Saturday, June 11, 2005

Angels in first place again

A lot of things happened since I went 0-3 predicting the Angels series at Fenway Park. The Halos have visited Atlanta, going 2-1 with Erstad scoring the go-ahead run in one game on the most controversial play of the season so far, and are now in New York, where in the beginning of their first game against the Mets, they couldn't find the baseball, whiffing 9 (!) times against Kaz Ishii, who had only struck out 20 in 42 innings this year. Luckily, they also got 6 hits and 2 walks of him and made most of it, scoring 5 runs. They added 7 more of Mets relievers to win 12-2.

Also, the Rangers hot streak is finally over. They have lost 4 in a row, leaving the Angels alone on top of the AL West with a little breezing room.

So the Angels lead their division and I wondered how they are doing it. While the offense has become (more) alive the last weeks and the pitching was solid to great most of the time, I took a look some graphs at the Hardball Times.

How do the Angels win their games? Hitting or pitching?
I'm stating the obvious, but it's pitching. The Angels offense is only average, literally. They score an average 4.73 runs per game, which is nearly the same as the league average of 4.72, but still good enough for 6th place just ahead of (ouch) Tampa Bay. Interestingly, the Halos are below average in all major offense categories like batting average (.262 to .265 - 10th), on-base-percentage (.316 to .331 - 11th) and slugging (.403 to 416 - 11th). So how do they do it? The Angel hitters are clutch. They hit .301 with runners in scoring position, only the Twins and, ah, Tampa Bay are better.

Are the pitchers so good or is it the defense?
I always thought the Angels pitchers had a pretty good defense behind them, at least that's what my PC game used to tell me. And with current or former gold glovers at first, in center and behind the plate, I didn't doubt it. But it turns out that the Angels defense (=their Defense Efficiency Ratio) is only average. On the bright side, their pitching was really outstanding. Angels pitchers' FIP (Fielding Independent Runs = the proportion of ERA that pitchers are solely responsible for, invented by Tangotiger) is 4, leaving the Angels right at the top with the Twins, only behind the Indians (I have to admit I didn't expect them there). As happy as I am about the quality of our pitching, I think that good fielding tends to be more predictable than good pitching. And with Escobar's current injury woes, if another starter gets hurt, this strength can disappear quickly. But before I start inviting trouble by talking like that, let's take a look at what made Angels pitcher so good:
They get easy out! They pace the league with 7.1 K per 9 innings (next are the O's with 6.9, average is 6.0) and also get the most infield flies (.135 compared to .112 league average). And when you don't walk to many guys (2.9 /9IP, 3 is average), you'll always do good.
The Angels actually have a flyball staff, with a 1.12 groundball to flyball ratio (1.23 average), which might explain why the Angels defense is only average since we don't have much speed in the outfield.
Meanwhile, I found out something very interesting about the Rangers: They only allow 0.7 homeruns per game (the Angels are a little better than average with 0.9 to 1.0) despite playing their home games in a hitters park. While part of this is certainly explained by their groundball to flyball ration of 1.40, they only allow 9% of all flyballs to leave the park (11% average) and that's the lowest percentage in the AL. To me, that looks like they have been lucky so far and that their 4.61 team ERA will rise further, making it harder to keep pace with the Angels.


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