What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…
All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:
As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack. 😉
The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.
As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?
Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!
And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too! 😉
(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
Angels fans woke up yesterday morning to the incredible news that the team will send, not one, not two, but four deserving players to Kansas City for the 2012 All Star Game: Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Trumbo will also lend his increasingly legendary bat to the Home Run Derby and fans still have the chance to send a fifth Angel to Kansas City! Ernesto Frieri is one of five American League players on the ballot for the Final Vote which concludes this Thursday, July 5th. Take that East Coast bias!
Of course, despite Angels fans’ best efforts, none of the honored players were selected in the fan vote. We have the players vote and managerial selection to thank for these well deserved recognitions. Now, obviously fans don’t vote for pitchers and the two most deserving Angels position players this season were each a bit of an odd case. Trout wasn’t called up until April 28th and consequently wasn’t included on the ballot. Trumbo was included on the ballot but as a third baseman, a position at which he only received eight starts none of which, admittedly, were of All Star caliber, unlike his mighty bat and starts in the outfield. But let’s be honest here, even in a season with completely normal circumstances for the highest performing players, can Angels fans ever rely on the fan vote to give their favorite team a fair chance?
Let’s talk about the fan vote. I vividly remember voting for All Stars as a child at Dodgers stadium. (Yes, you read that correctly. I was raised as a Dodger fan. But with time, adulthood and intensive ballpark therapy, I got better. ;)) All Star ballots were placed on all of the seats and my sister and I would run around in between innings, picking up every unclaimed ballot in our section (after the 4th inning, of course – you know, Dodgers game) so we could vote for every Dodger candidate as many times as possible. I also did the same thing for the Angels players on the AL side of the ballot. My grandfather, whom I adored, was a diehard Angels fan going back to the minor league Angels in the PCL days, so the initial seeds for my eventual love of this team were planted early.
As much as this is kind of an adorable story when we’re talking about a couple of passionate, very young fans in pigtails, it’s also an illustration of exactly what is wrong with the fan vote. How many adult fans approach the All Star Vote with any greater thought or analysis than my sister and I did when we were six and nine? Not nearly enough. Much like my sister and I as children, all too many fans vote for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back. Casual fans vote in droves for uniforms from either the Yankees, who literally have the most recognized sports brand in the word, or from any team that has recently burst into the extremely short memory of the public consciousness, usually with a recent World Series appearance.
This is not to say that the fan vote never makes appropriate selections. Deserving All Stars start every year. But among the deserving there are just as many controversies. Is Mike Napoli, currently batting .238, really the best catcher in the American League right now? Hasn’t Derek Jeter gotten in a few years recently based far more on that fact that he is a walking, talking baseball legend and deservedly so, rather than his current year’s performance? And so on. Not to mention the fact that the fan vote invites ballot stuffing with even less subtlety than the infamous Tammeny Hall political machine of old. While the players vote and managers’ selections are not immune to snubs either, participants seem better able to put away pettier considerations and make more of the right choices.
Unfortunately, MLB can’t do away with the fan vote all together. It’s an important tool for building casual fan interest in the All Star Game and in the second half of the season. As with any sport, there are a lot more casual MLB fans than diehards out there and all of our teams benefit when they come out to the ballpark frequently, catch the game on television regularly and spend as much money as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that MLB can’t change the All Star Game voting format as long as it remains compelling for the fans. With all schedule and format changes already in the works for next season, 2013 is the perfect time to change the format of the All Star Vote and reduce the impact of the fan vote.
Judging from voter turnout, fans enjoy the newer final vote process. Why not make the initial fan vote more like the final fan vote? For example, instead of voting for one player for each position, fans could vote for four players total with no restrictions on their selections. Fans can vote again in a longer format final vote, selecting another four players from an All Star Game manager selected list. In between the two fan votes, the player vote and managers’ selection process will have two more picks than usual (allowing non-fan dictated wiggle room to avoid some of the ‘there was no room him’ controversy) and managers will be allowed to determine their own starting line ups. Part of the fan draw will be tuning in to the All Star Game to see who has the honor of starting, as opposed to already knowing ahead of time. Perhaps a few hints can be given as the game approaches with starting pitchers announced a day or two ahead of time as a teaser.
