluggers’ production, the Angels look like a team with vast potential to improve. Who wouldn’t take a lineup that includes Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton?

This pitching staff has potential. When Jered Weaver first arrived in the major leagues, he could touch 95 mph and, combined with his off-speed pitches and funky delivery, made for one of the more uncomfortable at-bats in baseball. He’s different now, with the years of heavy workloads reducing his fastball velocity to the sub-90 range most games. But he’s still got the deception, the movement and the savvy to serve as a legitimate No. 1 starter.

(Read full post)

Mike Trout keeps getting better

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
5:09
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ESPN Stats & InformationMike Trout's discipline at the plate has been key to his improvement this season.
Not to be lost in another rough season for the Los Angeles Angels is the fact that Mike Trout is having another amazing year. Trout will eclipse the 139 games he played at the big-league level last year in a few days. On the surface it looks as if his numbers have dipped as he has fewer homers and steals than last year, but his rate stats show that he has actually improved over his 2012 season.

Last season Trout put up a triple slash of .326/.399/.564. This season, he has improved all three of those numbers to .335/.433/.574. Thanks to an increase in doubles and triples, Trout's isolated power is exactly what it was last year (.238).

Staying disciplined
In addition to his power/speed combo, Trout showed good plate discipline last year, ranking 39th in baseball with a 25 percent chase rate on pitches outside the zone. This season as pitchers gave him even fewer quality pitches to hit, Trout has become more patient, chasing just 22 percent of pitches out of the zone, which ranks 23rd in baseball.

Trout's pitch recognition doesn't just apply to pitches out of the zone though. As he has learned to lay off a higher percentage of pitches out of the zone, he has also been more aggressive when recognizing strikes.

Walk this way
One of the biggest jumps Trout has made is in his walk rate. Last season he walked 10.5 percent of the time. This season he's up to 14 percent, which is tied for the fifth-best in baseball trailing only Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Santana.

Trout is on pace to become the seventh Angel to walk 100 times in a season and the first since Chone Figgins did it in 2009.

Say Hey!
Assuming Trout doesn't go into a massive slump that drops his batting average more than 10 percentage points, he will have his second straight season with at least a .325 average, 20 home runs and 30 steals.

There have been only 14 such seasons in the live ball era and Trout would join Hall of Famer Willie Mays as the only players with a pair of them.

Analyzing Mark Trumbo at the plate

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
7:33
PM PT

ESPN Stats & InformationSome better plate discipline would allow Mark Trumbo to take the next step in his career.
On July 21, a 5-for 38 slump had Mark Trumbo's batting average down to .241 on the year. After going 2-for-4 on Thursday with his 24th home run of the year, the slugger is starting to get his average going in the right direction. He now has multiple hits in six of his last 11 games. Let's take a look at what he's doing well at the plate and where his trouble areas are.

Punishing mistakes
Most players are successful against pitches over the middle, but Trumbo is one of the best players in baseball at taking advantage when a pitcher makes a mistake over the heart of the plate. On pitches considered "center cut," Trumbo is hitting .511 this season.

Looking at the strike zone as a whole, 22 of Trumbo's 24 home runs this season have come up on pitches that were in the strike zone. Again this is not surprising at all, but it does lead us to Trumbo's biggest problem.

Gone fishin'
Trumbo has chased over a third of pitches to him that are out of the strike zone this season. That's 34.5 percent to be precise, which ranks 12th-highest in baseball.

Plate discipline has been a serious issue for the Los Angeles Angels all season. The scary part is Trumbo's chase rate is only fourth-worst on his own team. Josh Hamilton (39 percent), Howie Kendrick (38 percent) and Erick Aybar (38 percent) are each in the top ten of this lamentable leaderboard.

Change won't do you good
Another problem for Trumbo at the plate is his ability to pick up changeups. His aggressive approach makes it easy for pitchers to take advantage of him with as he is hitting just .122 against slow stuff. The only hitters who have been victimized worse against changeups are Dan Uggla (.070) and Russell Martin (.115).

