Looking Back On the First Half of 2013

The 2013 season can probably be compared to the 1999 season in terms of expectations running high, and then things falling over. This season, however, is much different than '99 in many ways, because the Angels have a much better offense, and actually have a much better pitching staff. The Halos have also turned things around are having a 51 game run (29-22) that they never had in '99. Still, the headache remains. 

Fans have been subjected to an enormous slump by Josh Hamilton to start his Angels career, and have had to endure watching the game's greatest player over the last thirteen years play in pain. Joe Blanton is off to a 2-12 start. 

Some say the Angels are 44-49 because of Hamilton and Pujols. Others say its pitching. There's even the argument that the Angels have traded away too many prospects. Let's take a look at what could be the top 10 reasons -- which fans can be put in any order if they disagree -- that the Angels are where they are in the standings at the All-Star Break…

 

1. Joe Blanton is 2-12, with a 5.53 ERA, and a 1.55 WHIP!!!

This is just terrible. Sometimes pitchers have gotten away with a 5.50 ERA by not letting baserunners accumulate, and probably just give up too many extra base hits at times. That was basically Ervin Santana. Santana could have a 5.53 ERA right now with the Halos, but he'd probably be closer to a 7-7 record, because his WHIP is usually around the league average 1.32, and he usually had the best stuff in the Angels' rotation. Blanton does not have very good stuff, despite not walking hitters. 

Blanton defies many contemporary arguments regarding wins and losses being more of a team stat than an individual pitcher's stat. He has clearly lost almost all of those 12 games by falling behind early, or letting the game get away before the Angels offense had a chance to turn things around. 

It has to make one wonder why Jerry Dipoto, who is a self-admitted stats (OBP) guy would sign a pitcher who in 2012 had a WHIP better than 1.30 for the first time since 2009, and who just about everyone knows can be a disaster waiting to happen. This was a bad move.

On a team level, if you take Blanton's 2-12 out of the Angels' schedule, they're suddenly 42-37. After 79 games, the Rangers were 46-33, which is just 4 games better. It would take a 48-35 run to win 90 games, instead of the 46-23 needed right now to win 90. That says a lot about how far back Blanton's performance has pulled the Angels. That's how important good starting pitching is, the impact one pitcher can have.

2. Jered Weaver Was Out for 7 Weeks!

The Angels lost their ace! That's huge. Max Scherzer has grown as another ace for the Tigers, but imagine (in the last few years prior) where the Tigers would've been without Justin Verlander. The Halos lost their stopper, so perhaps those early losing streaks in the first 42 games of the season would've been stopped by a healthy Jered Weaver. 

3. Angels are 13-18 in 1-run Games!

This is an overrated stat, but anytime a team is under .500 in this category, there's a problem.

Early in the season, the pitching staff let some games get away, and sometimes the offense allowed the team to reach within one run, only to see time run out and suffer a one-run loss. 

One-run losses are sometimes an indication of bad bullpen. But the Angels' bullpen has been, for the most part, been getting better and better throughout the season. So the Angels' record in one-run games is kind of a fluky stat that might tell everyone that the season could easily be the other way.

This is a split that makes me wonder if there is really much of a problem with this team beyond Joe Blanton.

Also, out of this spot, the Angels are 6-9 in 1-run games against the AL West, which brings the analysis to...

4. Angels are 15-23 vs. the AL West!

There's something strange about this split. The A's were always hot when the Angels faced them. The record against the Rangers would just be 3-3 in not for a blown lead in Anaheim. The season series against the Mariners was looking more typical (6-4) until the Halos ran into King Felix and their arch-nemesis, Hisashi Iwakuma, over the weekend. The Astros, however, have played the Angels really well when compared to the A's and Rangers. 

The Angels are 6-7 against Houston, and were even handed a 4 game sweep before sweeping the 'Stros in their last series. This is a spot where the Angels could've beat up on on Houston, thereby absorbing some of the early beatings from the A's. 

Overall, if you take that 15-23 out of the schedule, the Angels are suddenly 29-26. Blanton is 1-5 by himself against the AL West. So subtract that from his 2-12, and you get 1-7. Then, subtract 1-7 from 29-26, and the Angels are 28-19 against everyone else and without Joe Blanton. 

The competition in the AL West is much stiffer these days, that is undeniable. And that is something that is nearly out of the Angels' control. The Angels are still a very talented team, and may be the most talented in the division on paper. But when you're playing almost 50% of your games against your own division, and there are 5 teams, and it's a strong division, there are no guarantees. 