Of course there will still be controversies. Opinions will always differ and some managers will always be better than others at picking the best players rather than just their own players. However I can’t help but think that, with recent examples of the benefit of home field advantage during the World Series fresh in everyone’s mind, a format that puts more of the All Star Game decisions in the hands of players and managers will lead to better choices. I’d suggest no longer having the All Star Game determine home field advantage for the World Series but, sadly, the likelihood of that even being considered is so inconceivable that it almost makes my voting format change suggestions look possible.
Hey, better late than never, right?
So, when last the Angels played the Rangers I wrote that their one victory answered the question of “Can the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ in the affirmative but that the massive beating the team took for the rest of the series left us with a new question, ‘will the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ Well, I am happy to be able to write that this series left not a doubt in my mind on either count. The Angels can and will compete with the Rangers in 2012!
Okay, so the Angels didn’t look so hot on Sunday. I blame that on some serious celebrating the night before. Oh, I don’t have any factual evidence to support my theory but let’s just say that some of them sure seemed to be reacting to that sun in the time honored fashion of the moderately hung over. As for the Mariners series, well it’s been hit and miss but the Angels are still showing a lot of fight, an essential characteristic for future wins and, indeed, a hallmark of the Texas series. The Angels aren’t letting many opposing runs go unanswered these days and it is fun to watch.
Saturday night was an odd game. Neither starting pitcher was dealing, neither team went wild with the bats and neither team avoided a few serious fielding flubs. In the end, it came down to Angels base running and Angels fielding in the sense of the team being a well oiled turning two machine. Also, the Angels’ errors seemed to come at less crucial times…and no one decided to begin pouting to an umpire with no thought of completing a play, just sayin’. And can I just say that it was downright giddy making to see the first three guys in the lineup – Mike Trout (who is Superman by the way, check it out), Alberto Callaspo and Albert Pujols – hitting the ball, getting on base, causing chaos on the basepaths and generally doing exactly what the first three guys in any lineup are supposed to do. Was it a pretty win? No, not by any means. But it was a win and honestly it was darned fun game to watch.
As for my photos, I’m getting a little tired of the same old, same old guys taking a monster swing, guys diving back to the bag and guys making a catch photos. So to switch it up a bit, for this game I am only using photos that made me smile or even laugh. Enjoy!
So, LeAnne Rimes has this song…
Yes, sometimes I like my country a little pop-py. Don’t judge me. 😉
Ahem. So LeAnne Rimes has this song called Big Deal. It’s a catchy little tune about a young lady who dumped a guy a while back and, while she’s 99.999…% over him at this point, she’s still plenty miffed that her best friend has started dating him and won’t shut up about how amazing he is. So the young lady is encouraging her friend, perfectly politely of course, to adopt a more tactful topic of conversation…right now.
Anyway, last night Seth and I watched the Giants/Rangers game. Ho Hum. But nothing else was on. Certainly not the Kendrys Morales batting cleanup behind Albert Pujols because Kendrys is looking that good game that I actually wanted to be watching even though it’s only a Spring Training game but couldn’t be watching because none of the stupid networks were airing it…*pauses to take a deep breath…finally*…not that I’m bitter about it or anything even though he hit a home run. *pauses to breathe again* 😉 And we capped it off with the Rangers edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days.
Mike Napoli was heavily featured in this MLBN preseason rundown, naturally, and, also naturally, we kept watching because we both like the guy. He was a great Angel and one of those players you wish all the best…just much, much further away than Texas in an ideal world. It was enjoyable and yet not so enjoyable at the same time and, as Dan Plesac and the Rangers began laying on the Napoli accolades thicker and thicker I was eventually moved to begin singing LeAnn’s catchy ditty: Yeah, you call yourself a friend, but you just keep rubbing it in. Big Deal. So what!…
Seth began cracking up almost immediately and took up the refrain: Who cares! You just got lucky that’s all. It was. Shut up! I swear…
But here we paused and looked at each other giggling, unsure of how to go on because the “candle light and long stem roses nd how you’re falling head over heels, in love…”of the next line, unlike its predecessors, hardly fit Mike Napoli and the Rangers.
Seth: If I hear another word about…?
Me: If I hear another word about…?
Seth: If I hear another word about…?
Ah hah! Inspiration. Me: …about catching right and grand slam home runs and…and…
Seth, grinning: and…? And…and World Series MVP! So what. Big deal!
