Game 161, Angels at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Haren, 7:10pm
Welcome to the final night game of 2012, a contest between two teams just playing out the string. This year’s been terrible for Seattle, but I bet last night was difficult for Angels fans – Pujols and Wilson brought in, Greinke acquired, Mike Trout having an historic season – and they’re knocked out of the (expanded) playoffs by the Oakland A’s, a team that could make its annual payroll with whatever’s in Vernon Wells wallet right now.
I think this hypothetical Angels fan would console himself with the fact that their team has the aforementioned Trout, Greinke, Pujols and Wilson and the cable TV revenue to keep them happy and surrounded by a talented supporting cast. But for an evening, they may have felt as snakebit as one of us. They just get to forget about it the next day, and get to think about how to improve a 90-win roster. We…uh…Justin Smoak looks better, and you know, Hisashi Iwakuma’s outpitched Dan Haren, and…ah, nevermind.
Really, the Angels playoff hopes have been materially harmed by the following, which I will enumerate because schadenfreude’s all I have for game 161:
1) Starting Mike Trout in AAA. This was undoubtedly a move based on his team control, but man did this blow up in the Angels’ face. Trout first suited up for the Angels this year on April 28th. On April 27th, the Angels were 6-14 and had lost 5 straight. Since his call-up, the Angels are 81-57. Before his call-up, Vernon Wells was the starter and compiled a .696 OPS over that stretch (as a left-fielder). The Angels didn’t miss by much, and replacing a, er, replacement-level player with a 10-win one, even for just a month, would’ve been huge.
2) The Angels play in the AL West. OK, this isn’t their fault, but in all the MVP debate about Cabrera willing his team to the playoffs, people have tended to overlook the fact that the Angels are, by pretty much any measure, *better* than the Tigers. It’s just that playoff spots aren’t awarded to teams that excel in stat-nerd/philosophical nonsense like “having more wins” or “being better” but in the concrete currency of being the best amongst one of two loose geographical groupings.
3) Horrible luck in the bullpen. I don’t mean that their ERAs were worse than their FIP; as a group, the reverse was true. But this was a group that the Angels counted on, especially after 2011’s solid season (especially after jettisoning Fernando Rodney, who was clearly past his prime. I bet that guy’s not even in baseball anymore). Sure, Ernesto Frieri has been solid, but Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, and LaTroy Hawkins have had down years, and the bullpen’s WPA’s tumbled. As many have pointed out, this highlights how hard it is to build a consistently great bullpen, and how volatile individual bullpen arms can be.
4) Homers have killed them. The Angels have the best position players in baseball, but they’ve given up the 5th most HRs in the league. This is why their FIP-based WAR is the lowest in the division, despite having what looked to be a historically awesome rotation (before adding Zack Greinke). This can’t happen when you play half your games in a ballpark that limits HRs, and then you play intra-divisional games in Safeco and the Oakland Coliseum. Ervin Santana’s astonishing late-season run pushed him past Jason Vargas for the most HRs allowed, and tonight’s starter Dan Haren’s tied for 13th.
Since this match-up just happened a week ago, I’m not going to rehash what I’ve said about Harenthe last time he faced off against Iwakuma or the time before that. Both Iwakuma and Haren are slightly homer-prone starters in homer-suppressing environments. Iwakuma’s kept that particular problem under control recently, and he’s quietly putting together an excellent rookie season. Here’s hoping he sticks around, and that the new Safeco dimensions don’t trouble him.
4: Jaso (C)
6: Montero (DH)
Still no Gutierrez, which is sadly unsurprising. Shut him down and tell him to avoid strenuous activity, sharp things, large people and dogs, cooking utensils and anything capable of producing heat above 100 Fahrenheit this offseason. In a chat this morning, Jeff Sullivan idly wondered how much his UZR would suffer if he played in full football pads. Something for Tony Blengino’s group to take a look at, I think.
I suppose I waded into it above, so I may as well come out and say that if I had an MVP vote, it would go to Mike Trout. I can’t imagine that’s too controversial at a site like this, but the debate’s certainly been as contentious as I can remember. I think writers as diverse as Geoff Baker and Colin Wyers have tried to stress that both are deserving – Baker’s pushed the view that the writers themselves determine how to measure “value,” and that seems true enough. But I think too often this debate has been about the decimal places in WAR, or about those communist defensive ratings, or the differences between Fangraphs’, Baseball Prospectus’ and Baseball-Reference’s WAR stats. As of today, Mike Trout has produced more batting runs than Miguel Cabrera. Put defense aside – put your own numbers to it, throw them out, whatever. Just looking at batting, Trout’s had the superior season. That’s because Trout’s numbers have been compiled in a pitcher’s park whereas Cabrera’s have been racked up in a hitter’s park. This isn’t just some Fangraphs thing, either. BPRo’s stats show the same thing, as do BB-Ref’s. Adding defense to the equation just stretches Trout’s lead, and the argument that Cabrera carried his team to the playoffs while Trout didn’t doesn’t hold much water with me given the strength of the two divisions.
All of that said, I think a vote for Cabrera isn’t the end of the world. I think some writers legitimately feel that Miggy’s 2nd half stats and what he did during the Tigers’ run to pass the White Sox should be a thumb on the scale and overcome the clear and nearly-universally acknowledged performance gap he faces. The question is how heavy is that thumb? How much do we want to weight 2nd half performance, and will we do so consistently in the future? In the end, I think Cabrera wins the award going away, and I won’t whine too much if the same writers saying that Cabrera’s batting stats in August/September give him the edge turn around and make the exact opposite argument next year.
I’m just glad that we’re not going to have an actual travesty of an MVP winner. We debate these things openly now, and beat writers lay out their reasoning ahead of time, which is actually quite cool. I grew up in the 1980s, when we got a series of bizarre awards, like George Bell in 1987, or Don Mattingly in 1985 and almost no one saw that as weird. This continued into the mid-90s with the notorious 1995 AL MVP award to Mo Vaughn, a player transparently worse in every way than Albert Belle and Edgar Martinez (both of whose teams made the playoffs). The excuse in 1995 was that Belle was kind of a jerk to the press sometimes. Seriously. At this point, I was about done with the MVP, but the following year A-Rod was snubbed because Juan Gonzalez had more RBIs and that was essentially that. It’s the nature of the internet that the debate’s gotten so loud (and so intemperate), but I can’t fathom ‘outrage’ about the outcome of the 2012 AL MVP.