Hey, everyone else has a pun-ny Yu Darvish related headline going on right now. I was feeling left out. 😉
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jon Daniels is the GM but the Rangers sneaking in under the radar to win negotiation rights with Yu Darvish when other teams were considered more highly favored was so sneaky clever that it reminded me of the Adrian Beltre deal last season, wherein I did say Nolan Ryan, you stinker…or, you know, some colorful approximation there of. And, hey, I applaud sneaky. I delight in clever. The unexpected team signing the coveted player (as long as it isn’t instead of the Angels, mind you) makes me outright giggle in approving glee. I just wish those Rangers weren’t so darned good at it.
Of course everyone’s divided over whether the Rangers signing Darvish will ultimately be good for them or bad. Depending on who you talk to, Darvish will either be the second coming of the Phillies 2011 starting rotation, Nolan Ryan and Chris Carpenter rolled all into one pitcher…or Dice-K part deux. But, but, he’s going to have a hard time adapting to the MLB, say the latter contingent…we have a different mound…a different ball…we have different philosophies on throwing before a game…He’ll melt in the Texas heat…blah, blah blah. While most of that sounds like valid concerns, I just have a feeling that if Darvish agrees to terms with Texas it’s all going to work out just fine for them. Lately Jon Daniels seems to have a pretty much un-erring eye for picking just the right players to fit the Rangers’ needs each season and I have no reason to believe this will work out any differently…Grrrrr.
So, am I worried? Eh, I say bring it on! Even if they sign Prince Fielder too…though, understandably I am rooting for anyone who isn’t the Rangers and preferably who isn’t in the AL West to sign Prince Fielder, but still. Bring it. Not because I feel particularly assured of the outcome, mind you. Even if the Rangers sign an, I assume, stellar Darvish, I still say the Angels have the better starting rotation. Even with Albert Pujols on the Angels I still say that the Rangers have the stronger lineup. I think the outcome of each matchup between the two teams is anyone’s guess.
No, I say bring it on because the more this offseason takes shape, the more certain I feel that almost every game the Angels and the Rangers play one another in 2012 is going to be the sort of game that everyone is posting about the next day in heavily exclamation pointed italics peppered with phrases like “Wow!,” “Amazing!” and “I will tell my grandchildren about…” Okay, maybe that last phrase is exaggerating a tad…but maybe it’s not. And I. Can’t. Wait!
Baseball reality is so often legendary that it shouldn’t be surprising when the opposite occurs and baseball myths, oft repeated, begin to take on an aura of reality. As an Angels fan, there were two such recent myths that caught my attention more than any others, as they were repeated throughout the regular season, the post season and on into November. Both myths “explain” Mike Napoli’s rising star post trade from the Angels.
Myth 1: Of course Mike Napoli blossomed under the Rangers, the guy just needed to get some real playing time.
I actually fell victim to this myth myself for a little while. It certainly sounds plausible. And it’s been repeated so often that it really started to seem like Naps got a lot more playing time with the Rangers…until I started thinking about all of the games I attended where Napoli played. Hmmm…so I looked up some real numbers.
In 2011, for the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli had: 369 at bats in 113 games and played a position in 96 games, 61 at catcher and 35 at first base.
In 2010, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 453 at bats in 140 games and played a position in 126 games, 59 at catcher and 67 at first base, significantly more playing time than he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.
In 2009, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 382 at bats in 114 games and played a position in 96 games, all of them at catcher, roughly the same amount of playing time as he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.
Prior to 2009, Mike Napoli did experience less playing time, making an appearance in 78 games in 2008, 75 in 2007 and 99 in 2006. But for the two season prior to his trade, Naps saw as much or playing time in Anaheim as he saw in Arlington.
As the Mythbuster boys would say, I call this myth busted.
Myth 2: Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers.
