Friday, January 3, 2014

Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer -  

As we enter the New Year it is time to take a look back at what went right and what went wrong in 2013. 

So without further ado here are the top 10 events: 

1. Mike Trout Makes Baseball History with Back-to-Back 10 WAR Seasons 

From FanGraphs: 

Mike Trout 2012: 10.0 WAR 
Mike Trout 2013: 10.4 WAR 

Simply astounding! Are we watching one of the greatest players to ever play the game of baseball? It is still too early to tell but man is it fun to watch what he has done so far! When Mike Trout is at the plate it is must-see baseball! 

We can go on and on about what he has done at such a young age but you can’t help but feel that there is even more to come from this young man. He plays baseball with high energy and refreshing enthusiasm…. The way baseball is supposed to be played! 

Patrolling center field Mike will make up for the loss of Bourjos from a defensive standpoint. Trout is the centerpiece of this team and it seems very likely that the Angels will move to extend Mike on Opening Day 2014 or sometime thereafter. 

Trout deserves it and it would be the smart thing for the Angels to do if they can tie up 2 or more of his free agent years, even if it means making him one of, if not the, highest paid players in the game. 

2. Slow Starts: Back-to-Back Seasons with Losing Records in April 

Clearly there need to be some changes to the team’s preparation entering the season. However, the slow start this year can partially be attributed to poor hit sequencing

The Angels offense was very poor at stringing together hits in the first two months of the season which led to overall solid team offensive numbers but poor run production. In fact for the entire season the Angels were ranked 29th out of all MLB teams in hit sequencing differential as seen in the chart below: 

This situation is unlikely to repeat itself in 2014. Expect the Angels to string together hits and produce more runs which will, in turn, not force the starting rotation to walk such a fine line in holding a lead. 

The Angels have made it clear they plan to reevaluate their Spring Training preparation activities entering next season and the addition of Don Baylor as the Angels new hitting coach is one of many steps towards achieving a better start in 2014. 

3. Pitching GONe WrONg: BlantON, HansON, and MadsON 

Blanton: 6.04 ERA (.346 BABIP) 
Hanson: 5.42 ERA (.320 BABIP) 
Madson: 0.00 ERA (.000 BABIP with the caveat of extremely small sample size) 

These pitching acquisitions clearly didn’t work out for the Halo’s. Madson never made an appearance in the Majors, Hanson was never able to pull it together, and Blanton got hit hard and consistently throughout the season. 

A lack of quality pitching depth was exposed as Blanton was kept in the rotation the entire year. Recent pitching acquisitions, Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, should help provide better starting pitching options and depth for next year. 

Additionally the Angels are expected to sign or acquire one more starting pitcher before the season starts giving the team a deeper pitching staff to operate with during the 2014 season. 

4. Slumping Hamilton 

A .250/.307/.432 slash line is not what Josh Hamilton, Mike Scioscia, Jerry Dipoto, and Arte Moreno expected to see in his first year with the Angels. 

As I wrote here, in late summer of last year, Josh has had significant trouble with off-speed pitches especially the change up. Additionally he has been subjected to some successful defensive shifts, has popped the ball up more, and has certainly experienced some bad luck with balls in play. 

Josh should be able to turn it around in 2014 but how much and to what degree is anybody’s guess. Likely you will see better results than in 2013 but something quite a bit less than Hamilton’s monster 2012 season when he was with the Rangers. 

5. Injuries Galore! 

Albert Pujols: Planar Fasciitis 
Jered Weaver: Broken arm 
Peter Bourjos: Broken wrist 
Jason Vargas: Blood clot 
Ryan Madson: Complications from Tommy John Surgery 
Sean Burnett: Arm surgery 

Injuries took their toll (as they do with all teams) on the Angels this year. This is where our lack of depth really hurt the team as the Angels were forced to either stick with injured players (Pujols) or substitute replacement players that just weren’t able to provide the production the Angels wanted and needed. 

