Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The purge has begun.

Wow. I thought that the Angels might look to release Kevin Appier this offseason, but to cut him lose now and eat 15 million dollars of his salary (a record for any team) just shows that the new Arte Moreno regime is not going to let players just hang around and collect a paycheck. Appier didn't even get out of the first inning of last night's shellacking at the hands of the Yankees. Scioscia had obviously run out of patience with Appier, who clearly doesn't have anything anymore. I was wondering if Arte would shell out the money to make a move like this, now I have my answer.

The question then becomes, why now? Did they just run out of patience, or do the Angels have a starting pitcher coming over in a trade? Sidney Ponson? Possible, but I doubt it. Ponson is having a great season and is really most valuable to a team that is looking to win it all this season, but I don't think Ponson is a good long-term risk.

A better possibility is Jeff Weaver. For one, the Yankees would likely pay the rest of his salary, so if he didn't work out the Angels could get rid of him at little or no cost. Secondly, this guy was a pretty good pitcher before he got to the Bronx. He's probably just suffering from Ed Whitson disease, and is likely to rebound after a trade. I'm against the Angels getting him though. Not because I don't think he can pitch, but because every time I see him I have that stupid Gary Wright song go through my head.

On to the Schoeneweis trade. Baseball America talks about all the particulars here. Both Dunn and Bittner are intriguing, but neither is a sure bet to even make the majors. let alone become effective pitchers. Considering that this was Scott Schoeneweis that we traded and that we weren't going to offer him arbitration at the end of the year anyway, Stoneman did OK. Not great, but OK. Schoeneweis may have a long career as a LOOGY (left-handed, one-out guy) but his bad platoon differential means he's unlikely to succeed in any other role without some serious changes to his game.

The only other question the Schoeneweis trade brings up is who is going to be the new player rep. I have no idea, but if we're taking wild guesses, I'll say Aaron Sele. they aren't likely to cut him and Appier. All I know for sure is that it won't be Brendan Donnelly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Just one day after the Orange County Register publishes a story that confirms my suspicions that Jarrod Washburn's velocoity is down and hints that his arm might not be right, Washburn goes out and pitches his best game of the year in a 2-1 victory over the A's. My obsession with Washburn is now approaching unhealthy levels, but one now has to wonder if the birth of his new son Owen might have had a little something to do with his problems. I could certainly imagine that it might be difficult to concentrate on pitching if your wife is about to give birth, especially if there were some complications--which I don't have any indication that there were, but if my wife was having pregnancy complications I cetainly wouldn't be telling the media about it. Let's hope this gets Washburn back on track for this season and next.

Ross Newhan today had an article in the Times that was half-good and half-bad. He criticized the Angels for brining back the entire team from last season and saying that you can't considered fifteen or twenty players to be the "core" of the team, and that everyone other than GA, Glaus, Erstad, Molina, Percival, Ortiz and K-Rod are expendable. He's absolutely right in saying that the Angels and us, the fans, have to be willing to say goodbye to guys like Spiezio, Weber and Kennedy who brought us such joy last October. He's wrong in thinking that anyone other than Anderson, Glaus and K-Rod belong on that list. Oh sure, we can't trade Erstad because he makes way too much money, so I guess you could add him to the "core" players out of necessity. But Ortiz really isn't any better than Washburn or Lackey, so if any one of them should be on the list it should be Lackey because of his youth and contract. And Bengie Molina? Sure, I love the guy, but he's having a career season and isn't really this good, and in case he hasn't noticed, Jeff Mathis is the second-highest rated catching prospect in the minors and will probably move from San Bernardino County to Orange County by 2005.

The other problem with Newhan's article is that he argued that the team needed to make moves not because it was silly to think that Scott Spiezio or Adam Kennedy would continue to play as well as they did last year or that it was clear that the Appier and Sele are living on borrowed time, but out of some ridiculous psychobabble that a team that comes back intact is complacent and lacks the hunger to win. Puh-leeze. The Cincinnati Reds made pretty much no changes to their lineup after their championship in 1975 and the Big Red Machine destroyed everyone in 1976, and Newhan is old enough to remember that. Heck, I'm sure he covered those teams extensively. They didn't start sinking until they traded Tony Perez--although a lot of that had more to do with the collapse of their pitching and the rise of the Dodgers than missing Perez.

Same goes for the Dodgers of the 70's who had the same infield of Garvey/ Lopes/ Russell /Cey for eight seasons and managed to win four pennants and one World Series. Newhan's psychobabble is just that. A lot of the Angels are just returning to their true value, and others are just having off seasons. It has nothing to do with a lack of hunger.

Finally, ESPN.com got around to Edison Field in its ratings of all the major league ballparks. Wow. I mean, I love Edison, but I'm not sure I love it as much as Page 2's Eric Neel does. Better than Dodger Stadium? Sure, that's overrated. But better than Fenway? Better than Yankee Stadium? Better than Safeco? On the other hand, I can't think of anything to argue about in his ratings. (Well, maybe that I love having dinner at the National Sports Grill before the game across the street that he couldn't find, but it took me five or six visits to Edison before I found it too.) Edison rightly gets good marks for the re-model. I never saw the Big A in person before the re-model, but my wife played halftime of a Rams game with her high school marching band and she assures me it was a dump. Edison also gets good marks for two things that I, having been going to Edison a little longer than Eric Neel, realize are even newer than the re-model: Arte Moreno's low concessions and the college football atmosphere that has been there since about last July. And that is what really makes the Big A special right now--the fans who come early, wear red, yell loud and love their Halos. As long as that can continue, Edison Field will continue to be the happiest place on Earth in my eyes.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Another humiliating defeat.

