Purgatory Online

Thursday, April 01, 2004

You know, it sure seems like the Angels' offense is hitting on all cylinders these days. Seems like every time I look at a box score, I'm seeing multiple hits from multiple guys and big, fat, crooked numbers in the runs columns. Today's no exception: a quick glance at the scoreboard shows the Angels with a 6-4 lead over Milwaukee in the bottom of the eighth.

Ah, Milwaukee.

The problem is, the Angels have been playing an awful lot of Milwaukees lately, or at least going up against pitchers who wouldn't be out of place pitching there. Since the end of split-squad games, they've faced sixteen starting pitchers:

3/15 - S. Hitchcock, Padres. 4 IP, 5 H, 1 ER
3/16 - E. Loaiza, White Sox. 5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER
3/17 - J. Jennings, Rockies. 4 IP, 6 H, 5 ER
3/18 - C. Zambrano, Cubs. 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER
3/19 - M. Redman, A's. 4 IP, 2 H, 0 ER
3/20 - R. Jensen, Giants. 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER
3/21 - C. George, Royals. 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER
3/23 - M. Kinney, Brewers. 5 IP, 10 H, 5 ER
3/24 - S. Mitre, Cubs. 2.2 IP, 9 H, 5 ER
3/25 - J. Affeldt, Royals. 5 IP, 11 H, 5 ER
3/26 - B. Lawrence, Padres. 5.2 IP, 13 H, 7 ER
3/27 - B. Tomko, Giants. 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER
3/28 - K. Rueter, Giants. 5.2 IP, 6 H, 0 ER
3/29 - M. Clement, Cubs. 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER
3/30 - G. Rusch, Rangers. 1.1 IP, 9 H, 8 ER
3/31 - D. Stark, Rockies. 6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER

In total, that's 71.2 IP, 106 H, and 57 ER, for 1.48 hits per inning and 7.16 ER/9. But, looking at those sixteen pitchers, we see the following:

Exactly five of them - Clement, Affeldt, Redman, Zambrano, and Loaiza - had ERA's that were better than the league average in 2003. Against those five, the Angels scored 10 earned runs on 31 hits in 24 innings - a rate of 1.29 hits per inning and 3.76 ER/9. Last year, they had a composite ERA of 3.47. So against the better pitchers they've faced, the offense has produced at a rate that's slightly less than a third of a run per nine innings higher than the average performance against those pitchers last year.

Let's be fair, though, and include those pitchers who were within 10% of their league's average ERA in 2003. Those guys were Kirk Rueter, at 95%, Brian Lawrence, at 94%, Jason Jennings, at 93%, and Sterling Hitchcock, at 91%. Adding them into the mix along with the previous five, we come up with a total of 43.1 IP, 61 hits, and 23 earned runs, for a rate of 1.41 hits per inning and a 4.78 ER/9. That's pretty good, of course - the average ERA in the National League in 2003 was 4.28, and the average in the AL was 4.53. If the Angels can hit at that clip against the guys who are in the 45th percentile or better during the season, they'll be doing fine. But it's instructive to re-visit the lines of the guys who remain from that list of sixteen:

3/20 - R. Jensen, Giants. 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER
3/21 - C. George, Royals. 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER
3/23 - M. Kinney, Brewers. 5 IP, 10 H, 5 ER
3/24 - S. Mitre, Cubs. 2.2 IP, 9 H, 5 ER
3/27 - B. Tomko, Giants. 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER
3/30 - G. Rusch, Rangers. 1.1 IP, 9 H, 8 ER
3/31 - D. Stark, Rockies. 6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER

That's one guy who baffled them, one guy who held his own, and five guys who just got their asses handed to them.

So what does this all mean? Well, clearly the Angels' gaudy offensive numbers of late have come as a result of facing some fairly crappy pitching. But even against the good pitchers, they've performed well. Hopefully, what this means is that they'll contend with the aces and destroy the lesser lights. Since I've always contended that one of the hallmarks of their 99-win season in 2002 was their ability to do just that - battle the good teams, dispatch the bad ones - this should be a good omen.

It also, however, drives home my point from the other day. The Angels cannot afford to believe that their offense will save them from substandard pitching; their advantage at the plate against decent pitchers is not enough to offset shaky starts at the bottom of the rotation. Or, at least, it's not enough to offet them regularly enough to win the 95+ games they'll need to make the playoffs.

POSTSCRIPT: As I wrote this, the Angels surrendered five runs in the top of the ninth inning, and lost 9-6.

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