Way to go Tigers, coming out of nowhere to land the big free agent bat! That was almost…well…Angelic. 😉 …Ooooh. Kay. And reminiscent of many other teams in other seasons too. But this is an Angels blog. I’ve kind of got this slant going on. And with that slant I have to say, I don’t know which outcome of the deal amuses me more, the fact that this move keeps Prince Fielder out of the AL West? Or the thought that with Migueal Cabrera moving to third base according to today’s reports, Angels fans are likely to see a lot more of Justin Verlander’s “That’s bushleague!” scowl? Pssssst…Angels players bunt. Often and generally very well. Pass it on.
In all seriousness though, I do like the way this offseason is turning out and the role this deal played in it. The Tigers and the Rangers, both already strong teams, were able to make improvements without outright dominating. The Tigers filled the potentially devastating void left by Victor Martinez’ season ending injury in a way that also bumped up their offense. The Rangers did not further bump up an offense that was already pretty much the scariest in the AL, but they did improve their starting rotation. Yes, I know Darvish is unproven, but I just can’t imagine a pitching acquisition that Nolan Ryan approved of so highly turning into a flaming failure.
And the Angels? The Angels made sure they can compete, adding power to a lineup in serious need of just such an infusion and restoring their starting rotation to the promise it had at the beginning of the 2011 season. Remember, for all that our pitching was impressive last season it was primarily spots one through three that did the impressing. The four and five spots were a rotating mixed bag of frequent awfulness speckled with the occasional gem. Other teams patched potential problem spots too. I like the Yankees pitching additions…all the more because they’re both pitchers the Angels hit. I find it interesting and potentially beneficial that the Red Sox have gone out of their way to add good clubhouse guys into the mix with their All Stars. Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat a dead, repeatedly reanimated as a zombie and then beaten dead again and again and again, Bostonian horse here. But suffice it to say, I think this may prove to be a more powerful strategy than folks are currently giving it credit for.
And no, this isn’t me being some sort of Mary Sue saying, Yay, everyone is equal now. Let’s get out there, give the other team a big hug, and don’t bother keeping score. This is me, the passionate baseball fan saying, I see a lot of well matched, hard fought, competitive as all get out, great baseball games on the horizon in 2012, and that prospect makes me downright giddy. Spring training, you slacker. What’s taking you so long to get here? Come on, pick up the pace already!
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So, I’ve been less than present in the MLBlogs community for the past week now and probably will continue to be so for a few days yet…or not, who can say. No, I’m not one of the bloggers packing it in. And I didn’t finally go off the deep end from some sort of baseball depravation induced psychosis. Heck, I would prefer that. I lost a close friend Sunday. The guy both Seth and thought of as brother. The third of our goofy Three Musketeers band of degenerates. He was only a little older than me, which is to say way, way too young…as if there were a good age for this. He’d been in the hospital all last week and devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it.
My friend – the best bad influence a girl could have, as I called him with fondness – was, among other things, the gent who taught me how to play blackjack. Not the rules, but how to really play – strategies, calculating probabilities, fearlessness. But as anyone who has ever spent serious time at the tables knows, no matter how well you work the probabilities, sometimes the cards just don’t fall in your favor and you need to do something different to change your luck. I haven’t been able to put pen to paper in days. Not for work. Not for blogging. Not for nothing. But today, I made myself bang out this post in response to news that genuinely excited me, in an attempt to “change my luck” by doing a few “normal” things. To quote Marcellus Wallace, I am pretty f-ing far from okay. But I think I am moving closer to a place where I am better able to honor his life with memories that bring smiles rather than floods of tears.
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!
Ah, Hollywood teen flicks. Is there a more important repository of accurate truths and life lessons for our youth anywhere? …Okay, after the internet, that is? And if there is one truth they have showed us over and over again, it’s the steps the new guy in school must take to become a success:
- He must lose tragically/get the crap beaten out of him/have his sensitive little heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces or, preferably, some combination of the above. (Or, you know, fail to make the playoffs two years running while losing the AL West Division Title to the Rangers – okay, Dipoto wasn’t here for this but it still counts. It sets the stage.)