I wanted to return to my monologue about why the Angels need to trade Adam Kennedy, but I came across Steve Bisheff's hilarious column in the Sunday Orange County Register. Rather than openly calling for the team to start preparing for next season, as any team that's lost 9 of their last 11 games should be doing, Bisheff openly calls for Arte Moreno to tell Bill Stoneman to go and pick up players. In particular, he suggests packaging Rob Quinlan along with say, Ben Weber for, oh, I don't know, someone like Sidney Ponson?

Isn't it the job of a newspaper columnist to laugh at fans who call up talk radio and make those kinds of trade suggestions? The Angels are not going to make the playoffs this season and Bisheff's whole reasoning, that the Angels need to make a trade to keep fans coming into Edison, is silly, since the Angels have already sold so many tickets for the rest of the season that they could not win another game the rest of the season and still set an attendance record. Good thing Disney doesn't still own the team: that last sentence might have given them an idea. If you want fans to renew those season tickets for next year, then you really want to make big trades and free agent acquisitions in the off-season.

OK, once Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan get done laughing at that one, the idea of trading for Sidney Ponson is a dumb one at any level. The guy has been in the league for six seasons and has been lousy in four of them and mediocre in one. He's been pretty good this year, mostly by cutting down on the number of home runs he's allowed. But is this the type of pitcher you want to give up two prospects for and sign to a three year deal at 8 million a season? Didn't we learn anything from signing Aaron Sele?

But even if you do decide he's worth the risk, why not just wait until the off-season and then try to get him?

Bisheff tells Moreno to open up his wallet to sign more players, but that isn't really the problem. Come next season, the real question is going to be is he willing to open up his wallet to pay Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele to pitch either for another team or not at all. Because it's a pretty good bet that at least one of those two is going to become completely ineffective and probably significantly worse than a replacement-level pitcher like Mickey Callaway. And then we'll have to see if Moreno and Stoneman are willing to just cut the line on them and let them go.

Finally, there was a nice little piece on Bobby Jenks on SportsCenter tonight. If you can imagine Nuke LaLoosh with a bad drinking problem, a talent for self-mutilation, depression and possible suicidal tendencies, then you've got Bobby Jenks and his fastball that's been clocked at over 100 mph on many occasions.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I wrote Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus to ask about my theories about Jarrod Washburn. He agreed that something was wrong with Jarrod Washburn, but he assured me that it wasn't his mechanics and that he had no indication that there was any sort of injury problem. He speculated that it might just be a return to his 2001 form, but I've got to respectfully disagree since Washburn wasn't anywhere near this bad in 2001. The 2001 season might be a truer expression of Washburn's value than last season was, but he's clearly underachieving in 2003.

But I need to thank Will Carroll for his prompt and courteous reply to my stupid question.

The Angels have now dropped two games to the Athletics and even the LA Times is openly saying what has been whispered for weeks: the Angels are looking to sell. Barring a miracle, there really isn't any chance of making the post-season at this point, not with the Angels playing in the AL West. Certainly they are as good a team as the White Sox, Twins or Royals in the Central, but geography dictates that they won't be flying another flag in Edison next April.

With the recall of Alfredo Amezaga from Salt Lake City, the planning for next season has begun. The Times says that the Angels have no interest in trading either David Eckstein or Adam Kennedy at this point, but one of them is going to have to go to make room for Amezaga next season, and from the Times article, Kennedy is sounding like he thinks he's the odd man out.

But should he be? Assuming that Amezaga is going to be the Angels starting shortstop next season, who should play second base? Both have had lousy seasons this year, and both are a major reason for the dropoff in offensive production this year. But who should the Angels keep?

David Eckstein
--Gets on base a lot through walks and hit by pitches, offensive value less dependent on opposing defense
--Good defensive shortstop whose biggest weakness, a weak throwing arm, would be less important at second base
--Has had two productive seasons before this year's bust, and has consistantly gotten on base throughout his pro career
--Problems this season can be partially attributed to injuries
--Fan favorite who is more likely to keep the turnstiles at Edison rolling

--Is a year older than Kennedy
--Lacks "tools." May turn in more seasons like 2002, but unlikely to get any better than that
--Hasn't played second base above AAA. Unclear if he could easily go back. Might be weak on the pivot.

Adam Kennedy
--Gold-glove caliber second baseman. Proven commodity on defense.
--Better "tools" and is younger. Probably a higher upside.
--More power. Related to the "upside" comment, it isn't hard to imagine him becoming a 15-20 HR a year guy.
--Can hit lefties. Scioscia doesn't let him only because Benji Gil hits them harder, but doesn't have a big platoon differential.

--Makes too many outs. Doesn't draw walks, so his OBP is pretty strongly connected to his batting average.
--Potential hasn't been realized.
--Eckstein has been a more valuable player the past three seasons.

And that last one is really the bottom line. Both players are having bad years, but Eckstein has even been a little better this season. I don't want to go into the stats, but Eckstein's superior OBP is more valuable than Kennedy's slightly better power.

So if Adam Kennedy is going to go, should we trade him now? The one pennant contender who might be looking to acquire a second baseman is Minnesota, assuming they finally admit that Luis Rivas is a disaster, and the Twins have a strong farm system to deal from. So should Stoneman be offering the Twins Adam Kennedy in the next five days? I'll try to answer that tomorrow.

