9/29/09

Why Your Team Will Blow it in the Playoffs: Los Angeles Angels

Well, it appears that just about all the playoff spots are decided. Per the excellent coolstandings.com, no team among the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies have a great shot of making the playoffs barring a miraculous late season run.

Now, this lack of drama is no fun at all in September, and it's nigh-unacceptable in the playoffs. So rather than just let things play out like they will, which is to say "predictably," we're going to try to throw a wrench into the hopes and dreams of fans of each of the aforementioned playoff probables. Because none of them are the Braves*. AND SO: onward with the hating. Up next: the behaloed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

*Believe you us, we fully realize that the Braves - and the Twins! - are only two games back at this point.  But, in the superstitious spirit of baseball, you can be sure we're not changing that intro unless one of those teams wrests control of a playoff spot away from the Rockies and/or Tigers.

Biggest Strength: The lineup.  This group scores a healthy 5.49 runs per game,  2nd most in MLB.  Kendry Morales would be a stealthy MVP candidate in any other year, with a hefty .303/.352/.565 line, and Torii Hunter finds himself rejuvenated this year to the tune of .297/.363/.507.  Catcher Mike Napoli* has posted a fine .832 OPS, and Bobby Abreu isn't far behind, with a .828 mark to go with what must be new legs that have allowed him to steal 29 bases at a 78% success rate.  

*Napoli, to us, is another confounding decision re playing time that the Angels have made.  For years, he and Jeff Mathis essentially had equal playing time, despite the fact that Napoli quickly proved himself a far, far more effective bat.  And,  of course, their glut of outfielders meant that the Angels had to find time at DH for some of those guys, further limiting one of their better young hitters.  But then, they have a history of doing such things.  Off the top of our head, we've got: Kendrick, Howie (play him while he's healthy, guys!); Izturis, Maicer (better than Erick Aybar, yet reduced to shared playing time); and Wood, Brandon (outlandishly good in the minors, never given a real chance to prove himself in the bigs).

The real strength of this unit, though, is not their big bats - it's their overall depth.  They don't have a lot of guys who seem particularly scary at the plate, but they are all effective.  Their .346 wOBA well outstrips the league average of .329, and their team batting average (don't yell at us!) is a tied-for-the-league-lead .285.  No one boasts a .400 OBP, but the team OBP is the 2nd highest in the league, and they only have three players clocking in under the league average of .333 - and of that three, Juan Rivera misses by .002 points, and Robb Quinlan just barely makes the 100 PA minimum (102).  Basically, it's hard to find such a balanced lineup among playoff contenders anywhere outside of New York.  

But wait a minute!

Sure, they can score...but they can't really prevent runs that well.  They allow 4.75 runs per game, which is 20th in MLB.  This is the lowest rank in either runs scored or runs allowed that any team in postseason contention (including the Braves and Twins) has posted.  And the reason is not too hard to find: beyond John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and maybe Kevin Jepsen and Darren Oliver, there simply have not been many good pitching performances this year.  The team ranks 12th in MLB in UZR, so defense isn't a real problem, but a 4.52 FIP that ranks 23rd in the league certainly is.  Among the starters, Lackey and Weaver both come in under 4.00 in FIP, but that's offset by the fact that Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders are both over 5.00.  Further, only Weaver ranks among the top 50 in SNLVAR.  And the problem extends past the rotation; they rank among the MLB's bottom 10 in K/9, HR/9, and WHIP.  Three of their relievers are allowing a full HR/9 or more; Sean Sullivan "boasts" a rather astounding 2.22 per 9.  Also, for what this is worth, the team's net WXRL is 9.02, or less than the combined work of Michael Wuertz and David Aardsma* alone.  

*Yes, we realize we're being somewhat mean-spirited here; both Wuertz and Aardsma are having fine seasons, and each possesses one of the best pitches in the game.  Wuertz's slider is absurdly unhittable (~50% whiff rate) and Aardsma has finally managed to control his overpowering (25.8% whiff rate) fastball.  But still.  

So, to recap: team can hit + team can't pitch = team will blow it (probably in remarkable fashion) in the playoffs.  Simple as that, folks.  For our money, the interesting thing about the Angels' postseason will be how they make the Red Sox look like the Big Red Machine in the first round of what is certain to be an inglorious October showing.  

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