Team Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

It was a disappointing 2010 season for Anaheim. They finished in third place in the AL West and with a below .500 record for the first time since 2003. With lots of money to spend and a natural motive to improve, most people figured the Angels would be big players in all the major free agents this winter. Instead, they struck out on nearly every target. Rightly or wrongly, a hard line stance on contract offers to the likes of Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre resulted in those players signing elsewhere and leaving the Angels with no big move to hang their hat on. Perhaps out of desperation came the trade for Vernon Wells and the assumption of his entire contract. How does that impact the starting lineup?

THE STARTING NINE

3B Maicer Izturis^
DH Bobby Abreu*
RF Torii Hunter
1B Kendrys Morales^
LF Vernon Wells
2B Howie Kendrick
SS Erick Aybar^
C Jeff Mathis
CF Peter Bourjos
^ Switch-hitter
* Left-handed

A lot of bad has been said about Vernon Wells and his contract justifies that talk, but don’t forget that while he is owed a mammoth amount of money, he is not a complete drag in the field and getting Bobby Abreu away from a glove is a big help to the Angels’ outfield defense.

Who catches is a big question for the Angels run scoring ability. Jeff Mathis may be a wonderful defensive catcher whom pitchers love to throw to, but he couldn’t hit his way out of the Texas League, much less the American League. Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger are getting looks too, but Mathis has long been a favorite of manager Mike Scioscia’s and if refused to play the supremely better hitter in Mike Napoli over Mathis, then playing Wilson or Conger above Mathis seems unlikely at this point.

The bench is rather thin with bats as well. There is plenty of defensive coverage and some speed as well, but not being able to land Adrian Beltre hurt the Angels here. Being able to keep one of Izturis or Aybar as an infield backup instead of starter would have improved things.

THE STAFF

RHP Jered Weaver
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Ervin Santana
RHP Joel Pineiro
LHP Scott Kazmir

CL RHP Fernando Rodney
SU LHP Scott Downs
SU RHP Kevin Jepsen
RHP Jordan Walden
LHP Hisanori Takahashi
RHP Rick Thompson
RHP Bobby Cassevah

Scott Kazmir looks all but finished and Ervin Santana looks further and further removed from ever repeating his 2008 season again, but the other three starters provide the Angels with an overall above average rotation.

THEY KEY PLAYER

Dan Haren begins his first full season with the Angels. Did you know that Haren has reached at least 4 WAR in each of the previous six seasons? During that period, he has made between 33 and 35 starts and pitched between 216 and 235 innings each time. Haren has been a standard of durability and consistent, reliable performance.

He may have flown under the radar for a couple reasons. He has not pitched in the playoffs since 2006 and he has never eclipsed more than 16 wins in a season. Haren has made just three All Star teams and the only time he placed in the Cy Young voting was 2009 when he was fifth with a single vote. Haren fell even further off the star circle thanks to his 4.60 ERA with Arizona in the first half of 2010 before being sent to the Angels in an incredibly lopsided deal in Anaheim’s favor.

Haren did not so much rebound once back in the American League as he did regress. As could have been expected, his strikeout rate dropped and walk rate rose in the junior circuit, but his out of line home run rate crashed back to Earth and then some. Consider that while Haren’s ERA went from 4.60 to 2.87 after the move, his xFIP rose from 3.36 to 4.13.

It is not so much that Haren’s production level in 2011 is in much doubt. Fans are probably over-projecting his strikeouts now that he doesn’t get to face an opposing pitcher once every couple innings, but he should remain a highly productive pitcher into this season. What makes Haren key to the Angels however is that he’s sort of the anti-Vernon Wells. Underappreciated and acquired for less than he should have cost, Haren gives the Angels a big insurance blanket in their rotation. He allows them not to have to rely on the likes of Scott Kazmir.

SUMMARY

Did the Angels get a lot better this winter? I don’t really see it. Getting healthy is supposed to help, but there’s not much high reward growth to be hoped for amongst the players already on the roster. Even getting healthy does not look like that big of a boon.

Many people have claimed that having Kendry(s) Morales for an entire season in 2011 will provide a big upgrade for the Angels. It is easy to see why. Morales was a 4.5 WAR player in 2009 and was on pace to reach about that level in 2010 as well. However, the Angels did not fill in for Morales with replacement players. Morales for a full 2010 season at the pace he was on would have garnered about three more WAR, but the prime fill-in for Kendrys after his injury was Mike Napoli.

Isolating Napoli’s performance at first base from catcher is a bit tricky but looks to have been worth about one win above replacement. The rest of the players were around replacement level so the Angels got 2-2.5 WAR out of first base in 2010. Morales’ projection for 2011 with a full slate of at bats has him worth 3-3.5 WAR. I think that’s a fair projection and I don’t see how he’s going to single-handedly recover the Angels’ offense by providing them with an additional one win. It would be different if by staying healthy, Morales freed up Mike Napoli to play catcher and thus begin a cascading effect that upped the team’s WAR. Alas, Napoli is now with division-mate Texas.

