Wednesday, October 9, 2013

By Greg Bird, Staff Writer - 

The Angels missed out on the postseason yet again and we are all disappointed. While the postseason moves on without us the Angels Front Office is evaluating its players and the entire organization. I’d like to write some offseason articles evaluating our current roster. This piece will evaluate the team using the same statistics which Dipoto would use. They may not be the best stats to use but they are stats the current Front Office will use.

Back in Spring Training Jerry Dipoto came and spoke at the Spring FanFest. He was asked about sabermetric stats and which ones he uses. He said he encourages the team’s scouts and evaluators to use two stats to begin their player evaluations, OPS+ and ERA+. He said these were stats that were easy for non-sabermetric minded baseball people to grasp easily and were more useful than traditional stats. 

OPS+ is based on an older hitting stat most are familiar with, On base Plus Slugging (OPS.) A player’s OPS is derived by simply adding there On Base Percentage (OBP) to their Slugging Percentage (SLG.) OPS+ takes a player’s OPS and compares it to the league average then adjusts it for the ballparks the player has played in throughout the year. OPS+ is finally placed on a 100 point scale where 100 is set at league average. This means a person with 110 OPS+ is 10% better than league average. 

ERA+ is based on Earned Run Average, and is very similar to OPS+. ERA+ compares the pitcher’s ERA to the league average and adjusts it for the ballparks they pitched in. It is also placed on a 100 point scale where 100 is league average. If a pitcher’s ERA+ is 90 then they are 10% worse than the average pitcher.

The Season's over for the players but it is just starting for the Front Office. Ever wonder how our GM analyzes the roster? Here is an attempt from Inside Edge to present Front Office player evaluations based on what we learned in an interview with Dipoto. We look at the hitters and pitchers from some simple sabermetric stats that we know the Front Office uses.

Hitters: A

The Angels were one of the best hitting teams in the Majors. Their team OPS+ was an impressive 110. As a team they were 10% better than average. Their 110 OPS+ ties them with Detroit and Oakland for the second best team mark in all of the MLB. Only the Red Sox were better this year with a 117 team OPS+. The Halo offense, even with Pujols and Hamilton underperforming, was excellent.

The clear star of the season was Mike Trout. He led the team with an OPS+ of 179. Let that sink in. Trout was 79% better than the average MLB hitter this year. That is tremendous. Last year his OPS+ was 166. He is getting better and better. Obviously his OPS+ was helped out by a ridiculous second half OBP but Trout is clearly a generational talent.

Kole Calhoun had the second best OPS+ on the team posting a 127. That is excellent and would have ranked him 36th overall, if he had enough ABs to qualify. Calhoun looks to be a star on the horizon and is a player to be looked at in more detail. He definitely needs a starting job somewhere on the diamond next year.

Howie Kendrick had a great year and it could be his career year for OPS+. He posted a 118 OPS+ and if the Angels look to trade him he should provide very good value, especially with his quality defense at second. He performed well and was only limited by hitting in Angel Stadium and the freak knee injury.

Albert Pujols’ OPS+ will probably be a surprise to many and is very impressive, if we consider he was dealing with a debilitating injury all season. He ended his season with a 116 OPS+. Albert was 16% better than the average hitter in the majors. Perspective and contract are the two things that make his year seem like such a bust. Pujols’ career OPS+ is 165. In 2012 Albert posted a 138 OPS+. The downward trend is noticeable and concerning. He isn’t terrible and he was 2% better than Torii Hunter (114 OPS+.) Still he hasn’t been the Albert we all expected and hoped for.

The next three hitters posted very similar OPS+ numbers; Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Iannetta. Iannetta and Trumbo’s OPS+ was 109 and Hamilton’s was 108. For Iannetta this is great as his career OPS+ is 101, or about league average. Hamilton’s final OPS+ numbers were helped a lot by his surge in the last 5 weeks of the season. His first half OPS+ was 88 while he put an OPS+ of 118 in the second half. We can only hope this is a sign he figured something out. 

For Trumbo his 109 is a step back from his career 114 and 2012’s OPS+ of 124. Mark’s first half was great as he posted a 117 OPS+ before the break and a 93 after. Over his brief career he seems to be a first half hitter posting an overall OPS+ of 119 in the first half and a 77 in the second half. 

