A lot has gone on in baseball the last couple of days. I’d love to explain it all, but there is no time. Let me sum up.
Erick Aybar. Gold Glove winner. Congratulations! I have to say, that was a little unexpected. Pleasantly so, don’t get me wrong. He’s got the glove. He’s got the arm. He’s got that oh my God! ability to turn two when he shouldn’t even have been able to turn one with where he had to go to get the ball. He just also has that oh my God! ability to completely forget what to do with the ball a couple of games a season. That was the source of my surprise, not any lack of ability. I will say this though, because I know there are a lot of naysayers out there griping about Aybar winning the Gold Glove. Who votes on the award? Managers and coaches. Managers and coaches who apparently routinely drool over Aybar because folks keep offering to trade us for him. And I think that had a lot do with the voting. Not statistics, traditional, saber or otherwise, but what the coaches and managers saw with their own eyes.
And can I just tell you how happy I was to see not one, not two but four Angels make it to the top three for Gold Glove consideration? And with real shots a winning, too, unlike last season. I think that under the old format, Peter Bourjos might have won or come in a close 4th. And I think that Dan Haren should have won, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this is one more reminder that while 2011 was not everything we hoped it would be, it was still forward progress over 2010.
As far as the Dodgers three Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger Awards go, I have to say, I was almost as excited to hear that as I was to hear about Aybar. As bad as some of us think our teams need good news? The Dodgers needed it more. A lot more. And Frank McCourt finally realizing that he needed to sell the Dodgers? Yaaaaaaaaaaay!! But, “I believe it is in the best interests of our organization, our loyal fans and the community at large.”? Really Frank? Wow. What a brilliant conclusion. However did you come to it? And what took you so f’n long you selfish asshat! Perhaps he finally noticed all of trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood this season clad in traditional Los Angeles “Frank McCourt as an evil, delusional, lifeforce sucking demon” costumes?
Not unexpected at all, however? No Angels were nominated for the Sliver Slugger Award. I know. You are all shocked, right? It’s okay. Maybe Dipoto can help us fix that for next season…or, you know, Mark Trumbo. I hope, I hope, I hope. And there’s always the possibility Kendrys Morales will be back…and in playing shape…and pick up where he left off with his bat…soon enough in the season to make a difference…and…and…hey! It could totally happen. This is baseball. Much like a team coming from 10 games behind in the Wild Card Race to win the World Series, anything is possible.
Then there’s the free agent free for all about to take off. Talk about stress…for other fans that is. As far as Angels free agents go, forget stressing over it. Joel Pineiro? Scott Kazmir? Fernando Rodney? Please, that right there is a recipe for stress relief. *clink, clink, clink* I would like to propose a toast to our soon to be departed free agent signing failures. Gentlemen, may you richly enjoy your new homes, far, far from Anaheim. And, while I wish you all well, if you suddenly have a Mike Napoli like transformation, especially one that helps knock us out of the post season that I then have to hear about. All. October. Long. Please understand that I’m going to take it poorly. Slainte!
And then there’s the Cubs! But this is long enough already. I will leave that for folks far more up on all things National League than I to discuss.
As I said in my last post, I think they can do it, but the Angels have a tall order ahead of them if they would like to have an October. However, with three wins in a row since then, two of which succeeded in eating up a little needed distance in the standings, the Angels are tackling that tall order head on!
…And I have been desperately trying to follow their progress each evening after the family goes to bed early on a sketchy WI-fi connection from the cabin where we are staying for the weekend in Yosemite National Park. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stunning natural beauty. Freedom from electronic leashes. Relaxation in the great outdoors far away from the encumbrances of modern technology. Trust me, during the day I am all about that. But come 8:30 p.m. or so, I want to know the score and I want to follow the last few innings f at all possible.
Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are on absolute hitting terrors. Torii Hunter’s hit streak continues. Bats, gloves and arms are growing steadily more clutch. We have Hank Conger and, best of all, Mike Trout back up from the minors, which means I am seeing various incarnations of my dream, Bourjos in Center, Trout in one of the corners, 2012 outfield right now in 2011…or, at least I will be seeing it Tuesday once I’m back in town. I couldn’t be happier!!
Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I could be happier if a few of our pitching woes were solved, namely the number 4 and 5 starting rotation spots and some unnecessarily exciting fellows in the bullpen – why did we go to Fernando Rodney again? Why? I don’t know what to make of Pineiro’s outing, exactly. Nine hits and four runs in six innings but he didn’t walk anyone and the runs were clustered in one bad inning plus a solo homerun. Is he a little better and likely to get better still? Were the Angels just damn lucky to score enough runs this time and might not be so next time? It’s tough to tell not having actually seen it. And then we have Jerome Williams making his first major league pitching start since 2007 for us on Sunday. I wish him all the best, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns. Trust me when I say I really don’t want to have to start referring to this rotation as Santana, Weaver and Haren, then two days of swearin’. I think that’s a little too nostalgic, even for the 50th anniversary.
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More often than not, the rules determining which pitchers are credited with wins, losses, no decisions, saves, holds, blown saves and the like work well enough. But occasionally they can lead to some serious injustices. Take Saturday’s game against the Orioles for example, two outs, bases loaded, Rodney is inexplicably called to the mound and proceeds to do what Rodney does best – okay, second best, he didn’t walk anyone – he gives up a single after two pitches and a run scores, two with Torii’s throwing error. But the Angels rallied in the bottom of the inning, winning in walk off fashion. So, Pineiro gets a no decision, Jordan Walden, who did allow the game to become tied in the first place but then came back for a spotless second inning gets a blown save and Rodney gets the win? Does that seem fair to you?
I think we need a new stat, indicating which relief outings are truly quality and which are…shall we say…unnecessarily exciting. Why not? We have a stat for everything else, right? Thinking of the most egregious crimes a reliever can commit, I propose something to the effect of Win/Save – (Walks + Earned Runs + Extra Base Hits)/# of batters seen. Basically, this would create fractional wins and saves for relievers. A quality win or save would be a 1 or only slightly lower, a .9 for example. But a barely deserved win might be a .25 or even a -.25. We could call this new stat something as mundane as a Weighted Relief Record, but what fun would that be? I propose instead that we call this new stat the Specific Criteria Adjusted Relief Index, or SCARI, as in Rodney may have gotten the win, but his SCARI was, well, pretty darned scary…
…because, of course, I’m completely joking around here…okay, make that mostly.
Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!
The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.
Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!
Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.
I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.
So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th? Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?
The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.
Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.
Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.
And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. 😉 But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.
I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.
It could be my memory playing tricks on me, but the number of extra innings games played out so far this season seems unusually high, considering it’s only April 14th. The Angels alone have already played in three extra innings game and we’re set to play the White Sox this weekend who have already played in five extra innings games. At the moment, the Angels extra innings record (2-1) is better than the White Sox (2-3) but the Angels’ one loss was the only extra innings game where they were the visitors. So what does this mean for the weekend? Will the Angels and White Sox mutual flair for the dramatic cancel one another out so the game lasts a mere nine innings? Or should we Angels and White Sox fans brace ourselves for a couple of 14th innings stretches and beyond? Hmmm, I wonder. Do they do a 21st inning stretch? 😉
Like a lot of Angels fans, I am disappointed that Vernon Wells didn’t come on board and instantly light the scoreboard on fire with the heat of his mighty bat. However, while I certainly didn’t expect him to be at 5 for 49 on April 14th, I wasn’t really counting on the other scenario either. I know that sometimes bats warm up right away and sometimes they take a while. I mean, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez and Juan Uribe are all hitting at or below the Mendoza line at the moment. At the beginning of any season you can pick a list of similarly big hitting names with temporarily hibernating bats. Does anyone seriously believe these guys will stay batting that far below their career averages for the rest of the season? Didn’t think so. I’m not saying we can all expect Vernon Wells to bat .400 this season or anything like that, but the man’s career average is .278, so assuming anything less than a productive batting average for the season seems equally silly.
