First-Quarter Grades for the Los Angeles Angels
And it get's worse.
The team now sits 12 games back from first place—the largest deficit at this point of a season since 2001 (h/t L.A. Times' Mike DiGiovanna).
That year, the Angels finished the season 75-87.
And the current team, well...
The reality of it all is were it not for the Houston Astros, the Angels would be a last-place team with a payroll of $150 million-plus, mistakenly labeled as a trend, like wearing sunglasses indoors.
Sure, it's still too early to count any team out of the race. I get it. But if you are to believe that each quarter mark in the season is just as important as the next, then making a passing grade—performance-wise—is extremely important, regardless of the month.
For that purpose alone, I have falsely accredited and licensed myself as a teacher for the night—think of me as an anti-sabermetrics professor, looking at the reality and athletic beauty of baseball, not the stat-minded jargon that misinterprets 85 mph as slow.
So, with red pencil in hand, let's take a look at the 2013 Los Angeles Angels thus far, and fill in the report card with a few grades.
Batting Average: .256
Runs Scored: 171
With numbers like those, it's difficult to give the Angels batting attack anything higher than average marks. Based on the hype surrounding the trio of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, you would assume the RBI and runs scored numbers would have been at the mid-100 point late last month.
However, it's not.
And there is more than just those three swinging the bat (or lack thereof).
While Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo have clearly been the most consistent, with Trout steady as of late, the glaring light of disappointment overall from this team can be seen via the amount of double-plays so far this year—a league-leading 45.
The timeliness of the hitting, such as Trout’s magnificent home run in a meaningless blowout to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night, has been a major non-factor, surprisingly. And that doesn't cut it. With a team that has this much talent at the plate—the one aspect that was to save the Halos this year—the first quarter has been shaky, inconsistent and boringly average at best.
Fielding PCT: .982
The Angels defense has been a quiet disappointment this season. They are second in the AL in errors, and their overall fielding percentage ranks 12th out of 15 teams.
Howie Kendrick has an unexplainable five errors this year, and the slow-footed, injury-plagued Albert Pujols has three. What is usually a solid infield, an area the team relied on in the past, is now a giant question mark.
The catchers have also been a disappointment.
Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta have combined to only throw out 10 percent of the stolen-base attempts. That's a far decline from the 20 to 25 percent you would expect out of Iannetta. However, the errors and lack of presence behind the plate is pretty much the generic scouting report on Conger.
If it wasn't for the decent outfield play by Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and J.B. Shuck, the overall defense would earn a lower grade. For now, however, they are just average.
Though some may look at the Angels rotation as a complete failure thus far, I see it differently. They have shown promise...when it's the right arms in the rotation.
However, with injuries, missed time for family reasons and the Joe Blanton/Barry Enright phase of the experiment clearly not working (one down, one to go?), the right arms in the rotation has been the issue.
But it will get better. Jered Weaver is on his way back from injury. Jerome Williams is showing he is a possible No. 4 or No. 5. and Jason Vargas understands, quietly, that inside aggressiveness can be accomplished with 88 mph.
Unfortunately, that doesn't erase the rough outings Halo fans have witnessed (suffered through?). I still stick by my original thought (in this column) that the Angels have ample pitching to compete this season, but the first quarter has certainly tarnished my opinion.
(An "F" goes to me for thinking it would go differently.)
Blown Saves: 6
If there was ever a perfect way to summarize the Angels bullpen in 2013, it's this: Dane De La Rosa gave up a run following a strikeout against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night.
Unlucky? Sure it is. But it still goes down as a blown save—no hold, no win.
And that has been the general theme for the Angels bullpen. Sure, they have pitched well at certain points in the first 41 games. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Michael Kohn (Thursday night against the White Sox aside) and even De La Rosa have pitched well. But, like the hitting, it hasn't been in the clutch moments.
I have said this before, and it's a stat worth looking at again. The 2012 Angels—horrid bullpen and all—blew 19 leads that season. The 2013 squad already has six.
That's just not good enough; and the likes of Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen and Ryan Madson coming back off of injuries may not be enough to change it.
Hank Conger: .250/.308/.375
J.B. Shuck: .293/.344/.362
Luis Jimenez: .227/.261/.273
Brendan Harris: .250/.284/.421
There really should be recognition of the much-deserved credit for the Angels bench so far. With injuries on the left side of the infield—Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo—and to Peter Bourjos in the outfield, the playing-time of the role players has been way more than expected.
And they have produced—not necessarily to the likes of an All-Star caliber, front-page kind of guy, but certainly to the point of giving the team a viable option to replace the starting player.
J.B. Shuck has topped the list. I liked this guy coming out of spring training, and now I really like him a quarter into the season. He has speed. He can hit. He plays excellent defense.
With a depleted farm system, Shuck could even be a building block for years ahead in the Angels system.
Both Jimenez and Harris have also done a good job filling in around the infield. It was Andrew Romine's backup position to lose, in my opinion, and the solid play by Harris and Jimenez assisted in the lost-not-to-be-found-again status of Romine.
It's strange, but the bench has been an unexpected positive for the Angels.
(It would be an A if Hank Conger could throw, make quick decisions and protect against the past ball.)
One-run Games: 6-9
Extra-inning Games: 3-2
While some fans may agree that it's time for Scioscia and the rest of this staff to go, based on the lack of winning ways the past two seasons, his inability this year to win in the close games may be what actually causes an early exit.
Yep, I heard via L.A. Times' Mike DiGiovanna that owner Arte Moreno gave Scioscia the "not gonna fire 'em" praise. But I don't believe those PR speeches should ever be taken literally.
And as much as we love to focus on the record of a team—using that as the standard to grade a coaching staff—the one-run and extra-inning games are essential.
They are the real factor for judging a coaching staff's worth. And it's something that Scioscia has done well in his long career. (I previously wrote that Scioscia is a top-level coach, and his record in the close games is worthy of tenure moving forward as the skipper for this club.)
Now, that is not so certain.
And the uncertainty goes doubly for pitching coach Mike Butcher. (The team has an ERA of 4.77, bad enough to rank 14th out of 15 teams.
Though this Angels team has been the real underachiever in all of this—no team pays a player like Hamilton $20 million-plus so they can teach him to hit—the coaching staff is becoming more and more involved in the mediocrity.
When it's close, the coaches matter. (The Texas Rangers are 9-2 in one-run games this season.)
Note: All stats provided were courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.