Two other Angel hitters did better than average. Peter Bourjos posted a 102 and Grant Green put up a 104, both slightly above average. In the first half Peter was on a tear and was easily having his best year with a 138 OPS+. After the injury Bourjos just wasn’t the same. Let’s hope he can bounce back because the first half Peter was a superstar waiting to happen. Green proved he is a major league ready hitter who is more than capable of handling the bat. He isn’t as good as Howie but we will see he is better than Aybar at the plate.

The rookie J.B. Shuck was just below league average as a hitter, posting an OPS+ of 97. There is nothing wrong with being nearly league average. He isn’t an earth shattering hitter but is a great 4th outfielder who can step in and be more than adept at the plate. Mostly he is dragged down by the fact that he lacks any real power at the plate.

Erick Aybar was himself this year as his OPS+ of 93 in 2013 matches exactly his career average of 93. Aybar is a sometimes excellent defender who is capable of handling the bat and unlike many players in the league with his experience, he’s not overpaid. 

Of the remaining players on the current roster Andrew Romine is very interesting. His overall OPS+ is 70 is of very little value. When we look closer at Romine’s splits something very interesting emerges. His numbers are dragged down dramatically by his 16 first half games. If those are excluded his OPS+ jumps to a respectable 92. This is nearly identical to Aybar. I’m not sure, however, if the second half performance is sustainable.

The remaining player’s numbers aren’t too exciting. Collin Cowgill’s OPS+ of 83 is better than his career average of 72. If he can sustain this then he is a serviceable 4th or 5th outfielder. Chris Nelson’s OPS+ for the Angels was 77, his best with any team this year. His overall 2013 OPS+ was 64. I’m not sure why he couldn’t produce for any other team but he produced for the Halos. He is certainly worth a look at third next year with Romine. Luis Jimenez was exciting when he was first called up but his overall OPS+ was 73. This isn’t very definitive and he could still be very interesting player next spring.

Pitching: D-

The Halos could hit but they were one of the worst pitching teams in the majors. The posted a staff ERA+ of 89. They were 11% below league average in earned run prevention. This tied them for 12th in the AL with Minnesota and with the Phillies for 24th in the Majors. Only 4 teams posted a lower ERA+ than the Angels: Padres, Mariners, Astros, and Giants.

Dane De la Rosa was a bright spot and a big pick by DiPoto this year. He posted an ERA+ of 132. For almost nothing Jerry got a reliever who was 32% better than the average pitcher and who threw the most innings of any pure reliever in the bullpen.  

Jered Weaver pitched well this year but he is overall trending downward. Jered’s 115 ERA+ is his second worst season mark in his career with only 2008’s 103 being worse. In 2011 he had a 156 and last year he threw for a 135. The downward trend is unmistakable. I’m on record as being concerned about Weaver for next year, especially with his drop in velocity.

C.J. Wilson had a good year for us and we would’ve been really in trouble without him but he only had a 111 ERA+. This is below his career mark of 118 and considerably below his marks as a starter in Texas. His last two years in Texas his ERA+ was 150 and 134. This year was considerably better than last year when he was just league average with an ERA+ of 100. Hopefully he can throw strikes and do more to limit those big innings.

Robert Coelle and Michael Kohn both posted above average ERA+ with a 104 and 101 respectively. Coelle’s innings were limited by injury and if he can stay healthy he is an intriguing option. Kohn is wildly inconsistent from appearance to appearance and I never want to see him pitch in Texas or against the Yankees again. 

Ernesto Frieri had a large number of saves this year but wasn’t nearly as dominate as he was in 2012. He posted an ERA+ of 99 which is the worst of his career. His career average is 135 and last year he put up a 165. This is consistent with his previous two years which were both in the 160s. I’m not sure if the league has figured him out or if he just had a down year. It seemed to me like he just had a rough patch in the middle of the season and bounced back near the end. This will require a deeper evaluation to see if this is true.

Jason Vargas had a decent year posting a 94 ERA+ which is 3% better than his career average and 5% worse than 2012. He wasn’t earth shattering but he was consistent and kept the team in the game. If he can be signed for a reasonable contract then he could be a very solid piece of the rotation.

Garrett Richards had his best year to date with an ERA+ of 91. This is 5% better than his career average and his best year so far. His second half was slightly better than his first half but not tremendously. Considering his final start of the season we will need to look at Richards a little closer to see if he truly has figured it out. He certainly has a good shot to make next year’s rotation.

