Why the Angels will beat the Red Sox

Part three. Parts one and two are better left forgotten.

This should be a fairly easy article to write. I’ll just take the articles I’ve written in the past, update some names (Kendry Morales playing the switch-hitting first base masher instead of Mark Teixeira, Scott Kazmir starring as the power pitcher instead of Kelvim Escobar) and resubmit. And I’ll hope this time ends with a different result.

The difference between the two teams, in terms of talent displayed over the regular season, is negligible. The Angels won two more games. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, there is again little difference. The Angels have a Pythagorean record of 93-69, the Red Sox 94-68. The Angels won the head-to head-matchup, five games to four.

Once the playoffs are set, the Yankees will almost certainly choose the series with an off day between games one and two. The Angels made this choice last year, and in retrospect it was not a good idea. They allowed the Red Sox to bring back Jon Lester in game four, instead of facing Tim Wakefield (who would have faced Jered Weaver). Putting the choice in the hands of the Yankees should ensure the optimal match-up for the Angels. The Angels have a bit of an edge in starting pitching depth, while the Red Sox probably have the best pitcher in the series in Lester.

The Angels have a slight edge in team offense. They finished second in the majors with a team record 883 runs scored. The Red Sox remain dangerous as well, with 872 runs scored. The team OBPs are about even, .352 for Boston and .350 for the Angels. The Red Sox have more power, a 13-point edge in slugging percentage, but when you consider ballparks, the Angels pull even in park adjusted OPS+, at 104, according to baseball-reference.com.

The Angels have one of the most balanced lineups I’ve ever seen. They’ve hit for a .285 team average despite not having a single player above .312. Counting top sub Maicer Izturis, nine of the 10 hitters with the most plate appearances are hitting between .287 and .312, with the exception being Mike Napoli at .272. They aren’t empty batting average,s either. All 10 have an OPS+ of at least 100 (with team leader Morales and Torii Hunter the only players above 120). There is no easy out, not even a below-average offensive player, unless Scioscia starts Jeff Mathis ahead of Napoli. Mike, please don’t do this. Beating the Red Sox is hard enough. Don’t forget the only playoff game you’ve ever won against Boston, when Napoli took Josh Beckett deep twice.

The defensive edge of Mathis, if it exists at all, is very slight, unlike the offensive difference between the two. Mathis threw out 26 percent of basestealers, Napoli 22 percent. Napoli made one more error; Mathis allowed one more passed ball. Over the summer, Matt Welch, writing on Halos Heaven, found that Angels starting pitchers threw just as well to Napoli as they did with Mathis, with the exception being Ervin Santana. Considering a) Santana is in the bullpen this series and b) Santana threw a complete game shutout to clinch the division with Napoli behind the plate, having Mathis start for Santana’s sake is not necessary. Some of the more advanced statistics on baseball-reference find a few other areas where Mathis has an edge on Napoli. Mathis had 11 tag outs to Napoli’s nine, despite catching 100 fewer innings. And Mathis recorded an out on 83 percent of bunts fielded (75 percent for Napoli). But let’s not get carried away. That difference means Mathis would be expected to get one or two extra outs on bunts per year. Napoli hit 15 more home runs than Mathis.

In starting pitching, Kazmir could be the difference maker. He has a history of pitching well against the Red Sox. His 23 career starts against them are nine more than he has against any regular season opponent, and he made two more in the ALCS last season. His 3.59 ERA against them is about a run and a half below what a typical pitcher would do against the powerful offenses the Red Sox have had in recent years. Kazmir would have been the one to eliminate Boston in five games last year had his bullpen been able to hold a seven-run lead. He allowed two hits and three walks that game, striking out seven in six scoreless innings.

And that reminds me of the biggest problem with this Angels team. The bullpen is not very good. Brian Fuentes has 48 saves, but has not pitched well at all. He allows a scary number of base runners, and every time he comes to the mound is an adventure. He can blame umpire Rick Reed for blowing the Sept. 16 game at Fenway, when Nick Green walked on a three-ball, four-strike count, but Fuentes has only himself to blame for loading the bases after getting the first two outs. In 55 innings he allowed 82 base runners, and that is just dangerous, especially against a good hitting team with a history of maddening comebacks.