And by that point we were both laughing too hard to extemporize any further…and to follow the thread of the rest of the analysis truth be told. Anyway, we both thought we were pretty darned funny…perhaps the Friday night wine ritual helped that sentiment along a bit, but it still seemed worth sharing, especially this weekend. With Rangers/Angels match ups both today and tomorrow, I am sure the Napoli trade and his stellar 2011 season couples with the Angels anemic 2011 offense will be rehashed ad nauseum along with both teams’ offseason acquisition exploits.
Besides, the song, both the original lyrics and our little reworking of them, fits my feelings on the situation perfectly. I’m over the Mike Napoli trade. I am. I didn’t want him traded away, but it’s not like fans have any choice in the matter, and it’s not like he played like this for the Angels anyway. (And don’t bring up playing time. He actually had significantly more playing time for the Angels in 2010 than he did for the Rangers in 2011. The whole playing time thing is a myth.) Don’t get me wrong, last season was painful in bold 48 pt. font italic all caps covered in sparkles, just for good measure…awful, Twilight Vampirey sparkles. *shudders*
…But trading Mathis and acquiring a catcher that seems capable of hitting above the Mendoza line has helped a lot. Retooling the offense has helped even more. I’m absolutely not saying, ‘Who needs Mike Napoli?’ But I am saying, it’s over and done with. I have moved on. I really like the team we have now and I am at peace with the whole trade ick. But, much like the main subject of LeAnn’s song, that doesn’t mean I will ever enjoy hearing the announcers, the press and everyone else go on and on. And on. And on about the whole thing.
…Or is it? Oh, I don’t mean are the Angels still keeping Jeff Mathis. Jerry Dipoto made his first personnel move as the Angels manager on Wednesday, trading rookie pitcher Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies for catcher Chris Iannetta and, by all accounts, one of his next moves will be to non-tender Jeff Mathis and I am beyond okay with this. I think Mathis is a good guy and the pitchers love him. And he is rather good at take down plays at the plate. But there are also all of the mental errors in throw down situations and, ugh, that batting average. Yes, Mathis has a pretty swing to be sure but, after this many seasons, I’ve stopped waiting for the pretty swing to become a productive swing and just reflexively cringe whenever the guy steps into the batter’s box.
Suffice to say, I’m not going to miss Mathis much and would be thrilled to get an actual bat in the catcher’s position. And, initially, I was quite seduced by Iannetta’s lifetime .238 average and typical double digit season homeruns numbers…okay, so they’re just barely double digit and .238 isn’t that great a batting average for anyone who isn’t a catcher but compared to the lifetime .197 average and “he holds the record for most home runs…hit on opening day…on his birthday” stats that I’m used to? Please, that there is a hitting dynamo.
…But then I slowed down my ridiculous happy dance and began to think, hmmm. Rockies player. Batting in the land where balls hit with a stick fly freely into the upper deck and pitchers fear to tread. What are this guy’s road splits like? Ugly, as it turns out. Looking up to Mathis’ .197 most seasons, in fact. And the happy dance is slowing down. Sllloooooooowing down. And we’re stopping now. Well, yuck. And by yuck I really mean something that rhymes with yuck and has more of a Van Halen album title-ish vibe to it, but this is a family blog, or something like that.
I’m not crying foul on this trade yet. Maybe I’ve just been scarred by Vernon Wells’ last season and the home/away splits that preceded it. Maybe Iannetta’s splits have more to do with really feeling comfortable with the home crowd, the home clubhouse, home cooking, home anything but the Earth’s yellow sun like properties that Coors Field has on the would-be Superman bats of hitters ranging anywhere from mediocre to awesome. Maybe?? Or, maybe my pessimistic thoughts are more akin to realistic thoughts in this case.
In an interview today on Clubhouse Confidential Jerry Dipoto was asked about this very thing and chose the more optimistic interpretation of the splits. On the one hand, of course he would, he just made the deal! On the other hand, he did work for the Rockies and has some insight into the players. Then again, when asked what primary characteristic sold him on Ianetta, Dipoto said, He walks. A lot. Okay. So, what then? Iannetta is the Italian demi-god of walks?
Anyway, National League folks, or anyone else who knows a lot more about this player than I, lay it on me. What do you think of this acquisition?
