Five Questions: Anaheim Angels

When I think of the 2002 post-season, I get a warm glow. A large part of that was the service the Anaheim Angels did for baseball fans everywhere when they bounced the rich kids of baseball out of the post-season tournament in the first round. Not having to hear Tim McCarver wax poetic about Derek Jeter‘s clutch play for two playoff rounds made my October.

Most experts opined that the Anaheim Angels couldn’t possibly repeat because they couldn’t expect everything to go right for them again, and for a change most of the experts were right. What follows is a sabermetric post-mortem that will seek to determine in broad terms where and how the 2003 Angels faltered, and what impact the new blood may have on the team’s fortunes this season.

1) What personnel changes have the Angels made since their world championship?

The 2003 version of the Anaheim Angels underwent few changes since their playoff run.

Major Changes in Playing Time, Anaheim 2002-2003
Player Net PA Pitcher Net IP
Erstad -379 Appier -95.7
Glaus -304 Schoeneweis -79.3
Palmeiro -300 Levine -63.7
Fullmer -244 Pote -50.3
 
Owens +257 F.Rodriguez +80.3
Figgins +258 Lackey +95.7
Davanon +349 Shields +99.3

All the changes on offense (with the exception of the departure of Orlando Palmeiro) were neccessitated by injuries to regulars. The back end bullpen innings, provided by Lou Pote, Al Levine and Dennis Cook in 2002, were replaced by Francisco Rodriguez. Scot Shields too over for Scott Schoenweis as the spot starter/long reliever, and John Lackey’s first full season soaked up some of the departed Kevin Appier’s innings. All in all, the changes were either forced, a continuation of the second half of 2002, or minor.

The main additions to the 2004 version of the club are the quartet of Latin American players brought in under the stewardship of new owner Arte Moreno. Vladimir Guerrero will play right field, moving aging Tim Salmon to the designated hitter slot. Jose Guillen, a natural right fielder, will play left. Scott Speizio and Brad Fullmer, formerly at first baseman and DH, have landed elsewhere. Bartolo Colon is the new ace and Kelvim Escobar will slot in behind Jarrod Washburn in the rotation; Aaron Sele and spot-starter Scot Shields are back in the bullpen.

2) What happened to the offense?

We have tools called run estimators which take various batting elements – singles, walks, doubles, strikeouts etc. – and predict how many runs a team should score. Perhaps the best known is Bill James’ Runs Created, which has morphed from a formula that used to be easy to calculate, to one that is much more sophisticated but also more difficult to understand. The heir to the original Runs Created is a formula called Base Runs, developed by David Smyth and explained by Tangotiger in this three-part series. If you have a keen interest in run estimation formulae, that series is a must-read.

Last year I tinkered with Base Runs, adding the minor batting stats to create a technical version. This is what my version of Base Runs had to say about the Anaheim Angels’ offences of 2002 and 2003.

Summary of Offense, 2002 v 2003
Year AVG OBP SLG GPA Runs Base
Runs
Net
2002 .282 .341 .433 .261 851 811.5 +39.5
2003 .268 .330 .413 .252 736 725.8 +10.2

Exceeding a Base Runs projection by nearly 40 runs is a rare thing: The 2002 Angels must have hit very well with men on base and probably ran the bases well. The 2003 Angels were not nearly as good in these areas, and that resulted in a surplus of only ten runs compared to the Base Runs projection. So 30 runs of the 115-run decline can be explained by diminished efficiency/luck/baserunning success. What about the other 85 runs?

Most of the regulars declined in 2003, but the big gain from Bengie Molina made up for almost all of that on a per PA basis. The Angels’ plan B guys were nearly as good in 2003 as in 2002, but injuries nearly doubled their playing time, bringing the offense down to earth. Here are the details.

Offensive Performance by Player, 2002 v 2003
Player 2002
PA
Base
Runs
per PA 2003
PA
Base
Runs
per PA Change
(per PA)
B.Molina 459 26.8 .058 430 46.2 .107 +.049
Anderson 678 103.3 .152 673 106.6 .158 +.006
Fullmer 479 79.2 .165 235 38.6 .164 -.001
Glaus 671 95.7 .143 367 51.5 .140 -.003
Spiezio 571 79.1 .138 581 74.1 .127 -.011
Kennedy 509 71.0 .139 510 64.2 .126 -.013
Salmon 568 96.7 .170 621 96.2 .155 -.015
Erstad 663 71.6 .108 284 25.7 .090 -.018
Eckstein 702 89.4 .127 517 50.4 .098 -.029
 
Regulars 5300 712.8 .134 4218 553.3 .131 -.003
Others 1027 98.7 .096 1901 172.5 .091 -.005

3) Who was most to blame for the decline in pitching and defense?

The Angels’ defense was on the field for 21 fewer innings in 2003, but allowed 99 more runs (743 to 643). Base Runs suggests run allowed should have increased by about 77 (743.6 in 2003 versus 666.5 in 2002). However, we ought to add approximately 10 runs because of the inning shortfall (in 2003), making the difference 87 runs allowed in all. Here is how the Angels starters and relievers fared the past two seasons.

