2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

A few weeks ago, I was driving through Anaheim.  I was in town to do a job interview (true story… I could theoretically be living in L.A. in a few months), and I drove past Angel Stadium and Disney Land (about a mile apart).  So, in a sense, when I say that this is stop #17 on the tour, I actually mean that!  Here then is my year in review for the Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim, California, which is near Los Angeles.
Record: 94-68, 1st in AL West, lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS.
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 90.05 wins (822 runs scored,  731 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Big ‘A’ Baseball
More Angels Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: A few decidedly non-Sabermetric observations about the Angels.  I’m happy that they’ve gone back to the “A with the halo over it” logo and the red uniforms are a joy to behold.  I would actually buy an Angels hat and jersey even though I don’t really care about the Angels.  (Right after I get my custom-made throwback 1989 Royals jersey, but instead of Bo Jackson, with this guy… because that would be funny to the folks who read StatSpeak)  Also, in 2007, the Angels had a collection of infielders that made reading double-play combinations in the box scores so much fun, even occasionally lining up with an infield of Kotchman, Kendrick, Cabrera, and Quinlan.  Oh yeah, and somehow a team that had 1.5 power hitters made it to the playoffs. 
What went right: Maybe it had something to do with the fact that John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar decided that they could pitch.  Lackey decieded that walking people was not a good idea andwas well below his career average on that front, so he might be due in for a bit of a correction there, but watch him in the early season.  Walk rate is something that’s pretty stable from year to year, so if he keeps up the same type of rate, he’ll be just fine.  Escobar was a bit below the league mean on HR/FB, but all signs point to his 2007 being representative of his true talent level.  Angels fans, you’ve got yourself a pair of aces.
Trading Orlando Cabrera.  I’m sure that the move got plenty of discussion in the Halosphere, but I think it’s the right move.  Cabrera did hit .301, but had an OBP of .345.  He’s not a power hitter (8-10 HR per year) although he once hit 17 in one year, and somehow, he developed a reputation as a fantastic fielding shortstop, despite the fact that he was middle of the pack in RZR and didn’t make the top ten for shortstops in John Dewan’s Fielding Bible Awards.  The Angels correctly recognized that he was over-valued and traded him while the getting was good.  The problem is that they got an eminently serviceable Jon Garland in return.  Yeah, Garland won 18 games in 2005 and 2006, but he did it on teams that won 99 and 90 games each.  Garland over the past three years has had FIP’s in the 4.40 range.  So, this is a swap of a shortstop whom people think is better than he really is for a pitcher whom people think is better than he really is.
What went wrong: Let’s talk about Ervin Santana.  He’s been the question mark of the Angels organization for the last few years.  He’ll be 25 next year, and in 2007, he put up some less than spectacular numbers with a 5.76 ERA.  Perhaps Santana is not supernatural as Angels fans began to think in 2006.  I have a message to all Angels fans.  He’ll be fine.  In 2006, his luck indicators were all up, and in 2007, they were all down.  He’s probably somewhere between the two seasons in terms of true talent level.  He’s also on the good side of 30s, so there’s some room for him to learn a few more tricks.  For example, look at his release point graph.  Notice that there’s some consistency in where he releases the ball for the different pitches?  An experienced hitter might just be able to pick up on those minor pieces of information.  A good pitcher will learn to disguise his pitches better.
Wanted: a landing pad for a former, recent Cy Young Award winner (yeah, I know… he didn’t deserve the Cy Young Award that year…)  As I write this, Bartolo Colon is not presently signed to play with any major league team for the upcoming year.  He was injured last year, and perhaps that’s what’s scaring some folks away.  But, let it be known: Colon last year caught some really bad luck.  Say what you will about his Cy Young credentials from that year, but Colon looked a lot like his 2005 self in 2007.  Seriously?  How does 21-8, 3.48 compare to 6-8, 6.14?  Observe: Colon’s K rate was better in 2007 than in 2005.  His walks were up as well, but his biggest trouble was a .364 BABIP.  Worse, Colon’s HR/FB was elevated too.  Colon’s FIP, which is like ERA, but controls better for the effects of fielding and luck was 4.64.  Sure, that’s not Cy Young material there, but it’s not the disaster that he appeared to be in 2007.  Now, if there’s something in his medical charts that we don’t know about, that’s another issue, but last year, he still had some good velocity and movement.  He’s now getting down to the level where he could probably be had for a 1 year/ 500 K flyer.  And in baseball, 500K is nothing.
