Archive for Angels

Felix Hernandez and the AL MVP

A week ago, I wrote an InstaGraphs post noting that the current favorites for MVP in both leagues were playing in the Los Angeles market. The point of the post was to highlight Clayton Kershaw‘s candidacy, but in running through the other candidates for AL MVP, I wrote this:

Robinson Cano only has eight home runs and will probably split any votes he might get with Felix Hernandez, who would be a serious threat to Trout if the BBWAA gave pitchers the same credit as hitters in the voting. They don’t, though, so Felix probably finishes outside of the top five.

Since that post was published, Robinson Cano has hit .381/.536/.810, good for a 253 wRC+, including a couple more home runs. And Felix Hernandez has thrown 15 innings, allowed just seven hits, given up two runs, walked one, and struck out 16. In retrospect, I undersold the MVP case for both of Seattle’s stars, and particularly, the growing case for Felix as the top candidate.

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The Completely Rebuilt, Win-Now Angels Bullpen

Over the weekend, the Angels picked up Huston Street from San Diego, and we’ll get to that in a second. This isn’t just about the trade, though. It’s about the relief group that Street is joining. On March 30, the Angels announced their Opening Day roster, with a seven-man bullpen that looked like this:

Today, at least for the moment, they have an eight-man bullpen, and it looks like this:

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The (Recently) Unprecedented Treatment of Josh Hamilton

I’m going to be honest with you: I find it surprisingly easy to forget about Josh Hamilton. You think about the Angels team and you think about Mike Trout; you keep thinking about the Angels and you think about Albert Pujols. It doesn’t help that Hamilton was on the disabled list for so long earlier this year. But not actually that long ago, he was one of the most mysterious and volatile free agents in baseball history. This, to say the least, is something of an unexpected slide. It could be Trout is far too distracting, or, similarly, it could be Trout is kind of an attention black hole. Anyone who casts an eye to the Angels is pulled into Trout’s incredible player page. Hamilton, though, hasn’t ceased to be fascinating. This is maybe the quietest it’s ever been for him, but there’s something about Hamilton that keeps getting more extreme.

We’ve written plenty of times before about Hamilton’s plate discipline. Over the years, he’s hit, but he’s shown a lot of vulnerabilities — getting exposed for his over-aggressiveness. If you imagine a Hamilton swing, you might imagine a dinger he clobbers deep to straightaway center; or you might imagine him flailing at something slow in the dirt. He has something of a trademark flail, and in response, pitchers have thrown Hamilton fewer and fewer fastballs. This season, Hamilton’s seen the fewest fastballs yet. This season, Hamilton entered uncharted territory.

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History, Peaks and Mike Trout

Looking back on it, I think I took LeBron James for granted during his time in Cleveland.

When a player reaches a certain level of greatness, this can be a natural human response. You can only hear or read about one excelling at such a high level for so long before it starts to seem like old news. I wish I had gone to more Cavaliers games before James did a thing on TV that made me stop acknowledging his existence in the NBA, or really the existence of the NBA in general. He is, obviously, an incredibly special athlete who played right in my backyard, and I took him for granted.

You might be tired of hearing or reading about Mike Trout, but you really shouldn’t be. Don’t take this one for granted. Mike Trout is, obviously, an incredibly special athlete and, really, enough can’t be said about him.

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Why is Mike Trout Still Getting Pitched Down and In?

Last night, Mike Minor made a mistake that Mike Trout crushed. It looked like this.

That was an 84 mile-per-hour slider that broke down and in and ended up on the inner half of the plate, towards the bottom of the strike zone. Here’s where the PITCHF/x cameras said that pitch was located.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 12.49.05 PM

Inner half of the plate, but elevated enough to be right in the middle of Trout’s wheelhouse. He didn’t miss it, and it ended up in the seats. On the one hand, Trout’s really good, and he’s going to hit home runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s time for pitchers to stop throwing Mike Trout so many down-and-in breaking balls?