I only have anecdotal evidence against this myth, but I feel it’s significant. While I have no doubt that Mike Scioscia is hard on catchers, I question the implication that this is universally detrimental. Yes, Mike Napoli played better for the Rangers and the current crop of catchers all need improvements in different ways but, come on, two out of three Molina brothers can’t be wrong, right? Especially when the third isn’t so much a dissenting vote as not included in the sample size. So, apparently, some catchers do just fine under Sosh. Myth busted.
And the reality?
Okay, if it wasn’t more playing time and Mike Scioscia isn’t a crippling influence on catchers, then why did Mike Napoli have so much stronger a season in 2011 than in 2010 or 2009? Well, in part, I would never underestimate the power of batting in the middle of that crazy good Texas lineup. Do they have a weak spot in their lineup? Because we sure never saw one. Talk about protection!
But, more than that, I suppose the greatest myth of all is that past performance is a guarantee of future performance, especially once you change any of the variables: new team, new manager, new coaches, new lineup, new clubhouse culture and so on. Some players in this situation adapt immediately and pick up right where they left off, give or take a little benefit/detriment from combining their talents with those of their new teammates. Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre, for example. Some players experience a (hopefully temporary?) set back in their new digs and perform well below expectations. Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells, for example. And others absolutely shine, like our current example Mike Napoli.
In Naps particular case, I think there is a slight, skewed truth to Myth #2. It’s not that Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers, but that way in which Mike Scioscia handles catchers, be it hard or not, simply didn’t work for Mike Napoli, much like a particular teacher might be just the ticket for one student but ineffective at best for their siblings. So, significant lineup protection? New manager with whom he clicked better? Perhaps even added drive to prove himself after being traded twice in less than a week? Take your pick, but I think it’s a combination of all of these reasons and perhaps a few more. Interesting food for thought as Hot Stove heats up and GMs begin to throw large sums of money about banking, quite literally, on past performances.
Baseball last week was bittersweet for me. We enjoyed a night at the ballpark Monday! But it was our last night at the ballpark of the season and the Angels lost, sounding the absolute final death knell in their post season hopes. But a little more sweet was added to temper the bitter Wednesday night when we all witnessed pure magic! An evening of baseball so amazing it can only be described with a Yogi Berra quote – it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over. My condolences to Red Sox and Braves fans, it’s not about rooting against your teams, it’s about loving the magic of a come from behind upset to begin with and then witnessing two within breaths of one another. Wow!
So, as for Monday night’s game? Well, it was a heartbreaker of game, an at that point expected heartbreak I quickly recovered from, but still. So many miscues and missed opportunities!
And that is not how I prefer to remember my season, especially when I had so much fun with the Angels for most of it…frequently frustrating fun as I have fully documented on these virtual pages, LOL, but fun even so. So imagine my delight when I reviewed the photos I took that evening and discovered a lot of smiling, fun shots of my favorite ballplayers that I think show off the great personality of the team as a whole. Instantly my goofy brain imagined strange scenarios and back stories for each of the photos because, really, I prefer to remember the season as fun:
All silliness aside, walking back to our car after the game Monday night, Seth and I rehashed the misses and mistakes. What if the Angels had played the first inning smoothly? What if they hadn’t stranded so many runners? What if, what if, what if. Seth declared that ‘what if’ was a metaphor for the whole season, though he said it wistfully and with some affection, not in anger. I agreed with him at the time, but the more I think about, the more I decided that Howie Kendrick’s last at bat was a better metaphor for the season.
Bottom of the 9th, two outs, one on base and the Angels are down by one. Were this the scenario back in 2009, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would get a double and the runner would score from first or on the very next at bat and my comeback kid Angels would have pulled it off again. Were this scenario last season, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would pop up or strike out, ending the game. Watching it all play out this season, I realized that I had absolutely no idea if Howie would be able to pull it off or not. With the 2011 Angels, you just never knew. And if that was sometimes frustrating, it was also sometimes amazing – a definite improvement over the previous season and an indication of growth in the right direction, giving me hope for 2012.