- Through pluckiness, guile and his overall superior character (read, lots and lots of money) he must overcome this set back, rise above the bullies/the cliquey in crowd/all of the mean nasty people who told him he couldn’t do it (Every big spending, clever maneuvering team in any given post season) in order to win the ultimate prize, acceptance (or, you know, Albert Pujols).
- And, along the way, win the heart of the prettiest girl in school (most eligible starting pitcher) away from the biggest bully (top division rivals, the two years running AL Champion Rangers).
- The wisdom of Hollywood also tells us that catchy soundtracks, clever catch phrases, blockbuster budgets and a cast of side character to provide rare moments of wisdom and lots and lots of comic relief have a vague but crucial role to play in all of this. (Hey, baseball has music for every occasion, a popular culture influencing language all its own, don’t even get me started on the budgets and a cast of characters fit to rival that of even a good Hollywood movie, so the analogy stands you hear?)
Based on this important metric Jerry Dipoto is clearly a smashing success! Oh, and the high, and growing higher by the moment, esteem in which Angels fans everywhere now hold him is a pretty good metric too. 😉
So the Angels sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And don’t think I haven’t been itching to post about this all day!! But there was that work thing, and deadlines in two different time zones so it started early. But, finally, a late afternoon lunch and I can post at last! I went on record in a couple of places as being against the rumors of both of these deals but now that they have become reality I have to say I am pleased…and, for the purposes of today’s post, pleased shall be defined as bouncing all over the house with a big stupid grin on my face. Both are expensive, long term deals, the Pujols deal understandably considerably more so than the Wilson deal. And, based on the Angels old spending habits, I assumed that if we landed either player that deal would be the Angels’ only real deal of the offseason when we have quite a few more holes to fill, thank you very much.
The fact that, between Arte Moreno increasing the budget considerably and Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing, the Angels signed both Pujols and Wilson in addition to putting a potentially nice patch on our catching woes with the Chris Iannetta trade and signing another reliable seeming arm for our bullpen in LaTroy Hawkins? Well, consider my biggest concern laid to rest and then some.
I still have a few other concerns, though they are comparatively minor:
- 10 years is a loooooong contract for a 31-year old, even for a guy known as the Machine. I am certain Pujols will be great for five of those years and possibly longer. And being in the AL with the DH helps but…well…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there I suppose.
- Adjustment periods for Pujols and Wilson, both of whom were one-team players before today. This isn’t a huge concern for me. And there may not be an adjustment period, but I would caution fans not to panic if it takes a month or so for either guy (or both) to really get into the swing of things.
- What about Mark Trumbo? We have a log jam at 1st now. While I don’t doubt for a second that Pujols is a better hitter than Trumbo, I really want to find a way to keep Trumbo in the lineup. It does us very little good to swap our one slugging bat in the lineup for a harder slugging bat. Even with Albert’s considerable prowess we need multiple slugging bats in the lineup. I hope the Angels explore the idea they’ve expressed a lot this offseason of Trumbo at third. I know he wasn’t a good third base his first year in the minors but look at how quickly the analytical, note taking player improved from being kind of bad at first to being pretty darned good. I think this could be a good move.
- C.J. Wilson’s longevity. Wilson is a former reliever stretched out into a starter and, as such, he faded early in his first year as a fulltime starter…but then he faded even earlier the next season. Foreboding pattern or an aberration of the sort you often get with small sample sizes? Well now that he’s not pitching in Texas I sure hope it’s the latter! Fortunate mitigating circumstances: the weather and stadium dimensions are a lot kinder to pitchers in Anaheim and Wilson is closer to family here, which may be beneficial.