And as for the trading away Tyler Chatwood, I don’t mind it terribly. I thought he was good, poised beyond his tender years, and showed promise as a bottom half of the rotation starter. I was less than thrilled with his strikeout to walk ratio and with how early and how well and thoroughly he sputtered out during his rookie season. I know that it will take another season to determine if that’s indicative of a long term flaw or just rookie stretching out and growing pains, but I still don’t view trading him as a bad thing, not that I would have minded keeping him either. Of course, if the Rockies turn around and trade him to the Rangers tomorrow and Chatty proceeds to take revenge on the team who scorned him by having a career year and sitting our asses down one by one all season long, I may revise my opinion somewhat.
Scarred, who? Me? 😉
It all started with an orange speedo…or rather the search for one, as in “Mike Napoli Orange Speedo.” No, I wasn’t the one looking for this, but I started getting search engine hits using this phrase and had to laugh. Initially, I assumed that the legends of Mike Napoli, man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town (gee, can you tell I’ve been watching Down with Love? 😉 ) were finding new inspiration in Texas. But eventually a hash tag clued me in to the fact that this was a Twitter thing. Apparently Naps has been ending most of tweets with #orangespeedo. Color me amused…and also clueless so, hey, if any Ranger fans in the know would like enlighten us, feel free. 🙂
Tracking down the story behind this goofy micro-trending topic got me thinking about Twitter in general and baseball players who tweet in particular. We’ve all heard the wonderful stories of the relaxed atmosphere fans enjoyed around the ballpark during baseball’s Golden Age, how baseball players and fans used to casually interact more regularly. My grandfather and his friends used to shag balls for the minor league Angels during batting practice. My father-in-law remembers being among the random kids who were invited down onto the field to play catch with one another and some of the ballplayers before Hollywood Stars games. Now those were minor league teams, at the time the only baseball we had in Los Angeles, but I have heard similar stories about major league teams on the lucky-to-have-them east coast. The father of a friend and a few of his buddies were occasional Brooklyn Dodgers bat boys, not because they were anyone special. Quite the opposite in fact: because they were neighborhood kids who hung around Ebbets all the time.
It’s not as if the average fan developed close, personal friendships with baseball players in the Golden Age but there was definitely a greater feeling of closeness than, say, I experienced in my youth. Fans got to learn a little bit about the players as people from their own small interactions with them, or from a friend or family member’s interactions with them. When I went to ballgames as a child and a teen, the players were certainly nice to the fans, with plenty of smiles for the kids especially. But I definitely envy the chattier atmosphere enjoyed by earlier generations.
I think Twitter and other social media brings a little bit of this closeness back to the player/fan relationship. As with the Golden Age, the average fan is not going to develop a close personal friendship with his or her favorite players over Twitter. But, depending on how they choose to tweet, we can learn a little bit more about them as people. A lot of it is every bit as unentertaining as our thoughts are to other people. But some of it is sweet, funny or interesting. Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter still talking a little trash over who is the reigning dominoes king of the Angels clubhouse – my money’s on Torii ;). Howie Kendrick has taken up photography and, like CJ Wilson, occasionally shares his work with the fans on Twitter. And so on. In a way, this is even more casual and relaxed than what our grandparents experienced…just not in person.
Sadly, just as insurance and safety concerns along with fans venturing to the ballpark in greater and greater numbers brought an end to the casual chats and games of catch of the Golden Age, easy Twitter access to ballplayers is bound to come to an end at some point. As more and more people get Twitter accounts and begin following their teams and others, instances of jokes or comments take out of context or just plain taken the wrong way will increase, the occasional truly inappropriate breach of clubhouse confidentiality will occur, or something else will happen (perhaps even an outright MLB rule requiring such 😦 ) that will lead to players keeping their public accounts very bland and public relations-ish indeed, or shutting them down altogether. So it’s best to enjoy it while it lasts. Just think, eventually our grandchildren will listen to our glory days stories and exclaim in a mixture of awe and disbelief “You mean they really used to tease each other and crack jokes and post their favorite workout mixes and stuff right there on the Internet for everyone to see?! Wow, you were so lucky!” …you know, after we re-explain such quaint technologies as the Internet and Twitter to them for the 14th time.
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.