Wednesday, June 12, 2013

 By Greg Bird, Staff Writer - 

Let me start the train of articles pointing the finger at who’s to blame for this Halo mess. The season looks bleak and long at this point. Everything seems to be going wrong and I mean everything. The question is could the Angels have done things differently and changed their fortunes? I want to look back at the offseason pitching moves to see if there are moves that could have been made that would have turned things around. This is the question I want to answer, is DiPoto to blame for this mess? Were Jerry’s pitching moves the big blunder that cost the season? I’m focusing on pitching because I believe the Hamilton signing was happening whether DiPoto wanted it or not.

Let’s first identify the pitchers that the Angels could’ve targeted last winter. Here are the starters that were available to sign or keep: Grienke, Lohse, Sanchez, Santana, Haren, Dempster, Saunders, Ryu, Marquis, McCarthy, Guthrie and Jackson. This is the list of relievers that were available to sign: Uehara, Broxton, League, and Fujikawa. Did the front office miss gems in this class of free agents?

To analyze these pitchers I’m going to use two stats, ERA and ERA+. I will also include W/L records from time to time but I don’t put much stock in that statistic since it is more of a team statistic. ERA+ compares a pitchers ERA to the league average ERA and adjusts it for park factors. It is set on a 100 point scale. If a player has a 105 ERA+ it means they are 5 % better than the league in ERA when adjusted for parks they pitch in. 

Since the bullpen has been an area of concern and frustration let’s start there. The two relievers the Angels did sign have been hanging out on the DL all year. When Burnett has pitched, he has done well with a 0.93 ERA and a 424 ERA+. To put Burnett’s 424 ERA+ in perspective; he is 324% better than league average! (Warning: think small sample size here, 9.2IP)

Of the available bullpen arms only Uehara has provided good value to his team. He has a 2.39 ERA and an ERA+ of 183 while on a 1 year $4.25 million contract. Broxton has been run-of-the-mill with a 4.10 ERA and an ERA+ of 102. He is making $7 million per year on a 3 year contract. This is really good money and he is only providing league average production. League and Fujikawa have been awful this year. Fujikawa is out for the season with Tommy John’s surgery after posting an ERA+ of 78 and Brandon League has an ERA+ of 62. 

Of the 5 or 6 relievers who were available as free agents (do we count Madson?) only 1 has provided good value to their team. Burnett’s was admittedly a slight injury risk but he has been excellent when he has been on the field. Aside from missing on Uehara, DiPoto did avoid all of the other expensive mistakes on the market. Uehara wasn’t a complete miss because the Angel bullpen really needed a solid left-hander and Koji didn’t fit that need. Based on his options DiPoto was slightly above average in building a bullpen but hit with a nasty injury bug. Grade: B

The starting market was interesting and very confusing. The real values on the market were Anibal Sanchez, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana (Yes, that Ervin!) Sanchez was the ace of the class with a 6-5 record, a 2.65 ERA, and sporting a 159 ERA+. Ryu was the next catch of the offseason with his 6-2 record, a 2.72 ERA, and a 135 ERA+. While both of these starters were great signings they were also relatively expensive. Sanchez signed a 5 year $80 million contract and Ryu signed a 6 year $36 million contract with a $25.7 million posting fee ($61.7 million total.) I wonder if Tony Reagins’ lack of foreign scouting precluded the Angels from being fully aware of Ryu’s talent level and in no position to bid on him. In any case, the Hamilton signing made both of these contracts financially impossible.

Guthrie would’ve been a good value signing but I don’t think many people in baseball saw that coming. Guthrie has a 7-3 record, a 3.60 ERA, and a 114 ERA+.  This isn’t ace level but definitely worth his 3 year $25 million contract. Santana, who most fans were glad to be rid of, is having one of his random good years. His record is a meager 4-5 but he has a 2.99 ERA and a 137 ERA+. These two starters could’ve been in the Angel rotation but I don’t think many would’ve been excited by these signings more than they were by Blanton. 

Grienke, Dempster, Lohse, and Marquis are pretty much the definition of average. These starters all have an ERA+ between 95 and 100, with Lohse having the 100. I’m not saying these pitchers wouldn’t be an improvement over Blanton but they are just slightly better than Hanson (93 ERA+) and a little worse than Vargas (103 ERA+.) Grienke is vastly overpaid and Lohse is moderately overpaid, especially when the draft pick compensation is factored in. Dempster is overpaid as well with his 2 year $26.5 million contract but not as much as the other two starters. Marquis could’ve been a good value but I don’t think anybody thought that was possible. It is also possible that Marquis’ season is Petco dependent and he could’ve failed in the AL or in an easier park to hit. 

The rest of the available starters have done poorly. They all have an ERA+ between 70 and 80. To put it another way, these starters are 20%-30% worse than the league average pitcher. Compared to Blanton’s 65 ERA+ they are improvements, but not worth being in a rotation. This group includes Brandon McCarthy and Joe Saunders, who were on the wish lists of many fans during the offseason as replacements for Vargas or Blanton. Brandon and Joe are not very good this year. McCarthy has a 2-4 record, a 5.00 ERA, and an ERA+ of 80. Saunders has a 4-6 record, 5.12 ERA, and an ERA+ of 73. Haren and Edwin Jackson both have an ERA+ of 70 and are just not worth running out there every fifth day. 

DiPoto missed on Guthrie, but so did most GMs; he wasn’t a hot commodity. DiPoto possibly missed on Marquis, but it isn’t certain he would’ve done as well for the Angels. DiPoto did miss out on Sanchez and Ryu but the signing of Hamilton pretty much ruled him out of being able to afford those contracts. Blanton (2 years/$15 million) was a complete mistake and even Dempster (2years/$26.5 million) or McCarthy (2 years/$18 million) would’ve been a slight improvement.  The pitching market was full of mistakes to avoid, Grienke (6 years/$147 million) and Lohse (3 year/$33 million.) DiPoto did avoid those really bad contracts. I would say that DiPoto was average in navigating the starting pitching market. Grade: C

In evaluating the whole pitching market, now in hindsight, it doesn’t look like there was much value to be had. It is important to note that Vargas has been a bright spot for the Angels and Hanson isn’t terrible, yet. I would say that DiPoto tried his theory of flyball pitching and good outfield defense that has had some limited success and one very notable failure. Looking at the evidence I don’t see a smoking gun to lay all of this disaster at DiPoto’s feet (someone higher up decided on Hamilton.) 

Overall I’d give DiPoto a grade of C+ on his offseason pitching moves, based on the information he had at the time. I think it is best we lay off the, “fire DiPoto” movement and try to look elsewhere to find the smoking gun to blame this fiasco on.
Love to hear what you think!

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