Archive for Angels

Elegy for ’18 – Los Angeles Angels

Mike Trout isn’t merely the face of the franchise, but the back of it, too.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

Thanks to the feats of the Astros and AL Wild Card winners, we get to a legitimately non-horrible team fairly early in this series of elegies. That’s due in large part, of course, to the fact it’s almost impossible for a club to be very bad when Mike Trout occupies a spot on their roster — even if that team occasionally tries. But math is math and the Angels headed to the numerical woodshed at a fairly early date.

The Setup

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Could the Angels Really Give Mike Trout a Lifetime Contract?

Consider this your periodic reminder of how awesome Mike Trout is. Including Sunday’s games, the best player in baseball has recorded a 192 wRC+, a career-high that leads all qualified hitters. He’s in the top 10 in the major leagues in homers (T-9th), walk rate (1st), BABIP (6th), isolated power (1st), batting average (5th), on-base percentage (1st), slugging percentage (3rd), and WAR (T-1st). He just crossed the nine-win mark for the fifth time in his career. He only just turned 27.

Based on reports, it appears as though the Angels expect this kind of production to continue for a while longer. Consider:

It’s not difficult to see Anaheim’s logic here. Mike Trout may very well end up as the greatest player ever, and that’s the sort of player you want to keep around because, well, he’s better than everyone else.

Of course, when Heyman use the word “lifetime” what he really means is “until that point at which Trout retires.” The Angels, presumably, would like one of baseball’s best ever players to end his career having played only for their team. There’s probably some value in that. How much value is a question for a different time, but “some” is an adequate answer for the moment.

But what if we were to understand “lifetime” in a more literal sense. What if, hypothetically, the Angels wanted to sign Mike Trout to an actual lifetime contract? Could they legally employ Mike Trout until he shuffles off this mortal coil, likely having hit 20 homers in each year of his 80s?

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Shohei Ohtani Has Been a Major Success

When Shohei Ohtani made his return to the mound over the weekend, millions upon millions of fingers were crossed. And then, abruptly, his velocity dropped. The Angels suggested it didn’t have anything to do with the elbow injury that had kept Ohtani off of the mound for so long, and it was even somewhat believable, but now we know the truth of this dark timeline — the official recommendation is that Ohtani needs Tommy John surgery. It was reported before the season that Ohtani’s UCL had some damage. It was hurt again in June, and now it’s been hurt again in September. The rest-and-rehab approach didn’t take. It usually doesn’t, but it was worth a shot.

For whatever it’s worth, Ohtani still hasn’t decided whether he’ll have the operation. This is all new to him, and it’s a hell of a thing to accept. Presumably, he’ll acquiesce at some point, and then we’ll know we won’t see Ohtani pitch in the majors in 2019. This was one of the reasons why the Angels allowed Ohtani to pitch the other day at all — if he made it, it would provide some peace of mind, and if he didn’t make it, then an operation would allow Ohtani to be ready to pitch in a year and a half. Had the Angels waited, and had Ohtani gotten re-injured next spring, then he’d be out for much of 2020 as well. Now all parties have more information. Actionable information. Horrible, unfortunate, terribly upsetting actionable information.

But if there’s a silver lining to any of this, let me suggest that we take a step back and consider what Ohtani has already accomplished. Yes, it sucks what happens to pitchers sometimes. Yes, Tommy John surgery is a risk, and, yes, Ohtani’s two-way career might never be the same. Yet Ohtani has already proven himself. He’s already proven that someone like Shohei Ohtani can work. As far as Major League Baseball was concerned, Ohtani was something of an experiment, and he has been wildly successful. It’s impossible to deny the conclusion.

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The Return of Shohei Ohtani, Pitcher

Shohei Ohtani is coming back. Not Ohtani the hitter, who has thrived in his capacity as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter since his return on July 3 from a Grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. No, it’s Ohtani the pitcher, the one who we were afraid we might not see again this year — and maybe not even next year — will start Sunday night’s game against the Astros, announced Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday. It will be the first time the 24-year-old two-way phenom taken the ball in that capacity since June 6.

If you’re not awaiting this start — and the return of this incredible athlete’s filthy stuff — with bated breath, consult your doctor.