Starters and Relievers, 2002 v 2003
Year Innings W/9 K/9 HR/9 Base Runs
per 9 IP
2002 Starters 1007.0 2.9 5.8 1.2 4.45
2003 Starters 928.0 3.0 5.3 1.4 5.25
 
2002 Relievers 445.3 3.7 7.0 0.8 3.41
2003 Relievers 503.3 3.2 7.7 0.8 3.61

Even though the 2003 bullpen had better walk and strikeout rates, its overall performance was a bit worse (perhaps, in part, due to fielding). The pen also had to work an extra 58 innings because the starters lasted a half-inning less per start than in 2002.

Let’s turn our attention to the individual starting pitchers.

Performance by Starting Pitcher, 2002 v 2003
Pitcher 2002
Innings
Base Runs
per 9 IP
2003
Innings
Base Runs
per 9 IP
Net
Base Runs
Allowed
Jarrod Washburn 207.3 3.75 206.0 4.73 +22.4
Ortiz 217.3 4.30 180.0 5.69 +27.8
Lackey 108.3 4.29 204.0 5.05 +17.2
Aaron Sele 160.0 5.37 121.7 5.61 +3.2
Appier 188.3 4.51 92.7 6.13 +16.7
Others 125.7 4.77 122.3 4.80 +0.4

There are plenty of candidates to share the blame, as four of the five rotation mainstays allowed runs at significantly higher rates in 2003. Aaron Sele wasn’t any good either, but (mercifully) injuries limited his innings.

4) Angels in the outfield: What impact will Guerrero and Guillen have?

The Angels signed Jose Guillen to play right field, but then Vladimir Guerrero agreed to terms and Guillen will now patrol left field. Guillen isn’t a star but at three million dollars a year for the next two (or three) seasons he should be worth the money. At the very least, he’s a good guy to have around in case something happens to Vlad.

Garret Anderson moves from left to center, replacing one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. The Angels’ creative solution to the glut of outfielders was to move the offensively challenged Darin Erstad to…FIRST BASE! Erstad’s bat is entirely inadequate for the position, but there are 24 million reasons why the Angels are reluctant to write him off as a lost cause. Wishful thinking often overrides cold hard facts.

The best thing would be to find a team that needs outfield defense and negotiate the portion of Erstad’s salary the Angels will pay to get him off the roster. That might free up enough cash to go out and find a real first baseman. Another solution would be to trade possible free-agent-to-be Garret Anderson for a bona fide first baseman, allowing Erstad to move back to his natural position.

Vladimir Guerrero, on the other hand, is going to be a boon to the offense. National League pitchers feared Vlad the Impailer since his arrival in the big leagues, but in his youth his wild-swinging ways gave them a chance to get him out with junk. I say “a chance” because Guerrero is almost certainly the best bad-ball hitter of his generation.

He’s become a little more patient with age and that, coupled with his impressive ability to hit for average, has resulted in .400+ OBPs in three of the last four seasons. It will be interesting to see what order manager Mike Scioscia decides to bat Guerrero, Anderson and Salmon in.

5) Was it wise to acquire both Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar?

Assuming the money is there to be spent, the answer is a resounding yes. The starting rotation was no great shakes in 2002 and worse than mediocre in 2003, thus a pressing need. The two newcomers might be Anaheim’s best starting pitchers, although Escobar figures to slot in behind Washburn at #3 to start the season. The duo will soak up innings spent on Kevin Appier (traded mid-season last year after a disastrous campaign) and Aaron Sele. Ramon Ortiz and John Lackey, stretched as top of the rotation starters, now become a better than average back-end tandem.

Kelvim Escobar was an enigma throughout his stay with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was shuttled from pen to rotation and back again several times. In the last two months of 2001, he frequently experienced a mysterious numbness in his pitching forearm that would strike in the 4th or 5th inning. Because of that, he was converted to relief and spent all of 2002 as the Blue Jays closer.

Escobar was modestly successful in that role, but had more than occasional bouts of wildness. Continuing as the closer in April of 2003, he was shelled regularly to the point where many Blue Jays partisans were clamoring for his immediate release. In a bid to save his season, Escobar agreed to a reconversion to starting pitching in May. The mysterious arm ailment did not return and Escobar produced a series of quality starts in the second half of the season. Unlike most pitchers splitting time in the rotation and the pen, Escobar has put up better numbers as a starter (3.70 ERA) over the last three seasons than as a reliever (4.52 ERA).

Bartolo Colon was perhaps the hardest throwing starting pitcher in baseball when he broke in in 1997. He had control problems and ran up high pitch counts as a result. His strikeout rate peaked in 2000 at 10.1 per nine innings, and declined rapidly to a worrying 5.7 per nine innings in 2002, before an uptick to 6.4 in 2003.

It was over this period that Colon learned to economize on his pitches, decreasing his walks allowed and pitches thrown per batter. The following table illustrates how the same number of pitches have been converted to more innings, making Colon a more valuable pitcher in the process.

Bartolo Colon, pitch efficiency by year
Year Innings Pitches Pitches/IP
1998  204.0  3285  16.1 
1999 205.0  3477  17.0 
2000 188.0  3239  17.2 
2001 222.3  3650  16.4 
2002 233.3  3539  15.2 
2003 242.0  3529  14.6 

Colon has increased his pitch effiency, but is among the major league leaders in pitches thrown over the last six seasons. It might be wise to limit Colon to about 3,300 pitches and 220 innings per season over the next few years to ensure his arm is in good shape come the end of his contract in 2007.

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