This is no longer a division where it's the Angels and everyone else. The real world of baseball is finally hitting young Angels fans, and it's time to grow up. It doesn't matter what management spends, it doesn't matter what prospects they could've kept, it's a tough division, and that's the way it is. Welcome to the real world of baseball.

But the Angels still need to play better baseball against their own division!

5. The Defense is 14th in Fielding Pct. (2nd most Errors)!

Fans might be wondering where Pujols and Hamilton come into this. Well, there's a good explanation that has already started, but it also speaks in part to the second-guessing of their signings: pitching depth and defense. 

On one hand, it wouldn't matter if the Angels kept more prospects, and loaded up on pitching depth, because some of the Angels' most slick defenders are still having their own issues on the field. Howie Kendrick (9 errors), Erick Aybar (8 errors), and Alberto Callaspo (10 errors!!!) are not their usual selves at times, and it has cost the Angels some innings that would've otherwise been put away, giving the Halos a better chance at winning.

This is a critical section of the Angels' game that (in any other season) likely absorbs the Blanton situation, as well as the slow start by the offense in April. It's easier to see the Angels' W-L record without Blanton's 2-12, but it's a lot more difficult to see exactly where the Angels would be if they were in the top 3 to 5 in fielding like they normally are.

Still, there's the doctrine that great defense will make even the weakest teams on paper into a playoff team. But there is one obvious stat that poor defense plays a big role in...

6. Pitchers Have Allowed the Most 2-Out Runs in the Majors???

Again, pitching and defense come first. If you can't put hitters, innings, and teams away, especially late, your team will fester at or near the bottom of their league in pitching. 2-out runs will destroy any team's ability to stay in ballgames. This is unacceptable, and probably should be at the top. But the impact of Blanton's numbers is too easy to pin-point.

7. The Offense is Not Moving Runners!!!

Finally, some offensive analysis. 

Even though the offense isn't that big of an issue (3rd in batting average / 5th in on-base percentage / 4th in slugging), the Angels still find themselves 6th in runs, which isn't bad. But being 3rd in batting average, and 4th in slugging, they should be higher that that.

This offense relies too much on those hits and extra base hits. Mike Trout is moving just fine on the bases, although he had an opportunity on Sunday to steal and manufacture a run, but he didn't. And that's a common problem, mostly by other players than Trout.

There was even a point later in that game when Pujols led off an inning with a double, and was stranded at second base because Hamilton took lazy swings instead of at least grounding to the right side to advance Pujols to third base. That would've allowed Albert to tag and score the TYING RUN off of Kendrick's fly-out to center field. 

That's ridiculous. And it's just one game out of many one-run games that might have been won by just moving that runner.

To illustrate this problem further, Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar have only 4 stolen bases. Peter has only played 40 games, but still, that projects to only 16 stolen bases in 162 games. That's unacceptable for a player who might be the game's fastest runner. Of course, it's not just about speed, but it's been a few years now. Kendrick only has 6, but I throw him a bone with his performance at the plate, and forcing himself into the middle of the lineup. JB Shuck should have more than 3 stolen bases himself.

Rewinding to a bit to Pujols, he has driven Trout in 18 times, more than any other Angel, and is on pace for a 100 RBI season again despite his lowered percentages. This is because Trout's movement on the bases has allowed Albert to bypass his decreased averages, by getting that RBI ground out to second base, and with his team-leading 7 sacrifice flies.

The combination of Trout and Pujols demonstrates just how great those two players are, by displaying that, even when the greats aren't hitting, they find a way to manufacture runs.  

Fans might also be shocked to hear that Albert Pujols is hitting .299 with a .409 on-base percentage, and 41 of his 57 RBI, with men in scoring position. The RBI may not be a surprise with that split, but here's the thing: Albert only has 3 homeruns with men in scoring position!

That means Albert has 12 solo homeruns! 12!!! Why Albert Pujols have 12 solo homeruns? 

Easy. Not enough baserunners.

Funny, last season Albert took off and became Albert Pujols again right when Trout and Torii Hunter both took off in the 1-2 hole. See how baserunners effect the hitters behind them? 

Pujols' .249 batting average probably has something, not all, but something to do with poor movement on the bases by runners in front of him, excluding Trout. Basically, if Trout doesn't get on, and Aybar is on first base, but isn't stealing when he should, that takes away from Albert's game. If Albert comes up with Aybar already in scoring position though, Albert, again, hits .299 with a .409 on-base percentage. 

Albert Pujols never had this problem in St. Louis, and that's one reason he put up monstrous numbers there.

Moving runners isn't necessarily the overall difference maker in the Angels' season, but moving runners could take care of many of those one-run games.

8. Pitchers are Not Holding Runners Well!

Tommy Hanson's delivery is so slow that Bengie Molina could steal 50 bases off of him. That's illustrates just how much the Angels have declined in holding the running game. Chris Iannetta, for one, has only a 10% caught-stealing percentage. That's bad. But it's not like he can't throw either -- he already has 3 pick-offs. But Angels pitchers just don't hold runners well. That contributes to allowing so many 2-out runs, and also puts more pressure on the defense because those extended innings create more opportunities for both making good plays, and for making errors.

9. Josh Hamilton Got Off to a Terrible Start!!!

Why is Hamilton all the way down at number 8? Because pitching and defense should always be the first priority.

Look at the Rangers right now. If fans still think the Rangers have a great offense, they're not paying attention. They haven't had a great offense in 2 years. Texas is built around good pitching and defense, and they've allowed themselves a huge window of error for their offense. 

A team can score 850 runs and still not make the playoffs because of bad pitching and/or defense. But a team can score 650 runs and win the World Series.

How? Good pitching and/or defense.

However, if a team's pitching staff allows 700 or more, then they're really pushing it. 750 or more runs allowed, a team is probably not making the playoffs. And if they do, that team probably won't make it to the World Series, unless that team gets really hot.

This is why Josh Hamilton is near the bottom of this list. So what if his numbers aren't up to par? The Angels, again, are still 3rd in batting average, 5th in on-base percentage, 4th in slugging, and 6th in runs. 

The Rangers are 8th in runs! But they've been battling the A's for first place because they're at or near the top in pitching and defense. 

Hamilton may or may not have been a difference in one-run games, but overall, he proving that on paper the Angels may not have even needed him. But they probably will any way, because those key AB's, such as the one against the Red Sox in that 9-7 comeback win on July 6, will come up, and Hamilton is a guy every team would love to have in those big spots.

Also, if passing on Hamilton, and perhaps Pujols, and not trading away prospects is put into the argument, just keep in mind that Pujols' 57 RBI and Hamilton's 39 RBI are probably the same amounts the team would get from two much younger, controllable players.

So not much would change offensively. And that's the point. That's why pitching and defense are so important, the Angels need those two elements way more than they need offense.

10. Why is Mike Trout Still Hitting 2nd?

This can have an adverse effect on the Angels' offense. Shuck is the only on-base player of the Aybar, Bourjos, Shuck leadoff rotation that Angels manager Mike Scioscia has used this season.

Shuck has filled in nicely for Bourjos, but the Angels need Trout hitting leadoff. He can drive in what might be the best bottom third of any batting order in baseball more, leading to more extra runs, and he can also put himself into scoring position sooner for Pujols, which can force pitchers to throw Albert more fastballs. 

Bunching Trout and Pujols together may seem like it works because first base is no longer open, but so what? Trout would still be in scoring position, and that forces more fastballs to the next hitter. In 2012, Trout taking off at leadoff thrusted the Angels' offense into being deadly.

On paper, that same boost can turn the Angels into reaching their offensive potential, and become what many predicted before the season: lethal!

 

Just In Case

If fans are wondering why other injuries weren't cited in this, it really hasen't affected the team as one might think it would. The team has suffered long-term injuries to Aybar, Bourjos, Sean Burnett, Callaspo, Hanson, Pujols, Jason Vargas, and Weaver, etc. Yet, when it comes down to it, the pitching and defense blew things up in the season's first 42 games. Since then, however, Burnett is still on the DL, Bourjos is down again, Hanson and Vargas are out, and yet the Angels in that span the Angels have an 8 game winning streak, a 7 game winning streak, won 10 of 15 twice, and, for the most part have been playing their normal game. 

 

Moving Forward in 2013

Hope for making the playoffs is dwindling in many fans. But it's not over yet. So many teams have been where the Angels are at the All-Star Break, and still made the playoffs; fans would probably in shock if they knew how many teams have done it. But in order to that, the Angels must correct the first nine issues out of the ten listed here -- Trout hitting leadoff isn't that critical. And hopefully the Halos will make some moves to build for now and for the future. Otherwise, the playoffs, and even a winning record will be completely out of the question. 

The Angels have the talent to do it, now they need to just do it.