Ohtani left his June 6 start — his ninth of the season — against the Royals after just four innings due to a recurrence of a blister. While getting the blister drained, he complained of soreness in his elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed the sprain. With the Angels optimistic that he could avoid Tommy John surgery, he underwent both platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections and was placed on the disabled list. He was cleared to begin taking swings again three days later, returned to action without even going on a rehab assignment, and, despite some ups and downs, has more or less equaled the impact of his early-season work, if not exactly replicating its shape:

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen’s Prospect Road Trip

Episode 826
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen recently traveled from Phoenix to Baltimore to Washington DC to Chicago to Catasauqua to Hartford to Wilmington, not necessarily in that order. What he does in this episode of FanGraphs Audio is to recount his travels.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 11 min play time.)

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Ian Kinsler Plays for the Red Sox Now

With a record of 67-37, the Yankees have been the second-best team in all of baseball. And yet those same Yankees are likely to have to survive a one-game wild-card playoff, because for as good as they’ve been, the Red Sox are six games better in the standings. They’re on pace to win either 112 or 113 games, depending on how you round your decimals, and yet even that good of a team can still have the occasional weakness. For example! Dustin Pedroia has been unable to get all the way healthy. Second base, then, has mostly belonged to Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, and together they have been bad. The Red Sox have gotten a below-replacement performance from the keystone, so it’s an area they thought about improving.

You may consider the position improved. The Sox have moved to pick up a rental.

Red Sox get:

Angels get:

There is some money changing hands, but it doesn’t do much to change the equation. The Red Sox are almost certain to exceed the highest competitive-balance-tax threshold of $237 million, which comes with financial and draft-related penalties, but they don’t seem to mind, provided the team can get better. Kinsler makes the team better, even if only a little bit. The Red Sox were already so strong.

Given that Kinsler is 36 years old, he’s past the best offensive days of his career. He’s been hotter lately, shaking off an early slump, and even the overall reduced version of Kinsler now seems like more of a threat than Nunez. More importantly, whether you go by Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating, Kinsler ranks as the second-best defensive second baseman. He has a long track record of being an outstanding defender, and you certainly couldn’t say that for Nunez. Kinsler is also better in that regard than Holt, so even if the bat is diminished, Kinsler is going to take hits away. Value is value, however it comes.

This has the additional effect of freeing up Nunez and/or Holt to play more third base, with Rafael Devers on the disabled list. Devers, you’d think, would be all the way back well in advance of the playoffs, but there are still games to win today. There are still the Yankees to try to fend off. This gets more complicated if Pedroia starts to feel markedly better, but I don’t think anyone’s counting on that.

For the Angels, it hurts to say goodbye, because Kinsler was a part of what they thought would be a good thing. But it’s long been evident this season wasn’t going to work out, so at least the front office isn’t coming away empty-handed. Both Buttrey and Jerez are relievers — Buttrey 25, and Jerez 26. Buttrey seems like the better of the two, but they’ve both been pitching in Triple-A, with fair amounts of success. There have been 276 Triple-A pitchers with at least 40 innings. Buttrey ranks fifth in strikeout rate, while Jerez checks in at 20th. Buttrey, also, ranks fifth in K-BB%. He pitches off of a huge fastball, and this season his strikeouts have surged while his walks have gone down.

It’s funny — the Red Sox have talked about needing bullpen help, and Buttrey might’ve been able to be that guy. But now he’ll join the Angels instead, and it shouldn’t be long before both these guys get major-league looks. Neither is a lock to really do anything, but as the Angels look ahead to a hopefully more competitive 2019, these could be a couple of bullpen solutions. Kinsler’s contract is up in some months.

This is how rental trades usually work. The Angels just decided to go for high-minors relievers instead of low-minors starters. And so now we’ll see if the Red Sox fill the bullpen slot Buttrey didn’t get a chance to take. Heaven knows there are plenty of relievers available.

Scouting Patrick Sandoval, New Angels Prospect

The Angels traded 31-year-old glove-first catcher Martin Maldonado to Houston yesterday in exchange for Astros 21-year-old LHP Patrick Sandoval. The Astros signed Sandoval away from a USC commitment with a $900,000 signing bonus in 2015. He was their 11th-round pick. He has tracked through the minors at an even pace, amassing 97 strikeouts in 88 innings split between Low- and High-A this season while also reducing his walk rate to half (4.3%) of what it was last year (8.5%).

