Friday, May 7, 2010

Fallen Angels

  • Who are you, and what have you done with the Angels?

During the entire Mike Scioscia era, I scarcely recall the Los Angeles Angels looking worse than they have in the past four days as they were swept by the previously staggering Red Sox.

Their record is standing at 12-18 and could in fact be worse judging by their top-to-bottom performances in every facet of the game----team stats. The back end of the starting rotation has been rotten (Joe Saunders may be on the verge of getting demoted; Scott Kazmir is turning into a disaster); imperative bullpen components have faltered (Scot Shields is still trying to recover his form; Brian Fuentes is a nightmare; and Brian Stokes is Brian Stokes); the lineup isn't strong enough to account for bad pitching; and the defense has been questionable.

If anything exemplified the Angels wobbly start it was Howie Kendrick tripping over his own feet, half-somersaulting and fumbling Jeremy Hermida's ground ball with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning trailing in the game, though still within reach at 8-6; the error prolonged the inning and let the Red Sox bust it open to 11-6 by the time it was over.

These are not the opportunistic and unflappable Angels that have overcome slumps, player departures, injuries and tragedies over the past 10 years. The calm exhibited by manager Mike Scioscia----bolstered by the unwavering support of the executives Tony Reagins and Bill Stoneman and owner Arte Moreno----have allowed the club to maintain their level of success regardless of obstacles.

They're not going to panic.

Scioscia isn't going to flip the food table and scream at his players. The most he'll do is shut the clubhouse doors and lay into them with a pointed and deadly accurate critique of what they're doing wrong and why; what has to change to get back on the right track.

His calm leadership is what's steered the Angels through any and all storms since the time he took over as manager in 2000. That's his main strength. It's not strategic; nor is it the power he clearly has within the organizational hierarchy----his looooong term contract runs through 2018 with a manager's opt-out after 2015. He's not going anywhere; it's because he's able to maintain his composure when things happen----things that would cause other managers to blow a gasket----are taken in stride and handled when the time is right.

The Angels have the personnel to right the ship. I'm not counting out Shields (his problems appear related more to poor location than anything); the Angels are going to have to make a switch from Fuentes as closer to Fernando Rodney; with their starting pitching, they're going to stay in games and their luck should change.

Last year was one of the best examples of the Scioscia leadership and the Angels structure bearing fruit on the field. They could've packed up and folded the tents after the devastating and senseless death of Nick Adenhart----no one would've blamed them----but they turned 2009 into a celebration of the young man's life, stolen away senselessly and too soon; they came within a few plays of the World Series.

What I point to with the Angels as a testament to their fortitude isn't 2009, but 2006. Short-handed and weak in numerous facets, they got off to an awful start and were 11 games under .500 by May 22nd; but they fought their way back over .500 and hung around contention long enough to crawl to within striking distance of the eventual AL West champion Athletics and put a scare into them in the waning weeks of the season.

Much like 2009, the Angels could've bagged the season and looked forward, but didn't.

This comes from calm leadership. The AL West is a study in flaws, mediocrity and misplaced appellations of "genius". If any team is going to emerge from the quagmire, it's the Angels regardless of how atrocious they currently appear on paper and in practice.

Never count out the Angels.


  • Now that I mention it...

It's strange how the "Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is a genius" parade has ground to a halt as their lack of offense is sabotaging any and all great work done by their pitching staff.

They were just steamrolled by the Rays in a three-game sweep; the Rays are very good, but the Mariners plainly and simply can't hit and the failure to address that gaping hole falls squarely on the desk of the GM.

I'm wondering what would be said had this type of failure occurred in New York with Mets embattled GM Omar Minaya, whose decisions to pass on Jason Marquis and Ben Sheets are looking pretty smart right now; whose farm system isn't all that bad after all; and whose reluctance to panic and do something short-sighted and stupid with personnel and money is rendering his critics silent.

The anointing of "genius" is fleeting and silly. Just as the short-term validation of Minaya and the long-term validation of Giants GM Brian Sabean and their smarter than initially believed maneuvers are saving them from the armchair experts who wanted both fired based more on a stat zombie hope of getting another of their "own" installed in their stead than any real judgment of their work on the whole.

Is Zduriencik a "genius"? Is Billy Beane?

Of course not.

Such a nonsensical claim can only be justified if what they did worked. True baseball intelligence is judged by whether something attempted makes sense even if it fails. Zdruiencik, Beane and Theo Epstein are celebrated because they're backed up by theories and supposedly "objective" analysis; others like Minaya and Sabean are or were attacked because they shunned the easy route of baseball-by-numbers and act of their own volition regardless of criticism. Marlins boss Larry Beinfest is ignored out of convenience.

I don't hear anyone referring to Zduriencik as a genius now; but if Milton Bradley returns and hits; if Chone Figgins regains form; if the Mariners win, the absurdity will again rear its head.

The idolatry ebbs and flows like the tide, advancing and receding. The proponents of the myth rise ephemerally and disappear just as rapidly standing by their beliefs as long as it helps their argument, then altering or abandoning them entirely, moving with a profound indifference to the next station. It's passionless and self-serving with their own lack of conviction and credibility a just reward.