Quick additional note. I really hate Fox's "Sounds of the Game" when they decide that people would rather listen to a pop song than a ballgame, but I actually like it when they mike the players or coaches. I really liked the exchange between Scott Spiezio and A's third base coach Ron Washington that went something like this:

WASHINGTON: That's why we let you go. You couldn't get hits with men on base.
SPIEZIO: Did you watch the last post-season?
WASHINGTON: (long pause followed by an even longer pause) Was that you?

Friday, July 25, 2003

I wasn't able to sign on to Blogger yesterday for some reason--I'm assuming they were down.

What is wrong with Jarrod Washburn? Washburn really isn't as good a pitcher as his 18-6, 3.15 ERA last season might indicate, he's an extreme flyball pitcher who doesn't strike out a ton of batters, but he's certainly a lot better than he's been this season, except for six good weeks in May and early June. Washburn is exactly the type of pitcher who should have suffered at the loss of Darrin Erstad over that time period, but that's the only time when he's actually pitched well. But with the Aaron Sele Experience continuing to roll along (and shouldn't Sele running out of gas in the game in Tampa tell Scioscia something?) and Kevin Appier posting a miraculous quality start in last night's 10-6 victory over Texas, Washburn is looking like the worst starter on the staff.

Something tells me that Washburn's health isn't right and he's not saying anything about it. Just a hunch, but it would explain what is happening to him. His strikeout rate is off dramatically this season, dropping from a good but not incredible 6.07 per nine innings, to a 4.72 ratio this season that not even Jamie Moyer's mother could love.

Washburn suffered a sprained left shoulder back in training camp, and it would certainly explain his poor April, when he wasn't striking anyone out (2.57 per nine innings) and getting hit pretty hard. Then in May he seemed to get right and he pitched the way he did last season, even without Death to Flying Things out in center field. His strikeout rate returned to normal. But in June, Washburn fell apart. His strikeout rate didn't really drop, but he started to give up a home run every time Arte Moreno dropped the price of concessions at Edison Field. I hope the two aren't connected. That might make life in Edison very difficult for Jarrod and besides, being gouged by Arte is a lot cheaper and more pleasant than being gouged by Michael Eisner. ("That's another home run given up by Jarrod Washburn. Edison Field and the Angels are proud to announce that means beer will now sell for 2.75 a bottle!" and the crowd went wild.)

Washburn's problems recently are clearly different than his struggles in April, which were probably related to his injury. But you don't often see a drop-off in performance this quickly and this badly without some sort of injury. Then again, maybe you do. Ask Tom Glavine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The Angels managed to split a two game series with the Devil Rays, which you don't need me to tell you that isn't good enough when you're nine and a half games out of first. Unless the Mariners want to return us the favor of 1995, this team is going to be the first defending World Series Champion since the Toronto Blue Jays to not make the playoffs the next year--and no, the Florida Marlins don't count since they didn't even try. I don't believe in giving up, but I do believe in reality. Even with the unbalanced schedule in the Angels favor, it isn't going to happen without divine intervention.

Sean over at Purgatory Online noted my article on trading relievers and adds that the Angels ought to consider moving Brendan Donnelly too, since his value is at an all-time high. He's probably right, but seeing what the Pirates got for Scott Sauerbeck, Mike Williams and, even worse, Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez, I'm not sure that anyone is going to give us what Brendan Donnelly is worth before July 31. Of course Donnelly is more attractive than any of those warmed-over Buccaneers, so it might be worth pursuing. But I'm thinking the Angels get more for Donnelly in the off-season, if they decide to move a reliever then.

The problem with trading Donnelly, and in fact, with trading Schoeneweis and Weber as I advocated earlier, is that I'm not sure what contender is in the market for a reliever. Rob Neyer went over the trade needs of the contenders today and came to the conclusion that only the Cardinals were in the market for a reliever. Neyer is really looking only at team needs, certainly the Cubs, the Giants and the Braves might like to add a reliever, and the Yankees will take anyone who's still breathing, but with those teams, it's a luxury rather than a necessity. But a trade with the Cardinals is a problem because they aren't likely to give up any major league talent and the Cardinals' farm system has been called one of the worst in the majors right now. The other problem is what happens when the Dodgers face reality and start dealing their relievers. Guys like Paul Quantrill and Paul Shuey would likely be dumped for nothing as the Dodgers look to shed payroll so they can sign Miguel Tejada this winter, and that would depress the market for Donnelly, Weber and Schoeneweis.

Sigh. Too lousy to compete, too good to gut the team. Story of the season.

On to the good news. Ervin Santana got rewarded for his fine pitching and out-dueling Randy Johnson with a promotion to AA Arkansas. I'm glad I got to see this guy pitch his last game in Southern California before he arrives in Edison, and you'll be glad to see him too. The promotion to AA means a 2005 arrival date should be about right, although don't count out a K-Rod-like call up next year. Next season will be a critical one for the Angels farm system. If the guys currently tearing up the California League in Rancho Cucamonga continue to progress in the AA next year, the future should be bright for the Angels. Double A is where they generally separate the propects from the pretenders, so keep a good eye on the Arkansas Travellers next season.

Monday, July 21, 2003

The Angels suffered their first four game sweep at the hands of the Orioles since the days of Jim Fregosi and Brooks Robinson in 1965. Heck, Frank Robinson was still in Cincinnati during that series.