Sandoval’s fastball sits 88-92 and will top out around 94. He can really spin a 12-6 curveball, one that’s above average when Sandoval is getting on top of it. Effectively, Sandoval has an almost perfectly vertical arm slot, but the way he gets there is somewhat odd and there’s some skepticism among scouts as to the sustainability of this year’s uptick in strike-throwing. There’s enough of a changeup here for continued development in a rotation and, if everything clicks, Sandoval will be a No. 4 or 5 starter. If not, he’s a lefty with a good breaking ball and a fine bullpen candidate. It’s a fair return for a backup catching rental.

Had Sandoval gone to USC, he’d have been draft eligible this year. Comparable college lefties in this year’s draft would have been Nationals second-rounder Tim Cate from UConn, and White Sox third-rounder, Mississippi State lefty Konnor Pilkington. Cate is a better athlete than Sandoval and the breaking ball is a little better. He signed for slot a 65th overall, $986,200. Pilkington’s stuff is closer to average across the board. I’d have him behind Sandoval just on stuff. He signed for $650,000, slightly below slot at pick No. 81. I think Sandoval would have fit somewhere in that range on draft day, which means the Astros properly valued him three years ago and used an 11th-round pick to acquire a future second- or third-round talent for second- or third-round money. It also means Sandoval probably got an equal or better bonus than he would have this year, and he’s further along the developmental path than most his age-appropriate peers from the 2018 collegiate draft class.

Rob Manfred, Mike Trout, and Knowing When You’re Winning

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He has 25 homers (third in the league), a 20.7% walk rate (best), and has contributed nearly five runs on the bases (12th). He’s also made 100% of routine plays, 100% of likely plays, and 100% of even plays in center, good for a 3.4 UZR/150. He’s tied with Jose Ramirez for the league lead in WAR. Mike Trout is good at everything! You know this. I know this. All hail Mike Trout.

Commissioner Rob Manfred recently identified what he regards as a flaw, though:

Player marketing requires one thing for sure — the player. You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher-profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged.

Mike’s a great, great player and a really nice person, but he’s made certain decisions about what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do, and how he wants to spend his free time and how he doesn’t want to spend his free time. That’s up to him. If he wants to engage and be more active in that area, I think we could help him make his brand really, really big. But he has to make a decision that he’s prepared to engage in that area. It takes time and effort.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/25/18

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Luis Rengifo, MIF, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: NR   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2 2B

Rengifo slipped through the cracks of our offseason team prospect lists, as he was traded from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles after we had finished the Angels’ writeup but before we had finished the Rays’. It’s turned into a fairly significant failure of process, as Rengifo has traveled three levels throughout the year, walking more than he has struck out while swiping 37 bases. Rengifo profiles as a max-effort utility guy who contributes in many subtle ways. Chone Figgins comps were being made before Rengifo was traded to the Angels and now seem more prescient — if perhaps a bit overzealous, as Rengifo doesn’t have that kind of elite speed.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 18

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the eighteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Trevor Bauer, Joe Biagini, and Noe Ramirez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Trevor Bauer (Indians) on His Slider

“I wanted to add a Kluber-esque lateral breaking pitch, so I studied everything about it — spin axis, spin rate, trajectory, movement — and tried to copy it. I’ve done a pretty good job so far.

“It doesn’t come out of my hand the same way Kluber’s does or Stroman’s does, but I’m able to generate the same movement profile on it, because… it’s an iterative process. OK, this is happening and it’s not exactly what I want, so let me find a different way to hold it, or a different way to throw it, or a different cue. Let’s look at that at 2,000 frames per second. OK, does that have the desired effect? Yes or no. Read the rest of this entry »

Kole Calhoun Is Cold No More

For all intents and purposes, the Angels are having a disappointing season. Not every club that begins the season as a contender is able to end it in the same way, but somehow the organization has been remarkably consistent in their path to disappointment. For the third year in a row, they’ve been swarmed by numerous debilitating ligament injuries to the arms of controllable starting pitchers — seven in the last three years and four this year alone. This season, that list is headlined by Shohei Ohtani and Garrett Richards.