Cory Rasmus was solid in his limited appearances with an ERA+ of 92, well above his career average. Cory shows promise and has an excellent chance to earn a bullpen spot come next spring. It could just be a small sample size but he is definitely worth a look. 

In other news that surprises nobody Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton were horrible. They each had an ERA+ of 70 and 62 respectively. Hanson was 30% worse than average and Joe was 38% worse than average. Hanson is a non-tender candidate and Blanton could easily be DFA’d. It has been proposed that the Angels’ turnaround near the end of the season can be correlated with them being removed from the rotation. Maybe Hanson can be fixed, I don’t know, but if either is kept the leash must be short.

Kevin Jepsen was a disappointment this year and his 84 ERA+ proves it. This is worse than his career average of 93 and a true enigma. He has good stuff but he just can’t seem to put it all together at the major league level. I’m not a pitching coach so I have no idea why but it is really sad because at one time he seemed like he could be the closer of the future.

Michael Roth and Juan Guiterrez didn’t throw a lot of innings and in the ones they did throw they were not very impressive. Roth’s ERA+ was 53 and Juan’s was 73 for the Angels. Guiterrez post a 123 ERA+ with the Royals so he could have something left in the tank somewhere. It is also possible Kansas City got rid of him knowing the wheels were about to fall off. Roth just doesn’t seem ready yet.

Defense: D-

Now DiPoto did not mention which defensive metrics he prefers so I’ll have to stretch a bit here but considering how the defense affected the team it deserves a mention. To properly put the pitchers ERA+ in context we have to consider the team’s defense. Modern defensive metrics go beyond the arbitrary decisions of the official scorer and what he determines to be an error.

Defensive Runs Saved(DRS) is a metric from The Fielding Bible with info from Baseball Info Solutions. It measures many things including: ability to turn double plays, how fielder handles bunts, value of a players arms, Homerun saving catches, fielders range, and the jumps a player gets on a ball by their ability to turn a ball in play into an out. This is combined into one comprehensive stat and the league average is set at 0 runs saved. Players can either save or cost a team runs from their individual defensive ability.

The Angels were an excellent defensive team in 2012 but the 2013 defense was atrocious. The team ranked 27th in the majors. The Halo defense came in with a -63 DRS. If the Angels would’ve just had an average defense, one like the Giants or the Rockies, they would have given up 63 fewer runs. That would’ve been a huge swing for the team. Trout in Center Field and Hamilton in Right Field cost the most for the Angels this year. Iannetta, Aybar, and Green were also very costly to the defense.

It is hard to quantify exactly how much a good defense would’ve changed the Angels fortunes but it would’ve been significant. The Yankees were the 10th best defense and they put up a +21 DRS. If the Angels could’ve just been the 10th best defense, nothing spectacular, they would’ve given up 84 fewer runs!

The Angels gave up 737 runs in 2013. With the 10th best defense they would have only given up 653 runs. For perspective the Indians gave up 662 runs while scoring just 12 more runs than the Angels. Who knows what could’ve been and how much this dragged down the pitching.

Final Grade: C

According to Dipoto’s primary statistics the blame for the disappointing season falls squarely on the pitching staff. That is old news. If the Angels had league average pitching in 2013 they might have been in the playoff hunt. It was mentioned that last offseason the Front Office wanted to sign Zach Grienke but someone higher up wanted Josh Hamilton. I like Josh as a person a lot but it is painfully obvious now that Zach was the right move and Josh was not. Zach’s 135 ERA+ would’ve been the tops on the team in 2013 and could have changed the whole season.

It is also interesting to consider how good the hitting could have been if Albert and Josh had lived up to their career numbers but it is also wishful thinking too. Our offense is set for next year. In fact we have too many hitters at this point. We have more quality hitters than we have at bats to give. It is very obvious somebody will be dealt. It is also obvious they will be dealt for pitching. 

The 2014 season’s success is directly related to how the Angels build and rebuild their pitching staff. If Jerry and the front office remain on the job and build a solid rotation and bullpen this offseason then the Angels have a very good chance to play in the postseason next year. Hopefully, whoever leads the Front Office this off season can convince those higher up that we don’t need any more hitters and that we really need to trade a few away. We shall all have to wait and see and, for now, watch other teams enjoy post season glory in 2013. 

Love to hear what you think!

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