Saturday, May 23, 2015

By Joe Tevelowitz, Guest Columnist - 

Last Monday, Matt Joyce had one of those days that all of us fear. Seemingly content in the knowledge that Sunday’s afternoon match-up would be followed by a Monday evening tilt with the Toronto Blue Jays, Joyce kept it comfy on Monday.  Unfortunately, that Monday game was scheduled for 1:07 P.M., thanks to Victoria Day in Canada for the awkward start time, and Joyce was late, resulting in a fine and benching.  

Now, you might think an outfielder who’s hitting below the Mendoza line with only one home run and 11 RBIs on the season isn’t that big of a loss for the Halos during any given game.  However, Joyce’s tardiness might be emblematic of a bigger problem the Angels have faced this year – this team has yet to really be a team. 

Not to absolve Joyce of his struggles, on the field or off, but his lack of knowledge about when the next game would be proves that there are serious communication problems.  The Josh Hamilton escapade should have been the first clue to the lack of organizational unity, from players just wanting to move past his absence to the front office that was seemingly unwilling to put Hamilton in touch with owner Arte Moreno. Joyce’s battle with the bed does not equate to Hamilton’s battles with the bottles, but both show a team that, for whatever reason, has yet to really gel.

Lacking any actual insider knowledge of what is or isn’t going on inside the Angels clubhouse, this lack of cohesion conclusion is based more on personal experience with waking up late, and making sure I had someone around to prevent that. My allegiance to sleeping in is probably second only to my love of the Angels. Actually, third to my Simpsons fandom, but still, I love a good no-alarm weekend as much as the next guy.  That love has caused a share of near-disasters, dating back to a freshman year Poli Sci test that had me sprinting for class in the uncharacteristic California rain while wearing basketball shorts and tank top (aka San Diego formal attire). Still, knowing about my love of extra rest and likelihood to stay in bed longer than I should has allowed me to build in safeguards to my schedule, and most of those safeguards are in the form of friends, parents, girlfriends, mailmen and once a kindly hobo named Gerard who also understood that I needed an extra push sometimes to get to where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

I’m sure Matt Joyce has many friends and family who would serve as safeguards, and with the six alarms he set for Wednesday’s game he probably won’t even need them.  Still, the truer safeguard should be all the guys he sees on the daily, wearing the same outfit as him, supposed to be there at the same time, and working towards the same goal – his team.  What surprised me most about Joyce not knowing the proper game time wasn’t that he slept in (because we’ve all been there, and during the rigors of a 9-5 would love to be there again); the real issue is that, his lack of knowledge about the early start time means A) nobody was talking about Monday’s game after Sunday’s loss and B) nobody was talking to Matt Joyce before Monday’s game. 

Teammates don’t need to be best friends and not everyone is going to love everyone, but with the whole squad traveling from Baltimore to Toronto, was there no plan to get together for pancakes (or whatever the Canadian equivalent of pancakes is) in the morning? Again, this is not to absolve Joyce of the blame for his misstep, or to point to anyone in particular as being responsible for keeping the team together.  Rather, this is another subtle reminder that, even with the best player in all of baseball, even with a team coming off a season in which the led the league in wins, there is something missing.  The 2002 Champs were not dominant on paper.  What set them apart was a feeling that when you saw that team on the field, they liked playing together and, maybe more importantly, they liked being together.  

Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the memories of camaraderie from that year are glossed over by the eventual title win.  Maybe this team is a lot closer than meets the eye and the importance of a Torii Hunter or David Eckstein bringing people together through their positive personality and family-first attitude is overstated.  Matt Joyce was late because of an error Matt Joyce made, but teams need safeguards, and thinking that true team success can come without greater unity is just a dream. Hopefully it’s one the Angels will awake from soon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Jonathan Northrop, Writer - 

The Angels led the majors in runs scored last year and now are among the worst in all of baseball. How'd it happen? Where are the problem spots? Let's take a look by position:

