Friday, July 18, 2014

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

By day, I’m a teacher. Teachers assign grades; Students earn them. At 57 and 37, the Angels have the second best record in all of baseball. According to ESPN, they have a 91.6% chance of making the playoffs. Still, there are areas where they can improve. Even A students have areas where they can improve. 

Below are my grades for the various aspects of the team. 

Offense: A-

The Angels have scored 478 runs—the most in all of baseball. They are on pace to score 824 runs, which would be the most they’ve scored since 2007 and 7th highest total in franchise history. That’s an impressive number, but there have been some signs of concern. Two key injuries at the start of the season hampered the offense (Calhoun and Hamilton). Two big slumps similarly slowed the offense (Trout and Pujols). Hamilton has returned to form in terms of batting average, but his tremendous power potential has not fully been realized this year. The biggest drag on the offense, Raul Ibanez is no longer with the team and has been replaced by C.J. Cron. 

Watching Angels ballgames this year is definitely fun especially for the last month. This team has spirit and fight. They’ve had plenty of comeback victories. The offense keeps them in just about every game. Pujols is returning to form, and well, Trout is just Troutstanding. Hamilton still has room to add power and Aybar is having a great offensive year. Calhoun has been spectacular in the leadoff role. If this offense stays healthy, it has the potential to beat its current pace for runs scored, and might finish closer to 850 runs for the year. That would be an A+ offense, which is well within this team’s potential.

Starting Pitching: B+

At 41 and 27, the Angels starters have a 3.81 ERA, which places them at 11th best overall in the Majors. There are signs that the starters could be better and some signs that are of concern. The Angels starters have the 4th highest total of strikeouts (512) and BAA (.239), and the 8th fewest number of HRs (52), but they have allowed the 10th most BBs (190). C.J. Wilson is out on with an injury and Tyler Skaggs has already had a stint on the DL. Hector Santiago, has been inconsistent: struggling at first, but coming back strong since returning from the Minor Leagues. Two bright spots have emerged in the rotation: Garrett Richards (who deserved to be in the All-Star Game) and Matt Shoemaker who has matched up against some of the league’s best and come out victorious.

If the Angels are going to go deep into the post season, they will need the continued success of the starting pitching. That may be a substantial concern depending on C.J. Wilson’s health. His return to form will be very important for any deep playoff run, and may become a driving force behind a trade to shore up the rotation. The key to the second half will be how well the starting rotation holds up. With Richards, Weaver, a healthy Wilson, Skaggs, and an improved Santiago and Shoemaker, the Angels have the pieces. But, any major stumbles from the rotation could make overtaking the A’s nearly impossible. No team wants to play a whole season for a 1-game playoff, so, winning the division is of paramount importance. And that means the Angels need to do everything they can to have a dominant rotation on the field.

Bullpen: D

If the Angels have had one weakness in the first half, it has clearly been the bullpen. No other aspect of the team has cost the team more victories or more frustration. With a 16-10 record and a 3.89 ERA, the Angels bullpen ranks 24th overall in the Major Leagues. By comparison, the Angels two biggest rivals in the A. L. West, Seattle and Oakland, have bullpens ranked 1st and 5th respectively. While the recent success in the bullpen has been refreshing, the potential to revert back to the first half remains present. In that case, the bullpen will be cause of the team’s failure.

Already Angels GM Jerry Dipoto has taken steps to improve the bullpen. Frieri is no longer with the team and Mike Scioscia has installed Joe Smith as the closer. Mike Morin has developed better than expected, and Jepsen has stabilized from his early struggles. 

Still, the Angels could benefit substantially by adding another reliever, especially one who can close. As the season progresses, and the post season begins, a strong bullpen will help the Angels win more games and more series. Getting back to the bullpen of the early 2000s, which operated like a conveyor belt would be a dramatic improvement to this team—especially if the Angels are unable to improve the rotation. Shortening starts and picking up the pieces when the starters falter will give the Angels offense more time to make a comeback.

Fielding: A-

Last year, the Angels committed 112 errors, making them the 4th worst fielding team in all of baseball. More than just all the errors, what really stood out last year were all the times players seemed out of position to make plays. This was uncharacteristic for a team under Mike Scioscia, who stresses playing fundamental baseball.

This year, the Angels have reverted back to form. They have only committed 49 errors in 94 games, and have a .986 Fielding Percentage, ranking them as the 8th best fielding team in all of baseball. They are making all the plays, and still some of the Troutstanding ones. This has resulted in only 36 unearned runs so far this year and are on pace to only give up 62 unearned runs. Knowing that the team on the field can make all the plays helps both the starting rotation and the bullpen perform better. And that means more games won.

Overall: A

As a teacher, sometimes we have to recognize that a student’s performance exceeds the sum of his or her component grades. Teaching is an art, not a science, and sometimes that translates into grading. Or, in the case of baseball, sometimes the team exceeds the overall individual performances on the field. That’s why team chemistry is so important—it allows the group to perform better than the individuals from whom it is composed.

This year’s Angels have the second best record in all of baseball. They appear to be on track to make the post season for the first time since 2009. That alone should bring plenty of joy to all Angels fans.

At the start of the season, I predicted that the Angels would score 820 runs and win 92 games. They are on pace to exceed both of my predictions. That alone deserves a solid A in terms of grading.

However, after watching how this team has come together, the way all the cylinders are firing, I believe that this team is capable of doing so much more. Looking towards the second half, I believe that the best is yet to come. This team has the capability to be an A+ team, and, if they make a key move or two before the deadline, could overtake the A’s to win the A. L. West. 

Individual Grades:

1st Half Angels MVP: Mike Trout
1st Half Angels Cy Young Award: Garrett Richards
1st Half Angels Most Improved Player: Erick Aybar
1st Half Angels Rookie of the Year: Matt Shoemaker
Love to hear what you think!

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