Monday, May 2, 2011

By Andre Castillo - Feature Writer

Welcome to my new weekly column, where I review baseball's newest advanced statistics and apply them to the Angels. This week I look at the Angels hitters and pitchers and see how they fared for the month of April, ranking them by's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic. WAR tries to isolate all of a player's contributions (defense (UZR)+ offense (wOBA) for hitters; Field Independent Pitching (FIP) for pitchers) and measure them in terms of how many wins we should expect those contributions to produce on an average team.

For more detailed explanations of the advanced stats cited below, see

Angels' Hitters and Pitchers Top WAR in April

Minimum 40 AB
(As of 4/29 5pm EST)

Howie Kendrick 1.4 WAR
Howie's been a revelation so far for the Angels, and not in the way we all imagined he would be. Instead of high average, he's done it with power, with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .280/.357/.540 and a team-leading 6 HR. So where is this power coming from? I don't know, but his AVG is down from his career .294, while both his walk rate (8.8%) and strike-out rate (24%) are way up. It looks like Howie has just decided to transform himself from an aggressive slap-hitter to a patient masher overnight. Amazing.

Maicer Izturis 0.9 WAR
Maicer has been as good as we always knew he could be, plugging a huge void at lead-off and getting on-base at an outstanding .379 rate, higher than his career (.342) and much higher than his injury-plagued 2010 (.321). With such success, you'd think he'd have more runs than he does at just 8 so far, good for only 6th on the Angels, but the Angels middle order bats have not done much to drive him in. Having 9 RBIs, tied for 3rd-most on the team, doesn't hurt though.

Peter Bourjos 0.9 WAR
Like Howie, Bourjesus has been strong contributor in an unexpected way. While his offense has been good enough to make him the second highest AVG on the team (.318, min. 50 PAs), the flashy centerfielder has only registered as a league-average defender for his position so far according to UZR, quite unlike the gaudy defensive numbers he put up in 2010. [Three quick notes about the huge drop in UZR for Bourjos: (1) UZR is notoriously unreliable in small samples, needing as much as 2-3 years to stabalize; (2) Much of Bourjos's defensive value last year came from his 10 assists (in just 51 games), a high rate which was not likely to be sustained; and (3) Bourjos has made a number of fielding mistakes early on this year, but which should balance out over the course of the year.] Hopefully Bourjos's defense will pick up, because it's not likely his hot hitting will continue for long, as his very low walk rate (just 5.4%) and high strike out rate (30.6%), plus extraordinarily high Batting Average on Balls in Play-BABIP (.431) mean his average should stablize at closer to .250 than .320.

Hank Conger 0.3 WAR
Speaking of saviors, here comes Hank the Tank to save Angels fans (we hope) from the dreaded hitting of Jeff Mathis. With a more than respectable slash of .275/.341/.475 to go with 2 HR and 9 RBIs, Hank has been a very strong contributor to the Halos. His 6.8% walk rate and 20% strike-out rate (and league-average BABIP of .300), while not outstanding, are solid enough that we should expect similar production from him going forward.

Erick Aybar WAR 0.3
With just 44 Plate Appearnces so far, who would've guessed Aybar would be ranked this high? It's not because of his defense, either (-.3 UZR). Aybar's been hittin' like it's 2009 with a slash line of .326/.326/.419. Yes, you read that correctly - Aybar has not earned a single walk all year. Aybar's always been a low walk, low strike-out guy, and this year is just a more extreme version of that so far; Aybar currently has just a 4.7% strike-out rate. Aybar is also tied with Maicer for a team-leading 3 stolen bases (and 0 CS).

Bobby Abreu 0.3 WAR
As last year, Abreu in 2011 is a mixed bag. He certainly hasn't been bad, not with an OBP of .402, good for 6th in the American League to go with his astounding 20.6% walk rate. Where Abreu suffers is in his low AVG (which you should not care about, given his gaudy OBP) and declining power -- just 1 HR, and an ISO of .093 (ISO measures isolated power, like slugging % minus the singles. Howie for example has an ISO of .260). Abreu also provides no defensive value. Strangely enough, the lefty is hitting left-handers much better this year than righties: .281 v. .226, but has a higher OBP v. righties (.378 v. 414) -- which is why you should never only look at AVG to tell the skill of a hitter. Abreu's walks meanwhile have led him to 10 runs, which isn't bad, but isn't great either for a guy who gets on base so much (Howie leads the team with 17).

