September 29, 2010

Comings and goings

Seems like the Angels have been making a lot of news of late and trust me, it’s not because of their play on the field (even though it’s been good this week). I don’t normally recap a lot of news, but today I decided to take some time to update True Grich readers about what’s been going on.

The Goings:

Scot Shields is contemplating retirement. He hasn’t announced anything official, but he’s definitely thinking about it.

This from the LA Times blog: "I would say probably," Shields said before the Angels' game against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday night. "There's a business and a personal side of it. From the business side, you look at the bullpen and you can see all the young relievers they have coming up.

"On the personal side, your family comes first, and I've missed too much of my life with them. It might be time to go home."

I have mixed emotions about this one. On one hand I think it’s probably time for Shields to “go home.” On the other hand, it’s a sad day. Shields who was named “Setup Man of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated earned that title for good reason.

Last night I wore Dan Haren’s name and number on my back; in retrospect, I should have worn Shields’ t-shirt as a tribute to his contributions over the years. When you think about it; he had a thankless job. When he was great, everyone took him for granted and when he failed, Angel fans came down pretty hard on him. Heck, I even blogged about his crappy season this year.

Also leaving; the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. No, they’re not leaving the Epicenter, they’re leaving the Angels. They’re dumping the Angels for the Dodgers…

"The Dodgers are one of the most prestigious teams in all of sports and we are excited to begin our partnership with them in Rancho Cucamonga," said Quakes Managing Partner Bobby Brett.

Are you kidding me? The Dodgers used to be one of” the most prestigious teams,” but not any more (in my opinion). Then again, when you only draw 2,099 for the championship game of the Cal League something had to give.

I’ll miss going to the Epicenter. Hopefully, the Angels will land at a nice facility next year; although I have no idea where that might be right now. The two obvious choices are Bakersfield (former home for the Reds’ Single A affiliate) and San Bernardino (which was the Dodgers’ Single A home). I have to say neither one of them appeals to me much.

Next up: File this one under “I didn’t see this coming:”

It appears that the Director of Scouting for the Angels, Eddie Bane is on his way out.

The story broke via Twitter by John Manuel of Baseball America and was confirmed by the O.C. Register’s Dan Woike.

I always got the impression that Bane was highly regarded; so this news comes as a bit of a surprise. He was most recently a candidate for the General Manager’s job in Arizona that went to Kevin Towers.

Bane drafted the likes of Nick Adenhart, Mike Trout, Hank Conger, Jordan Walden and others. I’ll be curious to see if we learn more about the “why” in the coming days.

The Comings…

Mark Whicker of the OC Registers believes that Mike Trout come be up with the big club as soon as next season. Whickers points to current youngsters like the Cubs’ Starlin Castro (age 20); the Braves’ Jason Heyward (just turned 21) and the Marlins’ Mike Stanton (age 20) as examples of young guys who took the fast track to the bigs.

It’s easy to get excited about Trout. All you have to do is read what all the experts who rate prospects have to say about him or just see him play for that matter to start believing he’s coming soon.

Trout’s progress will be fun and exciting to watch. He could be that rare talent that arrives early and if he does – it could make the Angels outfield situation interesting as well. His natural position is center field which is currently occupied by Peter Bourjos and recently occupied by Torii Hunter.

I speculated in my last post that Trout’s anticipated arrival could mean Bourjos could be used in a trade (an idea my wife really got upset with me for even mentioning).

Also coming? How about Adrian Beltre.

Rob Bradford of WEEI talked with Beltre recently and Beltre told him, "I'll see what's best for me and my family," Beltre explained. "This year I was selfish enough, coming to the East Coast, knowing my wife was pregnant and she would be away from me basically for the whole year. This year is going to be more a family thing. It's been tough. I haven't seen family like l wanted to. We're going to settle down, discuss it, and see what's best for us."

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports' Hardball Talk seems to think that the Angels are a natural fit for him.

Beltre is one of those guys who really seems to polarize baseball fans. Some are sure he’s likely to be a bust once he signs a big contract and others look at him as a viable piece for upgrading an offense and defense (myself included).

I’ll admit that when I first thought about the possibility of Beltre coming to Anaheim, I immediately dismissed it, but once I really looked at his statistics I found them to better than I thought and warmed to the idea.

The idea of Beltre possibly coming to Anaheim makes sense when you factor in what Tony Reagins told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles: "You always have to take account of how the finances work, but we're not limited financially in any way," Reagins said. "Whatever we need to do that makes sense and that's reasonable, we'll address."

Saxon recaps the Angels recent organizational meetings in his blog; which had one noted absentee in Arte Moreno.

Saxon quotes Reagins who summed the two days by saying "We need to get better in every aspect of what we do," Reagins said. "That's pretty much the tone of the meeting."

Also coming; well sort of…

Mark Trumbo got a start in right field today. The OC Register’s Woike quoted Mike Scioscia as saying “We definitely want to take a look out there. In drills, he’s great, but you want to put him into a game and see how he reacts to the ball off the bat,” Scioscia said. “It just helps us an evaluation tool. It gives us a baseline.”

I only wonder why it took so long for the Angels to start playing Trumbo. If he can live up to expectations he would solve a lot of the Angels woes.

Finally, file this one under “Long gone.” Even still, his 2010 season is the gift that keeps giving…

Rob Munstis from The Bottomline Red Sox blog writes “The Red Sox were officially eliminated from the playoffs last night.”

“I find it fitting that John Lackey was on the hill for this moment. Sure he pitched well last night (6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 5 K) but you know what?”

“Too little too late Johnny-boy. I don't blame you for signing for $18 million per year... I blame Theo for that. But 13-11 with a 4.47 ERA, a 1.43 and a .280 opponent batting average?”

Well Rob, I feel your pain; however, I can’t say that Angel fans miss Lackey much given his subpar year. In fact, most of us are taking great delight in his subpar 2010 performance.

Just saying.

September 27, 2010

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

Last week I tried to answer the question of how the Angels got here? “Here” now meaning in third place and eliminated from the American League West pennant hunt. (By the way, I can’t tell you how much I hated writing that last sentence just now).

So, it's now September 27 and there are only three home games left in the season. I imagine that most Angel fans have a million things going through their minds right about now and most of that is most likely about how does the organization move forward?.

Believe it or not, I have some random and maybe not so random thoughts/questions of my own on the subject at hand. These aren’t necessarily the typical thoughts of an Angel fan, but then again – maybe they are. You tell me.

As we enter this important off season, I have to wonder if the Angels will ever do business with Scott Boras again. We all know how badly the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes went in 2008 and it appears that Boras may have burned his bridge to Anaheim forever.

Prior to the Teixeira negotiations taking place we heard that he and Arte Moreno had a great relationship. Boras was known to have season seats at Angel Stadium and it was reported that the two even had lunch together now and then.

Somewhere between sharing sandwiches and Teixeira signing a contract in New York something went wrong and a promising relationship soured (to put it mildly).

That point was hammered home when the Angels avoided any and all free agents in 2009 that were attached to Boras. Which begs the question: Was this a one time act or will the Angels do the same this year and in years to come?

If the Angels are in fact done with Boras that would put an end to any hope we might have in seeing Adrian Beltre (who is represented by Boras) in an Angels uniform next season. To make matters worse, it calls into question the future of Kendry Morales and Jered Weaver (who are also Boras clients) in Anaheim.

Boras really doesn’t have any other significant clients hitting the market in 2011 (unless you believe that Johnny Damon and/or Manny Ramirez have something left in the tank). Edit: Since writing this, I discovered that Jayson Werth is also a Boras' client.

Regardless of how anyone feels (good or bad) about Brandon Wood and/or Alberto Callaspo, it’s clear the Angels have a need at third base. If they don’t pursue Beltre at all, that might tell us a lot about the organization’s relationship or more importantly – Arte Moreno’s relationship with Boras.

Another thought. The Angels seem to have depth in all the wrong places. I know we shouldn’t get too excited about anyone who is a prospect, but it appears to me that Mike Trout is for real and he’s coming; maybe not this next year, but soon. The problem is he’s a center fielder and the Angels seem to have written Peter Bourjos in as the every day guy there. A fact made more evident by Torii Hunter’s move to right field.

So… what happens when Trout arrives? The easy solution would be to move one of them to a corner, but how do you do that if Hunter is in right and say someone like Carl Crawford is in left? I know I’m getting way ahead of myself here with the Trout scenario (and with Crawford), but this is the kind of stuff that wanders through my mind as I’m watching the Angels getting swept by the White Sox.