Look, 2011 was a season where there were darned few easy wins for the Angels. There were numerous contributing factors. Season long questions, first about the five spot in the starting rotation, then the four spot, then the five and back to the four and eventually both. Veteran bats failing at the same time rookie bats were learning. Not getting Kendrys back at first as expected – though in hindsight, they should have planned on that from the start – threw everyone for a loop and although Mark Trumbo became the first baseman for the team and how, there were the to-be-expected growing pains all season especially in April and May. Injuries, several of them to Torii Hunter which contributed in part to the bats situation. Cleanup spot by committee on a team with no natural cleanup spot hitter…which lead to a bunch of guys who are really excellent gap hitters, swinging for the fences and whiffing or popping out. (Trumbo is the cleanup hitter of the future in my opinion, but it was too early this season.) Then there was the bullpen. There was noticeable improvement over 2010 but, still, pick a day. They could be absolutely fantastic or the arson squad part deux. And, of course, the closer situation. From veteran closer gone bad to baby closer with flashes of brilliance amidst growing pains, that was another constant struggle this season.
All in all, the Angels won a lot of games but, for all of the reasons above and more, it was a grind to win almost every single one and I think that, quite simply, by the time we got to September the Angels were tired. Oh, in spirit they were willing and eager enough to get to the post season, witness the string of near comebacks. But I think that physically they were just too tired to take that next leap and carry themselves into the post season. And if they had made to the post season, I don’t think they would have made it past the first round, especially with the news that Mark Trumbo had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last several games and was out. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s an observation. I think they played their hearts out but, well, teams that are still capable of contending at the end, like the 2011 Rays, dig in harder to win even more when they find out that other teams in the race have lost. Teams that are just too tired to get there, like the 2011 Angels, collapse in relief to catch their breaths when they find out that other teams in the race have lost.
I wish it were different but I have a hard time being anything more than a little disappointed by it. I have watched a lot of So Cal baseball in my life, brilliant seasons, terrible seasons and everything in between, and I have to say that this was not a season that folks should get depressed over. This was a growing season that gives next season some promise. And, now, as we continue enjoying what so far has been a pretty fun post season – as fun as it can be without an Angels presence! – I will conclude this post with a few heartwarming thoughts for next season:
This last photo really struck a chord with me. Taken during the warm-up just before the top of the 9th, immediately after Mike Trout struck out looking, it appears to me that Peter Bourjos is consoling Trout a little bit. Who knows what they were actually saying to one another. For all I know, Trout was making sure his cleats are tied and Bourjos is laughing him or they weren’t even talking at all. But my photo, my interpretation – so consoling it is. And I think, as such, it’s a good message for everyone. Take heart Angels fans, they’ll get ‘em next season!
Michael Young? No, thanks. None for me please.
So Michael Young has had all he can stand and he can’t stands no more and he’s asked to be traded. I can’t say that blame him really, not that I blame the Rangers either. The team is making good deals but I can only imagine what went through Young’s mind when they signed Mike Napoli after he had already agreed to move to DH for Adrian Beltre…the All-State Insurance commercial with Mayhem as the distraught, dumped teenaged girl, however, does come to mind. It sounds to me like he’s headed for the Rockies. Of course, the being the media’s front runner hasn’t meant a whole lot this offseason, so you just never know and there are other teams – and other teams fans – who want him badly.
I may be in the minority, but I don’t want him for the Angels. He’s a stand up, team player kind of guy and I would love to have a bat like his in the lineup. But defensively he’s no better and possibly not quite as good as what we’ve already – which is not to say that the Angels third base options couldn’t use some defensive improvement. For me, Young’s bat alone doesn’t justify the players we would have to give up -and then face again, and again and again in Texas – to get him. Another team could make the trade and be happier and better for it, but I just don’t think the Angels are the right fit.
