The August of the Fallen Angels

Hello friends, my name is Jeff. You might recognize me from Lookout Landing or Baseball Nation, or from being my mother, Mom. Beginning today, right now, I’m going to be doing a lot of writing over here, and I hope that we can get along famously. If we don’t, remember that it wasn’t my idea for them to hire me. People make mistakes. Now let’s talk about baseball.

I was nervous about starting over in a new place, so I was hoping that Dave would spoon-feed me an easy topic suggestion. Of all the things currently going on in baseball, perhaps the most fascinating scenario is unfolding in Anaheim, and that’s what I’m here to tackle now, as Dave came through in the clutch. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the Angels have fallen on their faces of late. Perhaps you haven’t! Considering what the Angels were supposed to be, this is worthy of some discussion, and then some more.

To make things easier, we can break this down into a few different sections.

The Problem
Baseball-Reference has a handy data point on its team schedule pages. It tells you when each team was the most games over .500, and for the Angels, they’ve peaked at ten games over .500 on July 31. After beating the Rangers that day, the Angels moved to 57-47, closing within three games of first place. I can’t express to you how convenient it is that the Angels began their slump upon the first day of a new month. Apparently the Angels felt bad for making things so difficult on analysts over the previous decade.

In August, the Angels have lost 13 of 18 games. They just got swept by the Rays, in four games at home to boot, and only three teams have a worse August winning percentage, one of which is the Astros, who for these purposes shouldn’t count as a baseball team. The Angels now are fighting to just stay over .500, and they’re closer to the Mariners in the standings than they are to a wild card slot. Not only are they looking up at the Rays and the Orioles — the A’s and the Tigers are also between the Angels and a one-game playoff to make the playoffs. This isn’t where the Angels were supposed to be, obviously.

The Cause
Whenever one talks or reads about the Angels’ slump, a common refrain is “how could that team be slumping, with all of those stars?” I don’t need to tell you but I’ll tell you anyway that the Angels have got Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, and all these other guys who should be varying degrees of terrific. That the Angels have fallen apart just doesn’t make good sense.

But where you’d think this might be a team-wide problem, don’t go blaming the offense. In August, the Angels have averaged better than five runs a game, ranking fifth in baseball. They rank second in August wRC+, and the position players overall rank second in August WAR. The number-two offense in wRC+ should probably be better than the number-five offense in runs per game, but basically, if you’re looking for the reason behind the Angels’ slump, you won’t find it here.

It’s the run prevention. The Angels’ August run prevention has been pants-on-head insanely horrible. They’ve allowed eight more runs than the Indians, 25 more runs than the Rockies, and no other team is even in the triple digits. The rotation has an August ERA in the mid-6s. The bullpen has an August ERA in the low-7s. It was this very season that the Angels were supposed to have one of the best rotations ever, and then they added Zack Greinke. It’s all come apart at the wrong time. And the bullpen has been of no help.

The main problem? In August, the Angels’ pitching staff has allowed 36 homers. Nobody else has allowed more than 27 homers, and 36 is practically twice the league average. All of the Angels’ August starters have posted elevated home-run rates. Of course, this isn’t all you can blame; in terms of xFIP, the bullpen comes out okay, but the rotation still looks lousy. Greinke hasn’t pitched like he was supposed to pitch, C.J. Wilson looks a lot more like his 2010 self than like his 2011 self, and Dan Haren is a complete mess.

The Outlook
I don’t need to sit here and tell you that a lot of what’s been troubling the Angels lately is unsustainable. You’re FanGraphs readers — you get the significance of the numbers. The position players have been fine, and they’ve been outstanding as a unit for months. The Angels aren’t going to keep allowing home runs the way they’ve been allowing home runs, because that would be the stuff of legends. The Angels aren’t going to keep losing two out of every three ballgames, because they’re way too good to do that, and of course they look their worst if you just isolate a miserable slump and examine its numbers.

But think about the reasons you might expect the Angels to bounce back in a big way. It has to do with the talent, right? There is a lot of talent, but this all might call for a re-evaluation. Wilson is back to walking too many guys, ditching the gains he made a season ago. Haren is allegedly over the back pain that caused him some struggles, but it would appear that the injury took a toll on his regular mechanics, and now he’s trying to get back to his old, familiar delivery. In the meantime, his numbers have looked nothing like Dan Haren numbers, and we can’t take a quick return to form for granted. Greinke’s only started four games this month and already he’s walked or hit more guys than he has in any other month since June 2008. The name value of the Angels’ rotation is unbelievable. The actual value might be quite a bit less than that.

The good news for the Angels is that they’ve got opportunities ahead of them. They’ve got six more games against the Tigers, and seven more games against the A’s. They’re four and a half behind the Orioles, but I don’t think anyone’s going to accuse the Orioles of being uncatchable. On talent, the Angels could make up ground in a hurry. Just look at how quickly they’ve lost it. They still have a hell of an on-paper roster.

But if you’re a fan of CoolStandings, which you should be, the Angels’ playoff odds are down to about 11 percent, their lowest point since May 21. They were 65 percent at the beginning of the month. The division is just about unwinnable, meaning the Angels will have to desperately scratch and claw for a berth in a one-game playoff, where, who knows? It doesn’t matter so much that the causes of the Angels’ slump are largely unsustainable. The damage has already been done, and the damage was severe. Most slumps are unsustainable and the Angels slumped at a terrible time. If the Angels do end up missing the playoffs, I don’t think there’s a lesson to be learned with regard to making season projections. There would be a lesson to be learned with regard to how we consume them. Great things go awry. Just ask Mike Scioscia.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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