How are the Angels Doing It?

As of this writing, the Anaheim Angels are leading the major leagues in victories (22-10) and winning percentage (.688). I thought you might appreciate a quick graphical diagnostic of how they’re doing it. First, here is a graph of their runs allowed vs. runs scored:

This graph is imported directly from our team graphs page, so it will update during the year. As of today, however, the Angels are right in the middle of that .600 dotted line, which means they’re doing it with both offense and defense. They’re also getting a boost from their “pythagorean” variance, which essentially means that they’re three games ahead of where their runs scored and allowed might indicate. It’s that boost that separates them from Texas and Boston.

Now here’s the same graph for their 2002 championship season, which I’m importing from my baseballgraphs site:

The 2002 and 2004 teams are really pretty similar (as of May 11th, anyway). Well balanced and strong at both scoring and preventing runs. But if you look at the offensive breakdown graph of the 2004 American League, you’ll see that the Angels are only about average in OBP and SLG. It’s not immediately clear why their offense is performing so well this year.

Well, here’s a different way to look at offensive effectiveness:

image

The Angels are leading the league in at bats with runners in scoring position, AND they are second in BA with RISP. Even though their OBP is exactly league-average, they are managing to get into scoring position quite a bit. This is a formula for offensive success, and it’s the exact same formula the Angels followed to success in 2002. The formula broke down in 2003, but it looks like it’s come back to life this year.

And let’s break down run prevention, too. Here’s the current graph, splitting out FIP (pitching strength) and DER (both fielding and pitching).

Same story with the importing of the graph — it will update during the year. As of the date of this article, the Angels are second in the league in Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP). In particular, they are very strong in strikeouts and base on balls — close to the league lead in both categories. However, their defense, as measured by DER, appears to be below average.

This is in stark contrast to the 2002 World Champs:

That 2002 team may have been one of the finest fielding teams of the past several decades, though their FIP was only a bit above average. This is where I should insert some caustic comments about moving Darin Erstad to first, but you probably did that already.

The Angels bear some striking similarities to the 2002 version, particularly in their ability to manufacture runs, but their approach to the defensive side of things is extremely different from previous Angel teams. To be successful, they’ll probably have to step up that fielding and continue to get runners into scoring position.

But one of the more interesting World Champs in recent history is continuing to win their own distinctive way.

References & Resources
I was inspired to write this article by some recent comments from Skyking’s fine blog. Thanks, Sky.

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