Friday, December 19, 2014

An Ode to a Kendrick

This is gonna be a tough one.

For nine seasons, there was one consistent presence in the Angels locker room.  Howard Joseph Kendrick played 2nd Base and wore #47 for most of those nine seasons (splitting time with Adam Kennedy and Macier Izturis a bit in those first few years).  He was always going to be the Angels next batting champion.  

In 2012, Kendrick (along with Shortstop Erick Aybar, who disappointingly remains an Angel at the time of writing) signed a four year extension to cement the middle of the Angels infield for the next few years while they begun to sign big name after big name (and got lucky by drafting some kid named Trout).  

Howie had been here through it all.  He had seen the last hoorah of the Guerrero years, when we finally vanquished the Red Sox in the playoffs.  He had been here for the 2010 All-Star Game and 50th anniversary season (earning himself a spot in the All Star Game in 2011).  Which also means he was here for some pretty dark years.  Nothing extraordinarily bad, but playing a lot of meaningless baseball in August and September.  

He was also here for the resurgence, and the signings of guys like Pujols, Wilson and Hamilton.  Sure, none of those guys are really effecting how well the team is doing today, but those were exciting times, right?

So in 2014, in large thanks to Mr. Kendrick (who finished 18th in the AL MVP voting), the Angels returned to the postseason for the first time in 5 years (when they beat those damn Sox).  After being upset by a team-of-destiny in the Royals, the Angels front office said they wouldn't be making a ton of moves, and why would they?  The Angels were the best regular season team in baseball with some good players returning from injury.  To quote Jerry Dipoto: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Somehow, "If it ain't broke, why not break it?" wasn't also said by Mr. Dipoto.

I'm sure the players the Angels received for Kendrick are some quality guys... but they aren't Howie.

So now, the effin' Dodgers are going to get those batting titles.  The effin' Dodgers are going to get the glory years of Howie Kendrick.  Of all the teams in the league, why did it have to be the Dodgers?

I'll miss Howie for a number of reasons.  Naturally, he was one of my favorite players since joining the club, despite taking the spot of my former favorite player, Adam Kennedy.  He was the lone bright spot of those 2010 and 2011 seasons.  He was also the sole inspiration for starting this blog.  It was a walk-off bunt against the Indians to win the Angels a big game back in April of 2010 that got this place started.

For his nine years of service to the Angels organization... for his countless big plays and great attitude... for everything you have done since arriving in 2006...

Thank you, Howie Kendrick.  You were a great Angel and you will be an even better Dodger.


I mean, it would be pretty easy to be a better Dodger... the bar is so much lower there.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain

Although an easier route would be to complain about Ernesto Frieri blowing YET ANOTHER win for the Angels last night, I feel like the only thing I've done this season is complain about the bullpen (which is pretty much the only thing I have to complain about this Angels team so far), and tonight marks a very special occasion.

Tonight is, in all likely-hood, Derek Jeter's final visit to Angel Stadium as a professional baseball player.

Sure, there is an off-chance the teams meet in the playoffs, or hell freezes over and the Yankees trade Jeter to Detroit at the deadline, but neither of those are really all that likely.

So, with perhaps the most important player of the last 20 years making his final trip to Southern California, it's time to reflect a little bit on Mr. November and how he has impacted the game.  If you are at all uncomfortable with someone speaking fondly of the Yankees, now would be a good time to back out of this article.  I know it will be rough for some of you, but the Yankees aren't all bad.

Growing up, Jeter wanted to be a Yankee.  He got his wish when he was drafted by the club in 1992 right out of high school.  He made it to the big leagues by 1995 and won Rookie of the Year (and his first of 5 World Championships) in 1996.  After winning a title in 4 of his first 5 full seasons in the big leagues, things began to slow down for the Yankees but Jeter always stayed faithful.  In the Free Agency era, most guys never make it more than a few years with the same team, let alone their entire career, and Jeter never once even hinted at the idea of leaving New York.

Jeter got his fifth World Series ring in 2009 and has had roughly a billion other accolades during his time in the big leagues (not limited to, but including 13 trips to the All-Star Game, 5 Silver Slugger awards, 5 Gold Gloves and the Roberto Clemente award).  He has been team captain for the Yankees since 2003 (his 11 years as captain are the longest in team history), and although most of his career took place during the Steroid Era, his name has never appeared on any list, he never failed a test and his name has never really ever been associated with any kind of performance enhancements.  By all accounts, Jeter has always played the game the right way, always has had the right attitude, and always says the right thing.  A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, Jeter is the best player of his generation.