Key: BA/OBP/SLG, sOPS+ (which is OPS+ relative to league OPS+

2014: .239/.342/.364, 106
2015: .185/.237/.266, 51

Difference in sOPS+: - 55

First Base
2014: .253/.303/.421, 90
2015: .192/.237/.363, 48

Difference in sOPS+: - 42

Second Base
2014: .285/.337/.381, 110
2015: .276/.326/.341, 90

Difference in sOPS+: - 20

2014: .276/.321/.375, 106
2015: .269/.316/.303, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 24

Third Base
2014: .240/.300/.365, 86
2015: .219/.280/.409, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 4

Left Field
2014: .234/.293/.336, 75
2015: .150/.187/.218, 14

Difference in sOPS+: - 61

Center Field
2014: .283/.372/.546, 153
2015: .279/.374/.536, 148

Difference in sOPS+: - 5

Right Field
2014: .274/.330/.436, 108
2015: .295/.354/.450, 110

Difference in sOPS+: +2

2014: .253/.311/.442, 104
2015: .237/.271/.313, 59

Difference in sOPS+: - 45

The first thing that stands out to me is that the Angels are underperforming offensively at every position, except for right field, relative to last year. But that is a bit deceptive, as two other positions - 3B and CF - are close enough to be basically the same.

So the positions that aren't a problem, at least relative to last year: 3B, CF, RF. Everywhere else is a problem, in some cases a huge problem. So let's take a look at them individually:

Catcher - Hopefully this will be solved on two fronts, one, probable improvement from Iannetta. Actually, he's got 5 hits in his last two games, so hopefully he's finally coming around. Secondly, Carlos Perez can't be worse than Drew Butera with the bat. So it seems that catcher can, will be, and seemingly is being solved from within.

First Base - See above. While it is clear by now that Albert will never be anything more than a vague shadowy semblance of his former self, he still has something left in the tank. Since April 19, almost a month, he's hit .270/.295/.450 - still not very good, but better than his overall numbers would indicate. I have no idea where his walks went, but at least he's doing something. Still, like C we're unlikely to see equal performance at 1B this year as last.

Second Base - While we miss Howie, Johnny G has held his own - or at least he was, as he's slowed down quite a bit. But we knew this going into the year, that the best we could hope for was average performance. If Gio slows down too much, look for Featherston or Rutledge or even, gasp, Grant Green to get some at-bats. But I don't think we're going to see any improvement from what we've already seen.

Shortstop - Aybar is getting there. He's a streaky player and often seems to start slow, but is warming up. He'll get hot at some point and I expect will have a similar year as last.

Third Base - Freese has been about the same as last year, albeit with more power but less average. I wouldn't be surprised to see him surpass last year's numbers.

Left Field - Possibly both the biggest problem and the clearest area for improvement. People don't like to admit it, but getting rid of Josh Hamilton--at least as far as on-field performance goes--might not have been a good idea and is a clear gut reaction from Arte Moreno. There is no single position that the Angels could most improve the team than left field. We should be expecting a trade at some point. The player that makes the most sense is Justin Upton, but the Padres aren't exactly out of it and the Angels would have to send one or both of Newcomb and Heaney to start talks. But the Padres may not want to pay Upton the nine-figure contract he'll get after the year, and if they're slipping in the standings he is a likely trade candidate - but not until July, and that might be too late for the Angels if they don't improve the offense.

Center Field - Not much to see here. While there is some possible disappointment in that Trout doesn't seem to have improved from his slightly declined 2014, he's also in a slump right now and should right the ship in short order. I'm still hoping he can get back to being a .300/.400/.550 hitter. The Angels really need him to be.

Right Field - the Angels' second best player, by a good margin on either side, is not a true star, but he may be turning into a borderline star - something a bit better than a quality regular like Erick Aybar, but a bit less than a true star.

DH - Another possible area for improvement from the outside. CJ Cron just doesn't look like he belongs in the major leagues. He's 25, so the clock is ticking, but he probably should be in AAA. But the Angels need more than just filler (Cron, Joyce, Krauss) at DH. They need a bat.

So here's how I see it. The Angels will stand pat at seven of the nine positions and look to improve in LF and/or DH. The cheap way would be to give players like Grant Green and Kyle Kubitza a shot, but neither probably is the impact bat that they need. Green is more likely to get time at 2B or be part of a trade, and Kubitza will best serve the franchise by continuing to improve his 3B defense - in AAA. The only way I see Kubitza getting a regular gig this year is if Freese is injured, or the Angels tank and Freese is shipped off.