I still see the Angels as a good team, one that could challenge for the AL West. They are just clearly behind Texas right now and sort of in line with Oakland, much the way they finished the 2010 season. Expectations for this season might come down to how much faith one has in Mike Scioscia’s ability to coax extra wins out of the team. There is a sharp divide between those who believe he has been the key to the team overreaching their Pythagorean record and those that chalk it up more to randomness.





Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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BBfan
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BBfan

It should be noted that while Haren’s xFIP with the Angels was 4.13, it was that “high” largely because of a really low line drive rate against. A bunch of the balls against him were classified as fly-balls instead of liners. His fly-ball rate was artificially high as a result, giving him an artificially high xFIP. xFIP doesn’t account for line drives. So while allowing less “line drives” should be viewed as a good thing, it has a negative impact on a pitcher’s xFIP since xFIP ignores line drives completely. His xFIP was around 4.40 a few starts before the season ended despite having good K and BB numbers…and that was because of a really, really low LD% (which in turn gave him an artifically high FB%…resulting in an artificially high xFIP).

You also probably shouldn’t jump to such conclusions based on a limited/small sample. While it’s likely that Haren won’t have the same BB and K numbers in the AL as he did in the NL, he shouldn’t regress by much. He’ll still be a top-line starter. Besides, Dan Haren himself complained that he wasn’t able to generate as much movement on his pitches as he’d like near the end of the season (while with the Angels) last year and that his stuff wasn’t sharp.

Hank
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Hank

Haren’s line drive % was 16.6% (vs a career avg of 19.8%)… applying that 3.2% delta to the ~280 balls in play and assuming they all became flyballs means an extra ~9 flyballs… and that’s assuming the dip in LD rate goes only to the FB bucket (and not the GB bucket)…. So if he had 9 fewer FB’s that is approx slightly less than 1 expected HR? (which feeds the xFIP)

I think part of the problem was his GB % was also ~3% below his career #’s (for both the Angels and DBacks). While this could be simple variation, I’d say this is as much of an issue last year as LD% and FB%’s. And as Matthew mentioned his K rate dropped nearly 2 K/9 after switching leagues and his BB went up ~0.5/9… without running the xFIP calculation that would seem to be the more significant component than the 9 extra FB’s.

I think the multiplier on HR’s is 13, so if you assume 1 less HR (and it’s probably less than 1) over the ~90innings with the Angels.. I think you’re talking a ~0.15xFIP difference (or less).

While the general trend you mentioned is true…. more flyballs, more expected HR’s, higher xFIP… you have to consider the impact not just the trend.

BBfan
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BBfan

What do you mean by “assuming they all became fly-balls?” And why would there be a dip in the GB bucket? The point isn’t to add 9 additional balls in play (and to call them all liners). It’s taking the ones (balls in the air) that already occured and changing them from liners to fly-balls.

Here..

2010 data with Angels:

GB: 113 (40%)
FB: 123 (43.5%)
LD: 47 (16.6%)

Now…if you add 9 more LD (56) and subtract 9 more FB (114)…you get the following:

GB: 113 (40%)
FB: 114 (40.2%)
LD: 56 (19.8%)

If 9 of the balls in the air were called liners instead of fly-balls, you would get that.

How it would affect Haren’s xFIP? It would go all the way down from 4.13 to 3.99.

Is it a colossal difference? Nope.. but it’s still a very noticeable difference, which is all I was pointing out.

BBfan
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BBfan

Correction: Changing them from fly-balls to liners

Hank
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Hank

You need to read your comment again:
“It should be noted that while Haren’s xFIP with the Angels was 4.13, it was that “high” LARGELY because of a really low line drive rate against.”

This is simply not true… it at most accounts for a ~0.14 of the shift and does not “largely” explain why his xFIP rose from 3.36 to 4.13 (which is a 0.77.delta) I don’t see how something that represents at most 20% of the shift can be characterized as largely the reason for it (in fact many might consider 20% or less a minor, or secondary, reason for the shift).

You are now choosing to characterize it differently, which is fine, but I was replying to your comment which explicitly stated that the change in LD rate was largely the reason for his xFIP I think I’ve shown this clearly not to be the case.

Similarly when you use Haren’s BABIP #’s and are talking about how that impacted his K totals, you are sort of implying that his low BABIP was another reason behind his higher xFIP (which has also been demonstrated not to be the case).