Torii Hunter 0.2 WAR
Torii, another once-dazzling aging outfielder, spent much of April in a hard slump, hitting .210/.279/.340. It was an interesting slump, however, in that he still was second on the team with 4 HR and a team leading 12 RBI. Though not as good as he once was, Torii is also likely not this bad -- his low .230 BABIP indicates he has had some bad luck at least (though probably not too much, given his slowing legs and abundance of weakly hit ground balls), so we should expect better production from him going forward.

Alberto Callaspo 0.2 WAR
Callaspo started off hot but cooled off a bit, and is now hitting .282/.365/.388. While he has admirably filled the gaping void Brandon Wood left at third base, UZR indicates he's not doing it all that well, posting just a -3.3 UZR, contributing to his low WAR. He's also not shown much power for what is generally considered a power position, with just 2 HR and an ISO of .106 (Conger for example, who also has just 2 HR, has an ISO of .200). With solid walk and strike-out rates of 11.5%/11.8% and a league-average .301 BABIP, Callaspo has done, and will likely continue to do, simply what he was brought in for -- to be a decent, if unspectacular, third basemen.

Jeff Mathis 0.1 WAR
WAR depends heavily on accumulated Plate Appearances for hitters. This has likely helped Mathis, as his limited action (49 PAs) combined with some solid glove work have left him in the rare (for him) territory of a positive WAR -- in three of the last five years, Mathis has posted negative WARs. This means that Mathis was worse than the best available player on the waiver wire for those three years. In the other two, Mathis was only slightly better than waiver wire fodder -- 2009 (.1) and 2007 (.2). The most interesting thing I can say about Mathis at this point is that, despite his awful numbers (.200/.213/.356), he still ranks higher in WAR than Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells. Yikes. [Two notes about WAR for catchers: (1) catcher UZR is considered particularly quarky, and may not be all that reliable; (2) Catcher ERA (CERA) is also not taken into account].

Mark Trumbo 0.0 WAR
What else can I say when you're worse than Mathis? Hitting a disheartening .229/.256/.398, at least Trumbo is cheap, unlike our next topic of discussion. Though his hot Spring training unfortunately didn't carry over very far, Trumbo has at least chipped in with 3 HR, 10 runs, and 9 RBIs.

Vernon Wells -0.4 WAR
Oh, poor Vernon. While I was very disappointed that the Angels did not get more cash in the now infamous Vernon Wells trade of 2011, I thought at least the offense would be better having him than not. Well, so far that has not been the case. Wells has been worse -- far worse -- than waiver-wire fodder this year, hitting a very Brandon Wood-like .178/.224/.257. While I'll be the first to admit that Vernon Wells is not -- and never has been -- all that good, he's certainly better than this. Even in his bad years in Toronto, Wells posted better walk and strike out rates than he is now (4.7% and 19.8% respectively, vs. 6.8% 14.0% for his career). His BABIP (.213) is also much lower than his career rate (.286). Though he is expected to decline with age, even pessimistic forcasts have him hitting better than that. Not too much better, however -- the ZiPS prediction of a Wells season between .239/.290/.387 and .252/.303/.414 looks more likely than not at this point.

Minimum 8 IP
(As of 4/30 5pm EST)

Jered Weaver 1.7 WAR
Jered Weaver, a beast amongst men, and part of one of baseball's most feared duos. Weaver has co-led the Majors, along with Dan Haren, for an astounding 1.7 WAR in just one month. Though we know he will not be able to keep that rate up, if he did, he would produce an astounding 10 WAR. To give you an idea of how ridiculous that is, a 10 WAR player is worth about a $50 million annual salary according to Fangraphs (a player is is typically worth $5 million per WAR). Boris or no Boris, Weaver's not going to come cheap this off-season.