Let me add this – don’t be surprised if Bourjos is moved. Even though I’d hate to see that happen; I wouldn’t be stunned if Hunter was back in center and the Angels added some offense in both corner outfield positions (knowing Trout is not far away).

And then there’s Mark Trumbo. Word is he’s going to play some outfield in winter ball. Okay, sounds good – but again, how does a guy like Trumbo get a shot if someone like Carl Crawford is in left and Hunter is in right?

Is Trumbo going to be an insurance policy for Kendry Morales or a back up DH plan for either Bobby Abreu or Mike Napoli? Or is he going to have to go back to Salt Lake City for another year of AAA ball? You’d think a guy who has hit 36 homeruns with a career high .945 OPS doesn’t have anything left to prove there, wouldn’t you? Do you let him languish on the bench?

The more I think about it, the more puzzled I become. How do you decide between a free agent and a prospect when you need to fill a need at a certain position? It’s all kind of fuzzy despite the Angels having a history here. Everything that might happen impacts whatever happens after that.

The Angels have demonstrated time after time that they’re willing to let productive players walk in order to fill that position with a prospect they believe is ready. Granted those decisions haven’t always panned out (and no I’m not going to revisit any of them yet again).

I will say that the failures of Dallas McPherson and Wood have probably made it all the more difficult for guys like Trumbo to get a fair shot. Given the Angels track record, that history lesson is apt to make anyone gun shy.

More thoughts…

I’d sure like to meet the guy who is responsible for tagging Howie Kendrick with the “future batting champ” label. I’d not only like to know who that was, but ask him if he still holds that belief in his head.

As I look around the league, there seems to be a lot of mediocre second basemen out there. And you know what? Kendrick is one of them. There I said it.

This begs yet another question in my mind. Should the Angels trade Howie Kendrick? Look, I like Kendrick, but the Angels have to get better some how and the free agent landscape looks a little weak. They may need to get a little creative this off season. The wait and buy attitude of 2009 didn’t pan out so well. Time for a change.

The way I see it, if you’re going to have a mediocre second baseman, might as well make it Alberto Callaspo. Besides, the Angels have a 21 year old named Alexi Amarista who put together a pretty good minor league season (between Rancho Cucamonga, Arkansas and Salt Lake City) coming along.

Callaspo is the kind of hitter the Angels have been successful with. Even though he doesn’t walk a ton, he doesn’t strike out much either. In fact, he’s among the best at not striking out (just 7.3% of the time). He puts the ball in play and that goes hand in hand with the Angels offensive philosophy. Seems to me that he’s a better fit for what the Angels like to do than Kendrick is. He’s the prototypical #2 hitter, something the Angels have been waiting for Kendrick to become.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Callaspo is anyone to get overly excited about but neither are most of the second basemen in the league. I don’t think the difference between Callaspo and Kendrick is all that great (they’re even the same age) and yet – I think someone like Kendrick has value in a trade to another team.

The other question/thought I have is regarding Erick Aybar. Is he the guy who hit .312 or the guy hitting 58 points below that at .254? Is he something in between? More importantly is this really the Angels answer at short stop for the next few years?

Aybar has committed 20 fielding errors (he’s tied for 4th most in baseball). If there was category for base running blunders, he’d probably be among the league leaders for that too. My beef with Aybar isn’t the talent because it’s clear there’s a lot of that there. I have a problem with his focus. Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching Aybar play ball knows exactly what I’m talking about. I call him Gilligan for a reason.

So what am I talking about here? My thoughts (as random as they appear to be) do have a purpose. I’m thinking this off season may be unlike any other in team history. I think that it may be the most active off-season we’ve ever seen. I’m not talking about just signing free agents. I’m talking about the team making significant deals as well.

let's just say I will not be surprised if the 2011 roster looks significantly different than this year’s.

Last thought of the day. Some people (crazy ones) have the opinion that Mike Scioscia needs to go. There are a few people out there (again, crazy ones) who believe Scioscia has worn out his welcome and that maybe he’s lost the players.

If that were the case (and I don’t believe it is), I’d rather look for new players than get rid of Scioscia. He’s that important to the Angels success in my opinion and on that note, I’ll sign off for today.

True Grich goes Yahoo!

Today's post has a little different twist to it. You won't actually find it here on this site. Let me explain...

I was asked by Kevin Kaduk (Duk) of Big League Stew to write a little something about the Angels' 2010 season. It's actually a "Dear John" letter and you can find it here: Dear Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was actually posted there yesterday and I'll have something new for this site later today.

I'd like to thank Duk for the opportunity to write something for Yahoo! and welcome any readers visiting this blog for the first time. Please be sure to check out my other blog The Baseball Docent - Taking you on a tour of all things baseball. It is very much a work in progress, but I have some cool things cooking that will be up on that site in the near future.

In the mean time - let me again welcome any new folks to this blog. I hope you'll be back for more. If you're a regular reader - thank you too! Here's to hoping for a great Angels off season. Whatever happens or doesn't happen, you can count on me blogging about it here.

September 23, 2010

The view from down low

Last night was indicative of the Angels’ season. It’s not just that they lost, it’s about how they lost. They lost because their defense failed to execute and the result of that poor effort was two unearned runs and 2-1 Rangers victory.

The last two nights Cheryl and I decided to get some tickets down on the field level and we sat 20 rows behind the Angels dugout on Tuesday and 12 rows behind it on Wednesday.

What did we see?

Let’s start with Tuesday night. Ervin Santana was magnificent. He held the Rangers in check all night long on his way to a complete game shut out. I don’t know about you, but anytime the Angels shut out the Rangers, it makes me smile and Santana’s win was reminiscent of his division clinching performance last year against this same team.

Thank you Ervin and congratulations on your career high 17th win. You guaranteed us not having to see the Rangers eliminate the Angels from the pennant race on our home field. I know it’s a small victory, but I’ll take it. I would not have been able to stomach Ian Kinsler popping champagne in our house.

As great as Ervin was, the highlight of the evening was watching Hank Conger. I can’t wait for the day when he’s the every day catcher and Jeff Mathis is a distant memory. Granted, I’ll probably have nightmares about Mathis for the rest of my life, but as long as I’m able to wake up in a world where Conger is the catcher, I’ll deal with it.

Watching Conger motor around the bases on his triple was just fun to watch. The kid is a beast and I mean that in the best way. He’s going to hit a ton once he gets comfortable and he gives all Angel fans something to look forward to.

I have to tell you it’s still strange seeing Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver and Bengie Molina in opposing team colors. Of the three, I miss Molina the most. He’s easily one of my all-time favorites. When he was an Angel I had tremendous confidence in him every time he came to bat in key situations. He was the anti-Mathis in that he was extremely clutch.

In any case, it was a quick night. The game only lasted two hours and twelve minutes. Wouldn’t you know it, given our great seats. Oh well, we were grateful never-the-less given our late night adventure in Rancho Cucamonga the night before.

Wednesday night was down right frustrating. Cheryl and I got a bird’s eye view of Frandsen’s throw that went sailing into right field. It wasn’t even close. Let’s just be clear about Frandsen. He is not now; not has he ever been; nor will he ever be a quality third baseman. Let’s stop trying to make him into something he doesn’t have the capacity to accomplish.

In his brief stint at the major league level this year, I’m sure he has cost the Angels 3 or 4 games with his poor defense.

And then there’s Jeff Mathis. Maybe I should stop here before I say something I may regret. Nah, that wouldn’t be my style. I guess I'll try to temper my thoughts as much as possible.

The passed ball that cost the Angels the win was his sixth of the year. Now, you might think six passed balls is a lot, but think about this; there are 18 catchers with at least six passed balls. Of that group only four have caught fewer innings than he has, but none of them are being touted by their manager as being some sort of defensive genius.

His fielding percentage of .985 ranks as the 98th worst in major league baseball among all catchers. His seven errors ranks as 8th most even though he’s caught 100 less innings than the closest player above him with more errors. Imagine what kind of stats he’d have if he actually played more.

I’m as done with Jeff Mathis as anyone can possibly be. He has caused me more angst than Steve Finley, Shea Hillenbrand and Jeff Weaver combined and that’s saying something.

Speaking of angst, watching Juan Rivera up close the way we did made me appreciate how truly slow he really is. Watching him mosey in from right field after every inning was almost comical. I’m positive Bengie Molina could dust him in a foot race.

I will say this about good ol’ Tub of Goo though – he did get on base four times. He had two singles and two walks. The funny thing about the eight hits the Angels did get last night is that they all came at the hands of just four players, each of whom had two hits (Mike Napoli, Howie Kendrick, Rivera and Reggie Willits).