But then I think of our starting rotation to be with three legitimate aces and Ervin Santana and of our lineup with Albert Pujols in it (not to mention the wonderful teaching presence Pujols provides for our rookies) and all I can do is continue bouncing around the house, occasionally pumping my fits and cheering. And the fact of the matter is I like both players. I like their attitude and the way they play the game. I like how Wilson handled the press conferences today in a classy way that paid appropriate respect to both the team that raised him and the team that just adopted him. Yes, Wilson can be a bit of a trash talker, but I’ve always liked the fire and wit behind his comments even when I didn’t appreciate them being directed at my team and, well, I love that traditional aspect of the game. I’ll be interested to watch how Pujols handles his press conferences that are sure to come.
So, yes, even with reservations both laid to rest and lingering, I am excited by these deals. After earning two World Series berths in as many seasons, the Rangers are still tough, still absolutely frightening in the lineup department and still the team to beat. But with these Angels moves, forget the division race. I feel we have ourselves an honest to goodness, hotly contested division battle coming and I for one cannot wait!
…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? 😉
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.
Game 6 was…Wow! Just wow! It was so amazingly, excitingly, excruciatingly edge of your seat suspensefully, fantastically awesome that I simply cannot find the right adjectives to describe it. So I’m throwing any that come even remotely close out there in one large jumble, hoping that sum of the parts hits closer to the mark. I guess what I’m saying is that this isn’t really my description of last night’s game, it’s a tribute. 😉
David Freese stands at the plate in the bottom of the 9th, with the Cardinals down by two, and the Rangers one strike away from becoming World Series champions for the first time in their franchise history. That moment, so full of potential for either heroics or disappointment, when the outcome can go either way and everything is riding on one pitch and one swing? That moment was microcosm for everything I love about this game, regardless of who is playing…and that moment happened two more times in the same game!!
Forget the box score. Five errors and 15 different pitchers? Stats like that almost make this sound like a game neither team wanted to win badly enough rather than the 11 innings of bare knuckled brawl for the final lead that it was. No box score is ever going to completely convey a game like this anyway. But I suspect that in a few seasons, MLBN will revise their 20 Greatest Games of the Last 50 Years and when they do, this game is sure to be on that list.
And I will say this. Anyone who was not excited by last night’s game (and there were a few such killjoys on my FaceBook last night) should seriously check their pulse, because if that didn’t move you, it’s entirely possible you don’t have one. And with Halloween drawing near…well…you just can’t be too careful about these things. Beware of zombies, and all that. 😉
And there’s still one more game to go!
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And in Angels news…
Baseball organizations are starting to announce their annual awards and the Sporting News has named our Mark Trumbo AL Rookie of the Year!
I am so pleased! Mark Trumbo meant everything to the Angels this season. He may have started off slow, but he grew into a difference making bat in a lineup desperately in need of one. Trumbo’s 29 homeruns were the most hit by an AL rookie in well more than a decade and just shy of the franchise rookie record. I wonder what he might have done if it weren’t for the stress fracture discovered in his foot during the last weekend of the regular season. To be honest, I’m actually a little anxious for an injury update on that front. It should be a routine injury that keeps him out of Winter Ball and no more but, well, we have terrible luck with first basemen’s feet these days and I’d hate to lose this rising star for any amount of time.
I don’t know where Trumbo will finish in the race for the Hank Aaron Rookie of the Year award. There is some stiff competition in the AL this season, so much so that I was pleased to see Trumbo get recognition on any front, even though he is more than deserving. But this analytical, slugging first baseman, who literally takes notes to work from on every pitcher and hitter we face, is sure to just keep on getting better. And, regardless of how the voting goes, I expect his name will be on a lot more lips next season.
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Oh, and apparently we have a GM. The unofficial announcement, announcing the fact the Angels can’t announce their hiring of the Arizona D-Backs Jerry Dipoto during the World Series but will hold a news conference on Saturday “regarding the GM position” just, you know, for no particular reason hit the news today. Hmmm, I am not certain exactly what I think of this yet but basically feel positive about it. …That and I am overcome with the desire to reread Catch-22…you now, for no particular reason.