The season may not be dead yet, but it's certainly on life support. Only poor play by the Athletics and the Mariners continue to allow the heart to beat.

What went wrong is pretty clear: the starting pitching is breaking down and the Angels aren't getting enough offense out of the middle of their infield or first base. What they could have done about this last off-season is not particularly clear.

Several commentators attacked the Angels for not making a move over the off-season (I know Rob Neyer has made some comments to this effect, I can't find them right now) and that standing on your previous team was a recipe for disaster, because the other teams were going to go out and improve themselves while you stood pat. And do you know what? He's right. The Angels were in trouble because the Mariners (Randy Winn), Athletics (Erubial Durazo and Keith Foulke) and Red Sox (Bill Mueller and later Byung-Hyun Kim, fixing a hole that failed to be fixed by Ramiro Mendoza) filled holes while the Angels did nothing. The only off-season move the Angels made was dumping Alex Ochoa and Orlando Palmeiro for Eric Owens. A bad move, to be sure, but not the cause of the Angels disappointing season, especially since the move allowed for Jeff DaVanon to play every day.

Buf if you were Bill Stoneman, what would you have done? Those teams had great strengths and great weaknesses and it was pretty apparent that they could improve their clubs by getting just solid major league ballplayers. The Angels, on the other hand, were a team of no overwhelming strengths, except maybe the bullpen, but no overwhelming weaknesses either. Sure the Angels could have gotten into the Erubial Durazo sweepstakes, but is he really any better than (a healthy) Brad Fullmer? Is Randy Winn better than Darrin Erstad? No, not really. The cheap talent that was out there was not going to improve the Angels like it was going to improve Oakland or Seattle.

What about the expensive talent? The problem with that, of course, was that Disney was trying to sell the team last winter and no doubt didn't want to scare away any new owner with any more long-term deals. Fan favorite and Disney favorite, Darrin "Death to Flying Things" Erstad got a new contract, but it wasn't very likely that Disney was going to put down the bucks necessary to get Jim Thome to come to Orange County.

That brings up the other problem. I exaggerated, a little. There was a clear weakness on the Angels, the back-end of the rotation. The problem is that Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele were not only likely to be the worst pitchers on the team (and Jarrod Washburn's efforts notwithstanding, they turned out to be the worst) but they are also the highest-paid and third highest paid players on the team, respectively. (Salmon is second) The Angels got a decent season out of Appier last year, but all indications were that Ape was living on borrowed time. Sele was a terrible free-agent signing from the very beginning. But Disney was not about to eat their contracts and then pay Kevin Millwood eight million a year, just as they were trying to sell the team.

I'm not finished with this hindsight yet, and honestly, I said a lot of this in the offseason, but you'll have to take my word for it. But the Angels play Tampa Bay on ESPN2 in fifteen minutes and I rather watch the Angels than write about them. More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Yesterday's 8-4 defeat disgusts me so much that I don't want to say anything about it, other than it wasn't an unexpected result with Kevin Appier on the mound. But I did forget that it's a four game series, so the Angels can still avoid the sweep.

I also forgot to mention Scott Shields in discussing the bullpen yesterday, and Shields' effective pitching is yet another reason that Stoneman should be looking to move a reliever.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Angels dropped yet another game to the lowly Baltimore Orioles last night, 6-5, which makes me come to the conclusion that the Angels should be sellers rather than buyers come the July 31 trade deadline, especially since tonight's Kevin Appier vs. Sidney Ponson matchup means a sweep at the hands of the Orioles is a real possibility. Five and a half games out of the wild card is not insurmountable, but it isn't looking very good. By July 31 if the Angels haven't cut that gap at least in half, it may be wait until next year again.

So if the Angels decide to move players, who should they trade? The most obvious source of strength is the bullpen, and honestly the Angels have more good pitchers in the bullpen than they have innings for them to pitch. There are two pitchers in the pen I wouldn't trade under any circumstances, Brendan Donnelly and Francisco Rodriguez. Neither one makes any money nor are they eligible for arbitration soon. Donnelly has been as close to perfect this season as a pitcher can be. K-Rod hasn't been as effective, but he is young, has an incredible slider and has a bright future as a starting pitcher once he gets older and builds up some arm strength.

That brings us to Troy Percival. Percy is one of my favorite players but to be honest, there are two guys on the team that can do his job right now, Donnelly and Ben Weber, and K-Rod could probably do it by next season. He has that "closer" cachet that teams covet so much and could make a big impact in a pennant race for a team like the Red Sox or Giants. But Percival has a big contract and few teams are willing to take on any more money this season. Additionally, the Angels aren't so desperate to move him that they'd be willing to continue to pay his salary, a la the Mets and Jeremy Burnitz. So unless the Red Sox or Giants blow us away with a big offer for Percival, the wisest course is to probably hold onto him. But it wouldn't hurt to ask teams if they're interested.

The final two pitchers in the bullpen are prime trade bait: Ben Weber and Scott Schoeneweis. Both have been effective pitchers this year, although Schoeneweis gets into trouble when he has to pitch to a right hander. Right handers are hitting .328 off of him this season, whereas lefties can only manage a measly .179 off him. This makes him an effective LOOGY (Left-handed, One-Out Guy, as John Sickels calls them) that a team like the Cardinals might pay some good B level prospects to get. Weber is a good ground ball set-up man who closed effectively when Percival got hurt last season. He's sort of a groundball version of Brendan Donnelly, and while he isn't as effective as Donnelly, he's a player that probably 15 teams in baseball would love to have, and he's eligible for arbitration and a big raise at the end of the season. Stoneman should be taking offers for him now. Even if they decide not to give up on this season and go after a player like Aaron Boone or Dmitri Young, Ben Weber is one of the guys who should be offered as bait.