Did I mention Mathis was 0-4? Did I mention that he’s now hitting .189? Yes, I know Brandon Wood is just as bad this year, if not worse, but Mathis is in his sixth season. But, I digress…

Dan Haren Struggled. He threw 114 pitches over seven innings, but to his credit he battled and gave his team a chance to win.

Torii Hunter looks worn out. He left three men on base and even hit into an inning ending double play just when it looked like the Angels might make a game of it.

Jordan Walden hit 100 mph last night in route to a 1-2-3 8th and the rest of the bull pen did a fine job with the possible exception of Matt Palmer who took the loss with help from Mathis.

Before I stop writing about Jeff Mathis, I have to tell you that I had a revelation today. I think I might have figured out why Scioscia continues to play him despite all the evidence against that idea.

Scioscia is the pitch man for Howard’s Appliances. Howard’s sells TV’s. When people watch Jeff Mathis on television, they’re apt to get so disgusted that they’ll throw things at their sets. Think about it. They break their TV’s and have to replace them. Where do they go? They go to Howard’s. It’s a brilliant idea, don’t you think? That has to be the explanation.

Speaking of things I’m trying to figure out…

Kevin Jepsen(much to my surprise) looked good last night (1 inning, no hits, 2 K’s). That being said, I’m not sure how he was anointed as the set up man. He scares the crap out of me. I’m so used to him putting two or thee men on base every time he comes into the game that when he doesn’t I’m stunned. Scioscia’s loyalty towards him is almost Mathis-esque. That 1.43 WHIIP is alarming His walk rate per nine innings is up from 3.13 in 2009 to 4.70 in 2010. On the positive side, he is striking more people out, but the big concern is his control.

One last thing, we noticed that Scot Shields wasn’t in the bull pen at all during the game and he was hanging out in the dugout instead. Is he done? I mean, many of us have assumed that’s he’s done “stuff” wise, but is he physically done? In some ways this is kind of sad, if true because he’s the last remaining player linked to the 2002 World Series team.

And on that note, I’ll just say that all in all it was an enjoyable two nights down on the field level. This weekend we’ll be back in our regular seats.

Below are a few more photos from the game on Tuesday; including Mike Napoli going yard, Bobby Abreu having some fun, Jordan Walden throwing some heat and Hank Conger warming up.



September 21, 2010

Major League Dreams on a Minor League Field

When our heads hit our pillows last night it was nearly 1:00 a.m. Cheryl and I had traveled nearly 120 miles round trip to see a minor league baseball game even though a perfectly good major league game was taking place just down the road.

You see Cheryl and I have become accustomed to winning and our expectation is to see post season baseball every fall. So off we went to Rancho Cucamonga to see the fifth and final game of the California League Championship between the Quakes and the San Jose Giants.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time we go to a stadium we go knowing we might see something we’ve never seen before and might not ever see again. The anticipation of what might happen fuels or adventures.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any magical moments last night and the Quakes failed to win the game, but as I sit here on the train headed off to work early Tuesday morning; dead dog tired, I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets and would gladly do it again. So would Cheryl.

Even though we only made it to three Quakes games this year, we came away last night with a sense of disappointment; the kind of disappointment one experiences when they’re totally invested in something that doesn’t work out. We didn’t know a lot of the players names prior to going and even now I can only remember a few; however, the affinity we have for the team is real because they’re part of the Angels family. Most of the players we saw will never set foot in a major league ball park. For many of them, Rancho Cucamonga will be the last stop in their quest for a career in baseball.

I’m sure that for some last night was the biggest game of their lives and even though they should be proud of getting to the championship, the memory of not winning it all will likely stay with them forever.

The Quakes had their chances last night, but as is the case with just about every minor league game I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve been to that many), there’s a reason they call it “minor.” The play on the field is every bit that at times. Even the umpiring is suspect at times.

Last night the umpires had to meet after controversial plays on three occasions to discuss what had happened. In all three cases, they changed the call. Imagine that happening at the major league level. That doesn’t even include the obvious calls they missed and didn’t discuss.

The strike zone was a mystery and you had to wonder if the umpires were actually watching the same game at times. Their poor performance definitely factored against the Quakes, but it wasn’t the sole reason they fell short of a title.

Despite it all, it was baseball; good old fashioned baseball. It’s a shame that only 2,099 people managed to attend a championship game. I don’t understand why more people don’t make the effort to get to Rancho Cucamonga or any minor league park for that matter to take in some baseball.

Yes, you will see more passed balls, wild pitches, errors and routine plays that aren’t so routine than you ever will at the major league level, but you will also see players who are truly headed in the direction of a promising career and play that can be outstanding at times.

The most expensive ticket I could have purchased last night would have been $12, but even our $8 seats were fantastic. When we were there Saturday, we bought tickets that were just two rows from the field and directly across from third base. It was actually too close for us and we ended up moving up to higher seats for better photo opportunities, where there was no screen to protect us or mess with the auto focus on our camera.

The atmosphere is unlike anything you will ever experience. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s kid friendly and you are guaranteed to laugh and smile all game long. The mascots (Tremor and After Shock), the cheer leader (Crazy J) and even the music they play during the game make the experience memorable.

And then there’s the players... Cheryl and I know that we saw someone special in Mike Trout. His play stands out and even though it’s a long way from Single A to the major leagues, it appears (at least to us) that he’s on his way.

Last night he had two hits, was walked intentionally, got hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored 2 runs. He wasn’t quite as dynamic as he was Saturday night, but he was fun to watch just the same. He’s the kind of player who would do anything to win a game. Mike Scioscia is going to love having him on his roster one day.

When the Giants recorded the final out and began to celebrate on the field, Trout was stranded at third base. He represented the tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He had just been hit by a pitch, stole second base and then advanced to third on the throwing error. He was 90 feet away from tying the game and keeping hope alive.

As the Giants celebrated, Trout watched. We heard a lady in the stands imploring him not to look. I don’t know what she was thinking, but in my mind I’m glad he soaked it all in. I have a feeling the image of the Giants celebrating on his field will be etched in his mind and serve as motivation for him. I want him to remember last night and I hope he has a fire in his belly to not only get to the major leagues, but more importantly to be a champion.

Cheryl and I love baseball, but we love championship baseball even more. We look forward to the day when we can watch Mike Trout in October; in Anaheim on the biggest stage in the world. If and when he has a chance to raise a World Series trophy above his head, Cheryl and I will remember last night and cheer with pride, knowing Mike Trout learned something about winning on a Monday night in 2010. We will know that last night served as motivation for something bigger and even though we don’t know Trout on a personal level, we will have shared the experience with him in our own way. We will also know that the sleep we lost will have been worth it.

See you in Anaheim Mike Trout; see you real soon.


(Please note this post can also be found at The Baseball Docent. Posts from this blog will only appear on that site when appropriate).

September 20, 2010

Well, how did we get here?

There’s a song by the musical rock group Talking Heads that starts out like this…

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself: well... how did I get here?

Well, I imagine there’s been many a morning this season when the Angels woke up wondering to themselves; well - how did we get here?

Fear not, I have the answers.

When the 2009 season ended, the Angels were two games away from going to the World Series. A couple of breaks here or there and the Angels might have found their way to their second world championship. Today they find themselves on the verge of being mathematically eliminated (the elimination number is 4) from the Western Division title discussion.

It seemed logical that this team would be back to make another run at a title even with the pending free agency of five key players.

We knew that Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Darren Oliver would be free agents and we knew the likelihood of the Angels retaining all five would be highly unlikely. Most assumed they would keep some of them and everyone from radio talk show hosts to the fans themselves talked about how important last year’s off season would be.

Funny that a year later, the upcoming Hot Stove season is viewed (once again) as possibly THE most important off season for the Angels in recent history. Again, how did we get here?

As four of the players( who were all corner stones of the team) found their way out the door, it became apparent that the Angels would have to adjust and regroup. As we look back at that time – I think we can say the Angels made a reasonable attempt to do the right thing in some cases and totally missed the boat on others.

One of the first mistakes the organization made in my opinion was handing Bobby Abreu and two year contract at $9 million per with an option for a third year. Abreu signed that deal on November 5, 2009 which was quite early in the Hot Stove Season.

Abreu had a fabulous 2009 season, but let’s keep in mind that he had something to prove last year. Players often play above and beyond expectations when they’re auditioning for a new contract. Besides, he’s older than Yoda and regression is a way of life even for a Jedi Warrior.

That contract might not have been so bad had Abreu been penciled in as the every day DH to take over the role that belonged to Vlad Guerrero. However, that didn’t’ end up being the case – instead, he would continue in his role as the every day right fielder. That should have been the first clue that this team was in trouble.

