If you haven’t been enjoying some Angels baseball - you are missing out! Baseball is back, and the Angels have a bit of a new look around the field. We’ve also had the pleasure of seeing some minor leaguers who could see some playing time on the big league roster before too long. So what has the team been doing so far?
Winning isn’t everything in spring training. After all, the Angels had the best cactus league record in 2016 and we all know how that year ended up don’t we? So when the Angels came out of the gate by winning 7 games in a row I was a bit worried they were going to blow it all up early in spring training. However, if you take a closer look at those 7 games, three of them were 1 run victories and in the other four games, the Angels won by just two runs. There have been no dominant or decisive spring training victories yet.
I DO share some stats below but mostly for fun. Spring stats don’t matter a whole lot, but trends do. Hard hits vs. weak hits matter. Ks vs. walks matter (for both pitchers and batters). If you are judging players solely on their stats at this point, that isn’t going to tell you the whole picture, but sometimes the aggregate team stats can be a bit more telling (assuming you factor for the minor league vs. major league guys in spring camp).
- Stolen Bases - The Angels have been a stolen base machine. The 2017 roster boasts more speed, though some of these numbers come from minor leaguers who won’t make the 40-man roster yet. No team in the American has stolen more bases - 16, however, no team has been caught stealing more times either - 10. That 62% stolen base success rate which puts them at 8th in the American League. The Houston Astros, who have the 2nd most stolen bases, have only been caught twice in 16 attempts. It’s great to see the Halos trying to swipe bases, but they are going to have to take these lessons into the regular season and cut way down on that CS rate as they chose their sports more carefully (ie. Yunel Escobar should almost never try to steal 3rd base).
- Caught Stealing - Since we are on the base swiping topic, let’s give some kudos to Angels catchers who have a cumulative 66% caught stealing rate, the second best in the American League behind the Yankees (73%). Perez has nabbed half of his 8 would be base stealers, Maldanado 75% (4 attempts), and Briceno (2 attempts) and Sanchez (1 attempt) have caught them all.
- Power-less - Sure Trout hasn’t played a huge amount and Pujols hasn’t played, but the Angels are last in the league in total homeruns with just 5 though their first 10 games. These 5 dingers come from 3 players who may not even be regulars on the team (Marte (2), Cron, and Hermosillo). Kole Calhoun has the 5th longball. The Angels are also 10th in overall slugging with .374. Compare that to the 1st place slugging Yankees at .495. They are last in homeruns, and second to last in doubles with 14 (the first place Mariners and Indians in this category have 32). Of course these numbers are the kind that will drastically change as spring moves on and into the regular season.
- Errorville - Surprisingly, the Angels are 5th in total errors and 13th in defensive efficiency this spring. Danny Espinosa came to the team with a promise of improved defense out of the second base spot, but so far leads the team with 3 errors in 20 chances. Probably just a bit of flukiness and his defense should come around (he has also made some pretty great plays).
- Running out of runs - The Halo offense has some work to do in run production. A fairly high caught stealing rate coupled with low slugging has resulted in the Angels being 9th in total runs with 48. Before Monday’s 10 run slug fest, the Angels were ranked 13th in total run production, so Monday’s game was certainly a welcome change.
- Fletcher/Thaiss - Fletcher, who played in AA last year, has some of the best stats on the team. The Angels are giving him a good look since he’s played in 8 of the 10 games so far and in those games he’s stolen 3 bases, hit .417, and has a .563 OBP. It should be noted that Fletcher also had a great 2016 spring with a .625 AVG and .700 OBP, but he only had 8 total at bats. Fletcher should see a trip to Salt Lake at some point in 2017 if he keeps impressing. He is a shortstop by trade, but has spent most of his time at second base (6 of his 8 games). In addition, last year’s first round draft pick, Matt Thaiss has been very impressive in his spring debut. I’ve heard some say he is ready now, and while he may look pretty ready in the limited amount of time we’ve seen him, we need to remember this guy was catching games in college ball just one year ago. Thaiss has been hitting well (5 for 10) and certainly looks like he belongs on the field. With Cron reaching his arbitration years starting in 2018, Valbuena on a 2-year deal, and Pujols not getting any younger - Thaiss has a path and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show up in late 2018. It’s certainly been fun to watch these two young prospects show their stuff in Arizona.
- Keynan Middleton - Speaking of fun young guys to watch, have you seen Middleton pitch yet? This dude has the stuff of a big league closer. He needs a bit of refining yet and had a rough outing against Texas, but he mowed down the side in Monday’s game against the Cubs. Opponents are only hitting .100 off him in 3 IP and he has a 0.67 WHIP. Middleton has a fair shot at the opening day lineup depending on how the rest of his spring shapes up.
- Pitching stuff - The Angels rank 9th in ERA at 4.55. It’s also not too surprising to see a team 1.56 WHIP and .276 BAA. Pitching was a concern coming into this season, and early in spring it still is. Angels pitchers are giving up a fair amount of hits and walks (4th in total walks with 44 in 89 IP). Tyler Skaggs sure didn’t help these numbers by walking 4 batters in his .2 IP and Alex Myer is not helping his chances at the #5 starter spot with 6 total walks in 2.2 IP. He looks really messy in his second start on Monday. It’s great just to see Shoemaker and Richards back on the mound, but our expected top 3 pitchers didn’t have great first outings. Richards, Skaggs, and Shoemaker combined for 4.2 IP, 5ER, 5Ks, and 6BBs. Each of these guys only made 1 (very short) start, so we will see how these numbers change over the next few weeks - which they inevitably will.
- 0-fer Parade - Cameron Mayin and Andrelton Simmons have yet to record a hit in 17 combined at bats and Espinosa and Maldanado have combined for just 2 hits in 26 at bats. These are 4 of our regular starters so hopefully they heat up by the end of March. Simmons is off to play the WBC so that could him him get in the (literal) swing of things. Maybin, Maldanado, and Espinosa have combined for 14 Ks in 35 at bats - a terrible 40% rate.
- Battle for First - Albert Pujols who looks to play mostly as DH, ran the bases yesterday and has a good chance making an opening day start. Luis Valbuena who has split his time equakly between first and third is having a pretty good spring so far and will likely see regular playing time this year. Jefry Marte is having a great spring, and has played more at first base than third. CJ Cron for his part, is a one trick pony and it’s pretty much first base or bust for him. Cron is having a hot spring training, but he usually does, so I’m not sure how much that helps his case. Either way, it will be an interesting spot to watch as the season wears on and the depth this team has at 3B and 1B is a good thing to have.