Los Angeles Angels: Austin Jackson

Position previews: Center field

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
2:05
PM PT
Even before Opening Day 2011, the Angels figured Peter Bourjos would play Gold Glove-caliber center field. What they didn't know was that, by season's end, he'd be one of the best all-around center fielders in the game.

Last season was about growth from the team's surprising crop of young players. Nobody grew up faster than Bourjos, 24.

His speed, rivaled on the Angels' roster only by Mike Trout, allowed Bourjos to make the big outfield at Angel Stadium less accommodating to opposing hitters. Based on the stat Defensive Runs Saved, only Austin Jackson of the Detroit Tigers played better center field than Bourjos last year, and it was close. Jackson saved 22 runs, Bourjos 21 and the next guy -- Cameron Maybin -- 12.

The fact that neither Jackson nor Bourjos won a Gold Glove last year probably tells you all you need to know about how much attention the league's managers and coaches are paying to other teams' rosters.

The defensive part seems to come relatively easy to Bourjos. His strides in the batter's box were less expected and more impressive. Based strictly on batting average, his second half wasn't much different than his first. He batted .272 before the All-Star break and .270 after it. But that only obscures the strides he made.

One of the fastest guys in the game, Bourjos used to waste his primary asset with high strikeout rates. But as last season progressed, his contact rate shot up dramatically. In 72 fewer at-bats after the All-Star break, Bourjos struck out 34 fewer times. He also made harder contact, with nine of his 12 home runs coming after the break.

Does that mean the Angels can expect a linear progression from their young center fielders? Of course not -- how often does this game confound projections -- but his solid follow-up season to that late-2010 debut cemented him as one of the team's bedrock players. He's also an exceptional value, earning around the league minimum for the next two years, as the cost of defense has risen in recent years.

The next step in Bourjos' improvement -- and the most convenient for the Angels' needs -- would be for him to mold his game to the leadoff spot. The Angels really don't have many other good options there, with Erick Aybar's inability to get on base consistently and Alberto Callaspo's lack of speed.

There's hope. Bourjos seemed more willing (and able) to walk in the minor leagues, his .346 on-base percentage there contrasting with his .303 mark in the majors. Based on the course of 2011, it would be foolish to bet against Bourjos making another key adjustment.

Dan Haren pitches a beauty

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
12:03
AM PT

ANAHEIM – Only seven of the first 41 pitches Angels right-hander Dan Haren threw to the Detroit Tigers in a virtuoso two-hitter Tuesday night at Angel Stadium were fastballs.

So, yes, it’d be fair to say he did a superb job mixing his pitches against a tough Tiger lineup.

In earning his 100th career win, Haren threw cutters and split-fingers galore in baffling Detroit’s potent 4-5-6 combination of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta as the Angels won 1-0.

“Dan should frame that one, because that was incredible,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Haren’s work of art. “That’s a very, very tough lineup he was facing.”

Haren didn’t even know how few fastballs he had thrown through three innings, but he knew it was abnormal. Then, as the Angels batted in the top of the fourth, he approached rookie right-hander Tyler Chatwood, who was charting the pitches he threw from the dugout. Haren said later he was a little surprised when Chatwood told him the exact number: seven of 41, or just 17 percent of his pitches.

Over the course of his career, Haren has thrown fastballs just over 50 percent of the time. He went back to a more normal ratio later in the game, but the ruse had already worked.

“I kinda set ‘em up, then threw more fastballs as the game went along,” Haren said afterward. “The last pitch of the game was a fastball. My fastball was feeling better later on, so I threw a lot more of it.”

Scioscia said Haren’s split-finger fastball was moving around more than he’d ever seen it in an Angel uniform. That’s saying a lot, considering the performances Haren has already turned in through 33 starts with the Angels.

His second start with the team last July was a five-hit complete game, and he threw three more scoreless outings of at least seven innings before the 2010 season ended.

This year, his third start was a one-hit shutout against the Cleveland Indians. But Haren said he felt more dominant Tuesday than he did at any other point with the Angels – even including the start against the Indians.

“Even in that game, I didn’t have everything working,” Haren said. “Tonight, I had my stuff working. Everything was really working well, especially against that lineup, one of the best. It ranks right up there with Texas, Boston and New York.

“The middle of that lineup is as good as it gets, and it definitely means more against a good team like that and a good pitcher.”

The good pitcher? Only MLB’s strikeout leader, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who went 7 2/3 strong innings against the Angels and gave up seven hits and just one run.

The game was being billed as a premium pitching matchup, and it delivered in every way. Verlander’s only run allowed came on a hit-and-run double from Erick Aybar where Detroit right fielder Magglio Ordonez mistakenly threw to second, allowing Howie Kendrick to come home.