Dan Haren 1.7 WAR
I don't think Tony Reagins gets enough credit for this trade. Dan Haren is quite simply the difference between a mediocre rotation and a superb one, as WAR -- tied for best in the majors -- indicates. Getting him for Joe Saunders, who had one lucky year of W-L? When all the advanced metrics said Haren was much better than his ERA, while Saunders was worse than his? When Haren was under the most team friendly deal of any stud pitcher that was available? Outrageous.

Ervin Santana .8 WAR
Santana continues to be a fine number 3 starter. He sometimes is inconsistent, but can often produce a stellar seasons, like he did in 2010 (2.5 WAR), 2008 (5.8 WAR), and 2006 (3.4 WAR). Though his WAR in 2011 says he's on track to do it again, it doesn't really look like it in his normal stats, with his ERA of nearly 5 and a win-loss of 1-3. Why is that? Well, he's probably been the victim of bad defense and bad luck, which I think both the stats and our eyes can attest to. When you take out the hits that the defense is responsible for and just look at his Field Independent Pitching (FIP), Santana's ERA should be about 3.43, quite a difference! As everything regresses to the mean, we should expect Santana's luck to improve, and with it his ERA and W-L.

Matt Palmer 0.4 WAR
Interesting to see AAA-optioned Matt Palmer here slightly above Jordan Walden, the Halos new stud closer. That can't be right - can it? Well, advanced metrics say that Palmer was far more valuable than he was given credit for before being sent down to Salt Lake. While Palmer did have a ginormous ERA of 5.74, his FIP says his ERA should've been just 3.08! (note: FIP has been shown to be far more predictive of a pitcher's talent over time than ERA). He was also sturdy, pitching 15.2 innings, fourth highest on the team, more than even Jordan Walden. Speaking of Walden...

Jordan Walden 0.4 WAR
Walden has been another savior for the Halos this year, rescuing a dysfunctional bullpen with pure fire. His ERA of 0.73 is sparkling, but is really that good? Well, yes and no. His FIP is stellar as well: 2.53. But if you believe his below average home run/fly ball rate is due more to luck than skill (which it usually is, though there are exceptions, like Matt Cain), than xFIP tells us his ERA should be as high as 4. Compare that to Palmer's xFIP of 4.14 at the time he was sent down -- they've basically been the same pitcher, yet Walden is the one climbing to fame and fortune and Sportscenter highlights. It is better to be lucky than good in the MLB.

Rich Thompson 0.1 WAR
I haven't personally had the chance to see Rich Thompson play, so I don't know much about him to be honest. His advanced stats tell much the same story of his normal stats, which is that he's been a solid reliever. What I can say is that if you were to judge the Angels bullpen on xFIP alone, he would be the closer with a bullpen-leading 2.66 predicted ERA.

Francisco Rodriguez -0.1 WAR
Not too much to say about F-Rod, other than he is not quite the second coming of K-Rod. While his ERA looks good, his FIP and xFIP tell a much different story: his ERA should be closer to 5.

Fernando Rodney -0.2 WAR
Rodney is someone that we all pull for, but deep down understand that he is just not very good. His ERA and FIP say it all: a calming ERA of 2.53, and a terrifying FIP of 5.36. Expect more of last year's Rodney going forward.

Hisanori Takahashi -0.2 WAR
Takahashi's not had a great ERA (4.22), but look at his FIP - 5.83. Ouch.

Tyler Chatwood -0.3 WAR
Tyler's another Angels pitcher with striking differences in ERA and FIP: 3.86 v. 6.27. The most worrying part is all those walks Tyler has given up, 6 BB per 9 innings compared to just under 4 Ks. To be an effective starter in the majors, Tyler's going to need to cut his walks in half.

Jason Bulger -0.4 WAR
How do you manage to acculumate -0.4 WAR in just 9.1 IP? In his brief stint with the Angels this year, Bulger walked 10 batters, or more than 1 per inning.
Love to hear what you think!

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