Abreu is a player of diminishing defensive skills (to put it kindly). Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe he ever had any defensive skills what-so-ever. Sometimes it’s as if he’s running on ice and to make matters worse, he extends his glove like he’s hailing a cab. Not the best technique when trying to snare line drives and fly balls. He runs bad routes and looks like a guy who couldn’t pass a sobriety test.

To make matters worse, this year he became a player of diminishing offensive skills as well. Anyone who believed Abreu would continue to hit the way he did in 2009 for another year, let alone two or three had to be somewhat delusional. Abreu is currently hitting 38 points below his 2009 average of .293 and 32 points lower than his 2009 OPS of .825.

To be fair Abreu’s decline was somewhat predictable; however, no one anticipated him falling as much as he did. FanGraphs projected him at .289 with a .816 OPS.

With one of the five signed, Angel fans waited to see what would happen next.

The first domino from the 2009 roster to fall was Chone Figgins who signed a 4 year $36 million deal with Seattle Marines on December 8, 2009. Figgy cashed in on a pretty good 2009 campaign. It appears the Marines are fond of third basemen coming off career years and then signing them to large contracts (see Adrian Beltre).

The Angels unwillingness to match Figgy’s salary demands seem to pave the way for Brandon Wood to take over at third base. Besides, Angel fans had grown weary over Figgy’s post season numbers (which were horrible) and most were willing to see him walk away; especially for the price the Mariners paid.

In stepped Brandon Wood. Now, mention Brandon Wood to most Angel fans and you’re likely to get an ear full. You’ll get the full range of emotions on that topic. Everything from anger to frustration to hysterical laughter is the norm when talking about Wood.

All that being said, the idea of putting Wood in as the every day third baseman made all the sense in the world. He had nothing left to prove at the minor league level. He was also joining a lineup where he would hit last and the expectations weren’t exactly sky high. FanGraphs seemed to project reasonable numbers. CHONE and ZIPS both predicted 20 homeruns and a batting average around .245.

Well, we all know what happened there. Wood’s failure was monumental. Matthew Pouliot of HardballTalk talked about how Wood’s 2010 performance could end up ranking as the lowest of any player in the expansion era.

I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Sure, some Angel fans will tell you they did, but the reality of it all is no one saw Wood failing to catastrophic levels. No one.

On December 14, 2009 the Angels signed Hideki Matsui for $6.5 million. It was a very significant day in the history of Angels baseball in that it spelled the end of Vlad Guerrero’s six years in Anaheim.

Guerrero signed a one year deal with the Texas Rangers for $9 million plus a one year mutual option on January 11, 2010.

Message boards and sports talk shows have had their hands full with this one. Matsui was coming off an MVP performance in the 2009 World Series. Vlad was coming off his worst season since becoming a full time player in 1998. There was talk that his bat speed was slowing down and that his knees and body was giving out.

It made perfect sense to let him walk. Only those with an emotional attachment to Vlad questioned the move. The logic to say so long was overwhelming.

Well, logic doesn’t always factor into the real world (a topic for another day).

The late Rory Markas once tabbed Vlady a “Proud Warrior.” And apparently, Markas’ insight into Vlad’s character was dead on. Vlad is having what will likely earn him “Come back player of the year” honors this season.

He’s slowed a bit in the second half; however, even though his OPS dipped to .622 in July after being as high as 1.049 in June) he is finding his groove once again down the stretch with a .897 OPS in September (through 16 games).

Did the Angels let Vlad walk too soon? That does appear to be the case; never-the-less, the move made sense at the time and I can’t fault the Angels for going down this road. Despite his strong year, I don’t think Guerrero would have made enough of a difference for the Angels this year. Heck, Albert Pujols may not have even made a difference.

Matsui has been an acceptable DH for the most part, but his addition to a lineup that included players as un-athletic as Abreu and Juan Rivera was problematic. I made my concerns known back in December (twice) about both the possibility of adding Matsui and again when it became a reality.

I didn’t like the idea of adding any old, slow moving players. That being said, if you look at the Vlad/Matsui situation objectively I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe the Angels did “ok” here even though Vlad gets an edge offensively.

In fact, when Matsui is set loose this off season – it will be hard to replace his offensive production. The 20 homeruns and 79 RBI he has so far will be missed and the Angels will need to make up that offensive production some how.

Moving on…

December 16, 2009 will forever be remembered as the day John Lackey became dead to me. It’s the day Lackey signed a 5 year, $82.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

John Lackey was on his way to becoming one of my all-time favorites, but all that went out the window the day he signed with the one team that has been the most responsible for Angel fans’ post-season misery.

As bad as this loss seemed at that time, I have to say it is another situation where I don’t blame the Angels one bit for letting Lackey walk. $82.5 million? Really? I think it’s important to note that Lackey has a 4.63 ERA with the Red Sox; that’s his highest ERA since 2004. He doesn’t have any complete games this year, and his strikes outs per nine innings is the lowest it has been since 2002. On top of all that, Lackey has given up 219 hits this season; tied for the second most in baseball.

The list of career lows (I only scratched the surface above) for Lackey is significant. Lackey will be 32 in October and it appears that he’s on the downside of his career. He is not going be worth any where near $82.5 million over the lifetime of his contract.

So… if you’re one of those Angel fans who love to criticize the Angels for letting Lackey walk – I have three words for you: get over it. Be glad Lackey has moved on. End of story.

If you want to be upset about an Angel pitcher getting away – be upset about Darren Oliver. Oliver signed with the Texas Rangers on December 22, 2009 for $3.5 million plus a one year option. He signed for less money than he made in 2009 ($3.66 million). The fact that the Angels didn’t offer him arbitration and let him get away is inexcusable to me.

Think about the woes the Angels bull pen has had this year. Take two aspirin (okay maybe 3) and then think about the impact Oliver could have had if he remained an Angel. It’s a head scratcher. I believe the Angels didn’t offer Oliver arbitration because they knew he’d get a substantial raise and they were overconfident in their abilities to resign him for less.

I’m amazed more fans aren’t upset about this move (I was livid). Perhaps the reason Angel fans didn’t complain about the loss of Oliver is because two days after the Rangers signed Oliver, the Angels signed Fernando Rodney to a 2 year, $11 million contract.

Many saw this as move that would strengthen the bull pen. On the surface of things it looked like it might be a good deal. Here was a guy with a power arm (something Scioscia covets) and he was coming off a season where he had saved 37 of 38 games. He looked like an insurance policy for Brian Fuentes and at the very least a solid set up man.

However, a deeper look reveals some interesting statistics about the man who likes to wear his hat a little cockeyed. Rodney’s strike our rate per nine innings was 7.26 in 2009 after being as high as 13.5 in 2007 and 10.93 in 2008. His K rate this year? An even lower 6.97. It appears he’s fooling fewer and fewer batter these days.

I actually voiced my concerns prior to his signing back in December.

Rodney hasn’t done much to alleviate those concerns the thought of Rodney as the closer next season is enough to make Angel fans fall on their knees and beg for the return of Brian Fuentes. Given my opinions about closers, I’m not quite as concerned – but will admit those thoughts are changing every time he steps on the mound.

When the new year finally rolled around (and fans like myself were counting the days until spring training), the Angels had yet to replace Lackey, replaced Oliver with Rodney and Vlad with Matsui.

There were still holes to fill and questions to be answered. Some of that became clearer on January 5, 2010…

The idea that Wood would be taking over at third base became more apparent when the Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre that day. January 5th also saw the Mets sign Jason Bay to a 4 year, $66 million contract. And then on January 10, 2010 Matt Holliday signed a whopper of a deal with St. Louis (7 years, $120 million). Just like that, all the “big bats” were off the board. And let's not forget Vlad signed with Texas on January 11.

Whatever plans the Angels might have had to add more offense (a need that seems to come up year after year) all but evaporated. You might have asked yourself… Should the Angels have gone after Beltre, Bay or Holliday?

Holliday has had a pretty solid season, but not one that’s necessarily worth the $17 million he’s earning this year. Then again, the same might be said of Torii Hunter’s season and his $18 million contract. No doubt Holliday’s bat would have been a nice addition, but the cost would have been too high and the commitment too long.

I’d say the Angels did the right thing in not topping the Cardinals offer to Holliday and Jason Bay hasn’t exactly panned out for the Mets. Even before his concussion, he wasn’t hitting anywhere near what he had done over the course of his career.