Young Catchers Trend Continues in 2011
MLB.com had a great article today about the large group of talented young catchers who should see some major league playing time next year. It was nice to see that the Angel’s Hank Conger prominently mentioned and frequently quoted. Conger impressed me behind the plate last season. If he can find his bat against major league pitching this season and find it quickly, he could really go places. Conger was even one of four catchers included in the photo when the article was highlighted on MLB’s front page this morning, before the news lit up with speculation about Pujols and Young. The photo was actually a montage of four tall, skinny photos, one of each catcher in a different crouch or catching position. Of course, when I was trying to explain this to my husband this evening, what I came up with was that it looked very Charlie’s Angels, actually, but with photos instead of silhouettes and mitts instead of guns. Sadly this was apt and he knew exactly what article I was talking about from this description. We both laughed a lot.
Why must all of the fun events happen during the week?
The Angels open house? All of the press conferences? And now the Inland Empire 66ers Affiliation Celebration – celebrating the Angels new advanced A affiliation? (Basically, the Angels and Dodgers traded advanced A teams in the offseason.) I actually do get why so many of these things take place during the week but I would love to be able to go to one or two of them. Oh well, that’s one of the many beauties of baseball. There is always next season.
Today this usually lighthearted blogger must post about something serious. Hot Stove Grief or HSG, as the condition is known today, has been afflicting baseball fans for as long as there has been baseball and yet frank discussions of this serious illness have remained taboo until recently. In order to begin to bring comfort to HSG sufferers everywhere and heal the damage and upheaval this condition can cause in their relationships with uncomprehending friends and families, it is important for us all to learn to recognize the symptoms and stages of Hot Stove Grief:
Unrealistic Optimism – HSG sufferers experience a strong hope, bordering on and occasionally crossing over into belief, that their team’s front office will pull off increasingly fantastical free agency signings and trade agreements, often completely unsubstantiated by prior team behavior. Just to pull a completely random example out of thin air, the belief that the Angels were going to sign Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and Adrian Beltre this off season, or any combination of two of them. In (also completely random) hindsight, owner Arte Moreno’s end of season comments that the Angels were going to spend big and do whatever it takes to improve the team just underscores the sad fact that Hot Stove Grief does not discriminate. Even baseball owners may suffer from this potentially debilitating condition from time to time.
Bargaining – HSG sufferers begin “bargaining” with the team of their affections, offering the team, its ownership or specific members in the front office the fan’s own services, heirloom jewelry, beloved vehicles, spouses and even theoretical first born children if the team will agree to fulfill the fan’s Hot Stove wishes. Of course, these bargaining conversations never really take place with the team. They are HSG delusions and usually take place in the form of conversations with friends and family, loud rants and begging directed at the television set/radio/newspaper/computer screen and, even, blog posts.
Anger – Eventually the HSG stages progress to anger. This may be the hardest stage for friends and family to deal with and every sufferer expresses it differently. It is important to remain supportive and allow the HSG suffering fan to express his or her feelings. If this becomes too difficult, you might subtly suggest that fan find other outlets to burn off their anger such as boxing, chopping wood or even blogging.
Threats – Many HSG sufferers begin threatening to carry out increasingly unlikely punishments if their team does not comply with the HSG sufferer’s Hot Stove wishes. Common threats include non-renewal of season tickets, never going to see a game again, renouncing one’s fanship entirely, burning prized team related possessions and even starting to root for the team’s most hated rival. As with the bargaining stage, the threat conversations never actually take place with the team in question.
Rationalization – In this stage, HSG sufferers begin to comfort themselves that the reason their team failed to make the Hot Stove move they were hoping for is part of some obscure, larger strategy and that surely an even better Hot Stove deal is imminent. Over indulgence in this stage can bring about a relapse where fans repeat the Anger and Threats stages. While there is some controversy among HSG researchers about whether Rationalization is its own unique stage or is simply one expression of the Unrealistic Optimism stage and the CDC has yet to validate either theory, I feel it warranted its own mention here.