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Let’s Watch Mike Trout Do Something Amazing

We take Mike Trout for granted. It’s not a thing that’s unique to Mike Trout. We take all consistently great baseball players for granted. We take all consistently great anythings for granted. That’s why we’re always trying to figure out the next big thing — it doesn’t take long to get used to the current big thing. Mike Trout, right now, beats the hell out of Gregory Polanco, but Polanco might be of greater current interest, because he’s fresh and he could become a star. Trout’s already been a star for years. This is just part of having a human brain — we acclimate. We’re incredible at it. It has its upsides.

Once you start taking a player for granted, though, it’s that much more difficult to really appreciate what the player’s able to do. The best players aren’t guys regularly doing amazing things — the best players are guys regularly doing good things, some percentage more often than the inferior players. Usually those are standard good things. We get to the point where, in order to feel an appreciation, we need something extraordinary. So let’s seize a chance. Feel like you’ve been taking Mike Trout for granted? You’re not alone. Let’s watch him do something extraordinary, to remember that he is extraordinary.

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Garrett Richards, Who’s Making Sense

One of the most confounding things in baseball is an obviously talented starting pitcher who doesn’t generate many strikeouts. Generally speaking, we expect to see strikeouts match the stuff, and while sometimes we just confuse a good fastball for a good repertoire, there are guys who just pitch below their ceilings. Garrett Richards, in the past, was such a guy. It wasn’t just that he possessed one of the fastest fastballs in the majors — he’s also thrown a sharp slider, yet through his first three years he posted the same strikeout rate as Jeff Karstens and Kevin Millwood. Because of the incongruity, Richards has been considered a sleeper, but sometimes all a sleeper is is an early-stage disappointment.

Right now it doesn’t look like Richards is going to be a disappointment. It looks like Richards is going to fulfill that sleeper potential people have long figured he had. Wednesday, Richards was dominant against the Phillies, whiffing eight over seven shutout innings. Now, through a quarter of the year, Richards has struck out one of every four batters he’s faced. One out of four is bigger than one out of six.

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The Angels’ Reluctant Strike Throwers

We’ve all heard an announcer harp on the importance of throwing first pitch strikes. They ramble about the tone of the at bat, the aggressiveness of the hitter, and most importantly – the data. We’ve studied the importance of first pitch strikes for a long time. Nearly 10 years ago, Craig Burley found only eight percent of first pitch strikes were converted into hits during the 2003 season. Meanwhile, the difference between a 1-0 and 0-1 count is about 20 points of average, 90 points of on base percentage, and 40 points of slugging. Based on linear weights, Burley finds the value of a first pitch strike to be 0.07 runs. So, we accept the importance of first pitch strikes. Let’s put a pin in that for now.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have received adequate pitching from their starters. Over 30 games, Angels starters have a 3.87 ERA, 4.04 FIP and 4.01 xFIP. They’re not world beaters by any means – they’re 17th in starter WAR and 11th in RA9-WAR.  Adequacy can take you far in the majors, especially when your offense features Mike Trout. The Angels have managed a 15-15 record, and they trail the Oakland Athletics by just 3.5 games.

Now you have two paragraphs – one about the importance of first pitch strikes and one about Angels starters. Can you guess where I’m going with this? Read the rest of this entry »


Forcing a Reason to Worry about Mike Trout

Understand, immediately: Mike Trout is currently first in the American League in WAR. In the majors, he’s sandwiched between two Rockies, one surprisingly healthy and one surprisingly awesome, and Trout’s current season pace puts him at 13 WAR, which would eclipse what he’s already done, and what he’s already done has been basically impossibly good. That Mike Trout doesn’t lead the majors in WAR isn’t a reflection of Trout; it’s a reflection of, hey, sample sizes, and also, don’t forget about Troy Tulowitzki, who is also amazing.

But let’s talk about something, just because it’s interesting. Trout is so good, so almost perfect, that we’re at heightened awareness when something might not be right. At the moment, he’s running an extraordinary 161 wRC+, which is an almost exact match for his career mark. But behind that summary number is another number that doesn’t look like the numbers that’ve come before it. What I’m referring to inspired an article in the LA Times.