Craig Edwards recently discussed the team’s competitive positioning and outlook following the news of Zack Cozart’s season-ending labrum surgery, noting that, at the time of publication, the Angels had just a 4.5% chance of reaching the postseason. Edwards advocated that, with little to sell and hopes of contending in the near future, the club’s best course of action may be to do nothing, to bet on positive regression, and to hope that Seattle falters before the end of the season.

With numerous players’ failing to reach their projected levels, one might say underperformance is the team’s middle name. (Well, one of them.) Platoon specialist Luis Valbuena sports a 57 wRC+ against right-handed hitters, fanning a whopping 34% of the time. Ian Kinsler boasts a measly .214 BABIP en route to a batting average just five points higher, and Cozart had a rough albeit inconclusive go in learning the hot corner (-5 DRS in 278.1 innings). Kole Calhoun’s year, however, is the most incomprehensible roller coaster of them all.

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Betts, Ramírez, Trout, and the Blistering Pace

Roughly a month ago, Mike Trout appeared headed towards history. On June 20, I took time out from gorging myself on lobster rolls and clam strips during my Cape Cod family vacation to put together a table showing the short list of players who reached 6.0 WAR before the All-Star break. After 74 games, Trout was on pace to finish at 13.8 WAR, the third-highest total for a position player in history, behind only the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively).

A funny thing happened on the way to the break, however: Trout fell into his first true slump of the year, and both Mookie Betts and José Ramírez have closed the gap such that the trio is in a virtual tie atop the leaderboard at 6.5 WAR. This is the first time since 1975 — as far back as our splits in this area go, alas — that three players have reached even 6.0 WAR by the All-Star break, though even that relatively recent history shows such a pace is nearly impossible to maintain.

Before I dig in, it’s worth noting that, while we generally refer to what transpires before and after the All-Star break as the season’s first and second halves, those are generally misnomers, since the pause in the schedule usually happens well after the 81st game of the season and at a slightly different point from year to year. So far in 2018, the average team has played 96 games, similar to the averages in 2013 (94) and 2014 (95) but well ahead of those in 2015 and 2016 (89 games) or 2017 (88 games). Thankfully, so long as we’re taking the trouble to prorate to 162 games, we can cope with this.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 17

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the seventeenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matt Barnes, Cam Bedrosian, and Jesse Chavez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Matt Barnes (Red Sox) on His Curveball

“I was in Double-A (Portland) with Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, and I think we were in Trenton, playing the Yankees at their place. I’d just pitched the day before and my curveball wasn’t good. They were like, ‘Try using a spiked grip.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done it before.’ They said, ‘We both use it,’ and the rest is history. We started playing catch with it and I’ve had that grip ever since.

“Why did it work better for me than a conventional grip? I don’t know. There are little things in baseball. People could be saying the same thing to you, but one verbiage just latches on and allows you to understand it. The grip just felt natural to me. It felt easier to spin the baseball. What you’re trying to do is spin it as fast as you can, downward, to create the action, yet still be able to command it. I wasn’t able to do that with the grip I had before that, and what they showed me worked. Read the rest of this entry »

Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Trout Was Going Through a Thing

On Saturday afternoon in Anaheim, Mike Trout went 3-for-4 with two singles and a home run. For a player who, at age 26, has basically secured a place in the Hall of Fame, that kind of performance is pretty commonplace. Mike Trout is the best player in the world; nothing in this piece will attempt to convince you otherwise.

What was notable about that Saturday game, however, is that it represented Trout’s first multi-hit effort since since June 18th. If you’re the kind of person who takes life as it comes, for good or for bad, this sort of thing might not even register. But for the rest of you, who worry about the little moments in between the big ones, there is this: for the last two weeks or so, before he got three hits on Saturday, Mike Trout had been in a bit of a slump. For about two weeks or so, Mike Trout was a below-average major-league hitter.

Consider the following, which is a chart of Trout’s rolling wRC+ in 14-game chunks, dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season, which was his first full campaign, and concluding on July 6th, the day before his home run:

There are roughly 1,000 games here, so it’s pretty condensed. The most important part of it, however, is the low point on the right-most edge of the graph. That’s the slump Trout was enduring until Saturday, a 14-game stretch (June 22nd to July 6th) during which he recorded just a 70 wRC+. With the exception of that horrible second half he had back in 2014 and the very beginning of his 2012 season, it was the worst offensive period of his very excellent career to date.