As far as players who aren't in the bullpen go, there isn't much there that a) other teams want and b)the Angels can afford to lose. Other teams might be interested in Ramon Ortiz, but I doubt the Angels can afford to lose their most effective starting pitcher. The entire outfield and third baseman make too much money, and Scott Spiezio's .786 OPS at first base is nor really something other teams are drooling over. His versitility gives him some value, but probably not enough to make it worth the aggravation of trading a World Series hero. "Shawn Wooten--Professional Hitter" is actually someone that teams looking for a bat of the bench might like. Again though, is it worth trading Wooten, who doesn't make much money, for a grade C prospect, which is all the Angels would be likely to get?

Adam Kennedy could be moved in order to open up second base for Eckstein and shortstop for Alfredo Amezaga, but Kennedy hasn't hit well at all this year, and teams in a pennant race normally don't trade for defense down the stretch, Alex Ochoa notwithstanding.

With any luck, the Angels will run off eight straight wins and Stoneman won't have to worry about this. But I'm not particularly optimistic at this point.

Friday, July 18, 2003

The Angels lost to the Orioles last night 2-1, which just points out the problems the Angels have with their hitting. It may be getting to the point where the Angels are going to be sellers this month instead of buyers. More likely, the Angels will just stand pat, neither wanting to give up on the season nor sacrifice the future. A defensible strategy, I guess, but one not likely to improve the Angels chances of winning another World Championship either this year or next. More likely, it will just keep the team "competitive" and the big crowds in Anaheim coming back for at least one more year.

I'm not a big fan of the Commissioner, but I'm going to give him credit for one good idea if he pulls it off. Major League Baseball is apparently pushing ahead with a World Cup for baseball. This has been the primary source of contention between MLB, amateur baseball and the International Olympic Committee, who pretty much wants to cancel baseball as an Olympic sport if they don't get the right to host a baseball World Cup like they do in basketball. MLB obviuosly and understandably wants the right to host such a potentially lucrative event themselves, and aren't eager to shut down baseball for two weeks in the middle of August so players can fly off to Beijing, where fans will be paying money to the IOC rather than the owners. Oh, and the IOC won't pay the players anything for doing this either, unlike MLB.

But international competitions are an important marketing tool. Fourty years ago hardly anyone played basketball outside of North America, but because it was an Olympic sport, progams were started throughout the world be governments eager to gain some athletic glory. Now almost a third of the players taken in the first round of the NBA draft were foreigners. International competitions won't create world-wide popularity for baseball on their own, but it certainly is part of an effective international marketing strategy.

Let's see, if MLB could pull this off, the most likely scenario would be to hold it in April and delay the start of the season by two or three weeks. The season would likely also be shortened to 154 games in the years they had a World Cup. The big three would obviously be the United States, the Dominican Republic and Japan. Assuming an eight team field and that the Cubans would not be invited, the other five teams would then be what? Canada and Mexico would have to be invited, and then because much of this thing is a marketing device, a South American team (Venezuela) and a European team (Probably the Netherlands, as long as they could include Arubans like Sir Sidney Ponson) and then you've got three candidates for the eighth team--Korea, Australia and Puerto Rico. I suppose they could just count the Puerto Ricans as Americans (because they are) but then you'd still have a tough time chosing between Korea and Australia. Maybe they should just do ten teams.

The teams other than the big three would have no chance of winning, but that really isn't the point. If the Netherlands gets excited about baseball because they beat Canada with a bunch of colonial ringers, that's a good thing. The people of Belarus went nuts about hockey because of their victory over Sweden in the Olympics, even if they didn't bring home a medal. So if Bud Selig can actually pull this thing off, he'll actually have something to be proud of for once.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes shelled Randy Johnson yesterday, erupting for four runs in the third inning and adding an unearned run of the Big Unit in the fourth. The big blow was a Dallas McPherson three-run HR that was simply crushed just to the right of dead center field, giving him a memory to tell his grandchildren some day. McPherson doesnt get the pub of Casey Kotchman (who's still hurt) or Jeff Mathis, but the guy is a pure hitter. There are some questions about his defense and third base is kind of blocked for him at the major league level, hopefully for some years to come, but he could end up replacing Tim Salmon in RF one day

Randy Johnson wasn't at his best last night, obviously, and he was clearly working on his curve and change up some times when it would have been better to throw the heat. I'd add that Johnson looked miserable out on the mound while the Quakes were circling the bases, but Randy looked miserable when he was winning the World Series too, so the Quakes probably weren't responsible for his apparent bad mood.