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Terrible Months in Good Seasons

Even good hitters go through a cold streaks at some point. If they want to avoid fan panic, though, they need to make sure and save those week or month-long slumps for later in the season. When slumps happen at the beginning of the season, they sandbag the player’s line, and it takes a while for even a good hitter’s line to return to “normal.” Most FanGraphs readers are familiar with the notion of small sample, and thus are, at least on an intellectual level, hopefully immunized against overreaction to early season struggles of good players.

Nonetheless, at this time of the year it is often good to have some existential reassurance. Intellectually, we know that just because a cold streak happens over the first two weeks or month of a season it is not any different than happening in the middle of the year. Slumps at the beginning of the year simply stand out more because they are the whole of the player’s line. One terrible month (and we are not even at the one month point in this season) does not doom a season. Rather than repeat the same old stuff about regression and sample size, this post will offer to anecdotal help. Here are five seasons from hitters, each of which contain (at least) one terrible month at some point, but each of which turned out to be excellent overall.

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Playing the Matchups By Not Playing the Matchups

In a close game Tuesday night, the Angels faced Robinson Cano with two on, two outs, and a base open. Standing on deck, instead of actual protection, was Justin Smoak, and in the clearest demonstration of protection theory, or lack thereof, the Angels put Cano on to take their chances with the next guy. If all you knew were those sentences, this wouldn’t seem worthy of a blog post. Smoak might one day turn into a good hitter, but so far it’s been all hype and lousy results. Cano is one of the very best players in the world, still hanging out in his prime. Yeah, you’d rather face Smoak than Cano, and while doing so requires you put another runner on base, the intentional walk is a low win-expectancy swing. Nothing seems strange, except for one thing.

Cano wasn’t simply intentionally walked by an Angels pitcher. Cano was intentionally walked by Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson. Left-handed Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, who’s always run a big lefty-killing platoon split. Wilson put the lefty on to load the bases to face a switch-hitter, and as such, Mike Scioscia both played the matchups and didn’t play the matchups. It became a story because Smoak cleared the bases with a double, but even had Smoak gotten out, as was the likelihood, this decision would still be of interest. It isn’t often you see strategy that seems to run counter to the ordinary strategy. If there’s one thing a manager usually likes, it’s having his lefty pitcher get to face a lefty hitter.

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How The Angels Can Compete In A Tight AL West

If there’s one thing I like here at FanGraphs — well, there are many things, but this is just one of those things — it’s our Depth Charts, which are fueled by manual inputs of playing time (the NL West is my beat, so you know who to yell at if you’d like to argue about, say, Marco Scutaro‘s projections) and get funneled as part of the input into our projected standings. And if you look at the projected standings, they’re more or less what you’d expect. The Dodgers are expected to be the best team, the Astros the worst. The Dodgers, Nationals and Cardinals are projected to win the three NL divisions. The Red Sox and Tigers look to win the most games in the American League. This all makes sense, even if that’s all but certainly not how it will really play out. Maybe that’s not exciting, but projections aren’t supposed to be exciting. It’d be a lot more interesting if the Twins were projected to win the AL Central and then face the Marlins in the World Series. It’d also be proof of a projection system that wasn’t worth looking at.

Like with any projection system, you can quibble around the edges, but in five of the six divisions there are clear leaders, ranging from projected leads of two games (Red Sox over Rays) to seven (Nationals over Braves, because like every media site, we are biased against the Braves).

Then there’s the American League WestRead the rest of this entry »


Mike Trout, King of Trade Value Now and Forever

According to Alden Gonzalez, the Angels and Mike Trout are close to finalizing a six year contract that will pay Trout $144.5 mlilion over the 2015-2020 seasons.

Those six years cover Trout’s three arbitration eligible seasons and his first three free agent seasons. Instead of hitting free agency after his age-25 season, he’ll play for the Angels through at least his age-28 season.