So I hope those lucky enough to be in attendance tonight are gracious enough to understand the importance Jeter has had on the game of baseball the last 19 years, and give him one hell of a send-off.


Also for those lucky enough to be in attendance: If you are seated in left field and they begin to warm up Frieri... I'm not encouraging you to throw things at him until he sits down, but I'm also not not encouraging you to do so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Angels are LITERALLY Insane

Albert Einstein (widely regarded as one of, if not the, smartest guys ever) defined Insanity as doing the same thing over again but expecting different results.  If Einstein is to be believed, what the Angels are doing is actually insane.

Leading 4-1 heading into the final inning of play against the Washington Nationals, the Angels looked poised to sweep the series and hop ahead of .500 for the first time on the season.  The team was in high spirits, with Pujols hitting his 500th career home run the night before and the offense clicking for the first time on the road in a long time.

Then, as the team has done too many times over the past two seasons, they put the ball and the game in the hands of closer Ernesto Frieri.  As you might expect, Frieri blew the save, giving up 3 runs to tie the game before handing the ball off to another one of the rotating crew of lackluster bullpen guys.

The Halos, although still winning the series in Wahshington, now face tomorrow realizing they were three outs from a series sweep but once again left the ball in the hands of the inept-at-best Ernesto Frieri.

If things are going to improve for the Angels this season, and seasons ahead, they need to stop relying on one of the most inconsistent closers in baseball.  I'm not sure what the solution is, but anything at this point would be better than the insanity the Angels are dealing with now.

Monday, April 21, 2014

5 Ways to Fix the Angels Bullpen and (hopefully) Save the Season.

So, it's no secret that to this point in the Angels 2014 season, the biggest problem facing the team is the atrocious bullpen.  It's been a problem for years, but thanks to other weaknesses in the team, went mostly unnoticed by many.  Well, now that the offense is hot and the starting rotation seems pretty solid (roughly as good as anyone else in the AL right now with the exception of Oakland), it's pretty clear that the Bullpen is to blame for at least a few of the Angel's 10 losses so far this year.  With an ERA of almost 5.00 (and roughly 60% of inherited runners scored), the Angels Bullpen not only looks bad in person, but on paper as well.   So, how do they fix it?

1. Find a Way to Cut Ties with Kevin Jepsen

I've had my problems with Jepsen in the past... just click on his name at the bottle of this article to take you to all the other times I've poo'ed all over him.  But it's not just a personal vendetta (like I have with Aybar, who has admittedly been a pretty good player from time to time), he is genuinely a bad player.  It's not like he doesn't have the talent.  He can throw heat and has a decent set of off-speed pitches, but he can't locate for shit.  He will leave batting-practice pitches over the plate frequently and his numbers reflect this.  Over his career, he has a -0.07 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  That's right.  The Angels are paying someone $1.5 Million to cost themselves almost a whole win over a league-average replacement player that they'd be paying 1/3rd of that.

If they can trade him, great.  If not, who cares.  Don't send him to Salt Lake... don't send him to Arkansas... don't even send him to Inland Empire.  Just cut him.  Eat the salary and you will pretty much be guaranteeing yourself a whole win this season, which with a second wildcard team could be the difference.  Also, maybe a change of scenery is just what Jepsen needs to finally realize all that potential.

2. Replace the Entire Bullpen Staff

Yeah, I think it's great that Steve Soliz has been on the team for so long... first as Bullpen catcher, and now as Bullpen coach... but maybe it's time for him to move on.  Maybe be a pitching coach in the minors somewhere... but he needs a change of scenery just as much as Jepsen does.  The Angels pen needs a new voice to follow.

It's also way more likely that the team would be willing to cut ties with Soliz and Tom Gregario (Bullpen Catcher) than it is Mike Butcher.  I know Butcher probably needs to be replaced as well, but he is now one of just a few of Scioscia's buddies that is left with the team.  Until Scioscia is gone, Butcher isn't going anywhere.

3. Sign Octavio Dotel

After losing Jepsen and a good chuck of the staff in the Bullpen, the Angels will have an open roster spot and a need for a veteran voice in that clubhouse.  Octavio Dotel has been pitching for a long time and he has done it all.  He has been a starter, a closer and everything in between.  He knows what it's like to win it all (2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals, so he also has a relationship with Pujols and Freese), and he won't cost you any prospects, like trading for someone from another team would.