Kevin Jepsen has pitched great in the second half, with a 38-10 strikeout/walk ratio and only one home run allowed. He’s been hit hard in his last few appearances, but his velocity is still around 97 mph, so I don’t think it’s anything more than a fluke. Jason Bulger has had a fine season, but experienced shoulder tightness and may not even be available for the postseason roster. Darren Oliver had great numbers on the season, but any team that expects Oliver to carry it in the postseason is going to have a very short stay there.

The best chance for the Angels is if they give the ball to Santana in crucial situations. Santana’s 2009 numbers don’t look good, but this is a guy with an electric arm, who struck out 214 batters last year, and after dealing with injuries in the first half, finally appears to be at his top form. His last start was a complete game shutout to clinch the division over the Texas Rangers. In the second half of the season, Santana pitched 99 innings with a 77-30 strikeout/ walk ratio. His 3.90 ERA over that time is not as good as his excellent 2008 season, but right in line with his preseason projections.

The Boston bullpen is loaded. Jon Papelbon is one of the three best closers in the game along with Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan. Billy Wagner, a late season pickup, is one of the most dominant left-handed relievers of all time and apparently has a bit left, with 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. Rookie Daniel Bard can hit 100 mph and has struck out 61 in 48 innings. After these guys you still have Ramon Ramirez, Takashi Saito and Hideki Okajima. They have the stronger bullpen; to win this series the Angels need to have their starters go deep into games.

Why will this season be different? The Angels have the offense this time. Remember the last game of 2007? The final score was a 9-1 blowout but the Angels had chances. Their best chance was with two out and two on against Curt Schilling in the third. At the time it was a scoreless game. Vladimir Guerrero was up, and Schilling pitched around him. Vlad hit 27 homers that year. Only Gary Matthews Jr. (18) and Garret Anderson (16) had more than 11. Matthews was hurt that day, and Anderson had to leave the game early with an eye injury. So what did Schilling do? He walked Vlad and then retired weak-hitting Reggie Willits with the bases loaded.

That situation won’t happen again. Vlad isn’t the only power threat anymore, thanks to Morales, Hunter, Juan Rivera, Napoli and Bobby Abreu. They know they can beat the Red Sox—they’ve done enough of it in the regular season. It’s about time they do it in the playoffs.

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Red Sox Talk
14 years ago

It should be an exciting series to watch! I agree the Angels offense has improved by leaps and bounds, but though they scored more runs than Boston this year, the Sox still have a significant edge in wOBA:

Also, listing Bobby Abreu as a “power threat” is not real insipiring. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very nice player. smile

14 years ago

Is that WOBA park adjusted though?  In the same park these offenses look even to me.

John DiFool
14 years ago

The Angels only outhit their opponents for about 30 points of OPS (Sox 50, significantly lower than in their championship years).  They also had a ton of guys having career years with the bat-some of which yes appear to be young players developing, but not all.  Vladdie of course had an off year.  All told there’s significant evidence that the Angels aren’t as good as their record-which could have been said (was said) last year.

Steve Stein
14 years ago

As a Sox fan, I can’t see how they’re going to beat the Angels.  I’ve felt that way for years, but year after year they find a way to do it.  It might come down to the pitching – Angels pitchers seem to get the yips against the Sox.  Lackey is a good pitcher, but I’ve seen him get pounded time after time by Boston.

I am the original Stat-Drunk Computer Nerd, but they play the game on the field, and the Angels just seem to come up short in October.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

14 years ago

Last year Lackey pitched twice in the playoffs.  He allowed 4 runs in 13.2 innings, an ERA of 2.63.

The last time the Red Sox pounded him was August 17, 2007.  The last time before that was 2004 (and Lackey made his jump to top starter in 2005).

His career record against the Red Sox is not very good, but the bad starts were mostly in 2003 and 2004, when Lackey was still learning how to pitch.  Since then he’s given the Angels pretty good chances to win.  But he needs some support.

Red Sox Talk
14 years ago

Park-adjusted wOBA (from StatCorner)
Note: These wOBA numbers don’t account for steals, so you will see several players shift dramatically down.