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Another Way of Explaining Mike Trout’s $50 Million Valuation

Mike Trout is reportedly close to signing a long term deal with the Angels that will value the free agent years he’s giving up at around $30 to $35 million apiece. At the time he signs the deal, he’ll almost lock in the largest single season salary ever guaranteed to a Major League player, topping the $33 million that Clayton Kershaw will earn in the last year of his freshly minted extension. And even with that, he’s still going to be drastically underpaid.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few conversations with folks where I’ve unsuccessfully tried to explain why Trout is worth something between $40 to $50 million per year for his free agent years. In a time where even the best free agents are signing for half of that, it’s a tough sell, and I’ve realized that most people just generally don’t believe that Trout is twice as valuable as other star players.

So, this post is an effort to help illustrate the dramatic gulf between Trout’s value and the kinds of players that are signing for $20 to $25 million per year. I’m going to try to make the math as non-scary as possible, and avoid using fancy acronyms or models that rely on black box data. We’re just going to deal with the basics.

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So What Does a Mike Trout Extension Look Like Now?

Speculating about how much money it would take to sign Mike Trout to a long term deal has become something of a sport unto itself. Ever since he broke into the big leagues and almost immediately established himself as the best player in baseball, people have wondered aloud about what kind of deal he could command. The fires were stoked even further when the Angels decided to renew his contract for just $510,000 last year, allowing him to rack up another +10 WAR season and get even closer to free agency. Now, with just four years of team control remaining, the Angels are reportedly hoping to get Trout signed to a long term deal that will keep in Anaheim for the foreseeable future.

So, let’s play the Mike Trout Extension Game again. With Freddie Freeman resetting the extension market for players with three years of service time, we have a new data point to work with anyway, and so we probably need to update our prior estimates to reflect the new reality of extension pricing. So let’s work through the numbers and see what we can come up with.

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2014 ZiPS Projections – Los Angeles Angels

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Los Angeles Angels. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Cincinnati / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Kansas City / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / Seattle / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Toronto.

Batters
The reader likely already knows, but the author will state for the benefit of anyone who might not, that it is generally the case with these projections that they’re more conservative than one’s own intuition might otherwise suggest. Not infrequently, partisan commenters will respond to these posts with regard to this or that player, saying “I’ll take the over on that projection.” Perhaps, in some cases, that’s a fair statement to make: the relative success of the FAN projections also hosted at this site suggests that the crowd might have some insight into these matters. Still, Szymborski’s forecasts are derived empirically — and, to that end, can’t be merely ignored.

It’s in light of that belabored caveat that the reader is thus invited to lose all of his shits so far as Mike Trout‘s ZiPS projection is concerned. Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Justin Verlander: none of them come within three wins of Trout, so far as ZiPS is concerned. He’s a superhero, basically, were it possible for superheroes to hail from New Jersey.

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Steamer Projects: Los Angeles Angels Prospects

Earlier today, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Los Angeles Angels.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Angels or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Baltimore / Chicago AL / Houston / Miami / Minnesota / New York NL / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Toronto.

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Finding A New Market

When you are the 726th player drafted in a draft, your odds of making it to the major leagues are incredibly slim. Only two players drafted in that spot (and signed) in the history of the draft have donned a major league uniform: Milt Hill and Dane De La Rosa.  It took De La Rosa five seasons of pitching, in any league, to throw his first pitch above A-ball. That time frame included stints in places such as Yuma, Helena, Long Beach, and Victoria with stops in between. It also included a stop in the real estate market in 2006 trying to close deals on houses.

The Rays gave him another chance in 2010, and he finally reached the major leagues on July 20th, 2011. He went on to pitch 11 more games in Tampa Bay before being traded to the Angels late in the 2013 Spring Training season. De La Rosa went to the Angels as a pitcher that struggled to command his fastball.  Yet another new location for De La Rosa, but with it came a new approach to his craft.