Today's matchup
Redmond (TOR) vs Hanson (LAA)
The Angels will look to get to the Blue Jays Todd Redmond today. The journeyman righty is coming off of the best start of his career in which he struck out 10 Houston Astros on Sunday.

Redmond is a fastball-slider pitcher who throws an occasional changeup. Unlike a lot of pitchers that rely on those two pitches, Redmond has had most success finishing off hitters with his fastball, which tops out at 93 mph. This season hitters are just 1-for-36 against Redmond’s fastball in a two-strike count.

Inside the matchup: Pujols vs Rivera

June, 16, 2013
6/16/13
8:05
PM PT

Mariano Rivera had a specific plan for his pitch sequence to Albert Pujols.

Sometimes a baseball game will produce the ultimate matchup and Sunday’s Yankees-Angels series finale gave us that-— bases loaded, two outs in a one-run game in the ninth inning with a pair of legends going head-to-head: Albert Pujols versus Mariano Rivera.

Let’s go inside the matchup:

The setup
The Yankees had nearly completely frittered away a 6-0 ninth-inning lead after a terrific start by CC Sabathia. Rivera had allowed three hits and a walk in one-third of an inning prior to Pujols' turn.


Entering the at-bat, Rivera had faced a hitter with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead one out from a win on 10 previous occasions. He’d gotten the batter out eight times, including five straight over the last 10 seasons.

Pujols had only been in this situation once before in the regular season and popped out. He also was 0-for-1 with a hit by pitch in two regular-season turns against Rivera.

First pitch
Rivera’s first pitch was a strike called, one deemed on the inside corner, though the Pitch F/X pitch-tracking system disagreed (as you can see above).

A lot of pitchers have high batting averages allowed on the first pitch of an at-bat, but Rivera does not.

Over the last four seasons, Rivera has thrown a first pitch to 316 right-handed hitters. Batters who swung made 24 outs (three of which became double plays) and netted only four hits.

Rivera also has among the highest first-pitch strike rates over the last four seasons when the pitch is thrown outside of the Pitch F/X strike zone (36 percent), attributable to getting hitters to chase bad pitches and to getting a lot of borderline pitches called strikes.

Pujols is one of those hitters who hits well in the first pitch of an at-bat (.373 batting average since 2010, about 30 points above major-league average), but he’s very discerning.

Pujols typically swings at a rate of about one of every six first-pitches. The average major league hitter swings at about one of every four.

Second pitch
The advantage that comes for Mariano Rivera when he gets up 0-1 in the count is this: If he throws an inside pitch, the hitter becomes very eager.

When Rivera is in that situation and throws a pitch out of the strike zone, but “inside” (defined as: over the inner-third, or off the inside corner), hitters swing more than half of the time.

His 54 percent chase rate on those pitches (dating back to 2010) is nearly 20 percentage points above what an average pitcher would get.

With regards to chasing, Pujols has been an aggressive hitter in the first 60-plus games of the season when he has one strike against him. He swings at nearly half the pitches out of the strike zone in those instances. The typical hitter swings at about a 28 percent rate.

Rivera came inside again and Pujols dinked the ball foul. Now he’s behind 0-2.

Third pitch
Earlier in the inning, Rivera had given up a hit on an 0-2 pitch to Peter Bourjos. The pitch was off the inside corner, but Bourjos was able to bloop it to left center.

Bourjos was the first batter all season to get a hit against Rivera after falling behind 0-2. The first 22 hitters Rivera faced in that situation this season, he retired. Bourjos got him, but no one else would.

Since joining the Angels last season, Pujols has not fared well in a situation in which a pitcher comes inside with an 0-2 pitch.

He’d seen 56 such pitches, managed one hit, and made 18 outs.

This 0-2 would again come spinning inside and Pujols could do nothing but try to check his swing.

No luck, strike three. Rivera and the Yankees were winners this time.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
18 3.59 169 213
OTHER LEADERS
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169