Red Sox
Youkilis .411
Bay .403
Martinez .400
Drew .390
Pedroia .358
Baldelli .348
Lowell .346
Ellsbury .343
Ortiz .339
Gonzalez .311
Varitek .309

Morales .393
Napoli .383
Hunter .378
Abreu .369
Figgins .366
Rivera .362
Izturis .354
Kendrick .354
Aybar .344
Guerrero .353
Matthews Jr .312

I respect the Angels’ lineup this year. It is deep and talented. But I still think Boston’s is a little better.

14 years ago

Red Sox Talk – it’s a difference of top end vs. depth.  If you were going to rank all those guys in a list, the Sox have the top three.  Certainly an advantage.  After that though?  The Angels have nine out of the next 11.  There is not a below average bat in the Angels lineup when Napoli starts.  That’s a big plus in the Angels’ favor.

If Varitek starts, the Sox have two automatic outs in Gonzalez and Varitek.  And against lefties, that bumps up to two and a half, with Ortiz being almost useless.  It’s close, but it looks like the Angels have a slight edge because of their great depth.

14 years ago

This is a coin toss. I can see it coming down to how the Angels do on the basepaths. Boston pitchers are terrible at holding guys on and neither Martinez nor Varitek (who presunably will catch Beckett’s games) are adept at throwing guys out even with the pitcher bothering to pay attention to the runner. If the Angels start turning multiple singles and walks into free extra bases on a consistent basis that will end up hurting the Sox. However, the Angels also have a long history in the playoffs of running into dumb outs, over-managing running situations and turning small ball into a fiasco of inning-killing outs. These are two even and somewhat flawed teams. If the Sox have any distinct advantage beyond bullpen strength I think it could be that Lester and Beckett are more likely to pitch lock-down style games than are Lackey and Weaver. If those 2 come up with filthy efforts in the first two games the Angels could be sunk.

14 years ago

I don’t really expect either team’s running game to experience much of a challenge.  There isn’t a good throwing catcher on either roster.  Maybe Bobby Wilson, but he’s not going to play unless it’s an emergency.

Red Sox Talk
14 years ago

Like I said, I respect the Angels lineup (unlike two years ago). But do remember that these are year-long wOBAs. David Ortiz is not even the same hitter now that he was in the first half of 2009 (.866 OPS post-ASB vs .733 OPS pre-ASB). Of course, Vlad is hitting much better since turning full-time DH as well (.844 OPS post-ASB). I don’t think the Sox lineup is MUCH better, but I think it’s better.

As far as Varitek, the Sox have all but stated that Martinez will catch in the playoffs. He’s worked with everyone in September (including both Beckett and Matsuzaka), and is ready to catch whoever. It looks like Varitek will only start if matchups dictate or Martinez needs a breather.

Overall I think the Sox rotation is better at the top, but the Halos are more even. And I think the Sox bullpen is better and deeper.

14 years ago

Don’t forget about defense.  The Red Sox have three big holes in Lowell, Bay, and Ellsbury.  I’d take the Red Sox offense and definitely their bullpen but I think the Angels have a pretty big advantage in defense.

14 years ago

What? Lowell? Figgins can’t carry Lowell’s jock at third base. Does he have the range he used to? No. But a more sure-handed and smart third baseman you will not find. Lowell is more than fine at third. The opposite analogy could be made of Ellsbury and Hunter. Ellsbury covers way more ground in center but Hunter makes more plays. Still, Ellsbury is far from some sort of liability in center. He makes plenty of plays. Bay is fine. He plays left field. The Sox got by just fine with Manny there for many years. I doubt this series turns on Jason Bay’s defensive prowess. He certainly is at least as good and probably better than Abreu who is simply terrible in right.

14 years ago

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results smile

14 years ago

The angels like to force the defense to make the play.  This hasn’t worked out in the past against the BoSox team with a very good defense (conversely, look how well it has worked for them against defensively-challenged Yankee teams). This year, the Sox defense isn’t as good as the past 2 years.  I like the Angels (slightly) for that reason.