Gary Matthews Jr. : OBP, .323.  Ouch.  How did that happen after his “breakout” season in 2006?  Because when you see a spike in BABIP (from 2005 to 2006, his BABIP went up 60 points), don’t think breakout, especially when he doesn’t really change any of his other peripherals.
Yeah, that about sums it up: I understand that Mike Scioscia likes to play “little ball” or “small ball” or “bunt a lot and steal bases because the team isn’t good at actually hitting the ball”, but did anyone notice that while the Angels were next-to-tops in the AL in the league in stolen bases, they were also tops in the league in caught stealing?  Consider Erick Atbar.  Erick Aybar is fast, at least in terms of raw foot speed.  The problem is that, for the life of him, he can’t figure out how to use it.  In fact, that seems to be the M.O. of the entire Angels roster.  In 2006 in AAA, Aybar stole 32 bases and was caught 18 times.  So, it isn’t that the Angels are good base-stealers, they just try more often.
The Torii Hunter thing: 5 years.  $90 million.  This means that Torii Hunter will make more than Vlad Guererro next year.  Where is the justice in the world?  If there’s one thing of which I am guilty when discussing free agent signings, it’s looking for efficiency rather than recognizing that teams have to build winners.  It does no good to have a team that has a high wins/$ rate if they only win 60 games (cf. Marlins, Florida).  Still, those who read Tom Tango’s excellent blog would know that he projected Hunter in a 5 year contact to be worth about $60 million or so.  Tom’s model incoporates what runs and wins actually cost in the open market and incorporates projections of the actual players involved and inflation of salaries.  Any way you slice it, the Angels overpaid.  Even former StatSpeaker and devoted Angels fan Sean Smith has said so.  Hunter doesn’t hit many line drives.  He hits grounders about half the time (which are a more stable source of hits than fly balls), but still hits a pretty consistently high number of his fly balls out.  Hunter’s not your prototypical pure hitter, but he’s still a good one.  It’s just that the Angels overpaid for him, and that could come back to bite them when they are answering the question…
What’s K-Rod worth?: For a moment, let’s step aside from the thought that players should be paid in accordance with what they can actually do.  Mariano Rivera, who’s 94 years old at this point, just picked up a lovely three year contract for $15M per.  K-Rod just recently became eligible to rent a car in some states.  He’ll probably ask for $20M.  Seeing that the Angels seemed to be willing to pay another “Rod” who was briefly a free agent this past year around $27M (maybe that was all media hype…), and A-Rod was worth 13.8 wins above replacement last year (using BP’s WARP3), does it make sense to pay K-Rod, worth 6.6 wins last year, $20 million?  Look to see which team signs Francisco when he comes on the open market.  Because they’ll be outlaying a significant amount of money, you might need to buy them a calculator.  Closers are like security blankets.  They make you feel better, even though when you look at them objectively they aren’t worth nearly as much value as you place in them.  But, you can’t bear a little excitement in the ninth inning, can you?  I have no doubt that Francisco Rodriguez is one of the best men in baseball at not allowing runs, which is key when your job is to protect small leads.  But while you might pay $20 million for K-Rod, you might actually split that money and get a decent closer to throw in the ninth and pretty good offensive upgrade somewhere else on the field (or a shiny new starter!)
Outlook: Well, let’s see.  The A’s have already surrendered this year.  The Rangers have some good young talent.  The Mariners have a rather nice pitching staff now with King Felix and Bedard, but their offense has some major holes.  It’s not that the Angels are in amazing shape, but they might just win the AL West the same way that the Cubs won the NL Central this year: because someone has to win the division.
And if I end up in Anaheim after these job interviews, I guess I’ll be around to watch them do it.

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