Given that we should expect improvement at many positions, the Angels don't necessarily need to empty the already thin farm to get a Justin Upton. I'm not sure what the options are, but a couple of above average bats at LF and DH would go a long way to improving this offense. I would be very surprised if we don't see at least one bat coming in; I can see Scioscia and Dipoto being willing to rotate mediocrity through one of the two positions, but not both. My guess is we have a new starting left fielder some time in June.

Monday, May 18, 2015

By Adrian Noche, Minor League Reporter - 

1.) Sean Newcomb, Starting Pitcher, Inland Empire 66ers
Last two starts: 0-0  10.1 IP  0.87 ERA  8 H  5 BB  10 SO  1.25 WHIP
Overall: 1-0  39.1 IP  1.83 ERA  29 H  20 BB  52 SO  1.25 WHIP  .209 BAA

As you all know, Sean Newcomb was promoted to High-A Inland Empire on May 14th. Newcomb, who was the Angels top draft pick in 2014, was dealing before his promotion. Let’s look at his numbers in Low-A Burlington: 1.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 11.8 SO9. The only number that should be a cause of concern (if any) is his BB9 of 5.0. However, his promotion shows that the Angels are comfortable where he is in his development and believe he is ready to take the next step. Now, let’s look at his first start in High-A and it is clear that they were right. On Saturday, Newcomb pitched 5.0 innings of one-run ball. The southpaw also struck out 7 batters while only giving up 1 walk and 4 hits. Look for Newcomb to continue to climb the organizational ladder, continuing to make hitters look like fools along with way. This should be a fun ride.

2.) Jeremy Rhoades, Starting Pitcher, Burlington Bees
Last two starts: 0-1  13.1 IP  2.70 ERA  7 H  4 BB  10 SO  0.82 WHIP
Overall: 3-1  33.2 IP  2.41 ERA  29 H  7 BB  36 SO  1.07 WHIP  .227 BAA

Along with Newcomb, there should be another pitcher who should be expecting a promotion soon. That pitcher is Jeremy Rhoades, who is arguable having a better season than Newcomb. Rhoades has a strong SO9 of 9.6 yet a minuscule BB9 of 1.9. Rhoades carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning before surrendering 3 earned runs and getting tagged with the loss on Wednesday. Rhoades' line exiting after 7.1 IP was 3 hits and 2 walks allowed, with 5 strikeouts. Out of every minor league prospect in the Angels organization, Rhoades has taken the biggest step by far among all of them. Just a year ago, Rhoades possessed shotty mechanics and only one plus-pitch (his slider, maybe even plus-plus). Fast forward to today, Rhoades not only improved his mechanics but also added a potentially plus-changeup to his arsenal.

3.) Andrew Heaney, Starting Pitcher, Salt Lake Bees
Last two starts: 1-0  13.0 IP  0.69 ERA  10 H  5 BB  16 SO  1.15 WHIP
Overall: 5-0  43.1 IP  3.12 ERA  49 H  12 BB  43 SO  1.41 WHIP  .280 BAA

Andrew Heaney has been somewhat inconsistent so far this season. Despite the inconsistency, Heaney has managed to carry some solid numbers. However, Heaney has been on a groove lately. In his last two starts, the Angels top prospect has only allowed 1 earned run in 13.0 innings while striking out 16 batters. After seeing his ERA balloon up to 4.85 ERA, Heaney has seen this number drop all the way down to 3.12 this season. Hitters have been hitting Heaney for a high average (.280) but this can be a result of some bad luck as his BABIP is .356. 

4.) Jett Bandy, Catcher, Salt Lake Bees
Past 10 games: .375 AVG  12 H  3 Doubles  0 Triples  3 HR  0 SB
Overall: .364/.427/.606

Although Carlos Perez was promoted to the Angels, the Bees have not been missing a beat at the catcher position with the way Jett Bandy has been playing. Bandy has been smacking the ball all over the place this season. Bandy had himself a stretch of 5-games where he hit .611 (11-for-18) to go along with 3 home runs, 3 doubles and a ridiculous 14 runs driven in. Overall, Bandy has a slash line of .364/.427/.606 on the season.

