Purgatory Online

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last night, Mike Scioscia started almost exactly the lineup I would have preferred, opting only to swap Erstad and Molina in the 5 and 6 spots. At first, I thought that things were going to go pretty well - particularly after Orlando Cabrera laid off a few fastballs below the zone and drove a changeup back through the middle for a base hit in his first at-bat. Eventually, however, Dominguez started locating his fastball, and kept the Angels off-balance for most of the rest of the game.

Fortunately, in a game that was all about pitching, Bartolo Colon continued to show why he's the first true ace the Angels have had in a long, long time. Until his back stiffened up in the sixth, Colon was almost unhittable, craftily inducing several desperation swings that ended up being soft grounders. He may or may not end up winning the Cy Young Award this year, but he's definitely the club's first 20-game winner in 31 years, and for that he gets huge props.

Somewhat parenthetically, how amazing is it that the four Angels' starters with enough innings to qualify for postseason awards are all in the top 13 in American League ERA?

Colon - 3.34 (4th)
Washburn - 3.35 (5th)
Lackey - 3.46 (8th)
Byrd - 3.62 (13th)

And then there's Maicer Izturis, whose inexplicable case of the yips resulted in three errors in two innings at third base. I think we'll just chalk that one up to bad luck and move on.

Today, the Angels face Kameron Loe, a 6'8" righthander who's been in and out of the rotation for Texas this year (and only pitched 7.2 innings for the big club last year). In his most recent stint as a starter, he's been very good, with a sub-3.00 ERA, though he hasn't faced any high-octane offenses in that period.

In Loe, the Angels face another starter with some pretty glaring splits. Lefties hit Loe pretty dang good:

vRHB - .218/.265/.308 (168 PA), 1.93 BB/9, 6.21 K/9, 7.29 H/9
vLHB - .290/.357/.464 (156 PA), 3.67 BB/9, 2.88 K/9, 10.49 H/9

I mean, whoa. That's pretty extreme. The really interesting bit comes when we look at the grounder-to-fly-ball ratios:

vRHB - 3.13 G/F
vLHB - 1.49 G/F

Loe relies heavily on a hard sinker, and it shows in the numbers. This spells particular trouble for Guerrero, who has a 1.86 G/F ratio in September, by far his most terraphiliac month of 2005, and for Bengie Molina, who becomes even more of a double-play possibility than usual.

What does this mean in terms of lineup construction? Principally it means that there are even more competing interests at work than usual as well. You want a lot of lefties in to take advantage of Loe's splits, so Kotchman is a strong possiblity. Rivera hits righties well, and seems to have won Scioscia's confidence by playing well lately, so he's probably in. Izturis is a switch-hitter, and would be a stolen-base threat that could hit in front of Molina to minimize double-play opportunities.

There's just not enough room for all of them. In the ideal world, I think the lineup would look something like this:

Figgins - 3B
Cabrera - SS
Anderson - DH
Guerrero - RF
Erstad - CF
Kotchman - 1B
Rivera - LF
Molina - C
Kennedy - 2B

But that's not going to happen, because Scioscia is not going to put Erstad in center. I think it's slightly possible that Rivera may play center - he's got 130 innings there in his career, 30 of which have come this season - but it's also possible that Scioscia will opt to play Figgins in center, DH Erstad or Kotchman, and put Izturis in the 7 spot. Scioscia has shown a tendency to show confidence in guys who've had bad games by putting them right back on the horse (which he did to good effect with Donnelly after game 1 of the 2002 ALDS).

The possibility of Steve Finley starting in center should probably be acknowledged as well, but the prospect makes me too depressed to go on.