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The Angels are Creating Outs in September

I was previewing the Angels and Mariners series that began on Tuesday, kicking off the final nine games of the season for both teams, when I noticed how well the Angels ranked in my metrics. That the Angels are good is no surprise, but the magnitude to which they had improved since they last played the Mariners at the beginning of September caught my notice.

Since that last preview, the Angels went 15-7 with a massive 104-58 run differential. But where did has the dominance burst forth? Over those 22 games, the offense posted a .734 OPS which is only three points above the American League average. On the pitching side, the staff has a 21.7% strikeout rate, a 6.4% walk rate and 3.4% home run rate compared to league averages of 19.4%, 8.2% and 2.8%. That’s an above average line, but not an outright dominant one.

Lacking a breakout in either the bats or arms, it really highlights how well the defense has played. The Angels are now tops in UZR and they’re a close third in my own team-based defensive measurements. They’d be first if not for a slight park adjustment I make grading how easy/difficult it is to turn balls into outs.

The Angels weren’t this good a month ago. To get a clearer look, I turned to the game logs. Over these past 22 games the Angels have surrendered 118 hits on 522 balls in play for a .226 ball in play average (BABIP).

That’s a low rate. As regular consumers of baseball stats stuff, we have an internalized notion of context for BABIP. We know that around .300 is average, that .250 is low and that .350 is high. So we can see .226 and instantly know it’s very low.

But beyond average, and maybe poking around at how the best and worst teams are faring this season, that’s all I had available to provide context. That’s lackluster, so I went scrolling through the entire 2012 season to date and, sticking with 25-day stretches, pulled out every team’s defensive performance. As it turns out, coincidentally, this stretch of .226 BABIP from the Angels is the best that any team has put up over any 25-day stretch, in the entirety of 2012.

The next best stretch came from the Athletics from mid-June to early-July when they posted a .233 BABIP. The worst comes from the Rockies, on multiple occasions. From late-April to mid-May the Rockies surrendered a whopping .374 BABIP, but from mid-May to early-June the Rockies didn’t improve much, only to a .359 BABIP. And over the same period (Aug 31-today) as the Angels’ best run, the Rockies have a .357 BABIP. They are the three worst non-overlapping stretches in baseball this season and they all belong to Colorado.