SweetSpot: Kelvim Escobar
Posted by David Pinto
Since the start of the 2002 season, the first in which Mike Scioscia took the Angels to the playoffs, the team that plays in Anaheim owns the third-best record in the majors, 709-528. That .573 winning percentage only trails the Yankees (.600) and the Red Sox (.582). So far in 2009, the Angels hold the best winning percentage in the American League -- .612. They've arrived at that mark very differently than in the past, however.
The following chart displays the Angels runs scored and runs allowed per game from 2002 to 2009, along with the AL average for each of those seasons (click for a larger image):
This graph shows that in the previous seven seasons, the Angels won due to their pitching. From 2002 through '08, the pitching and defense averaged 0.47 runs less than the league average per game, while the offense averaged just 0.07 runs more than the league average. In 2009, however, the pitching and defense is 0.24 runs above the league average, while the offense is a full run better than average.
This season's poor pitching does not come as a surprise. The Angels started the season with three important pitchers on the disabled list -- John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar. The offense stepped up, and despite a poor year from Vlad Guerrero, more than made up for the pitching dip.
"Put the ball in play," sums up the philosophy of the Mike Scioscia era. Players like Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter fit the mold -- good hitters who swing often and make contact. That changed a bit this season -- a change I'll dub the Bobby Abreu Effect. The Angels put the ball in play less in 2009. The following table shows percentages based on total plate appearances:
The Angels are more willing to take a walk, and also more willing to swing and miss. Their 2009 OBP is up almost 20 points compared to 2002 to '08, from .335 to .353. A bit more free-swinging, and better pitch selection pushed their slugging percentage up from .420 in 2002-08 to .451 in 2009. That's Abreu's career. He's not afraid to strike out or take a walk, and he does a great job getting on base and hitting for power. Figgins, Aybar, Hunter, and Morales are walking more than ever, and it's helping Aybar, Hunter and Morales hit for more power. Add in Abreu and the consistent Mike Napoli, and the Angels trot out six players who get on base, and five who hit for decent power.
The team still does a great job of putting the ball in play. They ranked first in the majors from 2002 through 2008, dropping to fifth this season (second in the AL). A few fewer balls in play gives them more walks and more power, and turned them into an offensive juggernaut.
The Rockies switched places with the Angels as a team known for their offense that's winning with their pitching. Their starters really turned their game up this season. From 1998-2008, the 30-team era, the Rockies collected 716 quality starts, 27th in the majors, and posted an average game score of 44.8, 29th in the majors. In 2009 they lead in quality starts with 65 and rank eighth in average game score at 51.4. The two teams would make quite an interesting World Series matchup.
David Pinto writes about major league baseball at BaseballMusings.com.