Booing him already, as some have done, is outright ridiculous to me. I loved Angles Live Radio Host Terry Smith’s response to a particularly annoying fan on this front. The fan called in berating Wells and how much we’re paying him for a batting average just above .100 and had already written the whole thing off as a failure. Smith sounded weary and annoyed with the caller’s argumentative tone and asked if he honestly thought that Wells’ batting average would not improve this season. The caller said he really didn’t believe Wells would improve his average and Smith responded in a deadpan voice. “Well then, you clearly don’t know very much about the game of baseball. But you got on the air this evening so I guess you should be proud of that.” Well said, Terry Smith, well said.
My thoughts? By all means, be disappointed Angels fans. It’s disappointing. But also cut the guy a little slack. It’s April 14th. Wait and see what he can do in a few more weeks. Oh, and ignore the stupid contract. It will drive you crazy and think about it – yes, it’s a ludicrous contract, but why should we care? Personally, unless I hear that the Angels are unable to spend money they need to spend to keep or obtain new players, that the other players are upset by the contract or Vernon Wells never makes it above the Mendoza line, I really don’t care how much they’re paying him.
I didn’t think I would be saying this when the season started but our starting rotation is a little scary right now. Certainly not Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. They’ve been amazing so far this season and show no signs of stopping. And Ervin Santana has been alternately good and a trooper, battling through a less than stellar start where his speed just wasn’t there to at least keep the Angels in the game for the bullpen and the bats to take over. Hey, some days are like that and there is a lot to be said for not crumbling and continuing to fight your way through it. It’s just that after Santana our rotation gets a little…um…improvisational.
Our number 4 and 5 starters are on the DL – where Kaz can stay indefinitely in my opinion barring miraculous improvement! – so the Angels have been using off days as a phantom start day and hosting a revolving door for the other spot. Tyler Chatwood is supposed to get his second major league start this Saturday but for the next vacant start, who knows? Matt Palmer again maybe? Chatwood showed a lot of the poise under pressure and ability to battle through a bad start that I just praised in Santana on Monday. Now that he’s gotten the obligatory Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid homerun and an extra one just for good measure out of his system, hopefully Saturday will be more like his later innings and Chatwood will prove a useful replacement.
Regardless, so far the season is going reasonably well and it’s been anything but dull. Occasional anxiety attacks interspersed between periods of contentment and even euphoria seldom are. 😉
I was out running errands this afternoon listening to a pretty decent punk set on one of our local radio stations – Bad Religion, Social D! – when the DJ threw House of Pain’s Jump Around into the mix, a fun hip hop song from my high school days now known to Angels fans everywhere as the Rally Monkey’s song. I was already kind of rocking out in my car to the Social D but I happened to be at a stop light when House of Pain came on and, I couldn’t help myself, a full on car dance ensued. That song has so many great memories for me – fun with friends, school dances and many, many Angels rallies – that I did not care who saw my goofy display. What? Like they’ve never given in to the urge to car dance before? Anyway, Jump Around lead to Blitzkrieg Bop and then what do you think the DJ played next? Yeah, no joke – Muse’s Uprising, the song played in the middle of the 1st inning before the Angels’ first at bat. Strange Clear Channel pre-programmed play list coincidence or Angels fan DJ in mid-Winter withdrawals? My evidence is entirely circumstantial, but I prefer to believe the latter.
My point in sharing this (other than offering yet another example of how Uprising has been following me everywhere, haunting me all winter long and hopefully a small amount of entertainment) is that, in addition to my usual instant goose bumps, Angels related songs are finally starting to make me feel giddy excited again instead of just wistful. Pitchers and catchers report in a little over two weeks!! I am excited about the Angels 2011 season, something I definitely was not a few weeks ago when every free agent so many of us coveted for a Halos uniform donned other baseball caps instead.
