Monday, July 7, 2008

(GETTY IMAGES) Garret Anderson

By David Saltzer - Columnist
July 6th, 2008

Driving home from Saturday night’s game (July 5, 2008) I heard Terry Smith comment in the post-game show that he believed the Angels would be compelled to make a trade to improve the offense if it doesn’t show signs of improvement by the end of the month. At first, I thought, sure, the offense is improving. After all, we’ve scored 5 or more runs for 4 consecutive games. But, as I thought about it, I realized that it’s a bit more complicated than that and in all likelihood, the offense is not improving as much as I had thought.

Take Saturday night’s game for example. We scored 5 runs for the whole game. But, 3 of those runs came in the 8th and 9th inning against the bullpen while only 2 came against Halladay, the starter. And Halladay is the caliber of pitcher that we are likely to face in the post season. By the time he left the game, we were down 7-2 with 2 innings left to play which essentially guaranteed the loss. So, that got me thinking about how good our offense has been against pitching we’re likely to face in the post season rather than looking at it overall.

From June 13th to July 5th, we played a total of 20 games. Our record for the stretch was 11-9. Overall, our offense scored 60 earned runs in 129.2 innings against the opposing starter pitchers. That’s an ERA for 9 innings of 4.16. Considering that 14 of those games were against sub-500 teams, that’s not an overly impressive record.

In 9 of our past 20 games, we faced one of an opponent’s top-3 starters. When narrowed down to our record in those games, we only scored 26 earned runs in 66 innings against our opposing top-3 starters. In other words, those starters held us to an ERA of 3.55—a full half run less than our overall record for the past 20 games! And, much of that ERA came on July 4th, when we scored 6 runs in 6 innings off of AJ Burnett. Subtracting his one game from our overall numbers results in an ERA for our opponents’ top-3 starters of 3.00 for 9 innings! Additionally, the average top-3 starter has thrown over 7 innings against us resulting in their teams’ bullpens pitching less than 2 innings. Considering that most teams going into the post season will have an above average closer, we will only have 1 inning to really try to score against our oppositions’ bullpens when facing a top-3 starter.

So what does this mean? Presently, our team’s ERA is 3.74. If we are only scoring 3.55 earned runs per 9 innings against our opponents’ top-3 pitchers, and the average top-3 starter throws just 7 innings against us, then on average, we will only score 2.76 runs by the time the starter leaves the game. By the time we bat in the 8th inning, our pitchers will give up on average 3.32 runs, meaning we will be down by over half a run per game with just 2 innings left to play! We would have to consistently score over 1.5 runs per game in the final 2 innings to win a series! That’s not likely to happen considering that one of those innings will be against our opponent’s closer.

Since June 13th, our offense has been together over the past 20 games, so we can use those games as a baseline to measure the offense. And, even though some of the guys have been banged up since then, we can’t use that as an excuse to discount the way it has played over the past 20 games. As many players have said, 162 games is a grind. So, discounting the offense since June 13th as an aberration due to injury is a fallacy as the offense in October will most likely be as banged up from the long season if not more so. That means what we are seeing now is what we are likely to see in October unless we catch lightning in a bottle.

So, is our offense good enough? That depends on what the goal is. If the goal is to win the A.L. West, then I would have to say that it is “good enough.” With a 5 game lead, and the solid pitching that we have, we should win the West. But, if the goal is to advance deep into the post season, then I’d have to say that our offense is not good enough because it will not score enough runs on average to win a series.

Sure, at first glance it appears that we are scoring more runs per game, but that is probably more as a result of facing sub-500 teams and the back end of rotations rather than facing the top-tiered talent that we are likely to face in October. We’re not likely to be facing pitchers like Morton, Eaten, Myers, Litsch, etc. in the post season.

At this point, it appears that we are compelled to make a trade to improve our offense because we do not have the type of bat that we need ready at AAA, and our offense is not generating the offense we need to win a post season series. While we can give the offense a little bit more time to try and gel, we can’t be lulled into a false belief about it by looking at the numbers overall. We need to look at the numbers in terms of how they would play out in the post season in order to determine if we need to make a trade. And, so far, the numbers in context do not bode well for the present team’s offense in the post season, so, we need to improve it.
Love to hear what you think!

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