Depth has and should continue to improve in 2014. The rotation and bullpen have been reinforced at both the Major League level and in the AAA ranks at Salt Lake. Although Bourjos was traded the emergence of Kole Calhoun has certainly softened the blow. 

6. The Emergence of Kole Calhoun 

In the last third of the season the Angels finally called up Kole “True Grit” Calhoun to play out the remainder of the season on the big league roster. He didn’t disappoint! 

Kole slashed .282/.347/.462 with 8 home runs across 222 plate appearances. As was discussed here, Calhoun has the upside of a player like Shin-Soo Choo at 1/20th of the price. Look for Kole to play solid right field defense and possibly hit in the lead-off spot as he sported a career Minor League .402 OBP over four seasons. 

It was this Minor League history and solid season-ending performance that gave the Angels the confidence to move one of their outfielders in trade as they firmly believe that Kole embodies the type of grit and play hard style of past Angel’s players. 

7. The Mark Trumbo Trade 

It would be hard to find a fan who didn’t like Mark Trumbo. He certainly represented himself well and led the team in home runs the last three seasons making him a valuable trade commodity. He certainly had some of the qualities seen in past Angels players and will be missed as a fan favorite in Anaheim. 

However this trade may go down as a real win for Jerry Dipoto and the Angels. To receive not one but two young, cost-controlled starting pitchers was a real coup for the team. Tyler Skaggs has an excellent pedigree with a solid three-pitch repertoire and is rated as a top prospect. Santiago has excellent movement on all of his pitches and employs a very rare screw ball that has very sharp horizontal plane break. 

Trading three years of Trumbo and pitching prospect A.J. Schugel for two MLB-ready starting pitchers with years of control left will probably be looked back upon as a pretty smart trade by the baseball historians. 

8. Mike Trout becomes the Youngest Player in AL History to Hit for the Cycle

The video is worth a thousand words, so enough said....

9. The Failed Outcome of One Strategy and the New Strategy for 2014 

Jerry Dipoto and staff built the 2013 rotation with the goal of suppressing fly balls effectively through superior outfield defense. Unfortunately this failed. 

Bourjos, the best defender on the team, was out for a large part of the year. Trout replaced him but it made us weaker in the corners. A lot of that didn’t matter as too many balls simply left the yard due to too much quality contact by opposing hitters. 

The idea was sound but the execution was poor. 

In 2014 we will see some of the same strategy with Trout patrolling center and Hamilton and Calhoun in left and right field respectively. It should be a sound defensive arrangement. 

Another part of the strategy appears to be the build-up of left-handed starters and relievers that Dipoto has acquired to help counteract the acquisitions of Fielder and Cano by our AL West rivals, the Rangers and Mariners. 

Additionally Dipoto has added some ground ball specialists such as Joe Smith who will likely be heavily used in ballparks like Arlington where keeping the ball down is a preferred outcome. 

In the end it will be up to Mike Scioscia to take the tools he’s given and apply them appropriately throughout the season. By increasing the team depth Mike will be less likely to find himself in a situation where they have to run out and use a replacement level player (or worse). 

By refocusing on defense in general, better starting pitching and bullpen pieces, and greater depth, the Angels should achieve more overall success next season. 

10. Steady as She Goes 

Jered Weaver has been pretty darn consistent over the last 4 years: 

Weaver: 3.01 (2010), 2.41 (2011), 2.81 (2012), and 3.27 (2013) ERA’s 

Jered has been dominant in that time, outstripping his advanced peripherals through excellent command and pitch selection and execution. 

Although some continue to warn about a potential decline in his velocity, Angel’s fans adore Weaver for his bulldog mentality and game day preparation. 

No matter what you believe about Jered’s decline in velocity he is a gamer and you can’t help but feel confident about the team’s chances when Weaver takes the ball every 5th day. 

Barring injury Weaver should start opening day and will give the Angels every opportunity he can to stay in the game and put another check mark in the win column. Be glad he’s on our team! 
Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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