Even better, I got my first look at Ervin "Magic" Santana, who got a new nickname when the Quakes announcer accidently called him Ervin Johnson before the game. Santana, who had previously been named to the Futures Game and the California/Carolina League All-Star game, looked brilliant, giving up only one run in six innings, while striking out seven. Santana's fastball reached 97 mph according to the Quakes scoreboard, which is probably a joke, but I'd bet he was hitting 92-93 regularly. But even better than that was an absolutely devastating change-up that he threw about two or three times with two strikes on the batter. At least, it looked like a change-up to me. If it was a slider, it acted like a change-up. It's awfully unusual to see a pitcher in A ball have a change-up that good, so he is certainly one to watch. The only troubling thing was the way he tended to fall off the mound to his left after he revved up to throw a fastball. I didn't notice him doing this on any other pitch or even a fastball early in the count. Sounds like something that could be easily fixed though. I couldn't tell you if his future is in the starting rotation or in the bullpen, a la Eric Gagne, but I'll bet we'll see him in Anaheim by 2005.

If you're reading this, you undoubtedly saw the All-Star Game and don't need me to tell you about it. But I will add that Joe Sheehan's All-Star diary at Baseball Prospectus makes some nice points about Brendan Donnelly and Garret Anderson. Sheehan probably doesn't care about this, but one poingt he doesn't make is that the difference in personality between Kirby Puckett and Garret Anderson will probably keep Garret from any chance at Cooperstown, barring a HR tear that would have Garret end up around 450 HRs. So while Garret may end up with better stats than Puckett, he doesn't smile and get his picture taken with a lot of dying children like Puckett did in his prime. Should that make a difference? No, but you're kidding yourself if you think it doesn't.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

So Garret Anderson won the Home Run Derby? Who'd a thunk it? Well actually, I told my wife before the contest that without the big names like Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa (although Jason Giambi was there) that "It'll probably be someone no one expected like GA or Bret Boone." So I'm not exactly Nostradamus. I picked two of the eight guys, one of whom won it and the other couldn't even get a single HR.

The HR Derby was more exciting than I imagined it would be, however, and most of the thnks for that goes to GA, Giambi and Albert Pujols, who put on quite a thrilling run at Anderson's nine in the final round before quite clearly running out of gas. The biggest problem of the HR Derby last night was, as my wife put it, "Nothing interesting to hit home runs into." Her theory of baseball architecture is that every park needs to have somewhere interesting for a HR to land. Wrigley Field has Waveland Avenue, Fenway has the net and now the seats over the Green Monster, Pac Bell has McCovey Cove, Edison has the miniature golf course, the BOB has a swimming pool, Miller Park has those windows to break. Comiskey, oh, sorry, US Cellular, doesn't really have anything like that, which detracted from the festivities.

Anderson's national stature will clearly be enhanced by this, as his name was mentioned on all the morning news shows as the Derby champion. Chris Berman, whose act is really starting to get old, could only come up with "The Quiet Man" to describe him. At least A-Rod called him "The Quiet Assassin." A-Rod seemed to be openly pulling for Garret out of some sort of AL West solidarity. That's an interesting concept. The AL West only has four teams and they don't get a lot of national exposure because none of them are the Giants or Dodgers. And the Diamondbacks would rather die than join the AL West. (Can you imagine what the AL West would have been like if Arizona had replaced Texas last season like they were supposed to? Yikes!) They see a lot of each other, so it is likely that talk to each other regularly, yet I don't sense a lot of bad blood between the teams like say, in the NL Central with the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Reds and the Brewers, none of whom seem to like each other. I saw A-Rod having a long conversation with Benji Gil before the last Texas game at Edison a couple weeks ago.

But I digress. GA's HR Derby championship is a nice bonus and will give him some national attention, but the thing that will really get him and the rest of the Angels the publicity they deserve is another trip to the post-season.

Monday, July 14, 2003

First, I'm going to have to do a quick mea culpa on my criticism of the starting pitching. The Angels offense is down this year. Last year they were forth in the league in runs scored, so far the Angels are eighth. I do wonder how much of that is due to the unbalanced scedule that will even out as the season goes on. But I wrote that earlier post without checking the facts, and I should have done that first. On the other hand, the point still stands. The Angels struggles early in the season have been mostly the result of poor starting pitching. Last year the Angels gave up the fewest runs in the AL and this season they're third--and while I don't have a starting/relieving breakdown, I know that the relievers this season are the best in the AL, so the increase has got to come from the starting pitching.

Joe Sheehan did a nice write-up on the Angels in Baseball Prospectus today. The article is a subscriber-only article, so I can't give you a link unless you shell out the $27 for a subscription (well worth it, in my opinion) but I will cite one stat he gives: In the games that Darrin Erstad was on the DL, the Angels gave up an average of 4.5 runs a game, and only 4.0 runs a game the rest of the season. It's hard to believe that any outfielder's defense is worth a full half a run a game, but with the Angels flyball pitching staff and Erstad's ridiculous range, Erstad might well be that player. The talk of moving Erstad to first base is a silly one, kind of like turning Bengie Molina into a pinch runner to take advantage of his speed. (OK, Erstad does hit better than Molina runs. Just a little hyperbole.) Erstad is only a quality major league player because of his stellar defense. He really hasn't hit that well since his .355 season in 2000, which I am now confident was a fluke. Moving him to first would rob the Angels of his most valuable assets, his speed and defense, and emphasize his weakest character, his hitting. The Angels pitching staff is built around the assumption that most things hit to the outfield will be caught by Darrin Erstad, and moving him to first would probable mean trading Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz as well.

Secondly, I'm going to Rancho Cucamonga tomorrow to see the Quakes, so I should have a report about how the Angels high-A minor league team is doing. Why am I going to miss the All-Star Game on TV (THIS TIME IT COUNTS, I'M TELLING YA!) to see a minor-league game? Let's just say that the Lancaster Jethawks starting pitcher is a lot better than any of the starters at U.S. Cellular Field tomorrow. So if the Quakes get any hits while this guy is on the mound, it will be quite an accomplishment.

