Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why the Angels' Offense Lacks...

I'm watching Game 2 of the American League Championship Series between the Indians and Red Sox, and I've noticed something that helps explain why the Angels did not (and will not) make it back there as presently constructed: they lack firepower to consistently punish mistake pitches.

In Game 3 of the ALDS, the Angels' offense made Curt Schilling look like he was 25 again. He threw 100 pitches, an amazing 76 for strikes. That should be expected, since his regular season K/BB was 4.39, 5th best in baseball among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. (That figure was also lower that it could have been, since Schilling struck out batters at a near career worst rate.)

The Angels knew that they had to come out swinging, because Schilling would be around that zone. Even knowing they would get pitches to hit, the Angels mustered only 6 hits (1 extra-base hit) and no runs.

Schilling himself said, "Early in the game, I made a lot of mistakes command-wise, and fortunately, they took [those pitches] or they fouled [them] off, and then I thought we really got sharper as the game went on."

The Angels' lineup lacks on so many levels that it's amazing they were able to finish with such a good record (94-68). They don't drive the ball, finishing 17th in slugging % at an anemic .417, just above the Astros and Orioles. They did finish with a nice team batting average of .285, but batting average is a statistic that's subject to a lot of luck, among other things. (Batting average also correlates less well with runs and wins that OBP and OPS).

Their reliance on hitting their way on base helps explain why they could go out and score 18 runs one game (9/12/07 vs. Baltimore) and then follow that up with no runs (3-0 loss on 9/13/07). It's time to get serious about reworking this offense to hang with the big boys, the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Tigers. As is, singles, bunts, and sacrifice flies just don't get it done consistently.

I'll do a more in-depth analysis on the Angels' offense in the coming days, but for the moment I will just say that Schilling is already out of the game, having gone 4 2/3, giving up 5 runs on 9 hits, allowing 2 home runs in the process. He threw 85 pitches, 58 for strikes, and did not walk a batter. The Indians knew what was coming, and they were ready with the thunder...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Frustrations & "Small ball"

Well, the launch of this blog has unfortunately coincided with one of the worst moments in recent Angels' history, as they were dumped out of the playoffs in 3 games last week. They were slaughtered at the hands of the Red Sox, a good antithesis to the Angels’ small-ball, first-to-third mentality. I’m going to go ahead and be upfront, I can’t stand small-ball.

It really wasn't my intention to start this blog on a sour note, but to be honest this is not a happy moment for the Angels' organization or the fans. So I will take it out on the Angels' style of play...

I don’t understand the concept of gifting the opposition with an out to bunt a runner over, attempting to steal when you’re not 100% sure you can take the bag, getting guys thrown out
trying to “create offense,” etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that small ball could work. If you have a team where runners only steal when they can swipe the bag, (90-100% stolen base percentage), it would be good to run like crazy. If you have a team of perfect bunters that never pop a bunt up, it might work. If the guys who hit behind these perfect bunters always drive the runs home (90-100% of the time), it could work. If your runners are so fast and intelligent on the bases that they never get
thrown out, it would be worth running around the bases aggressively to manufacture runs.

Sadly, the reality is that no team is full of these perfect running machines. These small ball tactics, assuming a good running team, will lead to stealing some runs and may inevitably help win a couple games a year. However, these tactics will undoubtedly give back a lot if not more of these runs created to the opposition. Stealing a base is great and adds value to the offense, but having a runner thrown out causes a lot more harm than a successful steal.

At the end of the day, having a runner at first with no outs is good, and having a runner at second with no outs is clearly better. However, having 5 runners at first with no outs in a game is better than 3 runners at second and two wiped out trying to steal. Outs are precious. That is the moral of the story. Giving them away consistently, especially if you don’t have extra-base firepower in the lineup, is unacceptable.

Maybe the Angels are masochists.