As for Beltre, he has had a solid season; but the question with Beltre is always about his consistency. It appears that he shines brightest in contract years and guess what? That’s right – Beltre is auditioning for a big pay day. That being said, Beltre may be an interesting discussion yet again in 2011.

Here’s what we know… Beltre is a plus defender (something Scioscia also covets) and he did manage to hit at least 25 homeruns a season for three of his last four years in Seattle. At 31 years of age, he has the ability to be among the top five third basemen in the game, but he also has the potential to be a huge disappointment and grossly over paid. Also - his agent is Scott Boras, who probably isn’t on Arte Moreno’s Christmas card list.

The popular thought on Beltre seems to be to take a pass, but when I look at the landscape of who’s available to play third base I might be inclined to roll the dice on Beltre. Add the ongoing dilemma with Brandon Wood and the prospect of a mediocre Alberto Callaspo at third and Beltre doesn’t look so bad.

I don’t necessarily expect Beltre to repeat what he’s doing this season for Boston, but he is worthy of a discussion at the very least. In any case – I can’t fault the Angels for passing on Beltre last year. However, this next year, I may feel differently if they do that again.

On January 22, 2010, Christmas came late for the Angels. First, they managed to trade Gary Matthews, Jr. to the New York Mets. It didn’t matter much as to whom or what they got in return as most people viewed moving GMJ as addition by subtraction.

Turns out the Angels actually able to get something when they acquired Brian Stokes. Stokes had a solid 2009 season and was yet another power arm for the Angels pen. The move looked brilliant. Yes, I said “brilliant” – remember we’re talking GMJ.

Stokes didn’t pan out and ultimately was released, but even still not having Matthews on the roster was a plus all the way around.

January 22 was also the day the Angels inked Joel Pineiro to a two year, $16 million contract. It was a move that some applauded as being one of the best of the Hot Stove season. I was a little skeptical, when it happened but gradually came around to thinking it would be a solid move.

Pineiro has actually been one of the bright spots of the season even despite his time on the disabled list. While Pineiro’s ERA climbed a tad in 2010 (something we all expected), his strike outs per nine innings actually went up from 4.42 in 2009 to 5.70 this season. A nice trend.

Last, but not least on January 25 the Angels signed Maicer Izturis to a three year, $10 million deal. It was a deal they didn’t have to do, but wanted to because of how much Izturis has meant to the local doctors and how much money they can make off him. I’m kidding of course. Fact is Izturis is a nice piece, but whenever he’s counted on to make a regular contribution, he breaks down like a Ford (which is an acronym for Found On Road Dead or Fix Or Repair Daily).

I mean isn’t Izturis the kind of guy you sell to someone else? Or does baseball have some sort of lemon law? Whatever. The moves basically ended with his signing an extension.

And there you have it; the off season in a nut shell. The bottom line is that when I look at the moves that were made and those that weren’t, I am not certain there was anything the Angels front office could have done differently; at least not from a free agency stand point.

Now, that doesn’t mean they get a free pass either. They could have been more creative about the off season and explored possible trade partners, but that didn’t happen. They could have reacted quicker when Kendry Morales went down and when Brandon Wood didn’t pan out.

It’s easy to second guess at this point and I’m not really here to do that (you believe me don’t you?). I thought that putting the whole picture in perspective was warranted at this time. Many of the things I’ve written about here have been discussed; however, only in pieces. When you look at the big picture; it seems this season was somewhat predictable.

Now I know there are some fans out there who simply say the Angels lost too much and let too many good players walk away (an annoying and somewhat ignorant analysis). A closer look (like what we just did here) really shines a different light on the whole situation.

Now – this coming off season is definitely critical. I’m hoping the Angels get back to their winning ways and then we’ll sing that Talking Heads song with more emphasis on the lines “same as it ever was… same as it ever was.”

Hopefully, we won’t be singing…

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself
My God!... what have I done?

I know this is a bit strange.. but I can imagine Tony Reagins peforming this song:

September 19, 2010

Mike Trout is a big fish in any pond

Mike Trout did everything he could to try and lead the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to a game 3 victory in the California League Championship game against the San Jose Giants Saturday night. His performance was reminiscent of Rickey Henderson in that he dominated the game from the lead off position (and not because he refers to himself in the third person - which he doesn't).

Trout got things going early with a lead off homerun in the bottom of the first to give the Quakes a 1-0 lead. It happened so fast that Cheryl and I just looked at each other and smiled. When all was said and done he was 4 for 5, with 2 homeruns, 3 RBI, and 4 runs scored. He even walked once for good measure. It was quite an impressive performance.

It was the kind of game that would have made Keith Law proud. Law who writes for ESPN has said that Trout is probably the best prospect still playing in the minor leagues. Look for Trout to be on top of Law's 2011 prospect list. Given Trout’s game last night, it would be had to argue with that ranking. (Trout gets into his homerun trout in the photo on the right).

I know it was just one game, but it was still a heck of a game; especially given that it was in a championship series. The sad thing is that only 2,376 fans were on hand to witness it. Even sadder was the fact that the Giants won this contest 12-7 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

It’s hard to believe Trout (who wears #23) just turned 19 on August 7; especially when you compare him to the Giants’ own #23 Brandon Crawford who is 23. Crawford had some heroics of his own with a grand slam in the 11th inning that capped off a 5 run inning.

It’s hard not to get excited about Trout and even though we all know performances at any of the minor league levels doesn’t necessarily translate into big league success – the idea that Trout could be on the big club in a couple years seems real. He doesn’t carry himself like a typical 19 year old. It seems like he’s been here before. He's not wide eyed and instead is very matter-of-fact in his approach.

The game almost seems routine to him. Every time he trots out to the field he touches third base and does the same when running back into the dugout. He’s “old school” with the high socks and he’s just the kind of player you can't help but love.

I’m not sure what was more impressive; his two homeruns or what he was able to accomplish in the bottom of the 9th. With his team trailing by three and two men on, Trout singled to drive in a run, advanced to third on a throwing error, while another run scored to bring the Quakes to within one.

He then scored on a suicide squeeze play (yes, they play Angels baseball at every level) for what was his fourth run scored (he scored 4 of the 7 Quakes runs). This photo on the right illustrates just how fast he is... he's a blurr. You blink and he's gone. Okay maybe I'm fudging the truth just a tad here.

In any case, even his walk in the bottom of the 11th inning showed poise. Some players may have tried to do too much in that situation, but not Trout.

Side note - I’m writing this Sunday night and you should know the Quakes tied up the series this evening with a 4-0 win (I wasn’t there) and will play in Rancho Cucamonga for the Cal League Championship tomorrow (Monday) night; winner take all. The True Grich crew (Cheryl and I) just might be there... Trout was 2 for 4 with an RBI and run scored.

That may have very well have been his last game in Rancho Cucamonga and the next time Angel fans see him may very well be in Anaheim with the big club. Even if he's back at single A next year, it still might have been his last game as a Quake. There have also been reports that the Quakes may become the Dodgers affiliate next year. I guess the Quakes want to live up to their name, shake things up and have some chaos. Just saying…

I know what you're thinking "Crazy J" and I'd throw my hands up in the air if that happened as well (that's him on the left, in case you couldn't figure it out) .

By the way, Trout is now on the True Grich payroll. That’s right; the photo you see below is of me putting some cash into the hat for the first homerun he hit Saturday night. Seriously, the boosters have this tradition of passing the hat in an effort to collect a little extra money for the players when they hit homeruns.

Hey, it's a long way from the major leagues and every dollar counts.


September 14, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

I love four game winning streaks. I love any kind of winning, but when they involve streaks of multiple games they’re extra special. Never mind that two of the Angels victories came after 30 innings, which is basically the equivalent of 3.3 games. It’s still good. Too bad the Angels didn’t receive 3.3 wins for their efforts. Never-the-less – winning is always fun.

That being said, the question remains; is this too little, too late? On one hand I’d like to enjoy the victories at a basic level and appreciate the fact that the Angels played well enough to win. On the other, I can’t help but wonder if they have any chance what-so-ever at catching the Texas Rangers?

I know strangers things have happened and it’s only natural to speculate about the possibility. However, the reality is the odds are against the Angels. I just hope they finish strong.

Look, the Angels have 19 games remaining and their elimination number is 10. Any combination of Ranger victories and/or Angel defeats adding up to ten over the next 19 games and the Angels are mathematically eliminated.

You can run all the scenarios through your head. When you do the math; again, the odds are stacked against the Angels. And when you factor in the Oakland Athletics also being ahead of the Angels the water really becomes murky. Let’s just say the fat lady is warming up.