Oh, I forgot to give a quick thanks to Sean at Purgatory Online for the mention of this site. If you're reading this, you probably found it through him. So it looks like I'm open for business now!

Sunday, July 13, 2003

The Halos did what they had to do and swept the Twins with a 6-1 victory on Saturday and an 8-3 victory on Sunday. Boston and Seattle both split their final two games over the weekend, but the A's won both games over Baltimore, so the Angels pick up one game on Seattle and Boston and none on Oakland. Oakland's propensity to go nuts in the second half of the season is very worrisome to our wild-card hopes, but it isn't time to scoreboard watch just yet. The Angels are now 10-1 against the AL Central with 30 more games to go. Obviously they probably won't go 27-3 in those final 30 games, because some of them are against KC and the White Sox, neither of whom are terrible, and the Twins shouldn't be as terrible as they are now. But last year the Angels went a combined 23-4 against Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Detroit. This is a team that has a tendency to clobber the bad ones, probably because of the "small ball" and aggressiveness that Rex Hudler loves so much tends to work better against the poor teams than the good ones, since it exploits their defensive weaknesses. So just as playing the King's Gambit can wreck havoc on your local club player but probably isn't as good an idea against Garry Kasparov, "small ball" works better against bad defensive teams (that means you, New York Yankees) and not as well against good defensive teams like Seattle. I was shocked to hear Joe Morgan agree with this on the ESPN game of the week tonight, since he has repeatedly said the opposite in the past, but I guess Joe just says whatever he thinks makes him look smart at the moment.

Luckily the Twins, normally a good defensive team, are such a mess in so many other areas right now that Scioscia doesn't really have to rely on one-run strategies and baserunning to beat them.

What will the Angels have to do to make that playoff push after the All-Star break? The starting pitching needs to come around, obviously, although with the exception of Kevin Appier, they seem to have already. It remains to be seen how long the Aaron Sele Experience continues to work though.

So turning to the offense, what is missing? Losing Brad Fullmer was obviously a big blow, because he was having a great season, but it may have inavertently solved the Angels biggest problem this season. David Eckstein, so good as a leadoff hitter last season, has been close to godawful terrible this year, and Darrin Erstad hasn't been much better. Now I don't advocate giving up on Eckstein and calling up Alfredo Amezaga as some impatient Angels fans have suggested, because the Red Sox gave up on Eckstein once upon a time and lived to regret it. I think we are just going to have to ride out Eckstein's slump, and Scisocia has done the right thing moving the lil' tyke to the nine hole against right handers.

But then the Angels need a leadoff hitter, and this is where Jeff DaVanon has stepped up. He enters the All-Star break with an OBP of exactly .400 in 179 plate appearances. DaVanon, of course, would not likely even be on the team this year if not for the injuries to Erstad and now Fullmer. It seems that Scioscia has found a leadoff hitter, at least against right handers, in Jeff DaVanon. (Or Jerry DaVanon, as Vin Scully likes to call him. How come everyone got on Harry Caray's mistatements and bloopers late in his life, but no one dares criticize Scully?)

Can DaVanon keep this up? He's had OBP of .432 and .395 the past two seasons in the PCL, but those numbers are undoubtedly inflated a bit by playing in Salt Lake City, which is kind of a Coors Lite Park. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA ratings forcasts about a .338 OBP for DaVanon in the majors, although that forcast also figured he'd have to hit off left-handers too. So while we really can't expect DaVanon to get on base two out of every five times the rest of the season, an OBP of .360 or even .370 is certainly not out of the question and that would easily be our best option in the leadoff spot. So if Bill Stoneman is listening, and I know he isn't, he should really be looking to replace Fullmer's power at first base and leave Salmon in the DH role, rather than looking for a DH that would move DaVanon to the bench.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

There isn't really a lot to say about yesterday's 5-0 win over the Twins other than Adam Kennedy deserves a gold glove, Ramon Ortiz pitched six of the ugliest shutout innings I've ever seen, the Twins are struggling and Rex Hudler discovered e-mail. The biggest news is that Bill Stoneman is starting to make noises about the Angels now being back in the race, indicating that the Angels may be buyers rather than sellers come the trade deadline. I will write more about whom the Angels should be looking at next week. For now, let's just say Scott Spiezio may not be a happy World Series hero for the rest of the season.

In most seasons. however, being 9 1/2 games back of Seattle just before the all-star break and 6 1/2 back of Boston for the Wild Card would mean that the season is pretty much over. But the unbalanced schedule and the overall crumminess of the AL Central gives the Angels reason for hope. The Angels have only played 9 games so far versus the AL Central and still have 32 to go. The Mariners and Athletics have both already played 30 versus the dogs of the Central and have only 15 left to go. The Angels will have to make their move in August when they play the Central and Seattle and Oakland are playing the East. Unfortunately, that's after the trade deadline, so the the Angels are going to have to make up their mind whether or not they are in this thing before they get to play those games.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Day three of the Aaron Sele Experience tour (A Mike Scioscia production) was another smashing success in Anaheim yesterday afternoon, providing a 7-1 victory over the Royals. Sele is upset about the five-inning limit and says he isn't doing anything differently, but his ERA before this little experiment began was 7.01. In the three starts since Sele went on the limit, his ERA has been 0.60, lowering his season ERA to 5.37. In the nine starts that Sele had before he got put on the inning-limit, he'd actually limited himself pretty well, getting into the seventh inning only once.

