Purgatory Online

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Angels are second in ESPN's first power rankings of the season. Say it with me: woo.

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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Here's the story on Sele's demotion to the pen.
"More than anything, we just felt that what Ramon has done the last couple of years as far as winning games is going to continue in the future," Angels pitching coach Bud Black said.

"Sometimes Spring Training (numbers) can be misleading to a certain extent if you really break it down."

They'd better hope that Ramon Ortiz's numbers are Nixonian.

Word on the street is that Scioscia has named Ortiz as his...wait for it...fourth starter, with Lackey fifth and Sele taking the bullpen role. Okay, this fourth/fifth starter nonsense doesn't really mean anything, except that Lackey and Ortiz have been about equally unimpressive this spring. Don't be fooled - Lackey was never in serious danger of not making the rotation.

More to come when I confirm this.

Alex Rodriguez writes (albeit with the help of a - snicker - "co-author") in an upcoming issue of ESPN the Magazine:
Two of the biggest years I've had came with big pressure. My last year in Seattle, my contract year, I pushed back an envelope the Mariners gave me without even looking at it. There was probably a $150 million offer in there, but I doubled down. That's not pressure? When you remember what it was like to count your mother's $60 in waitressing tips on the bed, thinking it was all the money in the world?

It's a lot easier to play well when you're having fun, and winning is obviously a lot more fun than losing. Last season was the toughest of my career because of that. I was overcome with a sense of depression. There were days I didn't want to go to the ballpark. That had never happened to me before.

I guess it's a bad day to be a Mariners fan with a blood pressure problem. How does any right-thinking person read those two paragraphs and feel anything but loathing for a guy who complains about an environment he chose because he didn't think $150 million was enough?

Further on, we have this gem:
I know no one is going to feel sorry for me because of the contract, but I'd never really dealt with the frustration of the first two losing seasons, and that made last year even worse. I hit rock bottom in the middle of the season. I remember driving home with my wife, Cynthia, after a game and telling her, "I just don't see the light. Where is the light? What am I in this for?" I would have never gone to Texas if they had told me, "Alex, it's going to be you and 24 kids." Never. For no amount of money.

Rafael Palmeiro, Rodriguez's teammate for each of the three seasons in question, turned 39 last September, has never been to the World Series, and should put his orthopedic Dr. Scholl's in an uncomfortable part of Rodriguez's anatomy. I'd be similarly interested to hear the reactions from Juan Gonzalez, Ryan Christenson, Shane Spencer, and Einar Diaz, each of whom played regularly for the Rangers in 2003 and are even more advanced in years than Old Man A-Rod, who, at the Methuselean age of 28, is surely concerned that he'll have to start eating into the principal of his $252 million nest egg any day now.

Suh-weet: Pac Bell Park has set up wireless nodes that will allow people Internet access from their laptops during games. Okay, in practice, this is going to prove to be yet another in a long string of things for people to do other than watch the game; but for a few of us, WiFi access during games means access to splits and situational statistics that just ain't gonna be in the program, as well as instantly updated out of town scores (or even radio broadcasts of out of town games). Hopefully it'll spread to other parks soon, although I'm somewhat skeptical about the practical aspects of bringing a laptop to a game in the first place. Where do you put it?

Nothing's ever easy, is it? Ramon Ortiz fell apart in the first inning of yesterday's start against Texas, giving up five runs - all scoring as the result of the longball. And then he settled down and shut the Rangers out for the next 5 2/3 innings. So his numbers got even worse and he pitched well. Kinda.

The story linked to above indicates that Scioscia will set his rotation today, so we should know the outcome in the next few hours. For the record, though, here's how the two compare this spring:

Sele: 3.21 ERA; 14 IP, 5 ER, 14 H, 8 K, 1 BB, 0 HR

Ortiz: 7.23 ERA; 18.2 IP, 15 ER, 28 H, 11 K, 7 BB, 4 HR

Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? Now, it's absolutely true that there's a huge sample size issue with these numbers - there's just no way to deny that one rough start from Sele would go a long way towards muddling the picture. But if, in fact, it's true that these two both entered spring training with no guaranteed spot, and were essentially both fighting for that number five spot, Sele has clearly done more to earn it.