The Angels probably don't need another 40 year old in the clubhouse, but he brings enough to the table that it would be worth their time to consider it.  His health would be the only issue in bringing him in, as he needed to miss the entire second half of last season with Elbow Inflammation.  If he can still pitch, bring him in, even if it's in a limited role.

4. Experiment with Minor League Guys

It's not the easiest solution to the problem, but at this point, could Joe Random from AA be any worse than what we have now?  Maybe, but not likely.  If you are going to be risking a loss anytime you turn to the pen, why not do it with a guy that COULD be the next big thing?

This would also help from putting too many innings on the arms of your starters and the newly-acquired Dotel.

5. Let Other Pitchers Compete for the Closing Role

Scioscia has shown in the past that he isn't afraid to swap closers at a moments notice (Fernando Rodney lost his job just two weeks into the season a few years back), so why stick with Ernesto Frieri?  He has shown that he is shaky at best in the role, and while the rest of the bullpen hasn't really shown what it takes to close out games, maybe a little competition would ignite a fire under the entire staff (especially Frieri himself).

Dotel has closed in the past, and there is SOMEONE who is actually closing out games at every other level.  Maybe make the jump now and see where it takes you.


Now, even if all these steps don't completely fix the bullpen, they will at least make it BETTER.  The way the team is built now, this is probably a team that could go .500 even with the bullpen they have now.  If you can shave off a few losses and maybe a run from that ERA, the Angels have a playoff contender on their hands.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Legends and Tragedy

Originally, I wasn't going to write anything today.  It was just another Wednesday, or so I thought.

Turns out, it's the five year anniversary of the passing of Angels Pitcher Nick Adenhart.

I know I've said a few things about Adenhart, his passing, his potential, drunk driving and the man who killed him in the past, nothing that really needs to be retreaded here.

I saw him pitch his final game, in person, just hours before his untimely death.  I was there two days later for the teams tribute to him and a seemingly meaningless game against the Red Sox.

But I think I've gone over all of that before, and even five years later, just thinking about it puts my heart in knots.  What meaning is there behind drudging up these feelings five years later?  I'm not sure, but as fate would have it, another significant figure in my life passed away recently.  The Ultimate Warrior.

For those not familiar with early 90's professional wrestling, Ultimate Warrior was supposed to be the next big thing.  Wrestlemania VI was the passing of the torch from 80's legend Hulk Hogan.  Hogan lost the WWF Championship to him that night, in what was probably the most entertaining match either of them ever had.  Though personal demons, ugly contract disputes and legal battles put Warrior's rising star on pause, he was still a hero to hundreds of thousands of kids who grew up at that time.  I was always more of a Hogan kid myself, but I still grew up admiring Warrior (a name the man originally known as Jim Hellwig would later legally adopt).

The timing behind Warrior's passing was almost as strange as Adenharts, if not at a completely different place in his life.  Warrior was recently inducted into the (now) WWE Hall of Fame, then made appearances at Wrestlemania XXX and Monday Night Raw.  All of that in a 72 hour time frame, after leaving the business altogether in 1998 and having burned most of his bridges as WWE.  Recently, he had been willing to come back to the company to receive this honor and become an ambassador for the company.  He got to reconcile with those he had hurt (or hurt him) over the years, even Hogan himself, whom he had not spoken to since their time together in WCW in 1998.  He got to mend his life, reconnect with his favorite part of the industry (the fans) and say his peace without even realizing it.

These are Warrior's final public words (in his Ultimate Warrior persona on Monday Night Raw):
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own, every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, it makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend markers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. Ultimate. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!"

Less than 24 hours later, Warrior collapsed walking outside of a Arizona hotel with his wife and was declared dead soon after.

It's eerie.  The man got about as much closure as someone could without knowing their fate.

