Purgatory Online

Friday, March 26, 2004

As part of his ongoing series to identify the best defensive plays ever, Alan Schwarz cites Jim Edmonds' diving catch in 1997 as the second-greatest defensive play by a center fielder of all time. If you've heard of it, you know which one I mean. If you haven't, it was truly amazing - easily the best play I ever saw that wasn't on videotape, and justifiably mentioned in the same breath as Willie Mays's catch/throw during the 1954 World Series.

Edmonds catches a lot of flak from Angels fans as having been the proverbial cancer in the clubhouse, and for making easy plays look hard. But there's no question that he's an extremely talented ballplayer, and that particular catch was simply incredible. The Angels have been very lucky to have Edmonds and Erstad patrolling center (and Chad Curtis, who was a fine defensive player as well); here's hoping Garret Anderson can continue that tradition.

Ramon Ortiz got blowed up real good by Kansas City last night, giving up four earned runs on six hits in four innings, while walking two and striking out three. The offense deftly removed Ortiz from the hook of his own devising by scoring eight runs in eight innings, only to have Derek Turnbow, who's having a spring to forget, give up three runs in the ninth. The result: an eleven-inning tie, and a deepening seriousness to the worry over who gets the number five slot in the rotation.

Certainly, one doesn't want to read too much into spring training games. But if there was any truth to the statements made going in to training that there would be competition for rotation slots, one has to wonder what's going to happen now that Ortiz is looking shaky. To update the statistics:

Sele: 14.0 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 8 K
Ortiz: 12.0 IP, 19 H, 10 ER, 2 HR, 6 BB, 7 K

Today, the L.A. Times quotes Ortiz as follows on the possibility of opening the season in the bullpen: "Whatever Scioscia says, I go. He's the manager. I wouldn't have any problem with that."

Well, okay. Scioscia has already made it clear that he'll probably take three catchers when the Angels break camp, so here's what the 25-man roster would probably look like if Ortiz went to the pen:

C - B. Molina, J. Molina, Paul
1B - Erstad
2B - Kennedy
SS - Eckstein
3B - Glaus
RF - Guerrero
CF - Anderson
LF - Guillen
DH - Salmon
Bench/Utility - Halter, DaVanon, Figgins
SP - Colon, Washburn, Escobar, Lackey, Sele
RP - Ortiz, Shields, Weber, Donnelly, Rodriguez, Percival

If the Angels stick to a five-day schedule for the rest of the spring, which would require shunting someone off to pitch a Triple-A game a couple of times (as they did with Washburn on Tuesday), both Sele and Ortiz would get two more starts this spring - Ortiz's second being the last game of the Freeway Series against the Dodgers. It would surprise me a little, however, if a decision was delayed until the very end, and I'd imagine we'll know who's getting the slot within the next week. While I'm sure the Angels would have preferred to go with Ortiz, given the fact that he's younger and only a couple of years removed from a stellar season, he's making it pretty hard for them to do so and feel good about it.

Colon and Lackey should get some work today and tomorrow; Sele should continue his bid on Sunday.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Ramon Ortiz pitches tonight, in the Angels' first night game of the spring, against Kansas City. This is perhaps a taller order than Sele's start against Milwaukee, but Ortiz will have to at least put on a decent show or risk looking pretty bad in comparison.

Yesterday, the Angels spanked the crap out of the Cubs for a few innings, then coughed it all back up as Troy Percival and Kevin Gregg had horrible relief outings. This Percival thing is starting to bother me a little; last year he pitched eight innings and gave up six runs, though, so who knows what it all portends. Regardless, Escobar had an excellent start, allowing one run (on a ball that should have been caught, according to most accounts) and four hits, while whiffing six and walking three, in 4 2/3 innings. The Angels eventually won it in the ninth, 8-7.

The offense continues to look encouraging, as well. The lineup produced 16 hits, 11 by guys who are expected to be in the everyday lineup. David Eckstein, in particular, is looking terrific - he's hitting .371 in 35 at-bats, and 5 of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases. If Eck can produce at the top of the order, the Angels are going to score a lot of runs. The only worry here is Darin Erstad, hitting in the two slot, who has a pretty high ratio of grounders to fly balls. Even though Erstad runs well, I can see Eckstein being erased on double-plays pretty frequently in 2004. Last year, Erstad grounded into 8 double plays in 284 plate appearances; assuming he stays healthy and gets 700 this year, that translates to about 20 GIDPs for Erstad. That would have ranked tied for sixth in the AL in 2003.

Meanwhile, both the Times and the Register have articles today on how playing winter ball in Venezuela appears to have primed Frankie Rodriguez for spring training. Like I said on Monday, though, pitching in mid-season form in spring training is one thing; keeping that form through the dog days is quite another. Here's hoping his arm doesn't fall off down the stretch.

[UPDATE: In re-reading this post, I noticed that I made an unintentionally disgusting mixed metaphor - "spanked the crap out of the Cubs...then coughed it all back up." I'm disappointed in myself, as normally anything disgusting in my writing is painstakingly polished over the course of seconds, if not minutes, of introspection. I'm leaving it in - indeed, pointing it out - as a reminder to myself to always, always edit with a critical eye. You're welcome.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Apparently, the latest David Eckstein baseball card from Topps actually features a picture of Adam Kennedy. Oops. Eckstein is autographing them anyway.