Haren faced only one significant challenge, and even that came with two outs. Tiger center fielder Austin Jackson tripled to the right-center gap in the fourth inning on a ball that the Angels’ Peter Bourjos just missed. Haren got Brennan Boesch, one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last month, to hit a come-backer to end the scare.

Haren threw 122 pitches in all, his second-highest total this season. Roughly half of those were probably of the cut-fastball variety, a pitch he picked up midway through his career in 2007 but has since become perhaps his most dominant.

And, well after he was done shying away from his fastball in Tuesday’s duel, Haren went back to the cutter, again and again, to retire the Tiger hitters.

“My cutter’s been my best pitch all year, and, in a 1-0 game, you want to get beat with your best pitch,” Haren said. “I threw it quite a bit. I had to.

“The game called for it.”

Angels 1, Tigers 0: Three Up, Three Down

July, 5, 2011
7/05/11
9:45
PM PT
ANAHEIM -- Dan Haren threw a two-hitter and outdueled the Tigers' Justin Verlander in a pristine pitching matchup and the Angels (46-41) took the second game of their series with Detroit (45-42) to win four straight games for the first time since April.

Howie Kendrick scored the Angels' only run on the night, coming around all the way from first on a leg-it-out double by Erick Aybar in the second inning.

The Good:

Haren. Are we sure the American League players made the right choice in not selecting Haren to next week's All-Star Game in Phoenix? After his latest start lowered his ERA to 2.66 and gave him his 100th career win, it'd be hard to construct an argument detailing why he doesn't deserve to go. He completely shut down a talented, tough Tigers lineup Tuesday, striking out nine hitters and only going three batters over the minimum. He's now seventh among AL starters in ERA, and five of the six pitchers in front of him earned All-Star nods.

Smart baserunning. OK, maybe not so much smart -- it was risky -- but successful baserunning. After reaching base via an infield single in the bottom of the second, Kendrick ran all the way home from first on a double to right by Aybar. It doesn't sound nearly as impressive as it was, but Aybar's hit probably wouldn't have gone for more than a single had Kendrick not been going home on the play. When that's the winning margin in a victory over a solid team like the Tigers, that's a reason to celebrate.

More good defense. Left fielder Vernon Wells made a superb running grab in the left-center gap of a Jhonny Peralta drive in the second inning. Center fielder Peter Bourjos caught a to-the-wall fly ball from Victor Martinez with two outs in the fourth after just missing an Austin Jackson gapper in the third. First baseman Mark Trumbo saved a single or a double with his diving stop of another Martinez hit in the seventh inning. The Angels' defenders are making their pitchers look even better with their play in the field of late.

The Bad:

Bases loaded, no outs, no runs. One of the cardinal sins of baseball is getting into the optimum situation and not coming away with anything to show for it. In the bottom of the fifth inning Tuesday, Aybar, Trumbo and Bourjos all got aboard in succession, setting the table for the anemic-hitting Jeff Mathis to potentially drive in some runs in a 1-0 game. But Mathis struck out swinging, despite being staked out to a 2-0 count by Verlander, and Maicer Izturis, following him, popped out in the infield. Torii Hunter took Verlander all the way to 3-2 and fouled off a payoff pitch before lining one right to Austin Jackson in center as the Angels failed to give Haren any sort of insurance runs as he went into the later innings.

Abreu's anger. Designated hitter Bobby Abreu was ejected in the bottom of the first inning after arguing a called third strike with home-plate umpire Angel Campos, becoming the first Angel ejected in 2011. It was also Abreu's first in-game ejection since August of 2007, when he played for the New York Yankees. The call from Campos looked a bit premature, at best, as Abreu wasn't even facing him when the you're-outta-here signal was made and didn't appear to be all that incensed.

Double plays. The Angels' two leaders in hitting into double plays, Hunter and Kendrick, each did it again Tuesday, and they're creeping up the league-leader list in an undesirable category. Hunter grounded into a typical one of the 6-4-3 variety in the eighth inning; Kendrick hit a Verlander pitch pretty well in the sixth but unluckily lined into one at first base. Hunter is now just one behind Boston's Adrian Gonzalez for the league lead with 19 GIDP's, and Kendrick has hit into 14 for sixth place. It would have made some sense to have Hunter bunt in the eighth inning to move Izturis over to second for Russell Branyan in the 3-hole, but manager Mike Scioscia elected not to and paid the price.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Howie Kendrick
BA HR RBI R
.293 7 75 85
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
WJ. Weaver 18
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169