Wednesday, June 5, 2013

By Greg Bird, Staff Writer - 

What about the fact that Hamilton and Pujols are not living up to their large contracts? Rbat is a stat that Baseball Reference uses to compute how many “runs better or worse than average” a player is at the plate.

While Hamilton has an Rbat of -5 and Pujols has an Rbat of 3 the team has an overall Rbat of 21. This ties the Angels with Boston for 6th in the majors in this statistic. This amount of runs alone should be good enough to put the team into the playoff race and above the .500 mark. 

If pitching or hitting aren’t the big culprits then what is left? Base running and Fielding/Defense are the next two obvious places to look.

How are the Angels on the basepaths? They’ve been caught stealing 16 times this season which is 4th worst in baseball. This has led to a 59% success rate at stealing bases which is 28th in the major leagues. To put it in perspective, if a team is successful less than about 67% of the time then they are giving away runs. If you’ve been watching games this is not a surprise to you.

FanGraphs has a base running stat and it says the Angels have cost themselves 2.2 runs on the bases. Baseball Reference has a stat that calculates the runs lost on the bases (Rbaser) and it says the Angels have lost 3 runs on the bases and are tied for 23rd worst. No matter the stat used, the Angels are not running well or smart this season. However, a 3 run differential is hardly enough to cause this terrible prolonged slump.

How about team defense? Coming into 2013 I thought this would be the best part of the team. We had a defense first third baseman in Alberto Callaspo, a very good shortstop, an improving quality second baseman, a former gold glove first baseman in Albert Pujols with a quality backup in Mark Trumbo, an adequate catcher, and one of the best outfields in baseball. I realize advanced defensive metrics are volatile and need more time to normalize than a third of a season but we need to something to evaluate the fielding so I will use them. 

But first let’s start with just traditional statistics, errors and unearned runs. I realize these are very subjective stats and not very useful but I don’t want to alienate the old guard by only using newer stats. The Angels have 38 errors which ties them with the Astros for 25th in the majors. For perspective, the Dodgers have committed 44 errors, the worst mark in baseball.  The Angels’ 38 errors have led to 16 unearned runs, 9th most allowed in MLB. But this is only 6 more runs than the Yankees who have given up the fewest number of unearned runs. The number of unearned runs doesn’t seem terrible but committing so many errors is concerning. What do advanced metrics say about Angel fielding? 

Baseball Reference has a stat called Rfield that evaluates a player’s defense above or below average. Average for Rfield is set at 0 and talked about in terms of runs saved or lost. The Angels defense has a -40 Rfield. This ranks them 29th out of 30 teams, just ahead of Seattle. On FanGraphs they have a fielding value for each player/team and again the Angels rank 29th with a -16.8, this time just ahead of Minnesota. Again on FanGraphs there is another stat called Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) that is computed from both “film study and computer comparisons” and by using the fielding bible. It is a value of runs above or below average. The Angels are tied for last in baseball, with Seattle, with a -41.

According to both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs the Angels defense has cost us about 40 runs over an average defense. Comparing the Angels to the best team defense in the league, the Diamondbacks, they have cost themselves 81 runs MORE than Arizona! That’s right the Diamondbacks are listed as saving 41 runs more than average, an 81 run swing!

In perspective, if we had just an average defense up till now our Runs For (RF) would be 252 and our new Runs Against (RA) would be 227 (it is 267 now.) If we could have had a top third defense, which I expected when the season began, we would have given up only about 217 runs. This is a similar RF/RA to Arizona who has a 243/220 and a 32-25 W/L record. Our record would be similar if our defense was just in the top third in the league. The Angels would be in the middle of the playoff race with that record.

Does it seem out of the realm of possibility that our defense is the smoking gun? I don’t think so. I’ve been to 18 games at the Big A this season and 12 of those were losses and I’ve seen almost every game on TV, just ask my wife. I have seen a lot of losing baseball this season and the more I watch the defense the more it bothers me. I don’t know why they are playing such bad defense but the numbers say they are doing really poorly and so do my eyes. I’d bet that if the defense hadn’t given up so many runs then maybe our pitching would look a lot better on paper. 

How do they fix it? I’m not sure. They are certainly capable of playing much better in the field than this. Maybe some defensive drills are in order? Will it be too little too late? I hope not but I am worried it will be. It is said a team wins with pitching and defense. The elephant in the room seems to be the Angels’ defense.

Love to hear what you think!

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