Haw Haw, Baseball Prospectus!

By now, most people on this site are probably at least dimly aware that the go-to site for a certain sector of the stat-head crowd, Baseball Prospectus, picked the Angels to finish with just 84 wins this year (as least as far as I'm able to ascertain). This is, of course, nothing new for PECOTA and the Halos.

But what you probably didn't know was just how much abuse the B-Pro gang hurled at the Angels right before the season, in their annual guide. I only found out a couple of weeks back, when flipping through the book at a Baltimore Barnes & Noble. Such was the level of vitriol that I went home and immediately bought a used copy for the price of shipping. It arrived yesterday. Some highlights, interspersed with my reactions:

[T]he Angels were arguably the worst 100-win team of all time. [...] [T]he Angels' winding up a major-league-record 16 games better than their opponents-adjusted projected finish suggests that getting Teixeira might have represented more than just the cherry on top. His acquisition might have been a modest start to addressing a roster that simply still wasn't good enough to contend with the beasts from the AL East. Losing another season in the same fashion leaves us with the question of whether the Angels' brand of baseball is no more a formula for postseason success than, say, Billy Beane's poopadoodle. Making good contact and running the bases effectively is all well and good, but is it really an operating philosophy, or is it instead a matter of fetishizing tactics in the absence of actual strategy? [...]

[T]he Halos [were] not only history's weakest 100-win team, but also the going-away victors in a relatively pathetic division[.]

I will address the issue of the best and worst 100-win teams in a different post, because there's a lot of rabbits down them thar holes, but for now let's just address the Billy Beane playoff comparison: Oakland's record in post-season series under Beane is 1-5. The Angels under Scioscia? 4-4. Poop-a-doodle-doo!

For more fun, keep reading after the jump!

More from the 2009 Baseball Prospectus:

[P]redictably, the Angels were fortunate in one-run outcomes, going 31-21 in such contests. That represents almost a third of their schedule. Only four teams played in as many or more one-run gams last season, and of those four, only one, the Giants, who matched the Halos by also going 31-21, enjoyed the Angels' good fortune: the Blue Jays (24-32), Twins (26-26), and Cardinals (24-28) were not so lucky.

Emphases mine, to emphasize the bizarre notion that performance in one-run games is "luck," versus the apparent "skill" of winning games decided by two runs or more. WTF? At any rate, the Angels' record in one-run games WAS WORSE THAN THEIR RECORD IN THEIR OTHER GAMES, YA MAROONS -- .596 winning percentage compared to .627. To say that their one-run performance was partly responsible for "those magic 16 wins" separating B-Pro's adjusted Pythagoras and the suspiciously unadjusted won-loss record that the playoffs are organized around, is akin to saying that Reggie Willits is partly responsible for his team hitting home runs. It do not make sense.

[T]he Angels were a bad offensive ballclub.

Yes, the 2008 team finished 10th out 14 in runs scored. But their 4.72 runs per game was just a shade off the league average of 4.78 runs per game; they were closer to the 5th place White Sox (4.98 r/g, in a hitters park) than they were to the 11th place Blue Jays (4.41). Mediocre, sure, but bad? Let's see how Baseball Prospectus described the 9th-place offensive team, the Tampa Bay Rays, who scored all of 9 more runs:

[T]he offense labored under a popular misconception that they were not a good hitting team[.]

Got that? 4.72 runs per game = "bad," 4.78 r/g = "good." Even with Tampa being a tougher place to hit, that discrepancy is ridiculous.

Back to the 100-game winners:

Did the Angels have a great rotation? Again, not especially: the unit wasn't terribly impressive compared with those of other playoff teams, ranking ahead of only the White Sox in per-game rate for Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjust Value Above Replacement (SLNVA_R) among the eight that made it to October[.]

Not to snicker and snivel at SLNVA_R, but I'm guessing that it measured the 45 lousy starts by pitchers who weren't going to touch a playoff appearance with a 10-foot pole. Take the front 4 starters from the 8 playoff teams of 2008 (which for Milwaukee means minus Ben Sheets, who was hurt), rank them by ERA+ (ERA adjusted for ballpark effects), and you get this:

MIL  81 513.1 213 30-22 3.73 143 6.34
CHC 109 671.0 257 53-22 3.45 138 6.16
BOS 119 733.0 290 56-30 3.56 133 6.16
LAD 104 631.1 244 41-35 3.48 125 6.07
LAA 117 757.0 313 56-29 3.72 120 6.47
CHW 133 828.1 360 56-45 3.91 119 6.23
PHI 109 684.1 288 44-30 3.79 118 6.28
TBD 122 745.1 304 50-34 3.67 118 6.11

That's "Innings per Start" over there on the right; note that the Angels led that category along with tying for 1st in wins, finishing 2nd in winning percentage, 5th in ERA & ERA+. Milwaukee's high ranking is a C.C. Sabathia-induced fluke; three-quarters of their playoff rotation was Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, and some rookie named Gallardo. The Dodgers never really had a number four (I inserted Greg Maddux, who they probably would have used in the World Series). I'd say that Chicago and Boston clearly headed this pack, and then it's pretty much a toss-up the rest of the way, though the Angels had as good a case as anyone for #3.

