Baseball BeatApril 07, 2009
Opening Impressions
By Rich Lederer

All of us at Baseball Analysts are throwing a Johan Santana changeup at you today and posting short takes on what we found interesting on Opening Day.

Angels 3, Athletics 0

I sat in the front row behind the Angels dugout (that's me on the far left) and witnessed Joe Saunders carve up the A's, allowing only three hits and two walks over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. In opposition to the consensus perception, Saunders is not a soft-tossing lefthander. According to FanGraphs, his fastball averaged 91.0 mph last year and it ranged from 88-92 on Monday night. His 93rd and last pitch of the evening hit 91 and resulted in a weak comebacker off the bat of Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was retired 1-3.

Manager Mike Scioscia handed the ball to Jose Arredondo to close out the seventh. He was throwing 93-94 (in line with his 93.7 average last season). Scioscia then went to Scot Shields in the eighth. He retired the side in order with a heater that was 91-92 (vs. 92 last year). Newly signed free agent Brian Fuentes closed out the ninth 1-2-3 and earned his first save as a Halo. The slinging southpaw was working at 89-90 (down a tad from a year ago when it was sitting at 91-92).

While the Angels bullpen lacks a Jonathan Papelbon and Boston's depth (which is strong enough to exclude Daniel Bard and the easiest-throwing 100-mph fastball you've ever seen), it ranks among the best in the league. Look for Arredondo, Shields, and Fuentes to finish the final three innings of numerous games this season.

A couple of other quick takes:

  • Chone Figgins made two spectacular plays at third base in the first and third innings, one where he ranged to his right, backhanded it, and made a strong throw to nip former teammate Orlando Cabrera and a second in which he dove to his left and forced out a baserunner at second with a throw from his knees. Figgy may not win any Gold Gloves for his work at the hot corner but is better defensively than generally believed.

  • Howie Kendrick had two run-scoring hits, including a home run that left the park just to the right of straightaway center field. It's easy to forget that Kendrick is only 25 years old and averaged .360/.401/.571 during his minor league career (with 50 HR in 1669 plate appearances). Howie could inflict a lot of damage from the two hole this season.

...and a couple of departing questions:

If one is worried about the Angels' starters, then one has to be equally concerned about the A's. Sure, LA is doing without Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana in April (and perhaps part of May for one or more of the trio). But the Angels managed to go 18-11 last April without any help from Escobar or Lackey (or Mark Teixeira, for that matter). By contrast, OAK opened the season with Dallas Braden and the rotation includes Dana Eveland, a guy named Josh Outman (nice name for a pitcher but c'mon), and two highly touted but untested rookies who have thrown a combined total of 68 innings above High-A and have yet to appear in anything above Double-A. Meanwhile, the bullpen is in shambles and in no way compares to what the Angels can deliver in the late innings.

While I picked the A's to finish second behind the Angels in our AL West preview last week, I believe (as I opined on Friday) that Oakland "could find themselves in the cellar come October if the young pitchers aren't up to the challenge and Beane trades Holliday in July."

It's only one game. I know there are still 161 games to play. But I see no reason to change my assessment of the Angels and A's after last night.


RICH: Is there a traceable standard used to calibrate radar guns?

When it comes to the "fanboy" picks of the "professionals," the sad fact is that there is no punishment for making a bad pick. Baseball Projections would be so much more fun if they adopted the old pro wrestling maxim "Loser Leaves Town."

Rich, did you read Neyer's own comment on his prediction?

***I know, I know … It's probably a little bit crazy to pick the A's, considering that their current pitching rotation includes five pitchers who have combined for the grandly splendiferous total of 18 major league wins. Actually, that might make me certifiable. But if two or three of them pitch well and Justin Duchscherer comes back strong and the Angels continue to miss three of their starters … Hey, it could happen!***

He's either not writing a serious prediction, simply playing a hunch, or coming very close to simply admitting that he's a Beane fanboy who just doesn't like the Angels organizational philosophy. Either way, not particularly professional from a professional analyst. Certainly, everything he says is true. If this, and if that, and if the other thing happens, then yes, the A's can win the division. That sort of stuff came together for the Angels in 2002. Still, it's not much of a prediction. It's kind of a joke, really.

Rev, I'm not sure how much the various radar guns differ from around the majors, be it the ones used to report the speeds on the scoreboards, on TV, or pitch f/x. My experience is that there are almost always a few outliers per game (or pitcher) but that the readings are reasonably consistent.

Seitz, yes, I read Rob's comments and believe he is playing a hunch more than anything else. Like I wrote, I think the Athletics could end up in last as easily as first, whereas I can't foresee the Angels finishing last under any (reasonable) circumstances. If the A's win the AL West, good for them. But, if the season were played 1000 times, I feel strongly that the Angels would win the division more often (and probably much more often) than any other team -- and that is how I approach these predictions.

Thanks for putting on your blog what a lot of Angels fans have been...curious about, to say the least.


You got your picture in the LA TIMES blog today:

Thanks, Rev. I just added the link to that photo in the article above.

I'd have more respect for Neyer's prediction if he had said "I know, it's crazy to pick the A's, but I think they're going to win, and here's why..." Take a position, at least. Instead it reads like "Boy, I really hope the A's win".

Rich, BP picked the A's because because PECOTA shows them beating out the Angels:

As for me, I admit I have a bias against the Angels and towards the A's, but I still think the A's are the better team. The A's only below-average position is probably at third. They don't have any good starters, but they have a good bullpen.

The Angels have questions at designated hitter, shortstop, and first base. They have a decent rotation which is good when healthy, and an excellent bullpen.

I think the biggest difference between the teams is on defense (ad A's) and then starters (ad Angels) then hitting (ad A's) then bullpen (ad Angels).

PECOTA shows the Yankees beating out the Red Sox, yet the consensus among the staffers was that Boston would win the AL East. Generally speaking, I believe there is systematic bias in the sabermetric community, which I find ironic, in favor of the A's and Red Sox and against teams like the Angels. Maybe time would be better spent figuring out why the Angels consistently outperform and the Red Sox, on average, play to their Pythag records. (FWIW, the A's have slightly outperformed their Pythag record this decade.)

In any event, using Pythag records, I have a difficult time concluding that the Angels will drop by more than six games *and* the A's will rise by more than six games or, put another way, that Oakland is going to win more than 82 games and the Angels are going to win fewer than 82 games. It could happen, but I would be surprised if both took place more often than not should this season play out a thousand times.

Oakland won the second and third games and now lead the series 2-1 with Brett Anderson and Jered Weaver facing off in the fourth and final game on Thursday night. The Angels bullpen and defense looked good in the opener but struggled mightily in games two and three.

I still like the Angels over the Athletics, but I will admit that the Halos cannot afford to give too many games away like they did tonight and hold off the A's this season.

I think it'll be close too. I could see the A's falling out of contention and trading Holliday as well. It's possible. They had a chance to be .500 last year, but they were underperforming their pythag by a bunch, so they gave up and sold Harden and Blanton. But I think the more likely case is that they find themselves right around .500 with the Angels at midseason, and the A's package some prospects from their top-2 farm system to make a push into the playoffs. I'm already thinking they acquire Beltre.