I know I know who am I to rain on the parade? Let’s just say I’m trying to keep a little perspective. Right now, my immediate hope is that Texas doesn’t roll into town next week to clinch the division. The idea of watching them celebrate in our stadium is enough to make me projectile vomit. Just saying.

Speaking of the nauseating… let’s talk about the role of the closer on the Angels. In my opinion, the much maligned Brian Fuentes was doing a pretty good job. Yes, he made some games interesting, but he had come to the point of being pretty consistent. He had saved 17 of his last 18 opportunities. His ERA had dropped considerably from June 20th on.

Never-the-less, Angel fans clamored for Fernando Rodney to be inserted into the closer role and wished to see Fuentes sent off to parts unknown. Well, be careful what you wish for.

Since August 30, Rodney has blown three out of eight chances. Despite that the Angels did win two of those games; but even with that, Rodney has given Angel fans more to moan about.

Personally, I don’t really have a beef with Rodney and I didn’t really have a problem with Fuentes. The way I see it – closers are basically a hit or miss deal. If your closer isn’t named Mariano Rivera, you don’t know what you’re going to get from year to year.

Look at who has struggled this year. Jonathan Papelbon has blown seven saves and so has Billy Wagner of the Braves. Francisco Cordero has blown 8 saves for the division leading Cincinnati Reds. Jonathon Broxton has six blown saves and has basically lost his role as the Dodgers closer.

Closers can be great one year and a total bust the next and vice versa. I venture to guess that if you ask just about any fan base about their closer – none are entirely pleased with theirs. Even the great Mariano has blown three opportunities (not that Yankee fans are complaining). Nobody is perfect; at least not this year. In fact, only a handful of guys have been even close to perfect. The best of the bunch? Joaquin Soria of the Royals who has 37 saves in 39 chances; Rafael Soriano who has saved 42 out of 45 games; Heath Bell of the Padres with 41 out 44 and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers who has saved 36 out of 39.

Brad Lidge is the only guy in recent memory (not including those suspected of steroid use – hello “Game Over”) who has had a perfect season (Lidge saved 41 of 41 in 2008 for the Phillies). Keep in mind he blew 8 saves the year prior in 2007 with the Astros and then blew a mind boggling 11 games in 2009 with the Phillies.

When you think about it... or at least when I think about it - Brian Fuentes didn’t look so bad.

Think about this – There are 34 closers who have at least ten saves on the year (as of 9/14/10). That group has saved 868 games and blown 145. That’s an 85% success rate (think of someone saving 34 out of 40 games). Most people would consider that a horrible percentage. The percentages dip even lower for those who have save totals between 3 and 9. That group which includes 22 pitchers has only saved 112 out of 174 games for a horrid 64% (think of approximately 26 saves out of 40).

That’s a lot of anxious moments for fans throughout baseball. Something else to think about - there are 30 major league teams and 121 different players have at least one save and even more who have had "save opportunities."



How many times has one guy started the year as the closer only to be replaced by someone else? I don't have that answer handy - but Angel fans should think about the year K-Rod walked and how many assumed Jose Arredondo would become the closer. Whatever happened to him you ask? Exactly...

My point is that everyone wants a "shut down" closer who is perfect night in and night out while the reality is - that pitcher simply doesn’t exist. Before you start booing your closer or wishing for someone else to take on that role, you’d better realize how volatile the role is to begin with and just having a guy who can handle that kind of rollercoaster ride is not a bad thing even if he blows 5, 6 or 7 games in a year now and then. We all have to temper our expectations when it comes to closing games.

Fuentes would have been fine. Rodney will probably be fine, all things considered.

You watch - when Rafael Soriano hits the free agent market this year - some team, some where will over pay for his services. In my opinion, he doesn't have the track record to warrant a long term deal, but someone will give him one. It will be a move that team will more than likely regret in the long run.

Wishing for win streaks = good thing. Wishing for someone else to close your games for your team = a dangerous proposition.

September 9, 2010

Jeff Mathis never looked so good making an out

One of the great things about going to the ball park is that you never know what you’re going to see. You might even see a no-hitter (odds seem better than usual for that this year). In fact you might see something you thought would be down right impossible; like Jeff Mathis winning a game in extra innings.

Come on; you knew that was coming, didn’t you?

So yesterday, I went to the Angels/Indians game by myself. Since I was going alone, I thought I’d do something different. I didn’t go up to my section on the view level at all. I thought I’d roam around the field level, take pictures and watch the game from different vantage points. (The photo below, right is of my season seat section around the third inning).

I have to tell you that a bad team looks bad no matter where you sit. That being said, it was great to see an Angels victory; even if it did take 16 innings! It’s not every day that you get to experience a 7th inning AND a 14th inning stretch.

A lot of things went through my mind over the course of the day. Okay, I know the game was only about five hours long (did I say only?), but it seemed like a whole day.

In the third inning I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that both Scott Kazmir and Josh Tomlin hadn’t give up a hit. Of course Kazmir had already walked three, but my point was that I was surprised to see a “pitching duel.” Who knew?

When Jason Donald led off the 5th with a double, I fully expected Kazmir to get shelled from that point on. Much to my surprise, Kazmir limited the damage to one run. That was real progress and yes, I am being serious.

Now if you’ve been paying attention to the Angels of late, you’d know that falling behind at any point in the game, even if it’s only 1-0 smells like disaster. Oh, but not on this day; no sir, Mike Napoli (you know the guy who can’t seem to find regular playing time even though he leads the team in homers) came to the plate with Alberto Callaspo on base and drilled a homerun to deep left field. (That's Napoli's actual homerun swing to the right)

And what do you know? The Angels go on top 2-1.

In the bottom of the 6th the Angels pad that lead with a solo homer from Peter Bourjos. Can I just tell you again how much I like this kid? He’s figuring things out and I have a lot of confidence that he’ll be a solid major league ball player. Even though he’s hitting under .200 I never get the impression that he’s overmatched.

So, the Angels are on top 3-1 and it’s now the 7th inning. I was thinking that this game was cruising along and I’d be able to join my wife Cheryl and her mom for dinner. The instant I thought that I knew I was in trouble.

I guess I should know by now that assumptions in baseball are a dangerous thing. Sure enough, my assuming that a game that was moving along at a nice pace would continue to do so was the kiss of death.

Andy Marte decided to make things interesting with a solo homerun off Jordan Walden. Marte who was hitting all of .211 with 4 homeruns (coming into the game) turned on a 99 mph fast ball and bam; it was now 3-2 Angels. Not to worry I thought.

I have to admit, that I was feeling a little optimistic yesterday and I convinced myself that the Angels bull pen would shut the Indians down and we’d all be going home with a 3-2 victory. Boy was I wrong.

Fernando Rodney (hat cocked to the side and all) gave up the tying run (his fourth blown save of the year) and just like that we were headed for extra innings. What is it with closers with the initials F.R. (like Frankie Rodriguez) and 9th inning drama?

Whatever.

Remember, I was feeling optimistic. I knew Torii Hunter was leading off the bottom of the 9th and I was thinking how nice a walk off homerun would be at that point.

Well, that didn’t happen.

In the bottom of the 10th, Juan Rivera looked like he might be a hero when he sent a fly ball to deep center field. It looked like it had a chance to go out; however, the Indians’ center fielder Michael Brantley had other plans and robbed Rivera of a homerun. Tub of goo lives on.

I looked in the dugout and I saw Torii Hunter shaking his head. I tried to imagine what he might be thinking. I mean, isn’t he’s the only one who’s supposed to take homeruns away from people?

Next thing you know it’s the bottom of the 11th inning and the bases are loaded with one out. Surely the Angels can score a guy now. I mean all they have to do is squeeze the runner home, right? I mean that's Angels baseball!

Up steps Jeff Mathis and the guy who can’t hit worth a lick apparently can’t bunt either. He pops it up and now there are two outs. I start to wonder if Hank Conger could do a better job of hitting while blind folded.

Up steps Erick Aybar and I started to believe this game would never end.

The crowd is getting pretty thin at this point and I question whether or not the rats at the stadium out number the fans. The game goes on and on and on. (That's my section again on the right when the game went into extra innings)

I start to get a little delusional (at least more than usual) and think about how cool it would be to see Reggie Willits hit a walk off homer. When he walks in the 12th inning, I start to speculate as to whether or not he could steal home all the way from first base. Realizing that’s not possible, I start to hope for a stolen base, a balk and a wild pitch to bring him home.

Yes, I was that desperate.

In the thirteenth inning Francisco Rodriguez comes in and walks two. I have to tell you that I don’t particularly care for anyone named Francisco Rodriguez – past, present or future at this point. That being said, he gets out of the inning.