In looking at video of De La Rosa from the past two seasons, he has made some minor tweaks to his delivery. The first changes come in his setup for his delivery (click all images to enlarge).

start2012 start2013

The first image is from 8/27/12 when De La Rosa mopped up a 13-3 blowout against Boston while the second one came in his second save of his career against his former team. The 2013 image shows that De La Rosa has changed where he starts on the rubber while also starting his hands a bit higher, and closing off his front side more than he did in 2012.

At the max lift portion of his delivery, he now resembles the man he was called up to replace on the roster in 2013, Jered Weaver.

2_2012 2_2013

De La Rosa has more bend in his back leg, has brought his hands closer to his body, and has more twist in his upper body as he shows his back to the opposing hitter. These adjustments allowed him to stay closed easier in order for him to open his hips up to come to the plate in rhythm with his delivery.

3_2012 3_2013

One of the thing that stands out in reviewing De La Rosa from 2013 is his increased velocity.

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The data from BrooksBaseball shows that shows that the average velocity on De La Rosa’s four-seam fastball rose nearly each month of the season in 2013, continuing the trend that started in 2012.

Month Avg Velo
April 2012 92.2 mph
Sept 2012 93.2 mph
April 2013 93.7 mph
May 2013 94.8 mph
June 2013 95.7 mph
July 2013 95.6 mph
Aug 2013 95.6 mph
Sept 2013 96.4 mph

The data also shows that De La Rosa was throwing from a bit of a higher release point, which pitchers can use to add velocity while sacrificing horizontal movement. The increased velocity led to increased results. Opponents slugged just .277 against him last season, which was in the top tenth percentile of all relief pitchers that faced at least 200 batters in 2013. His Contact% as well as his opponents wOBA were both in the top-third of the same sample size. The improvements led to more success against right-handed batters as his swing and miss rate against those batters (35.5%) was higher than the likes of Koji Uehara (35.1%) and Craig Kimbrel (34.0%).

The Angels have had their issues in recent years harvesting pitching talent from their farm system, but they appear to have done quite well thus far here. They’ve turned an undrafted organizational middle reliever into an opportunity for a home town kid to go good. So far, so good.


Mike Trout: Top-Ten Outfield

It’s not so much that we’re in the offseason’s dead period — we’re just in its waiting period. There’s a lot of life left, but there likely won’t be any breaths until we get to Masahiro Tanaka’s signing deadline, at which point several dominoes ought to fall. That’s two and a half weeks away, and for the time being there’s not much going on. Dave and Carson talked on the podcast about how the things being written about these days are Tanaka and the Hall of Fame. As a change of pace out of desperation, I’m choosing to turn to the comfortable default FanGraphs fallback, that being Mike Trout, and how very good he is.

This is a question from my own chat earlier Tuesday:

Comment From Eddie
How many MLB outfields post less value than Mike Trout in 2014? Have to think the Cubs are on that list.

I was in love with the idea right away, and below, my subsequent investigation. I’d like to thank Eddie for the prompt, and for giving me another reason to re-visit Mike Trout’s unparalleled player page. Obviously, we can’t know anything yet about how the coming season is going to go. But we do have complicated mathematical guesses, which I’m happy to depend on for these purposes. By WAR, how many outfields does Mike Trout project to out-produce on his own during the 2014 regular season?

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Trying to Understand Bronson Arroyo

Bronson_Arroyo_2011For five years now, Bronson Arroyo has been better than his peripherals. Since 2009, only three pitchers have a bigger gap between their fielding independent numbers and their ERA, and those three didn’t come close to pitching as many innings. It’s tempting to say the free agent 36-year-old has figured something out… but what has he figured out, exactly? How has he become more than the sum of his parts? It has to be more than a whimsical leg kick.

Let’s use some basic peripherals to find comparable pitchers. His fastball struggles to break 90 mph, he doesn’t strike many out, and he doesn’t have great worm-burning stuff — but the control has been elite. Here are a few other pitchers that fit that sort of mold.
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