Misunderstood Angels

It’s foolish to draw grand conclusions from a single game, but that’s not what I’m going to do here. I’m not talking about how I think the Angels are overrated because of what happened last night; I’ve always thought the Angels were overrated.

I didn’t think the Angels were as good as everybody was saying back when they were fully healthy before the season, and I didn’t understand the accolades that kept coming as player after player after player went down with an injury. I certainly didn’t understand how Buster Olney could think that the Angels are “the most dangerous AL team right now” before the playoffs started.

Before every Angels fan in America sends me an angry e-mail, let me concede that the Angels are a good team. You don’t win 92 games and finish first in a pretty good division if you’re not a good team. But the most dangerous team in the AL?

You generally heard three reasons for why the Angels were a tremendously dangerous team from anybody who wanted to argue such a thing.

First, they have a great bullpen. Second, they have a great defense. Third, they have a relentless (or gritty) lineup.

The bullpen, I’ll give you without argument. Their top four relievers — Francisco Rodriguez, Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly and Scot Shields — combined for a 2.75 ERA. Even more impressively, they had 321 strikeouts in 281 innings with just 107 walks and 20 homers.

That bullpen is the reason the Angels allowed the second-fewest runs in the AL despite the fact that only one of their starting pitchers (Kelvim Escobar at 3.93) finished the year with an ERA below 4.50. However, as Tuesday afternoon showed, a great bullpen is only a factor if you can get to it. If you’ve given up eight runs by the fourth inning, all the power pitchers in the world probably aren’t going to help.

Anyway, I’m granting point one. But as Meat Loaf might have said in a different song, two out of three ain’t right.

The Angels did not (and still do not) have a great defense. The Angels did not (and still do not) have a particularly relentless or gritty lineup.

It’s true that Anaheim committed the fewest errors in the AL and had the second-highest fielding percentage. All that means is that they didn’t make many mistakes on the balls they were able to get to. However, the Angels finished in the middle of the pack (tied for seventh with the Yankees) in defensive efficiency.

Basically, both teams converted 68.8 percent of the balls put in play (not a walk, strikeout, hit batter or home run) against them into outs. Two teams turned more than 70 percent of balls in play into outs and four other teams were better than 69 percent.

The Angels going into this season looked to be very strong up the middle, as Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein were all among the best at their positions defensively. However, Erstad moved to first base, where he may still be great but it’s much less important, and Kennedy got hurt in September.

The Angels also had a great defensive right fielder in Jose Guillen, but they moved him to left field and then suspended him in September. They took their average, at best, defensive left fielder (Garret Anderson) and put him in center field and they left their good, but overrated right fielder (Vlad Guerrero) in right field.

The result is that the Angels didn’t have a great defense all year and they certainly don’t have a great defense now without Kennedy and Guillen. If you want to say that they’re average at worst, I’ll give you that. They may even be better than average, but they’re not great. Not this year.

The unimpressive defense was apparent Tuesday right from the beginning. The Red Sox scored a run on two hits in the first inning, but both balls could have — and maybe should have — been turned into outs. The first was a hard ground ball from Manny Ramirez to third baseman Chone Figgins that seemed to take a bad hop on him and ended up in left field for a double. The next batter David Ortiz hit a broken-bat grounder that second baseman Alfredo Amezaga couldn’t quite reel in. If Amezaga had fielded the ball, he should have had time to throw out Ortiz, who is the slowest person in this series not named Molina.

Then, of course, the big gaffe came in the fourth inning. With a 3-0 lead and the bases loaded with one out, Johnny Damon hit an easy ground ball to Figgins. Figgins fielded it, decided to throw home for the force, and did come anywhere near the plate. Two runs scored, Ramirez hit a two-run homer two batters later and the game was over.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

That brings us to point No. 3 — the lineup.

The Angels scored 836 runs this season, good for seventh in the AL. Now, you’re probably going to point out that they did that without Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus for much of the year, and you’d be right. They didn’t have those players most of this year and they do have them now.

However, there are a couple points. First, is that Anderson only managed a .266 Gross Production Average when he was able to play this year, and he struggled in September, so there’s no reason to think he’s going to provide a big lift in the playoffs.

Glaus posted a .304 GPA in his limited time this year and, as he showed by hitting a homer and a double, he’ll be an asset to the lineup in the playoffs. However, the Angels will be without Guillen, who posted a .282 GPA this year and was probably the second-biggest reason the Angels scored as many runs as they did.

The fact of the matter is that the Anaheim lineup right now has two good hitters — Guerrero and Glaus. Bengie Molina (.242 GPA) isn’t terrible for a catcher, but Erstad (.256) is bad for a first baseman and Eckstein (.236) is bad for any position. Figgins posted a .262 GPA this year, and you’d have to consider him one of the better offensive options available to the Angels.

Of course, another thing people claim about the Angels is that they’re great baserunners and they do the little things on offense really well. However, either those two things don’t matter much because they were only seventh in the league in scoring, or the Angels were really bad as hitters and those two things got them to about average overall.

You might want to make the argument that the baserunning and the little things help the Angels get a run or two when they really need it, when all the chips are on the line and you’ve got to make something happen. If they had that ability, however, you’d think they’d have been better than 19-20 in one-run games, especially since they have such a great bullpen.

No, I’m afraid the Angels just aren’t a good offensive team, and to score much more than the three runs they scored Tuesday, they’ll need Glaus and Guerrero to carry them, or they’ll need guys like Eckstein and Molina to forget that they’re not very good hitters.

Like I said, the Angels are a good team. They have a great bullpen, some decent starters and one amazing hitter. But they were never as good a team as the Red Sox and the injuries and suspensions didn’t help. Anything can happen in a short series, but it will be an upset if the Angels show up in the ALCS, regardless of what the national media seem to think.

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