Now, it’s getting cold and I didn’t have a jacket; I had thought I’d be home before it got dark. Now, I was questioning if I’d be home before dawn. I look at the Padres/Dodgers game and wondered which game would finish first (even though their game started three hours later). I’m hungry and the concession stands are out of hot dogs. My stomach started rumbling and I started thinking of where I would stop for a bite on my way home and wondering if any of my choices would still be open when I finally did head home.

The baseball game or something that resembles a baseball game continued on.

When Sin-Soo Choo stepped up to bat in the top of the 16th, I remember thinking that this has to be about his 15th AB of the game. Wasn’t he just up? Was my mind playing tricks on me? Choo walked with two outs. Matt Palmer was pitching and just as my mind starts to wander again (I start to speculate whether or not Palmer would receive credit for a complete game if he pitched nine innings), Palmer tries a pick off throw that gets past Juan Rivera (surprise) and Choo high tails it down to second base.

I thought to myself; well, that’s about right – the Angels probably average at least one error every nine inning (at least lately) and that was the second one in the game. After all, the Angels are next to last in the American League in fielding (I actually looked that up)!

Even if the error hadn’t happened, Choo probably would have stolen the base anyway (Jeff Mathis was behind the plate) since the Angels have given up the third most stolen bases in all of baseball this year (yup, looked that up too). Either way, we had to know Choo was getting to second base one way or another. Just saying.

Anyway, Palmer pitches to Jordan Brown and catches a come backer just as he completes the little bunny hop he does after he throws the ball; Rivera handles the toss (I know that’s hard to believe) and we were on to the bottom of the 16th.

Torii Hunter came to the plate and I’m thought once again that a walk-off homerun would be nice. Hunter doubles and I started to like our chances. Alberto Callaspo advanced Hunter to third on a ground out and now Hunter was a mere 90 feet away with one out. I felt good; that is until I saw who was up next. (The photo to the right is Hunter stroking his double),

No, please; not again! It was Jeff Mathis. At this point I was sure the game was going to break records for the number of innings and my choices for dinning options were getting smaller and smaller by the minute.

Surely, Mike Scioscia wouldn’t ask him to squeeze again, right?

Right!

Boo-ya! Mathis swung away and hit a fly ball to right field; Hunter tagged up and scored the winning run.

Game over and it was time for me to head to In ‘N Out. And that’s what a 16 inning walk off win is all about.

The two teams combined to throw 506 pitches and even though the Indians out hit the Angels 14-6 (and let’s not forget the Angels had two errors to boot – no pun intended), the Angels emerged victorious and I had the perfect material for this, my 200th post on this blog!

Baseball is amazing. Jeff Mathis came into the game hitting .194 and he ended up being a hero by doing what he does best, making an out (he’s now hitting .192). Tuesday night Lou Marson of the Indians entered that game hitting .189 and proceeded to hit a grand slam to help the Indians to a 6-1 win. It was only Marson’s third homerun in 241 plate appearances this year.

That’s baseball. I love this game!

September 8, 2010

The legacy of Roberto Clemente lives on

Torii Hunter is everything one could hope for in a baseball player. He’s a dynamic talent on the field. He plays the game with passion and comes to the ball park with a smile and a positive attitude every day. Off the field, he’s equally, if not even more dynamic with his service to the community and his philanthropic endeavors.

Torii Hunter is simply, without question my favorite player in the game today. I like the way he carries himself. Long before he ever put on an Angels uniform, Hunter was the guy I loved to watch more than any other. He put a premium on defense and made it cool to be a great defensive player.

My all-time favorite player is Roberto Clemente, the Hall of Famer who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972. He captured my attention as a young kid in 1971, the year the Pirates won a World Series. It was the first year the World Series had night games and that allowed kids like me to tune in at night. 1971 will always be special because it was the first World Series that captured my attention. It was also the year I was introduced to the talent of Clemente and thus, one of my fondest baseball memories.

Clemente died tragically on December 31, 1972 in a plane crash while taking supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. He was one of the most gifted baseball players of all time, but his greatest attribute was in his service to those in need.

Yesterday (Sept. 7, 2010), Major League Baseball announced that Torii Hunter was named the Angels’ 2010 nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.

How perfect. Rather than blogging about the abysmal season that is the Angels’ 2010 campaign, I have something better to focus on today.

Today is the 9th Annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente’s legacy and to officially recognize local Club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.

The Award recognizes players who best represent the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs.

There are 30 nominees, but I’m here to focus on just one.

In an era when the Nyjer Morgans of the world grab headlines, it’s nice to take some time to recognize those who are actually doing something positive in the world. It’s actually a pleasure to be able to focus on one of the good guys of the game; and that’s Torii Hunter.

I couldn’t tell you who the other 29 nominees are; although I could look it up. All I know is that the award has been given out every year since 1971 and an Angel has never won it. It would be an awesome honor for Hunter to be the first.

I received a press release from the Angels yesterday announcing the nomination. Here’s an excerpt:

Torii Hunter’s passion for helping others sets him apart as one of the true ambassadors of the game. His primary charitable work is done with his own charity, The Torii Hunter Project a program founded in January of 2006. The Torii Hunter Project is a comprehensive, long-term effort to impact youth in need in various locations throughout the United States. The project has four areas of focus related to youth: Sports, Community, Education, and Wellness. Torii and his wife Katrina have personally contributed over $1 million to the project. These efforts include youth athletic facilities in Southern California and Pine Bluff, AR; assistance for children in need, homeless families, children with terminal illnesses, and other community-based and wellness support.

The Torii Hunter Project Education Initiative officially kicked off in 2008. The initiative, which is operated by the Heart of a Champion Foundation, focuses on two aspects: the Heart of a Champion character education curriculum, which is delivered to students in Anaheim, CA, Pine Bluff, AR and Minneapolis, MN and the Hunter’s Hundred scholarship program, which will provide college scholarships to 100 students from Anaheim, Pine Bluff and Las Vegas, NV over the next four years. The goal of the initiative is to raise five million dollars over the next four years to fund both programs. Reaching this goal will enable The Torii Hunter Project to provide the Heart of a Champion program to over 50,000 students, and to fund college scholarships for at least 100 high school graduates.

“Torii’s impact goes far beyond the game of baseball,” stated Angels community relations coordinator Lindsay McHolm. “His most impressive accomplishments are those that have come away from the baseball field, in the community and in the lives of children. He exemplifies what it means to give back to the community that so strongly supports him.”

“Being nominated for this award is very special to me,” Hunter stated. “Roberto Clemente is a hero of mine not just because of his incredible talent, but because of his strong character and his passion for helping others. I am truly honored to be considered for this incredible award.”

As I sit here and think about Hunter’s nomination, I can’t help but smile and think that two of my all-time favorites could be connected via this award.

The Torii Hunter Project lists this educational initiative on its web site: “The way I grew up was pretty tough, I vowed to myself, that if I ever got the opportunity to help anybody that I was going to do it. That's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about helping kids." - Torii Hunter.

Fans can participate in the voting process by visiting the official site. The winner of the fan poll will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel, which includes Vera Clemente, wife of the late Hall of Famer; Commissioner Selig; MLB Network analyst and former Roberto Clemente Award winner Harold Reynolds; MLB Network analyst, TBS broadcaster and former Roberto Clemente Award winner John Smoltz; Hall of Famer and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan; former All-Star catcher and FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver; and MLB.com senior correspondent Hal Bodley.

In closing, I tried to draw parallels between the two careers, but found more differences than similarities. Clemente was the much more accomplished offensive player and although both have won multiple gold gloves (12 for Clemente and 9 for Hunter) Clemente had the superior arm. Comparing the two for what they accomplish on the field wouldn't be fair. Clemente is a Hall of Famer; and a 12 time all-star. Hunter is a spectacular talent, but most likely won't end up in Cooperstown.

Regardless, both are on the only list that really matters on this blog and that's my all-time favorites list (Bobby Grich is my favorite Angel of all time, Hunter is my favorite player in the game today and Clemente is my all time favorite player, period). Just saying.

Off the field - it's clear the two are definitely peers and their passion for serving others is certainly worth noting. I salute Torii Hunter's nomination and applaud the legacy of Roberto Clemente. To think that the two could be connected iva this award is simply awesome.

September 7, 2010

Grasping at straws

I know it; you know it; heck, I’m sure even the Angels know it deep down inside. This season is over. It’s done. Sure, the team hasn’t been mathematically eliminated, but it sure seems like they’ve checked out and are in the process of packing for a vacation.