5.) Eric Aguilera, First Baseman, Inland Empire 66ers
Past 10 games: .400 AVG  18 H  4 Doubles  0 Triples  1 HR  2 SB
Overall: .319/.354/.435

Eric Aguilera is one of the more under-the-radar and underrated prospects in the Angels farm system. Aguilera was probably the best player on the Burlington Bees last season, with a slash line of .306/.341/.539. So far this season, Aguilera has been the best hitter on the 66ers as well. In his last 10 games, Aguilera is hitting an even .400 (18-for-45) with 3 doubles and a home run. It has been a steady climb up the minor leagues for Aguilera since being drafted in the 34th round of the 2013 draft. Aguilera started out in Rookie Ball Orem in 2013, Low-A Burlington in 2014, and is now starting this season with High-A Inland Empire.

Minor League Affiliate Report

Triple-A Salt Lake Bees

Salt Lake played .500 ball this past week (3-3) and sit 9.0 GB first place with an overall record of 15-21. Nick Tropeano pitched has pitched a pair of quality starts since last week, only allowing a combined 4 earned runs in 12.2 innings pitched while allowing 11 hits, 3 walks and striking out 11. Grant Green continues to swing a solid bat, with a .280 batting average this past week. Kyle Kubitza hit  2 doubles and added to his league leading total which sits at 15 on the season.

Double-A Arkansas

Like the Bees, Arkansas split 6 games this week with 3 wins and 3 losses. As of today, the Travelers have an overall record of 21-14 (second place of the Texas League North) and sit 2.5 GB first place. Tyler DeLoach continued his strong 2015 campaign with 6.0 shutout innings on Friday. The southpaw only allowed 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 8 batters. DeLoach owns a 1.89 ERA ERA in 38.0 innings pitched this season (34 SO  11 BB  25 H). Nate Smith also had himself a strong start this week. On Sunday, Smith only gave up 1 earned run, 5 hits and 1 walk whiling striking out 6 batters. Chad Hinshaw was placed on the 7-day DL on Thursday.

High-A Inland Empire 66ers

The 66ers only played 4 games this week and won 3 of them. The 66ers now hold a .500 record, sitting 5.0 GB of first place. Chris Ellis only allowed 1 earned run in 6.0 innings pitched on Tuesday. Ellis gave up 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5 batters. Harrison Cooney struck out 11 batters in 6.0 innings pitched on Wednesday while only giving up 1 earned run, 3 hits and 2 walks. Jordan Kipper threw 8 innings and only gave up 1 earned run as well. Kipper struck out 2 batters and allowed 6 hits and 1 walk. Kaleb Cowart is starting to turn a corner, hitting .282 with 2 doubles, 2 triples and a home run in his last 10 games. Mike Fish has been on a tear as of late, hitting .474 with 1 double and 1 triple in his last 10 games. Outfielder, Brandyon Bayardi, continued his strong season and has now lifted his average up to .330 on the season.

Low-A Burlington Bees

The Low-A Bees owned a 3-3 record this week and are one game above .500 with an overall record of 19-18 (10.0 GB). Austin Robichaux pitched 7 shutout innings on Sunday, striking out 4 while giving up 2 hits and 3 walks. Jake Jewell pitched 4.0 innings of long relief on Tuesday. Jewell struck out 7 batters and gave up 1 earned run, 4 hits and no walks. With a combined 2.2 shutout innings of relief pitched this week, Jonah Wesely has lowered his ERA to 2.87 on the season (15.2 IP  20 SO  8 BB). Second baseman,Andrew Daniel, has had the power stroke working for him lately, with 3 home runs  and 3 doubles in his last 10 games. Outfielder, Natanael Delgado, has been on an offensive surge. The 19 year old is batting .425 with 2 doubles and 2 triples in his last 10 games and has raised his season average to .302. Miguel Hermosillo has reached base plenty for the Bees this week. The outfielder has 10 hits and 7 walks in his last 10 games.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

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By Glen McKee, Senior Scioscia Waffler -  

In case you missed the reference, my title isn’t about the supposed difficulty of spelling Scioscia’s name.  It’s a tribute to the coolest fictional character of my youth, Arthur Fonzarelli:

Yeah, I know, in retrospect it’s weird that I thought Fonzie was cool, when his “office” was a diner bathroom and he always wore a leather jacket, even during the summer.  That’s beside the point.  What I now share with the Fonz is difficulty in admitting I was (perhaps) wrong.  Fonzie was loathe to admit he was wron…wror…not right about anything, and I’m resistant to admitting I may have been wrong  about Mike Scioscia. 