The implications to naming Sele to the rotation are pretty big. If he pitches poorly, his trade value goes into the toilet, and the Angels may be forced to simply release him and eat his salary for 2004, a la Kevin Appier, and replace him with Ortiz (who may be just as bad). If he pitches well, the Angels have a logjam in the bullpen, especially after Brendan Donnelly returns (which may not be until June). Scot Shields is already a terrific longman out of the bullpen; the Angels just don't need another one - especially not one prone to giving up home runs.

Whatever Scioscia decides, it is to be hoped that he's not paying any attention to this foolishness at the Orange County Register:
As explosive as the Angels offense looks, the team might not need five starters capable of dominating.

Ortiz had a terrible first inning Tuesday, but the Angels bats battered the Texas Rangers in a 15-6 victory and Ortiz looked commanding in his final five innings.

Just two American League teams, the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners, have scored more runs than the Angels this spring.

"This year, oh my God," Ortiz said. "Every one of our hitters looks good. It's awesome."

Ye Gods. Look, it may be tempting to look at this lineup and think, "hey, we're gonna score seven runs a game - just get us a guy with an ERA under that" (which would make the Angels the Bizarro A's, I guess). But that's not what you do when you've got the other guy down; what you do is you step on his goddamn neck. The great teams don't win 7-6, or 9-7. They win 6-1, or 8-2.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Angels have signed 35-year-old Yoshitaka Mizuo, a left-handed reliever who's spent his entire career pitching in Japan, to a one-year contract. Mizuo is expected to start the season in Salt Lake City, but could move to Anaheim quickly depending on how badly they need someone to get lefties out late in the game.

The Angels have a prominent lack of lefties in the bullpen, and have since Scott Schoeneweis was traded to the White Sox in the middle of last season. This hasn't hampered them much; both Frankie Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly retire lefties exceptionally well. With Donnelly out indefinitely after losing half his damn blood, however, they may require Mizuo's services. I have to say that I'm a bit leery of a 35-yeear-old who's never pitched in the majors, but as a left-handed specialist, he's probably worth a try.

In other news, Kelvim Escobar had his best outing of the spring yesterday in a game that was televised on ESPN2. Escobar held what was essentially the Cubs' starting lineup to three hits over seven innings of work, giving up no runs and striking out seven, maintaining a 94-95 mph velocity on his fastball the entire time. Paired with Washburn's equally praiseworthy start against the Giants on Sunday, this makes two straight days of excellent pitching news. Frankie Rodriguez had to leave the game after only a few pitches due to a blister on his throwing hand, but isn't expected to miss more than a couple of days, and Troy Percival finally had an effective relief outing, retiring three straight after putting the first hitter on board in the ninth. This was the first time I'd seen Percival pitch since he had corrective eye surgery, and the squinting madman look is just gone. It's a bit of a shame, actually.

Offensively, the Angels looked good at the beginning of the game, scoring three runs in the first four innings, but were shut down the rest of the way. The starters were pulled in the seventh, though, so that's not too much of a problem. More importantly, both Garret Anderson and Bengie Molina had multiple hits (GA went 2 for 3, Molina 3 for 3), so hopefully they're not going to be too hampered by their relatively short springs.

Meanwhile, the battle for the number five slot in the rotation continues. Sele more or less tread water in his last outing, a five-inning stint against Milwaukee's Triple-A club, in which he gave up two earned runs (though six runs total) on seven hits and three walks. Ramon Ortiz will have a shot to regain some ground today, when he starts against Texas. This should be a pivotal moment, as Texas his a fine offensive team with a lot of power, and one of Ortiz's weak spots has always been the longball. Scioscia said yesterday, during the ESPN broadcast, that this decision has been the hardest one he's had to make in the last five years of spring trainings, but I'd guess that if Ortiz has another meltdown it's over. Given that the Angels open a week from today, it seems that this will be the final chance either Ortiz or Sele has to show his stuff; Sele won't be scheduled to pitch again until Friday at the earliest, and I doubt Scoscia wants to leave it that long.