A couple weeks spent hitting 30% worse than league average isn’t a news item for most players. Trout’s teammate Justin Upton has recorded just a 64 wRC+ over the last two weeks, for example, and that’s unlikely to inspire a post here at FanGraphs. Billy Hamilton owns a lifetime batting mark of 71 wRC+. For Mike Trout, however, this type of stretch is nearly unprecedented — and especially notable as it came hot on the heels of some of the best baseball in his glittering career.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 15

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the 15th installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers —Justin Anderson, Archie Bradley, and Brent Suter — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Justin Anderson (Angels) on His Spiked Slider

“Some people might think it’s a curveball, but it’s a slider. It kind of has the same plane as my fastball. That’s the idea. You want one pitch going one way, and one going the other. My thought process is to throw it as hard as I can and try to get break on it with my wrist flipping.

“It’s not a traditional slider grip by any means. It’s a grip I was always curious about. There’s a guy we’d always watch in the minor leagues — I played against him coming up — and we were like, ‘This guy has one of the best sliders ever.’ His name is Dean Deetz. I stole it from him. I finally saw his grip on a picture, on Twitter, last October or maybe in November. I was like, ‘OK, so this is how the guy throws it. I’m going to give it a go.’ That’s what I did. I ran with it.

Anderson’s spiked slider grip.

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Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 6/27

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Jabari Blash, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 28   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-3, 3 HR, BB

Blash is no longer rookie-eligible, so while he’s a fun player to watch hit bombs and had a hell of a game last night, he’s on here today as a conduit to discuss what’s going on with some of the Angels hitters in the lowest levels of the minors. This is Trent Deveaux last fall, when he first arrived in the states. His swing was largely the same early this spring, albeit with a stronger, more involved top hand, which helped him drive the ball with more authority. This is what he looks like right now, which bears quite a bit of resemblance to Blash. No offense to Blash, who has had a long pro career and will probably play for another half-decade or so, but I’m not sure I’d proactively alter an ultra-talented 18-year-old’s swing to mimic that of a notoriously frustrating replacement-level player. Deveaux isn’t the only low-level Angels hitting prospect whose swing now looks like this.

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This Might Not Be the Angels’ Year

In terms of playoff odds, Mike Trout gives the Angels a pretty good head start over the rest of the field every season. Where Los Angeles has had trouble over the last few years, however, is surrounding Trout with enough talent to make the postseason. They tried spending big, bringing in Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and C.J. Wilson and extending Jered Weaver. That netted them exactly one playoff appearance, in 2014, when they were swept in three games. They’ve slowed down spending a bit in recent years, but made a savvy trade to bring Andrelton Simmons aboard, brought in Justin Upton and signed him to an extension, jumped on Ian Kinsler in a trade, signed Zack Cozart, and then lucked out in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Despite what appears to be a collection of good moves, the results are still lacking. Now, news that Cozart will miss the rest of the season diminishes the Angels’ chances even further.

At the moment, there are only seven teams with at least a 5% chance at the playoffs in the American League. In the National League, there are nine teams with a similar chance. A week ago that number was 11 (sorry, Pirates and Rockies), and two weeks ago it was 12 (sorry, Mets). The National League looks very competitive this season, with a bunch of teams in the hunt and no single club possessing more than a 90% playoff probability. The American League, on the other hand, looks like this:

Four of the five playoff spots appear to be locked up, with the Mariners currently looking likely to take the final one. The pennant race is not without intrigue — the Yankees and Red Sox will battle to avoid a one-and-done Wild Card round — but Cleveland looks to be running away with the AL Central, and unless the Mariners have another gear, the Astros are going to take the West. As for the non-Yankees/Red Sox Wild Card, the Mariners have a seven-game edge over the Athletics and a nine-game lead over the Angels. If the Mariners win half the rest of their games, the Angels would need to win 50 to catch them. That’s 62% of their remaining dates, close to a 100-win pace over the course of the rest of the season.

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