Despite all the evidence (and there’s plenty) that points to the Angels packing it in for 2010 the idea that it's over seems lost on some. Roger Lodge who hosts the Sports Lodge on AM 830 each week day morning is definitely still trying to make us believe the Angels are on the verge of making a run.

On Monday’s show – Lodge tried to convince Angel fans (and anyone else who might be listening), that the Angels could win the next six games in a row while the Texas Rangers go stumbling against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees (their current and next opponents).

I’m all for optimism. I really am. I’d much rather have hope and cling to that hope than throw in the towel. It’s just that in this case, I haven’t seen anything what-so-ever that gives me a reason to believe the Angels can turn it around and leap frog the Oakland A’s (remember them?) and catch the Texas Rangers.

Yeah, that’s right – the Rangers aren’t the only team the Angels are trailing; those stinking Oakland A’s are also ahead of the Halos.

Here’s the thing – the Angels have eleven games before they face Texas again (as of Tuesday morning). They trail the Rangers by 9.5 games, the same number they trailed by ten games ago.
Making up 9.5 games would require a come-back of momentous proportions. Let me put it to you this way – the Angels have 24 games left. The elimination number for the Angels is 16 – that means any combination of Ranger wins or Angel losses totaling 16 and the Angels are toast. The Rangers have 25 games left.

Let’s say the Angels do the impossible and go 20-4. All the Rangers would have to do is go 12-13 to win the west. While it’s entirely possible the Rangers could go 12-13; it’s highly unlikely the Angels go 20-4. Let’s say the Angels go a respectable 16-8. Well then, the Rangers would only have to go 8-17 to win the pennant.

And all of this doesn’t even factor in what the A’s have to do.

With all due respect to Roger Lodge and the rest of those lighting candles – if you still believe the Angels will win the west, I’d say you’re grasping at straws.

On a positive note – Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger have been added to the Angels’ expanded roster. Their team (Salt Lake City Bees) fell short of a play-off birth this year and both may get their first shot at playing in the major leagues tonight or sometime in the near future.

Trumbo tied for the minor league lead in homeruns with 36. Conger has been one of the most highly touted Angel prospects since the day he was drafted in the first round of the 2006 Amateur draft.

Trumbo is particularly interesting. Some assume that he’s the next Dallas McPherson and/or Brandon Wood. That’s totally unfair of course, but the comparisons are inevitable.

Trumbo has posted his highest OPS (.945) of his minor league career this season and at 24 years of age, could a significant piece of the 2011 puzzle. He clearly doesn’t have much to prove at Salt Lake City. The question for us fans is why hasn’t he been called up sooner? Given the lack of offense, why wasn’t Trumbo given the opportunity to make a difference; especially since he was having the most significant offensive season of his life?

As for Conger – it’s possible that he could make the Mathis vs. Napoli argument moot if he can demonstrate the ability to play solid defense. His offense has never been in question. His health on the other hand and his development behind the plate remain topics for discussion. Conger has a golden opportunity – be it in September or sometime in the near future.

These two compelling stories are what I’ll be focused on when I’m at the game; along with the continued development of Peter Bourjos.

Cheryl and I will be at the stadium to take it all in and if by chance the Angels want to do the impossible and make some history... well, that would be fine by us!

September 1, 2010

Dead man walking

Okay, so I’m listening to the Angels/Mariners game on the radio last night (Tuesday) and the Angels and Marines are scoreless in the 7th and I hear Terry Smith say “The Angels need a two out hit from Jeff Mathis” and it hits me… I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more demoralizing line than that one.

And with that one line, this blog post was born.

Every time Mathis comes to the plate, my expectations drop considerably. Any hope I might have for a rally or just a simple single disappears completely. After all, Mathis has just five hits in his last 51 at bats and he’s hitting .193 on the season.

It would be one thing if Mathis actually made up for his horrible offense with outstanding defense, but that’s not the case, at least not in my opinion. I don’t understand Mike Scioscia’s man crush on Mathis; I just don’t. I know that Scioscia knows more about catching than I could ever dream of, but I still don’t see it.

The easy thing to do would be to just accept the idea that Scioscia knows more and shouldn’t be questioned, but that’s just not how I roll. I wish someone would ask Scioscia the questions that would clarify exactly why Mathis is his guy.

The way I see it, Mike Napoli is for all intensive purposes a “dead man walking.”

Napoli is uncertain about his future in Anaheim. He told Bill Plunkett of the O.C. Register “I have no idea,” Napoli said when asked what he thought the waiver news signaled about his future with the Angels. “I don’t know what my future is here. “I think it could go either way. I want to be able to play every day. I feel I have the potential to help the team out being in the lineup every day. … I’d just like to play.”

Plunkett goes on to write that Napoli said he has talked with Scioscia about playing time in the past and the conversation always turns back to “not getting it done on the defensive side.”

I’m sure smarter people than myself can tell me what it is that makes Mathis better; at least I assume as much. I’ve read all kinds of things over the past few years and none of it jives with what I see when I watch games at the stadium or on television.

My image of Mathis is of a guy who can’t throw runners out and is more likely to air mail a ball into the outfield when trying to throw someone out. He can’t hit and he can’t throw. What else is there? I guess he calls a whale of a game because I can’t imagine any other reason why he’s on a major league roster, let alone getting consistent starts over Mike Napoli or even Bobby Wilson.

Prior to the 2009 season I read about how his brother helped convert a barn on his property into a batting cage and how he worked on his hitting in the off season. The 2009 season rolled around and Mathis still couldn’t hit worth a darn. He then teased us with glimpses of a major league hitter by doing well in the play-offs and we were duped into believing he finally figured it out.

Enter 2010 and he comes out of spring training and looks as if he might pick up where he left off in 2009. After 10 games he was hitting .324 and then he suffered an injury to his wrist that put him on the DL. He never recovered and when he came back on July 19 his average continued to go down steadily (occasionally going up a point here and there) until he found himself hitting .236 on July 11. On July 15 he had three hits and his average jumped to .258 and then it was over. From July 16 on, his average never went above that .258 mark and plummeted all the way to where it is today at .193.

How bad is Jeff Mathis? A member of Halos Heaven named Suboptimal articulates just how bad Mathis is in his piece titled Jeff Mathis Making History Backwards.

If you take the time to read Suboptimal’s piece you will see that Mathis is monumentally bad. We are talking bad in epic proportions. I mean he’s one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball. Yes, he’s really that bad.

At the time that piece was written Mathis had a career batting average of .200 which ranked him 7th worst in the history of baseball for batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances which includes more than 3,000 players (a point hammered home by Suboptimal).

I’m thinking if your offense is that bad, your defense better be among the best in major league history. I’m thinking it better be more spectacular than Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. I mean we’re talking about defense that would put Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in his prime to shame, right? His defense shouldn’t just be good; it should be Molina good as in Bengie, Jose or Yadier good.

Well, that’s not the case.

So as we look to the 2011 season (what Angel fan hasn’t done that?) I can’t help but believe that the catching situation is foggy. That being said, I also can’t help but believe that Napoli will be playing for a different team, thus the phrase “dead man walking.”

Napoli is making $3.6 million this year and despite his lack of playing time, leads the Angels in homeruns and is due for a pay increase. Regardless of whether or not that increase comes voluntarily from the Angels or via arbitration, Napoli’s salary is going up. I find it doubtful that the Angels will keep a guy making more than $4 or $5 million on their roster if they view that guy as a part time player.

If ever there was a candidate to be traded, it’s Napoli and even though his own manager might not like his game, he does have value. He can catch, play first base and DH and has Paul Bunyanesque power. His trade value is high right now and the Angels will deal him, in my opinion. It’s not something I’d like to see, but I believe it’s inevitable.

Of course the thought of Mathis as the man behind the plate makes me uneasy and it doesn’t make me feel confident about 2011. The hype behind Hank Conger seems to have faded somewhat after a good, but not great season at AAA and it seems likely to me that the Angels will keep him at Salt Lake City for another year, especially since I haven’t read any glowing reports about his defense (he’s made 13 errors). If defense is the main requirement for Scioscia, it’s likely Conger has more work to do.

That being said, Conger might be further along than I think and might play a signficant role in 2011. I suppose anything is possible.

What I do know is that the Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli debate has been beaten into the ground on internet message boards and on AM 830’s Angels talk, but it’s a discussion that’s important to Angel fans. It’s murky. It’s volatile and it leaves Angel fans feeling uncertain and even confused.

I have no idea how it will play out, but I have to believe the catching “controversy” will have to be resolved this off season some how.