Sele's problem is that he thinks his manhood has been questioned. There was an old insult in the days of Koufax and Drysdale, "He's a seven-inning pitcher," which meant that a pitcher didn't have the stamina to finish his own games. Obviously no one says that anymore because everyone is a seven-inning pitcher, but I'm sure Sele is worried about being called a "five-inning pitcher." It's amazing how much professional athletes would rather lose games than look weak or effeminate. Shaq won't shoot free-throws underhanded, because seven-year old boys would tease him about shooting free-throws like a girl. Or at least they would if he weren't over seven feet tall and the greatest player in basketball, but he still thinks they will.

And the Aaron Sele Experience is yet another example of why Mike Scioscia is such a great manager. I'm going to write a longer essay on Scioscia's strengths and weaknesses when I get some actual readers, but Scioscia saw that Sele was a problem and asked "How can we solve this" and came up with an answer. Sele is going to be around for a while because of that fat contract, so he couldn't just cut him or banish him to the end of the bullpen. So he decided to see how much good he could squeeze out of Sele and how he could cut out all the problems. But I honestly see no reason why Sele should ever be in the game when they start singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

Now Scoiscia is talking about letting Sele go longer, explaining that the whole experiment was a way to build up Sele's arm strength, which I suppose saves a bit of face on the part of Sele. I'm sure he's also worried about the strain it's going to put on the bullpen who will be needed in future games when Kevin Appier melts down again. But hey, Scott Schoeneweis is complaining about his lack of playing time--I think that Schoeneweis could just expect to pitch in every game Sele starts.

Finally, the starting pitchers complained to Scioscia that they're getting all the blame for the disappointing season. I'll write more about this when I actually have readers, but what are they talking about? The Angels are hitting more than they did last year and the bullpen has been lights out. So else's fault could it be? The Rally Monkey's?

Finally, the Twins are coming to town, and it couldn't be at a better time. The Twins are falling apart, although the long-awaited moving of Johan Santana to the starting rotation might hurt us a little, as he's going tonight at Edison. But the Angels really need to start sweeping a few series if they want to get back into the playoff hunt.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Why am I starting a blog about the World Champion Anaheim Angels? I can't even claim the Angels as my favorite team. That honor goes to the hapless Chicago Cubs of my youth in the Midwest. But as I have grown older, I find myself increasingly, and to a rather unhealthy degree, obsessed with baseball and I need an outlet for this "hobby" before madness sets in. A daily recording of my relationship with the National Pastime is my attempt to deal with this problem.

So why not write about the Chicago Cubs? For one, I live in California now, and I see a lot more of the Angels than I do the Cubs these days. I was at Edison last week. I haven't been to Wrigley Field in seven years. But a big factor is that there are several Chicago Cubs-oriented blogs on the net already, the best of which is Christian Ruzich's The Cub Reporter, although the one Cub blog that I never fail to miss is Al Yellon's cantankerous, opinionated and never dull bleacher bum view and another thing! I just didn't see a need for another Cub blog on the net at this time. The only Angels blog on the net that I'm aware of, however, is the solid but somewhat erraticly maintained Purgatory Online. This is really too bad, because the Angels are a fascinating team that are ripe for some serious on-line dissection. Unfortunately, despite their World Championship, the Angels seem to still get ignored by the national media and they don't always even get the coverage they deserve from the local Southern California media.

This isn't just a matter of me trying to write to a perceived need on my part, however. Without question, the Angels are my second favorite team and favorite American League team. I have followed them closely since I moved west some five years ago. So fans who have suffered in Orange County for decades should not fear my take on the team because it is from a fan who wants to see the Angels win many, many more World Championships after this one. In fact, I'm currently writing down notes to myself with an Anaheim Angels pen and pondering what to write by staring at my Jarrod Washburn bobblehead.

My history with the Angels probably goes back a lot farther than a lot of the people at Edison these days. I clearly remember the Angels teams of the late seventies and eighties, back when the Angels got a lot bigger share of the national spotlight because of players like Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Fred Lynn, heck, you all know who they were. Brian Downing was always my favorite Angel because of his funky batting stance and because he was a great lead-off hitter who coudn't run. I lost several bets, mostly six packs of beer, to my Red Sox fan college friends when Dave Henderson hit that home run in 1986. And having spent most of the nineties in Iowa, I've seen the Cedar Rapids Kernels many, many times. Because of this, I've been following the Angels for almost a a decade now, once at a distance and now up close. Of course, I've been to see the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes many times too, so I've got both the Angels Class A farms teams down pat. I try to go to Edison Field about once a month. Man, my seats have gotten lousy this year.

Finally, writing about the Angels gives me a little more distance from my subject than the Cubs would. I hope this blog is going to be an enlightening discussion about baseball, and it will be easier for me to do this writing about the Angels and not the Cubs, since I'll probably fly into a mad rage at the mere mention of the name Antonio Alfonseca. So while I'm not going to begrudge an Angels fan popping a rivet about Kevin Appier's struggles, I'm going to try to stay calm about Appier's troubles and I won't shed a tear at the mention of Gary DiSarcina. It's open season on Mo Vaughn though.

So let's get this thing started and hope the Halo shines brightly tonight.

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