Resignation – As HSG suffering fans begin to reach the end of their grief cycle, they become resigned to the idea that their team isn’t going to make any of the Hot Stove deals they had in mind. While friends and family might think the HSG afflicted fan is suffering less during this stage make no mistake, they are still experiencing a considerable amount of pain. Fans at this stage feel may a slight disconnect with their team and possibly even less passion for them. They may actually view the beginning of the new baseball season with a certain amount of apprehension and even dread. And what could be more painful than that?
Grudging Acceptance – At this stage the HSG suffering fan is still very unhappy with their team’s Hot Stove decisions or lack their of, but has accepted that there is nothing the he or she can do about said decisions and begins to move on. The fan is now able to enjoy interactions with their team again. This is the crucial breakthrough stage in HSG. Once the suffering fan honestly begins to look forward to Spring Training the new season again, the fan is cured. However, relapse is always a possibility.
While friends and family of the HSG afflicted fan should review this outline of the grieving stages carefully, it is important for them to understand that each fan’s grieving process is unique. If you have a friend or loved one who suffers from HSG, the most important thing is to remain loving and supportive. Listen when they want to rant and rave, even if you have heard it all hundreds of times before. Subtly try to involve the sufferer in activities that keep them from pouring over the trade rumors site all day long. But never, under any circumstances, should you try to sever the sufferer’s relationship with their team of choice. However much it may seem like you are doing them a kindness at the time, removing an HSG suffering fan from all contact with their team has been known to produce a severe catatonic state and sometimes even death.
Thank you very much for your time today. I now return you to your regularly scheduled MLBlogs programming.
Well that was a little longer in between posts than intended! No, the reason was not actually Hot Stove Grief. I have managed my personal bout with this illness admirably – made it to work every day, attended social functions and everything! Besides, I am coming to the end of my personal Hot Stove Grief. Barring any unforeseen set backs *glares at Angels Front Office* grudging acceptance is just around the corner. No, I have been putting in late nights and wee hours of the mornings all week finishing the latest stage in a policy writing project for work. Work – curse of the drinking (and apparently blogging) classes and all that. 😉
I guess I’ll let Nolan Ryan off on a technicality. I mean there isn’t a whole lot that’s remote in the 48 hour distance between that statement and a signed contract now is there? No, that pretty much is just imminent. What was it I was saying a few weeks ago about the different front offices playing a little too much Diplomacy this off season? If I were actually sitting in on this particular game of Diplomacy I might say well played in addition to growling less sportsmanlike comments but, as it is, I’m just growling.
So Adrian Beltre is a Ranger and the Angels missed the boat again. I understand that the free agent market got outrageously expensive again this year. Under normal circumstances, I think sticking to one’s principals is laudable but, right now, claiming to stick to their principals just looks like the Angels front office is making a piss poor excuse for terrible performance. We didn’t strike out this off season, we barely even bothered to step up to the plate. And they better not start carting out Takahashi and Downs again like those signings make for a fine off season on their own and anything else would just have been gravy. Those signings were a great start, alas apparently on a road to nowhere. When nothing else followed, just admit that you messed up. That way you only look really stupid instead of abysmally stupid.
If I am being rational, I know this isn’t the absolute end of the world. If I am being rational, I know that there is no one player who is the answer for us in a vacuum without any other changes. If we had landed Beltre and, defying all reason, the rest of bats went missing for most of the season again, a season with only Beltre and Weaver consistently performing to expectations isn’t going to be any prettier than one where Weaver more or less consistently performed to expectations alone. If the bats actually show up, I think the team that hits the field in 2011, as it stands right now, is a better team than the one that hit the field in 2010. Rationally though, I really don’t know if that is enough.