If you really intended to show how a pitcher can be punished by BABIP (and how it impacts xFIP), I’d think you would have chosen an example where this actually was the case. Not to mention your logic is also a bit flawed here, as more batters means not only more chances for K’s but more chances for walks and more chances for flyballs which will impact his calculated HR totals. As long as the relative probabilities of these outcome is constant, it doesn’t matter how many more batters he faced or didn’t face due to a high or low BABIP (for the most part – there may be some second order effects)

BBfan
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BBfan

Sorry for the confusion. I should’ve clarified what I meant. I was talking about some of the flaws of xFIP and how Haren was punished for it…and how his low LD% was largely the reason why (low BABIP being the other that I brought up, but that’s more in theory and not definite as the other). That’s what I meant when I said all that. I know his xFIP was higher with the Angels because of his K and BB numbers…that much is obvious, but at the same time, his xFIP was artificially high. As I just pointed out, if you decide to call 9 of those fly-balls liners…his xFIP goes all the way down to 3.99. That is pretty significant.

Another thing…this is what I wrote (regarding the BABIP): “+ his BABIP was only .274 with the Angels, which affected his K totals since he had less opportunities to strike batters out. With a normal BABIP (.300ish), he most likely would’ve had more strikeouts.”

(That was in reply to Haren’s K #s with the Angels)
Which is true. The more batters he faces, the more chances he has of getting the K. In theory, he would’ve had more strikeouts. Does it mean that’s how it would’ve played itself out? Nope. And obviously, we’re not talking about anything of significance here (and I never claimed it was significant), but it’s still interesting nevertheless and something to consider.

Hank
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Hank

Haren was not punished for it though….

Problem 1: You assume every 1 less LD he had with the Angels translated into 1 more FB… that is not necessarily true; it could also mean 1 more groundball. If one says he had should have 9 more line drives, you are assuming it means 9 less flyballs (~0.14 xFIP impact if I did the math right), it could mean 9 less groundballs (0 xFIP impact) or most likely a combination of both(somewhere between from 0-0.14 impact). You seem to be assuming that the GB rate is somehow fixed and any change in LD’s means a corresponding 1:1 change in FB’s.

In short you are assuming worst case scenario … and even that worst case scenario hardly ‘punishes” him … his xFIP jumped by 0.77, .a 0.14 difference (max) is peanuts when there’s 0.63 (or more) from other effects.

Problem 2: No pitcher gets punished from BABIP on xFIP ( except for some small 2nd order effects like probability of bunting and other minor stuff). xFIP is a ratio of K,BB, and FB (translated to HR)/IP… if you face more batters within the same # of IP, the only way xFIP would change if suddenly one of 3 components changed in relation to the others. You can say if he gave up more hits he would have faced more batters and gotten more K’s, but he also would have proportionally given up more walks and flyballs… it doesn’t matter unless the ratio between the 3 for some reason suddenly changed on those extra batters.

Haren was not “punished”, his xFIP is what is and the increase was primarily driven by K’s and BB’s (>70% of it). You can opine that is a small sample size and has not stabilized (which is a totally valid argument given the small sample size), but to suggest the LD rate is largely the key or BABIP even matters is simply wrong.

Can someone else help me out here – I think I’m doing a poor job explaining this.

BBfan
Guest
BBfan

Um, yes…he was. He was punished because a bunch of his balls were classified fly-balls instead of liners. You don’t seem to get it or what I’m explaining here. Read carefully. I’ll do this slowly.

Haren’s 2010 BIP data with the Angels:

GB: 113
FB: 123
LD: 47

Total: 283

113/283 = 39.9% (or let’s call it 40%) This is also listed as his GB% on his player page with the Angels
123/283 = 43.4% (again, his listed FB%)
47/283 = 16.6% (ditto)

NOW. Subtract 9 (fly-balls) from 113 and add 9 (liners) from 47. Giving him a “normal” LD% and no longer an artificially high FB%. Remember, all we’re doing here is turning 9 fly-balls (ones that already occured) into “liners.” We’re basically giving them a different name. That’s significant since line drives aren’t accounted for in xFIP.

Looky here

GB 113/283 = 40%
FB 123-9 = 114… 114/283 = 40.3%
LD: 47+9 = 56…56/283 = 19.7%

See again? His GB% remains unchanged because we’re NOT ADDING ADDITIONAL BIP DATA. We’re just using the ones that already happened. His GB rate can’t be touched also because a groundball is, well…a grounder…unlike a LD and FB, which are in the air. All I am doing here is subtracting 9 fly-balls and adding 9 liners to his total (calling 9 fly-balls liners instead), again…giving him a more “normal” LD% and no longer an artificial FB%.

All I’m doing here is showing how his xFIP would’ve been noticeably lower with a “normal” LD rate and how flawed xFIP is/can be. I’m showing how a pitcher with a low LD rate can be punished by this metric, and Haren is a nice example of it.

Get it now? If you decide to turn 9 fly-balls into liners, his xFIP goes all the way down from 4.13 to 3.99.

Hopefully I explained this well…so you can understand, otherwise I give up and I’m hoping someone else can take over and explain this better.

Rays11
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Rays11

>>Can someone else help me out here – I think I’m doing a poor job explaining this.<<

I think your problem is reading comprehension.

BBfan makes perfect sense and his argument is sound.