Five Untrue Things You’ll Learn About the Angels This Week

With apologies to Mr. Studeman

1. Vladimir Guerrero swings at everything.

Sure, the Dominhackan will take a lusty rip at anything that looks yummy to him early in the count, but he’s the only player I’ve ever seen whose strike zone actually contracts the further behind he gets in the count. Pitchers are constantly trying to strike him out with curve balls in the dirt, like he’s some kind of common Adrian Beltre, but Vladi just doesn’t bite.

Compare his situationals with those of Garret Anderson (a truly undisciplined hitter) — Guerrero swung at 0-2 pitches just 23 times all year, with only four strikeouts; while Anderson bit 48 times, whiffing 19 (Anderson also swung at and missed 1-2 offerings nearly twice as often, too).

2. Bengie Molina is a great defensive catcher.

I’m not sure Bengie’s even a good defensive catcher at this point. His throwing has deteriorated — from 36 of 81 base-stealers (44%) in 2003, to 18/69 (26%) in 2004, to 20/64 (31%) this year; even while his barely younger brother has been improving from 28% to 49% to 53%. And more noticeable on a day-to-day basis is Bengie’s increasingly desperate habit of jabbing with his glove at pitches in the dirt, instead of trying to move his fat body in the way.

He led MLB with 10 passed balls this year to Jose Molina’s three, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story, since official scorers rarely even call passed balls anymore. The real action is in wild pitches: John Lackey — he of just 71 BB in 209 innings pitched — ranked third in all of baseball with 18 wild pitches this year; reliever Scot Shields came in seventh with 12 (and K-Rod had eight, and Esteban “I’m Not Even on the Playoff Roster” Yan uncorked five, etc.).

3. Darin Erstad is a good contact hitter.

He’s not a good hitter, period (especially against lefties — just .232/.298/.316 in 2005, .248/.291/.321 from 2001-2005); though you probably already knew that. Less appreciated is that the poster child for Productive Outs reached 100 whiffs for the third time in his career this year, with 109. And for all the “little things” he allegedly excels at, he almost never bunts for a base hit, despite still getting down the line in good shape.

4. Guerrero, or Anderson, or maybe Steve Finley, is a good outfielder.

Vladi has actually cut down on his errors as an Angel — only 12 in two years, after having more than 10 every year from 1997-2002 — and though he’s still capable of some astonishing throws, he gets terrible reads off the bat and takes bizarre routes to the ball. Finley showed his age all year, especially on pop-ups in shallow center, and when he tried to bend over to pick the ball up barehanded, an act that would make my back hurt. Speaking of which, arthritis appears to have sapped much of what once made Anderson a fine left fielder. If he doesn’t DH, and Mike Scioscia starts Finley in center, things could get ugly out there.

5. The Angels are an anti-Moneyball team.

This is actually somewhat true, but in a different way than most people intend. It’s a fact that Mickey Hatcher‘s hackers led the majors in stolen bases, ranked near the bottom of the American League in bases on balls, worships at the temple of the Productive Out, and tries hard (with great success) to cut down on offensive strikeouts.

But other strategies the team embraces would be right at home at a SABR convention. Scioscia, unlike Bobby Cox, is only too happy to change his strategy radically in the post-season — giving key roles to virtually unused rookies (K-Rod and Chone Figgins in ’02, Dallas McPherson in ’04); mercilessly shunting aside Proven Veterans who aren’t cutting the mustard (Ramon Ortiz in ’02, hopefully Finley this year), and putting players in uncomfortable new situations, like Jarrod Washburn’s disastrous LOOGY attempt last year against David Ortiz.

Some of those playoff-only tactics are innovations people on sites like this have been yammering about for years. Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 almost single-handedly illustrated the wisdom of using your most dominant reliever for multi-inning, Gossage-style stints before the 9th; this year will see more of the same from Kelvim Escobar.

But the team’s most significant strategy vis-à-vis Moneyball is how they manage against it. Before every game, bench coach Joe Madden talks to the radio broadcasters about the opponent, and when it’s the A’s or Red Sox or Yankees, he’ll describe how they’re a “Moneyball team,” and therefore Angels pitchers will be much more focused on throwing first-pitch strikes, because they know the other guys will have their bats on their shoulders.

When — as is the case with the Yankees — many of the defenders are questionable, the Angels will run wild. When fielders are sharp and pitchers are quick to the plate, base-runners will use caution. The Angels play aggressively, but they adapt. Whether the announcers and pundits who have pigeonholed them will follow suit, remains to be seen.

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