Anaheim Goes Clubbing

For the last few years, the Angels offensive game plan has been to try to get a few fast guys on the bases in front of Vladimir Guerrero and then hope he hits a three run homer. They could afford some offensive weaknesses thanks to their starting rotation, and they built a winner out of run prevention with just enough offense to get by.

Between injuries and age, Guerrero has struggled this season, as he currently has just four home runs. So, what happens to an offense who loses production from their best – and sometimes only – hitter?

They lead the league in scoring runs, apparently. After thumping Minnesota all weekend, the Angels have now scored 590 runs, or 5.73 runs per game, passing the Yankees for the #1 spot in offensive production. The Yankees still have the league’s highest wOBA, but the Angels are #2, so it’s not like this is some kind of clutch-hitting fluke. They really are pounding the tar out of the baseball.

The bulk of the credit has to go to Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera, and Mike Napoli, who all entered the season as question marks and have responded by hitting like All-Stars. The Angels have gotten a .383 wOBA from that trio, far outpacing their expectations. When you add in an on base machine like Bobby Abreu, a career year from Torii Hunter, and another strong offensive performance from Chone Figgins, the Angels have six guys who are among the best in the league in production at their respective positions.

Even their “weak spots” have produced league average hitters, as Erick Aybar is having the best season of his career and Howie Kendrick has been on fire since returning from the minors. The balance of having no holes in the line-up has given the Angels a multi-pronged attack that can exploit holes in different kinds of pitchers. Regardless of what kind of pitcher you put on the hill, the Angels have a couple of guys who can whack that pitcher type.

Toss in the fact that they have five switch-hitters, and the Angels can be a nightmare to match up with. Even with Ervin Santana injured or ineffective for most of the season and the loss of John Lackey for the first part of the season, the Angels have run up the best record in the AL West by bludgeoning other teams. This isn’t traditional Angels baseball, but it works really well.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

30 Responses to “Anaheim Goes Clubbing”

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  1. Joe R says:

    Maybe now LAA will recognize that “good” hitters are what win ball games, not the “crafty” types they normally love. 17th in MLB in OBP in 2008 to 2nd in 2009 = better offense.

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  2. Adam D says:

    … much to the dismay of Rangers fans everywhere.

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  3. Fred says:

    Who are the Anaheim Angels? I am not aware of any team with that name.

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  4. Andrew says:

    I think you guys aren’t giving enough credit to Mike Scioscia. HE MAKES THIS TEAM GO!!!!!!! Rob Dibble and the rest of the baseball tonight crew will by shortly to tell you so….

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    • Joe says:

      I wonder how much say Scioscia has had on past personnel. Was he simply playing the hand he was dealt?

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      • Aaron says:

        Scioscia has had his hand firmly involved in shaping the roster from the day he arrived in Anaheim. Everything about them has been dictated by the style he wants to play. Even right down to the lowest minor league level.

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    • Davidceisen says:

      People really seem to get upset when non-statistically inclined managers are successful.

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      • Joe R says:

        I don’t really. Scioscia may be “old school”, but I think he has a good handle on what he wants and having a plan.

        Currently his team is 7th in walks, a SB% right at 75% (so whatever that they’re tied for 1st in CS or 2nd in SB), 5th in SH’s, but hey, Detroit’s 2nd in giving themselves up.

        It’s really not that weird once you think about it, this LAA offense can win games with slugging, but when push ever comes to shove, have the one-run inning personnel, too.

        For all we know, it could be a weak division bi-product, too, though.

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      • Schlist says:

        Not a product of a weak division – they have have a losing record against the AL West

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      • Joe R says:

        Well that’s surprising.

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      • Andrew says:

        I’m not upset. I’m commenting on what the media perception will be of why the Angels are successful. It has nothing to do with the fact that Morales is breaking out, Rivera has had a great year, and Napoli is clubbing the ball. It is all because Mike Scioscia was able to successfully navigate injuries.

        I’m basically suggesting that Scioscia may be one of the better managers in the game, but the talent that the FO gives him is pretty damned helpful.

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  5. Tim says:

    Increased use of Napoli certainly helps. He must be atrocious with the glove in order to justify continuing to let Mathis start. That guy is worse than Jason Kendall this year with the bat.

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  6. Rob in CT says:

    The Angels confound me. They seem to win no matter who they put on the field. They beat my favorite team like a pack of rented mules. They do this with Vlad and Hunter on the DL and various pitching injuries/problems/freak tragedy. I’ve given up trying to figure out how. I just accept.

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    • Joe R says:

      To be fair, the only AL West team that can compete financially is Seattle, and they’re still trying to clean up the Bavasi era.

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      • semperfi1645 says:

        True, but to be fair to the angels, they’ve been very successful outside of their division. I’ll cite the stomping we gave to the Skankees as exhibit A.

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  7. Brent says:

    As a twins fan I watched that whole series and man, the Angels can flat out rake. Rivera, Morales and Napoli hit everything hard, and Bobby Abreu continued to absolutely destroy Twins pitching. The Twins have been playing poorly lately, but I think they Angels maybe the best team in the AL. They won’t walk you to death like the Yanks and Red Sox, but top to bottom they have guys that put the ball in play and spray line drives all over the field. THey beat the Twins 6 times in the last 7 games and in five of the six wins they had at least one inning where they scored 4 runs or more. They are a good solid club

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  8. MDS says:

    the twins suck, the terry ryan era is over

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  9. Joel says:

    Weaknesses? Besides the rotation, there are two. Gary Matthews Jr, who is useless unless there are 2 outs and RISP, where he turns into the best hitter in the game. The other is Mathis, who struggles to see the mendoza line above him.