So five years since Adenhart's passing, what people are still talking about are what could have been.  Inserting a legend where there wasn't one, but probably would have been one.  Adenhart had a ton of talent, and probably could have been one of the best pitchers in baseball had he lived.  I remember reading an article by a local sportswriter (its really bugging me that I can't remember or find out who) days after Adenhart's passing that he wouldn't be able read the results of the Cy Young voting for 2011, 2012 and beyond without thinking of what could have been.  Adenhart was already a legend, and we have been passing on stories of that legend for 5 years.  We have made Adenhart a legend, I just wish he would have been able to make himself a legend like Warrior did.  He had the talent to.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The 144.5 Million Dollar Man

Today the Los Angeles Angels made a big time move, an even bigger one than dropping the biggest negative on the ballclub.  The Angels have signed Trout to a six year extension (that begins after his current, $1 Million dollar deal for 2014) worth $144.5 Million.  Getting the best player in baseball for $24 Million a year from 2015-2020 is an amazing bargain for the ballclub, which is a nice change of pace, considering the enormous bounties owed to Pujols, Hamilton and Wilson over those years.

Compare it to the deal Miguel Cabrera (really the only other guy who could even be considered for Trout's "Best Player in Baseball" crown), who got over  $300 Million for the next 10 years.  So not only are the Angels getting a discount of about $6 Million annually, they are getting Trout while he is in his Mid-to-Late 20's, rather than the Tigers and Cabrera, who will be 41 when the deal runs out at the end of the 2024 season.

I could post all these stats and bullcrap going over why Trout is better than Miggy, but it's pointless.  You are on one side of that argument or the other.  Either you are smart and know that what Trout does for the Angels is almost unquantifiable, or you are 100 years old and still think Batting Average and RBI's mean anything anymore.  Either we are friends or we aren't.  You aren't going to change your mind and neither am I.

Regardless of where you fall on the debate of who is the better player, everyone can agree that Mike Trout has more MVP-caliber seasons ahead of him.  So the Angels getting Trout for 80% of what the Tigers are overpaying Cabrera is clearly a fantastic bargain for the club, especially since they don't have to worry about paying him until 2015 when Vernon Wells and Joe Blanton come off the payroll.

Even if things aren't great in Anaheim for the next seven seasons, at least we have the best (and one of the most exciting) player in baseball to enjoy and give us a reason to come to the ballpark.


In other news, the Angels announced that former MVP (and another great Angels "27") Vladimir Guerrero will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day on Monday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

End of an Error - Joe Blanton's Inevitable Release

I normally don't like to use Baseball Reference too much before writing an article and I really don't like throwing stats at you like I can actually explain to you what they mean.  Don't get me wrong, I love the advanced metrics and what they can mean to people who know how to interpret them, but I'm not one of those people.  If I knew how to calculate and judge stats like PPFp and WAAadj, I'd probably have higher paying job than I do right now.  However, you don't need a masters in statistics to understand the following stats:

Career .489 Winning Percentage (don't start with me on how wins and losses don't accurately portray a pitchers value.  I understand they aren't very important, but a sub-.500 winning percentage over almost 250 career starts is still a telling number)
Career 4.51 Earned Run Average (League average is about 4.20 in the same time frame)
1719 Hits surrendered in 1567 Career Innings Pitched

This isn't a good pitcher.  This is hardly an average pitcher.  And yet, this is the same guy the Angels gave $15 Million over two years in the winter of 2012 to be an above average pitcher on a supposed championship contender.

He ended up 2-14 with a 6+ ERA and gave up a run in at least half the innings he pitched last season (96 runs in 180 innings).

People will say "oh but his xFIP and FIP are still decent, he might have something left in the tank".

That's great, but there were times last season where a five game winning streak would have been literally impossible with how poorly Blanton was pitching.  You would see Blanton on the Probable Pitchers list and just not watch the game on TV or go to the park that day, knowing you'd just end up miserable.  Yes, these stats can tell us a lot about players that the naked eye can't see, but trying to draw ANYTHING positive about Blanton's performance last year is a fools errand.

Am I sad to see him go?  Of course not, I want to see this team succeed.  Do I feel bad for the guy?  Still no.  First, he is going to make $8.5 Million this year either sitting at home or coming out of the bullpen for some other team.  Second, he had a really crappy attitude in the clubhouse last year, which probably didn't help the pitching staff as a whole.  Here's a fun quote from after one of his TWO wins last season:

After his only win, on May 23 at Kansas City, Blanton, a nine-year veteran who signed a two-year, $15-million deal in December, seemed oblivious to the possibility of being demoted to the bullpen if he didn't turn his season around. 

"I've been doing this for a long time," he said. "Why should I feel urgency now?" 

Asked later if his next start would be a crucial one, Blanton said, "I don't have anything to prove."

Yeah... see you later, buddy.  Don't let the door hit you on the way out.