For the last few years Seth and I have spent the second to last weekend of every October in Cambria and Paso Robles for the Wine Alliance’s Harvest Festival. Sadly, the Angels have either been out of it by this point or never in it to begin with so taking a trip away hasn’t been a tough decision. What will we do next year or in 2013 if the Angels are still in the thick of things? Well, suffice to say that is a conundrum I would love to have! It’ not like we’d have hotel reservations to cancel. We stay at his folks’ place. Yes, I know how lucky I am!
Random thoughts from the weekend:
1) Taking a trip up here in the middle of the post season doesn’t have to mean sacrifice for the baseball fan. There is usually someplace great to watch the game, a winery throwing a baseball party, like the one we attended last year, a local you hit it off with tipping you off to an open party somewhere, or something. Sights like this are not uncommon. Best. License. Plate. Ever…okay…maybe not ever, but still:
2) Things are not always what they seem. I figured I’d get my tips on where to watch the game this weekend from the baseball winery. No dice. Because of the too mild weather, harvest is still going on instead of just finished and all of their biggest baseball fans are out working. No, I got my best tips – and excellent wine! – from the gentleman at the Pithy Little Wine Company, nestled in a gorgeous boutique looking tasting room in downtown. And thank you, good Sir, excellent tips they were.
3) There have been less bad calls this post season than I remember from other post seasons, but they’re still there.
4) I said it before and I’ll say it again, I miss having a Molina brother behind the plate.
5) Every time I sit down to watch Albert Pujols play I think, nah, he can’t quite live up to the hype no matter how good he is…only to be reminded a few plays later that, no, really, he is that good.
6) Even injured, Josh Hamilton is almost that good. St Louis fan walking into the bar for the first time in the 6th inning: What happened? How did Texas score that last run? Me: Josh Hamilton happened. St. Louis fan: Say no more.
7) Sitting down at the bar to watch the game, wherein you are rooting for St. Louis as your borrowed team, behind this sight is not as daunting as you might think. Hey, at least you know they’re all baseball fans and not going to start whining about wanting to change the station to football!:
8) Catching a ball I can understand. I would never lean out over the rail to catch a ball, even if I don’t agree with it, on some level I understand why someone might do this in the heat of the moment. But throwing a ball onto the field? Seriously? I can’t understand it at all. Kudos to the Rangers ushers for kicking him out…not that I expected anything less.
9) Cheese and wine pairing is wonderful. Small bites and wine even better. BBQ and wine pairing rocks. But a bacon and wine pairing is the best of all. Yes, bacon and wine. And I assure you, it was even better than it sounds, especially the wild boar bacon paired with rich cabernet. Yum! And it’s even better when you meet another baseball fan couple up from Los Angeles for the festival weekend. A Cubbie and a Red Sox fan – proof that two long standing curses (one broken and then some) can cancel one another out into a happy marriage.
10) I wished Mike Napoli all the best with the Rangers when he got traded and I meant it. But I have to confess, hearing the entire stadium chant Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li when he comes up to bat with runners in scoring position and seeing all of the signs that talk about how clutch he is makes me feel a little ill. Why couldn’t you have done some of that for us, Mike? I know you didn’t have as many opportunities, but you did have opportunities.
11) Regarding the previous bullet, I don’t know where this sort of October pettiness is coming from. I haven’t always been this childish about losing. They say adversity breeds character. Well, apparently, baseball “adversity” breeds the wrong kind of character in me. *sigh*
12) For a game where the final score was so darned uneven, it sure didn’t seem uneven in the middle. I swear Texas was on the verge of catching up every time they came up to the plate.
13) Cambria is small and internet access at the house is always sketchy and, in fact, non existent this weekend, but there are worse things. Spending the afternoon like this up the street at Moonstone Cellars, one of the wineries with free Wi-Fi while we plot our dinner and game viewing strategy (no TV at the house either), doesn’t suck. Tempranillo. Yuuuuuum!: