Author’s note: This article was originally posted on High Heat Stats (link).
When the Los Angeles Angels announce over the winter that they had agreed to a deal with former Rangers’ slugger Josh Hamilton, the first thought that ran through my head was “Good God, pitchers aren’t going to stand a chance against this modern day murderer’s row.” Those thoughts didn’t change much throughout the spring and by the time April rolled around I, like so many others, felt that a lineup including the legendary Albert Pujols, the powerful Josh Hamilton, and the electric Mike Trout would be piling up runs like they were going out of style. After all, if they could rank among the 3 or 4 best scoring lineups in 2012 without Hamilton, just imagine how scary they would be with him plopped in the #4 hole.
But as we sit here on May 16th, nearly 40 games deep into the regular season, the Angels enter play with the 11th ranked scoring attack in the American League and one of the worst records in baseball. So what’s been the deal in L.A.? The Angels have done a solid job making contact at the plate (their 103 OPS+ is 6th best in baseball) and they’re starting to work the long ball, averaging just over 1 home run a game, so why are they stuck with one of the most mediocre looking attacks in the league? The answer, I believe, lies somewhere as simple as the base paths.
Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.
However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.
They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.
Thanks to the excitement of the World Baseball Classic, I haven’t had a chance to get to a question that’s really got me thinking over the past week: is there a better general manager in the National League than John Mozeliak? I’m starting to lean toward no after Mozeliak pulled off yet another coup for the Cardinals, inking Allen Craig to a 5 year/$35 million dollar deal with a 6th year/$13 million option. There are some legitimate injury concerns with Craig, who’s spent part of the last 2 seasons on the DL, but there is also some legitimate hitting chops. Craig has been a rock solid producer over his first couple hundred games, hitting an even .300 with oodles of extra-base hits. And when you factor in the going rate for 1st baseman these days — at least 15 players will make more than $10 million a year to play 1st– this deal is a downright steal.
About a week ago I took a look at the potential roster for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. I decided since I had so much fun the first time around that I would do it again. Only this time I want to take a look at the roster for one of America’s biggest threats to the crown, the always talented Dominican Republic. The Dominican has yet to have a real breakthrough in the World Baseball Classic and the 2009 edition was particularly embarrassing for a nation with so many big league players. The Dominicans, despite having perennial All-Stars like Robinson Cano, Pedro Martinez, and the still-good Hanley Ramirez dotting the diamond, were knocked out in the qualifiers by the Netherlands in a tight 2-1 contest. This year’s roster should be similarly star-studded once again, particularly on the infield, where there could be more All-Stars than positions available. The manager has already been announced and it’s going to be former Kansas City Royals coach Tony Pena. As always the World Baseball Classic allows each country to carry a 28-man roster.
There have been 625 games in the illustrious history of the World Series and just 4 men have ever hit 3 home runs in a game. The list of players to accomplish the feat is predictably littered with all-time great Hall of Fame type talent: Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest player to ever don a pair of cleats, Reggie Jackson, otherwise known as Mr. October, and Albert Pujols, a player whose enshrinement into Cooperstown will occur precisely 5 years following his retirement. Well after last nights power display, now you can add one more name to that prestigious list: Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda.
The stretch drive in baseball has finally arrived. It’s September, which means that each and every Major League team has about 30 or so games to make one final push toward October. Some teams like Texas, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis were expected to be here, possessing teams that lived up to their early season potential. Other teams like Baltimore, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Washington have surprised this year, finding themselves in a position to chase a playoff spot. Others (Boston and Philadelphia) have been far more disappointing in 2012 and won’t be participating in the October fun this year. With just one month left it’s a good time to survey the field of contenders to try to find the teams that have the best chance to make some noise come playoff time.
Albert Pujols is playing in his 82nd game as an Angel tonight against the Baltimore Orioles, and its safe to say the first half of the 1st year of the rest of his career has been a bumpy one. Pujols had the worst April of his career, taking 31 games to hit his first long ball as a member of the Angels. The team predictably struggled as well, going 8-15 in the month of April before dominating throughout May (18-11) and June (17-9). Admittedly, the MVP-level of play from Mike Trout has probably been the biggest driving factor behind the Angels success, but when your slugging 1st baseman starts doing just that it doesn’t hurt either. On the other side of the coin, is the St. Louis Cardinals, who objected to matching the lofty $240 million/10-year deal Pujols was able to net and spent their money elsewhere while hoping big 2nd halfs from David Freese, Rafael Furcal, and Allen Craig would carry over to 2012. So far each team is solidly entrenched in the playoff chase, and both sides should have reason to feel happy about the transition of the future-Hall-of-Fame 1st baseman from the Midwest out to LA.