A large part of my excitement stems from reports that the Angels and Jered Weaver are starting to talk long term contract extension instead of just the standard salary arbitration talk. Honestly, if the Angels can make this happen and keep Weaver in a Halos uniform well beyond 2012, I would consider this a pretty successful offseason. Seriously, pay the man. It doesn’t sound like he’s being unreasonable and, to all appearances, last year was just a taste of what he’s capable of achieving in the years to come. Even more important? It’s my birthday in a little more than two weeks and a long term Angels contract extension for Weaver would be simply the best birthday present this girl could ask for. Yes, I am sure the Angels understand the significance of the birthday argument and care deeply. Why do you ask?
Another part of my excitement? I keep reading and listening to more interviews with Vernon Wells and, I have to say, his excitement about joining the Angels and assertions that this is a competitive team that doesn’t sit at home in October are infectious. I may be a stat loving (recovering) math geek, but I am far more moved by those intangible player traits – heart, clutch, grit – and my own gut reaction to certain players. Yes, he’s streaky and I understand about the splits but I have a good feeling about this. Right now, listening to Vernon Wells’ interviews, it sounds like he is genuinely excited to come to Anaheim this season, ready to move to wherever the team needs him to move in the line-up and in the outfield and eager to get out there and win – all traits that remind me of other successful Angels players and make me think Wells will fit right in. I recently learned that Torii Hunter had been lobbying hard for the Angels to sign Wells – silly perhaps, but that endorsement carries a lot of weight with me. Perhaps my gut is overly optimistic but right now it’s telling me that 2011 is going to be one of Wells’ strong years…and I say that after never having felt truly optimistic going into the 2010 season.
Oh, and most exciting of all? Kendry’s coming back!! This is reason enough to prompt its own happy dance, car, Angels related music or no. Hey, it’s been 11 whole days since I’ve mentioned this and I thought it was worth repeating…yes I counted. Recovering math geek, not recovered math geek. Now where did I put that iPod? I feel a little House of Pain coming on!
I really like baseball, but I’m not a stat head. Talking about baseball outside of the blogs, I hear a lot of people add this qualifier when they talk about being a fan. Of course, then most of them go on to remark on the statistics in some way – commenting on a particular player’s batting average, or their team’s Ace’s ERA for example. At first glance, this appears to be a contradiction.
Personally, I can no longer get away with the but I’m not a stat geek qualifier without my husband affectionately mocking me…just because I have been known to describe increased individually weighted segmentation in metrics for everything from corporate annual goals to Weight Watcher points as moving from a straight batting average to OPS. Is that any reason I ask you? Yeah, don’t answer that.
Suffice to say, I do love the stats. I think they’re a lot of fun and one important way to assess a player. However, the things I like the most about particular players cannot be described by stats – drive, hustle, work ethic, being a team player, guts, strategy, intelligence and the player trait that’s most important to me: is the guy clutch? So I would argue that I’m not a stat head either.
I think the reason for the seeming disconnect here is a problem with language. What most of us, myself included, mean when we say I’m not a stat head is that I’m not a person who values the numbers more than the human drama on the field, I don’t think that stats trump what you know with your eyes and your gut. And this is all well and good right up until we self professed non stat heads try to explain the ways in which a player we like exhibits the qualities we do admire – the guts, the hustle, the clutch. Once you’ve said it, how do you explain it? You either start describing a litany of specific feats of prowess during a game or you try to quantify these unquantifiable qualities with the only measure you have available, the stats. This is a conundrum only baseball could produce – even when you are absolutely not a stat head, you still embrace the statistics.
That said, has anyone else noticed how much adding in the sabermetric stats make baseball stats look an awful lot like D&D and other roleplaying game stats?
D&D Character: 17 STR mod +1, 14 DEX, -2 AC
I’m not entirely convinced this is coincidental. Many of the sabermaticians who came up with these stats were Ivy League math majors, after all. The fact that every time I read one of the more detailed free agent analyses I find myself thinking things like “It looks like a homerun? I don’t think so. My 18 UZR Carl Crawford casts magic missile. Role one D20 to see if your spell was successful,” however, must be entirely coincidental. Clearly I am not someone who would know anything about such things from their youth 😉