What about the Prospectus prognosis for this year's Angels?

[T]he real problem area, the action item that really needs addressing, is pretty straightforward: the Angels are yet again in danger of getting crummy production from the power positions, and not just from their left fielders and DHs, but now also from first base in the wake of Mark Teixeira's defection via free agency. While the club holds reasonable hope that Kendry Morales and a fully healthy Juan Rivera might make a difference at one or perhaps two of these slots, these represent fractional improvements over a broken-down Garret Anderson or free-agent boondoggle Gary Matthews Jr.

Let's see, what kind of production did the Angels get from power positions? As of Friday night's close:

DH: .299/.351/.473, 25 HRs, 104/92  R/RBI (4th in OPS, 1st in R & BA)
1B: .295/.346/.536, 33 HRs,  87/110 R/RBI (4th in OPS) 
LF: .270/.310/.430, 24 HRs,  85/88  R/RBI (11th in OPS)
RF: .282/.368/.432, 18 HRs, 102/116 R/RBI (8th in OPS, 1st in R & RBI)

I guess that "danger" didn't quite pan out. How about the "fractional improvements" of Juan Rivera over G.A., Kendry Morales over Gary Matthews, Jr.?

JR: .285/.329/.473, 25 HRs, 70/87
GA: .273/.307/.408, 13 HRs, 52/61

KM: .304/.353/.571, 34 HRs, 85/107
GM: .251/.339/.362,  4 HRs, 43/48
Losing Teixeira highlights another issue, one that goes back to the question of what the Angels actually do that's distinctive. For 2009, the once-touted farm system doesn't have the impact bat to replace Teixeira or a pitcher who will make all the difference in the rotation, meaning there isn't that much in the way of in-house reinforcements to secure the Angels' current roost atop the division.

What do the Angels do that's "distinctive"? They go to the playoffs every year while continuing to break in new talent from the "once-touted farm system" that certain stat-munchers love to sneer at. This year Kendry Morales and Kevin Jepsen broke fully into a largely home-grown crew that includes a catching tandem that hit 24 home runs, a second baseman who hit .295 with pop, a shortstop who earned a Gold Glove while hitting above .300, four starting pitchers who went 50-31, and more. Next year we've got Brandon Wood, and this year we were able to flip yet another shortstop, Sean Rodriguez, for one of the best starting pitchers in the American League over the past five years.

Coming to a sports page near you, you can expect to find a certain number of prepackaged stories about how an Angels team, suddenly struggling in the standings, misses that late-game mojo because the team somehow doesn't like the cut of free-agent import Brian Fuentes' jib.

Yeah, didn't happen.

Since they failed to win the bidding on the one impact bat at a position where the team has a crying need, we're left asking whether the Angels are willing to settle for being the little engine that could but hasn't and doesn't, not on the bases, not in October, and not in their off-season shopping.

I dunno, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera worked out okay, and that "crying need" is laughing all the way to the playoffs.

Some individual player comments are worth noting, too. For instance, Chone Figgins:

As an everyday third baseman who stopped hitting balls into the gaps...he's become something less than an asset....they'd be best served by returning him to the superutility role.

Or not! How about Torii Hunter?

The Angels overpaid according to a career year, and they'll get to keep overpaying....Hunter is a good hitter and a wonderful defender and has clubhouse worth that we can't measure--but that doesn't excuse the Angels for signing a bad contract.

A contract, it might be noted, that has given the Angels two straight 20-Win Share seasons in CF for the first time since Albie Pearson. And we've had some decent center fielders over the years.

Yes, predictions are a notoriously unforgiving business, and B-Pro doubtlessly does it 100 times better than I ever could. (And certainly nobody outside of Acuda ever imagined Kendry Morales would have 75+ extra base hits.) But as the "bad offensive ballclub," "once-touted farm system," "history's weakest 100-win team" and Lucky McLuck-Luck cracks suggest, there is both a lack of comprehension and a lack of basic respect for the Angels' brand of winning consistently. Just like Bob Dylan warned against, they continue to criticize what they can't understand; and what they can't understand continues to blow right through their projections.

Still, if we lose to the Red Sox again, we get what we deserve....

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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