Again, if I’m being rational, it’s a long season and we haven’t started Spring Training yet. Everybody has to play 162 games, blah, blah, blah and all of the other clichés. But, seriously, a lot can happen in that amount of time, especially in California baseball. My sister and I have always said that no one, but no can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (or, sadly, defeat from the jaws of victory but let’s not go there right now) in the most unexpected of ways like California baseball teams. Angels, Dodgers, Giants, A’s and Padres fans, you all know what I’m talking about. And tomorrow…okay maybe by next week, I will probably truly believe all of this and the other hopeful posts I have made on this blog again.
But tonight I don’t feel like being rational. I am angry, enough so that I didn’t so much type this as I beat and pounded it into the keyboard. Whether or not Beltre was the answer, I just wanted something, anything to point at and say, look, the front office is really trying this off season instead of well, just being trying.
The Rangers signed Beltre, except for the fact that they didn’t. That was totally a rumor. No wait, new rumors from more credible sources say that it’s the second rumor that was only a rumor. Beltre is signing on the Rangers’ dotted line right now. But wait, no. The people who are responsible for the rumor that the rumor about the first rumor being only a rumor was really just a rumor too, are now also guilty of spreading a rumor. Moose bites hurt. A lot. And now for something completely different…
This is the Hot Stove news I read on my Blackberry as we left a family holiday party this evening. And, yes, because I came in on the tail end of all of the rumor and counter rumor, to me it really did sound that Python-esque. The final word on all of the rumors? According to MLB.com, the Rangers do not have a deal with Beltre, nor is a deal imminent. The article goes on to quote Nolan Ryan this evening saying “As of right now, Michael Young is our third baseman. We haven’t done anything.” While I tend to think that, with Young’s bat and glove at third base, the Rangers wouldn’t really be interested in Beltre at this price, I did notice that Ryan’s no isn’t exactly a long term no and it’s not like the Rangers haven’t asked Young to switch positions for someone else before. I believe that MLB.com’s article is the final word on Beltre and the Rangers today but Monday? Tuesday? Wednesday? Next week? Who knows.
The family holiday party this evening was our annual post Christmas get together with my mother’s side of the family. The Giants cousins come down from Merced and Fresno and the Dodgers cousins come from all over L.A. and Orange County and then there are my husband and I. Surprisingly, baseball is not usually a big topic of conversation. This year, of course, it was not to be avoided.
I was pleased to see one cousin from Merced whom I have not seen in about two years because he’s been very ill. He’s recently recovered almost completely. “Oh I’m feeling so much better and it’s the strangest thing. Do you know what the turning point was? Game 6!” I had to laugh and congratulate him, of course. And that was pretty much the tone for the evening. My cousins are still so ecstatic and cute over the Giants win that I can’t help but be happy for them all over again. Of course, they’re still a little chip on their shoulders over the Giants’ champion status. Mentions of the Angels or 2002 still bring about hissing – yes, literal hissing – and a chorus of too soon, too soon. They’re a little sensitive about the Dodgers rivalry too, all of which kept me in stitches for large portions of the evening.
My dad picked up on this, I think, because during a discussion about baseball announcers, he pounced. One cousin mentioned that he likes the Giants radio announcers so much, he will gladly put up with the delay in order to hear the radio broadcast while he watches the game muted on TV. My father got this mischievous twinkle in eye and said that, over the years, he’s done the same thing with Vin Scully’s broadcasts…after the Dodgers beat the Giants and head into the post season. My cousin started to sputter angrily about the Dodgers bad season and how he expects the same from them next year and so on, until he realized everyone else was cracking up on both sides of the fan divide, including my father. Then the conversation became playful and teasing again. You simply can’t let family get your goat that easily.
I may have been laughing the loudest of anyone. I don’t think I have ever seen my father talk trash before. But he and my mother were high school sweethearts so he has known all of these cousins, her cousins, since they were in high school and, in some cases, much, much younger. I think I just got a tiny glimpse of what they were all like getting together as kids and that was neat to see. Family and baseball both have the power to take even the most grown up among us back to the carefree silliness of our childhood and thank Heaven for that!