For a few years now I’ve been, if not actively calling for him to be fired, saying I would be OK with him being let go to bring a new perspective to the team.  A few things have happened recently to make me rethink my position, and while I still wouldn’t mind seeing him go at the end of the season I also realize that might not make for a better team.

The first cause of the reexamination of my position was the Royals making the WS last season.  Prior to that Ned Yost was generally considered to be a terrible manager.  Worse than Scioscia, even, by some on the AngelsWin board.  Hard to imagine, but true.  Yost made terrible in-game decisions, didn’t seem to have a discernable philosophy, and appeared to be playing out the string until he was fired.  

And then his team went to the World Series.  Now he’s secure and respected in his job.  Amazing what winning will do.  It makes you realize that sometimes a manager is the cause of his success and other times he’s just riding a wave.

One of the most vociferous objections to Scioscia is how he sticks with veterans too long.  We thought we finally saw an end to that last year when Ibanez was given the boot in early May, although that may have been more the GM than the manager.  We’re seeing it now with Joyce.  Fans are reactionary, myself included.  This is a Scioscia failing we’ve witnessed way too often and have a hard time turning the page on it.

Then I was listening to MLB Network this afternoon, and they were talking about a particular manager and how it’s well-known that this manager sticks with veterans too long, sometimes to the determent of the team.  It was one of those few moments when I found myself agreeing with Jim Bowden (something about a broken clock twice a day).  However, the manager he was talking about was Bruce Bochy, he of the gimpy eye and several World Series championships.  Casey Stern agreed with Bowden, making it official: Bruce Bochy loves veterans too much.

I thought this was a Scioscia-only failing and was a bit surprised to learn that not only Angels fans feel this way about their skipper.  I’m more of an Angels fan than a baseball fan; I don’t mind watching other games but they don’t have much appeal to me.  I know a lot about this team but not much about any other; the AngelsWin has made me even more insular.  Jim Bowden made me realize that my managerial complaint was not unique, and that led to me wondering if Scioscia is really that bad of a skipper.  

Sure, he’s frustrating.  He bats a guy with one HR in the cleanup spot.  He sticks with veterans too long.  He makes questionable substitutions and non-substitutions.  Sometimes, though, it pays off.  In the first game against Colorado he opted not to pinch-run for Pujols in the bottom of the eighth, and Pujols stole second and went on to score the winning run.  It was startling.  That could have been luck, but if I blame Scioscia when things go wrong I have to give him credit when things go right.  So much of baseball is just about luck, and about players performing to their averages.  Managing doesn’t do much for either of those.  Luck does favor the prepared, but it also favors fools way too often.  Players perform both above and below their averages.  

Having said all that – it sure does seem like this team under Scioscia often starts out cold, with the bulk of the offense looking incredibly inept.  Is that a management flaw, or is it just a fluke?  Maybe six of one, a half-dozen of the other.  

If you questioned the fans of every team, they would point out the perceived flaws of their managers, as well as the players and the GM.  Would they be correct?  To some extent yes, but to a large extent it seems like they would be no different than us lamenting Scioscia.

I’m not saying I’m in love with Scioscia.  That would be an abusive relationship and I’m too old for that crap.  I’m not even in like with him.  I’m like the old couple that has been married for 20 years or so and knows what each other is going to do and even while it annoys the hell out of them they put up with it.  I know what Scioscia brings to the relationship and he’s gonna continue to piss me off more than occasionally, but he’s my manager and I’m sticking with him.  

Until the trophy wife comes along.  When that happens I’m dropping Scioscia like a used rubber.  ‘Til then…

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