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  10. Alireza says:

    The credit really should go to two people. Mike Scioscia and Bobby Abreu. Abreu taught the team that being aggressive doesn’t mean reaching for every ball and tapping out to a middle infielder, and that taking pitches yields good results. I get the feeling that Mickey Hatcher is only the assistant hitting coach at this point. As for Scioscia, stat junkies need to give the guy a break. He may still bunt and likes to run, but he also preaches what he calls “batter’s-box offense” where seeing pitches and getting on base are considered key. Plus, all that first-to-third is a really good strategy.

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  11. Grant says:

    So you see this offense as being legit? God damn the mother fucking Angels…who could have predicted the break outs some of these players have had, they find a new way to be lucky every year.

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  12. BobbyMac says:

    Opening paragraph got me curious. Some stats in the “Vlad Era”:
    Angels runs 2004-2008: 3950.
    RPG: 4.88
    AL average: 4.88
    3-run homers by Vlad: 20 (158 HR total)
    %of Angels runs on Vlad 3-run homers: 1.5%

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  13. hey la, hey, halo says:

    Who would think that someone like Dave who is considered to be something of an authority on baseball, and spent so much time analyzing a bad team like the Mariners, would be incapable of what makes a good team like the Angels succesfull.

    The Angels are one of the best teams skilled in the fundamentals of baseball, resulting in fewer errors per game and not allowing the opposing team extra bases or extra outs. This is a mantra of manager Mike Scioscia, possibly the best strategist in the game. He knows how to get the most out of players and use them to the best advantage even if they are not always the best players. His aggressive base running philosophy works, he requires runners to go to from first to third on a hit, and all his players can lay down a bunt when called for. These are just some of the requirements needed to even play for Mike Scioscia. The most important thing for Mike is maintaining depth at every position. Qualified players that can come in and play at a high level and produce when another goes down with an injury. Depth is why the Angels are doing consistently well right now in spite of players like Hunter and Guerrero on the DL. It is still Los Angeles Angels style baseball, manufacturing runs and strong baseball fundamentals, but when everybody is hitting, it puts the results in overdrive.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Do you watch a lot of Fox News? You have the same style– irrelevant talking points repeated like a mantra regardless of the situation.

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  14. Rutherford says:

    During spring training of this year, Mike Scioscia made some interesting comments and observations.

    Mike Scioscia recognized the alarming lack of plate discipline and is starting to drill the message into the organization. This article (originally published March 5, 2009) provides some depth as to the changes that are happening within the Angels system.

    With regards to understanding OBP, Scioscia addressed that matter directly during spring training as it pertained to Howie Kendrick:

    “Howie might not be the guy with a .400 on-base percentage, but if he hits .320, he’s going to have a .350 on-base percentage, which is enough to hit in front of the middle of our lineup,” Scioscia said. “The way he runs, the amount of doubles he’s going to hit, he’s going to be very productive ahead of that grouping.”

    The above quote was from the March 22, 2009 LA Times article here:

    Early in spring training this year Scioscia addressed the potential of Erick Aybar to hit first or second in the lineup. Again, he discusses OBP.

    ““If you’re going to set the table, you’re going to need to be in that (.350 OBP) range. I mean, league average is somewhere around .330, give or take a couple. … Erick has the ability to get in scoring position an awful lot so maybe his on-base percentage doesn’t have to be off the charts. But it has to be better than .320 or .330 if he’s going to hit in front of your big boys.”

    The above was taken from a March 1, 2009 OC Register article.

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  15. Erik says:

    I get the feeling that people haven’t checked out the box scores out west. The AL West has 3 of 4 teams over .500, the team with the best record, and a serious wild card contender. The Angels have been getting the bulk of their wins by beating teams outside of their division. It’s been the AL West that has caused them problems.

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  16. monkeyball says:

    They are most certainly not “pounding the tar out of the baseball” — sure, they’ve got a gaudy .290 team AVG. But that’s founded on a ridiculous .328 BABIP — which is also, I think, responsible for their second-place .451 SLG; they’re ninth in doubles (3 fewer than the power-challenged A’s) and tenth in HRs. And they’re near the median in BB and GIDP and LD%.

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  17. Rob McMillin says:

    @monkeyball — the Angels’ .451 SLG makes them third in the league, not second; the two teams they’re behind are the Yanks (who buy theirs retail) and the Rangers (who have the launching pad at home to thank). Mike Scioscia has four regulars — Mike Napoli (.533), Kendry Morales (.581), Juan Rivera (.531), and Torii Hunter (.558) — all with SLGs over .500. The Angels are also third in total bases… the SLG is legit so far as I can tell.

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    • monkeyball says:

      Rob, the Angels’ team ISO is .161 — right at the AL median. Yes, those 4 players are having very good years, with outstanding slash and secondary numbers — but if you identified the top 4 batters on any team (except, say, the A’s or Royals), you’d see some pretty good numbers as well. The argument by Cameron (as well as the overall argument about making an offense run) is about the overall team stats, not about picking out a few top performers and ignoring the rest. (The corollary would be my taking a look at numbers of the 4 worst offensive performers with the most PAs for the Angels — which, again, for any team [except, say, the Yankees and Rangers] would look pretty bad.)

      And I’m not at all saying the Angels aren’t having a good, perhaps even great, year offensively.

      If you look at the numbers, though, it’s pretty clear that what’s really elevating the Angels’ team offensive performance is a (likely unsustainable, “lucky”) high BABIP. They’ve hit lots and lots of singles this year — which may be a mere anomaly rather than anything intentional or exceptional.

      I’m also not saying their SLG isn’t “legit” — the numbers are what they are, and a point of SLG is a point of SLG is a point of SLG. It all counts.

      But if you look at ISO, again, it clearly demonstrates that their high SLG numbers are propped up by their BABIP. Who leads the AL in ISO? Yep — the Rangers and Yankees.

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