07 August 2015

Scouting The Opposition: A Look At The Angels

One of my friends used to say that the baseball season doesn’t really start until after 100 games have been played because then teams can gauge their skill level and determine whether the playoffs are potentially in their future. The season is at that point and the Orioles look like one of the few AL clubs legitimately competing for a wild card spot. According to both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds, the Angels and the Blue Jays are the frontrunners for the two wildcard spots while the Orioles and Rays are the main runners-up. All in all, this means that the upcoming series between the Orioles and Angels looks to be pretty important and therefore it’s worth taking a quick look at the Angels.

This chart from Baseball Reference shows the Angels’ “2015 AL Wins above Average by Position” as calculated by Baseball Reference. The data indicate that the Angels are the seventh best team in the AL largely led by Pujols, Aybar, Calhoun and some guy named Mike Trout. It also argues that their pitching rotation and offense have been about average and that their bullpen has struggled.

According to Baseball Reference, the Angels have scored on average 4.18 runs per game and have a OPS+ of 100. Looking at their individual performances, it is astonishing how much this team has been carried by Mike Trout. According to Fangraphs WAR, Trout has been worth 6.3 wins and has been as valuable as the next three best Angel batters combined. The Angels only have four batters (Trout, Pujols, Calhoun and Freese) with more than 50 PAs that have a wRC+ over 100 and Freese has a wRC+ of only 102. Not to mention that Freese is currently on the DL due to a fractured finger. It’s impressive how Trout’s .306/.397/.618 line with a wRC+ of 182 can nearly single-handedly turn a below average offense into an average one.
The Angels were active at the trade deadline and added three outfielders; Victorino, Murphy and DeJesus. DeJesus can potentially platoon with Cron to strengthen the Angels at DH while Murphy and Victorino can be used in LF. These players can help strengthen the Angels at two of their weakest positions but none of these guys can turn a weakness into strength. They’ll turn a big weakness into a smaller weakness.

The Angels rotation was considered roughly average by Baseball Reference but recently suffered a huge loss when CJ Wilson suffered a season ending injury. The Angels rotation has been led by Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and the young Andrew Heaney while Matt Shoemaker has regressed slightly from last years’ 16-4 record but is still showing some promise with an ERA and FIP around 4. Jared Weaver is expected to return next week and will fill the fifth spot.

The Angels bullpen is considered average in the AL according to Fangraphs and below average according to Baseball Reference.  Huston Street, the Angels’ closer, has done a good job so far this season with a 2.66 ERA and 26 saves but his 3.29 FIP and 3.92 xFIP suggests that he may be in for some regression. Joe Smith has been effective in his role as the primary setup man.  All in all, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t look to add at the deadline.

This Angels’ team is really struggling because they’re paying $80 million to Josh Hamilton (now on Texas), Jered Weaver (currently injured), Albert Pujols and C.J Wilson (out for the year). Pujols and Wilson are both good but neither is great at this point in their career. Pujols has come back from a few poor years and is a legit middle of the order batter but has been remarkably similar to Chris Davis this past year.  Jared Weaver is only throwing his fastball at an average speed of 83 mph. He’s never depended on fastball speed to be successful but so far he hasn’t been able to recover from the loss in velocity let alone be worth his contract. The Hamilton signing was a complete disaster for the Angels and will haunt them until 2018. They have done a good job developing their young talent but it’s hard to win when you’re spending more than half of your payroll on four players that aren’t really producing.

The best case scenario for this Angels’ team is that Cron figures out how to hit and gets hot while Heaney continues pitching like he has and turns into an ace. The worst case scenario is that Pujols and another starter get hurt because the Angels’ don’t seem to have the depth to survive that kind of a blow. The disaster scenario for the Angels’ is that Trout himself gets hurt.

The plan to beating this Angels’ club isn’t by stopping Trout because no one can stop Trout. Rather, find a way to ensure that Calhoun and Pujols don’t produce and that will limit how much damage Trout can deal. Pujols has struggled against lefties this year. Calhoun hasn’t but is a left handed hitter himself and could struggle against a quality LOOGY. Matusz, McFarland and Britton are going to have their work cut out for them.

The Orioles won’t benefit from the Angels’ rotation situation as the Angels are projected to take advantage of the off day to ensure that the Orioles will face Heaney, Richards and Shoemaker.

The key to beating Heaney is patience as batters hit .345/.333/.552 when putting a ball in play against him in a hitters count but only .204/.204/.204 when putting a ball in play against him in a pitchers count.  Batters also hit him hard (.866 OPS) when the count is 1-1, 2-1 or 2-0 as opposed to when the count is 0-0, 1-0 or 0-1 when they put up a .271/.271/.313 line. This could be because Heaney uses his slider often early in the count but tends to throw primarily throw only his fastball or a changeup when the count is 1-1, 2-1 or 2-0. Put him in situations where he doesn’t throw his slider and it’s easier to guess what’s coming.

The key to beating Richards is playing him on the road. He has a 2.36 ERA at home with a 7-2 record and is allowing a .174/.253/.269 line while he has a .484 ERA away while opposing batters are hitting .288/.340/.429. If you have to play him at home, than your best bet is the home run ball as ten of the twenty-two runs scored against him at home came via the homer.

The key against Shoemaker is to put the ball into play. Opposing batters are averaging a .347/.342/.600 line against him at home when getting the ball into play. They have a .457/.447/.891 line against him at home even in a pitchers’ count.  It doesn’t make sense to go after the first pitch unless it’s a good one but don’t be afraid to be aggressive later in the count.

Then again, over a three day sample pretty much anything could happen. Not much to do but to watch the games and be glad the Orioles’ are still playing important games in August.

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