Mike DiGiovanna at the L.A. Times reports that "The Angel rotation seems set, with Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey and Ramon Ortiz, and it's possible Sele, who is guaranteed $8.5 million this season, will be traded or demoted to the bullpen." Mark Saxon has similar sentiments at the Orange County Register, reporting that Sele is expected to be traded by next week, possibly to St. Louis. While I'd guess that Ortiz is the most likely fifth starter, let's not count Sele out just yet. Given that they'll be paying him at least part of his $8 million salary whether they trade him or not, it makes no sense to do anything other than giving that rotation slot to the guy who will pitch best. If Sele finishes spring training with a couple more strong starts, and Ortiz blows up, Sele should be given a shot at it.

Kelvim Escobar is starting today's game against the Cubs. Escobar flew to Venezuela and back over the weekend to be with his mother, who was injured in a car accident, but should be rested enough to get a few innings in by now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Aaron Sele kept the Brewers off the board for five innings today, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out three. Now, keeping Milwaukee off the board ain't exactly like keeping Oprah from the dessert cart, but it still puts some pressure on Ortiz to respond in kind.

The offense also had a good day - Garret Anderson went 2 for 3, Guerrero 2 for 2 with a dinger, and Guillen 2 for 3 with his sixth home run of the spring.

Meanwhile, Jarrod Washburn pitched in a Triple-A game today, getting his work in and ensuring that Ortiz will start either tomorrow or Thursday.

The Angels had a day off yesterday, their last before the end of spring training. Beginning today, they play thirteen more spring training games, during which all those nagging questions about who's going to fit in where will - I hope - be answered.

Taking the mound for Anaheim today (against Milwaukee) is Aaron Sele. Taking Bud Black at his word that John Lackey will "most likely" be the fourth starter, this leaves Sele fighting Ortiz for that fifth starting slot, just as everyone figured would happen before spring training started. It's not impossible that Kevin Gregg might get that slot, of course, but it's extremely unlikely, because it would require a pretty big leap of faith on the Angels' part, as well as necessitating the trade of both Sele and Ortiz, neither of whom looks to be especially attractive on the free agent market at the moment.

Thus far this spring, here's what the two of them have done:

Sele - 9.0 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 5 K
Ortiz - 8.0 IP, 13 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 4 K

Ortiz's last appearance was on Friday, when he was poleaxed by the A's, surrendering six of those hits (including the home run) , four of those earned runs, and two of those walks in three innings. He should be ready to pitch again tomorrow, but both Washburn and Escobar will be in need of work as well, so we may see Ortiz pushed back to Thursday or even Friday, depending on whether Scioscia uses more than one starter in a game. We should be able to expect to see three more appearances from each before the end of spring training, assuming that both pitchers remain in camp that long, and they appear to be close enough at this point that those games are going to matter.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The Pearly Gates beat me to the punch by doing an analysis of how the starting pitchers are faring this spring; go there and read that. And then come back, because that means I get the pleasure of talking about the bullpen, a significantly different beast.

To begin with, Brendan Donnelly remains out of action after having some blood vessels in his nose cauterized to stop constant nosebleeds that were a result of his having been hit in the face with a line drive. Donnelly may or may not be ready for opening day, so that's a bummer. Donnelly has pitched a total of one inning in spring training games, striking out three and giving up a run, so he may need a fair bit of work before he's ready to go.

Frankie Rodriguez, meanwhile, looks ready to go. Rodriguez pitched in a Venezuelan winter league against the wishes of Angels management, which may come back to haunt him in August or so, but at the moment he's reaping the benefits of keeping that arm employed. Frankie's given up a run in eight innings, allowing five hits, walking five, and striking out five. Given the ridiculousness of his slider, his K:BB ratio should improve once he's out of Arizona's very dry air.

Ben Weber is having a decent but unspectacular spring - a 4.26 ERA, 8 hits in 6.1 innings pitched, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts. If Donnelly misses any significant time, Weber and Rodriguez will have to bear the burden of setting up Troy Percival alone.

Scot Shields, the swingman/long reliever, has pitched eight innings, surrendered 13 hits and six earned runs, walked two, and struck out seven. I believe that his high hit/run totals are due to a one-game meltdown, rather than a series of bad appearances.

And Troy Percival...well, with Percy it's always been impossible to tell how he's going to do as a closer by judging from his non-closing appearances. Call it a quirk of statistics, or blame it on a closer mentality, but he's never pitched especially well when a save isn't on the line. This spring, his ERA is right at 6.00 - four earned runs in six innings, seven hits, two walks, four strikeouts. Percival is definitely reaching the point in his career where, statistically, he can be expected to decline, but with Rodriguez seemingly ready to step in, this doesn't worry me too much.

What will be interesting will be to see who the Angels decide to carry in addition to those five. Aaron Sele or Ramon Ortiz? Perhaps initially, but not in the long term. Bobby Jenks is having a terrific spring, but it's pretty much universally recognized that he needs at least another year in the minors before he's ready. Kevin Gregg, however, has been flat-out brilliant, enough to emerge as a dark horse for the fifth starting slot. Gregg's numbers include a 2.53 ERA in 10.2 innings, with two walks and 10 strikeouts. As with all the numbers so far this spring, the sample size is laughably small, but one would think that Gregg has turned heads to the point that the Angels will give him a test run during the regular season.

In other news, I see that, while I was away, Garret Anderson, Bengie Molina, and Jose Guillen returned to action, and Guillen parked another couple of home runs. Guillen's five is one shy of spring training leader David Ortiz, and ties him with such luminaries as J.D. Drew, Todd Helton, and, uh, Scott McClain. Guillen is also hitting .407, which leads the projected starters, and has a 1.000 slugging percentage in 27 at-bats.