On the bright side, the Mariners record (11-17) is exactly what it should be according to the Pygmalion Win Theorem. They're not underachieving or overachieving. They're....achieving.

Nice work.


That reminds me, I gotta do it.

I know I've posted this numerous times (mostly to take shots at Beane and Moneyball), but for anyone who's new to my world----such as it is----here it is again. The video clip that exemplifies the fleeting nature of "genius" and how it's taken out of context all too frequently.

  • Ranging with Ian Desmond:

The Nationals may be better than I thought. (I had them at 69-93.) Time will tell regarding the accuracy of that prediction; but with the National League appearing so clustered and average, there's no reason for the Nationals not to get to 76 wins or so with their current roster; and if Stephen Strasburg arrives and injects some life into the club, who knows?

It happened with Kerry Wood in 1998 bursting on the scene and lighting the place up, why not with Strasburg? (Nats manager Jim Riggleman was the manager of the Cubs in 1998 and savaged Wood's arm in an attempt to make the playoffs, which they did; he won't get that chance with Strasburg.) I don't think it will happen, but they're playing good ball.

I'm especially impressed with shortstop Ian Desmond.

He hasn't hit much yet, but he looks like a player----he'll hit. More importantly, his range at shortstop is fantastic and it was clear during last night's Scott Olsen no-hit bid that his glove is a major attribute to his game.

  • Viewer Mail 5.7.2010:

Joe Campise writes RE the Marlins:

Are you saying the Marlins should not be required to spend money? I think if MLB is giving the Marlins millions of dollars in revenue sharing MLB has a right to step in and say spend it. They don't have to renew those player's contracts. The Marlins could look to the Free Agent market.

I don't see how MLB can mandate that any team spend more on payroll than they have to to maintain a level of success. If the Marlins were playing like the Pirates and failing to maximize every penny with smarts and talent recognition, then okay; but the Marlins get better bang for their buck than any team I can think of in recent memory.

I said at the time that if a player like Josh Johnson was willing to accept X amount of money to sign a long-term contract, were the Marlins supposed to increase the offer by Y to placate MLB? How do you police it? What if they received an offer for Dan Uggla that was too good to pass up, are they supposed pass on the deal and keep him to adhere to a minimum salary just because MLB demands it?

It's a very gray area that's all but impossible to control.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Belligerent Reaper and Kyle Farnsworth:

Tell the Belligerent Reaper to stay out of the 'Lou.

And you are right. That Farnsworth story is pretty cool. Makes me second-guess myself in bashing the guy, in case I ever meet him someday.

Oh well. I'll just take off my glasses and swing away.

The Belligerent Reaper goes wherever he wants, not much can be done to stop him.

Somehow I get the impression that Farnsworth hits first and asks questions later, glasses or no glasses.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Farnsworth and team injuries:

He suplexed him? Love that word, although I have no idea what it means. Wow, when you put all those injuries together in a post, they're pretty impressive. Which only goes to prove that the team that stays healthy is the team with a chance to win it all.

The suplex is a pro rasslin' move, Jane and it looks as cool as it sounds.

With the injuries, you'd think that the cheap shot artists would take a step back and say, "maybe a big chunk of what happened to the Mets and Diamondbacks last year had little to do with incompetence and more to do with bad luck (and the Belligerent Reaper)". I've heard it privately, but never publicly. I'm not holding my breath waiting for it.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Belligerent Reaper and the Mets:

I have an instant man-crush on Belligerent Reaper! Brilliant.
I know you've been concerned with Nieve, and my worry has been Mejia. Ideally I'd like to have Mejia down starting. We've all panicked to some degree so I'll just ask this - Is it realistic All Five starters will be giving us 7 innings by mid-June? They've been able to give us a decent 6 with a few hiccups so far.

I didn't expect the Belligerent Reaper to gain such rapid popularity. I doubt he'd approve and we don't want to make him mad.

As long as Fernando Nieve says he's ready to go, then use him; my concern is that he won't say if he can't go and that's when guys get hurt. With Jenrry Mejia, I like breaking a guy in out of the bullpen. Tony La Russa has done it with a number of young pitchers, most recently and successfully with Dan Haren and Adam Wainwright; it's the way Earl Weaver and George Bamberger got their young pitchers acclimated to the big leagues. The Mets have been judicious and cautious with Mejia and I have no problem with how he'sbeen used.

The rotation has been solid; and Santana always finds his groove in the second half. Pitching will be available at mid-season and the Mets will be ready to deal, plus once the weather heats up, so will Jason Bay. The offense will be able to account for a downgrade in starting pitching if they hit.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE injuries:

Isn't it a problem for the game when the team with the less injuries wins it all? I'd prefer then to pack a deep, deep roster rather than a good roster, and win the injuries' game.

There are differing strategies to account for the possibility of injuries. It bit the Mets last year when they started losing their stars and had no viable replacements----although no team, anywhere could've accounted for the Mets' injuries no matter how strong their bench and farm system. If you're going top-heavy with stars and getting fill-in pieces as backups, it's the risk you run. It really depends on the situation and payroll. And luck.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

Listen to my Podcast appearance with Sal at SportsFanBuzz from Friday----Prince on the Podcast link.2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

Also, my book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

Buyer beware.

I told you my voice and my writing would take you places.

I never said they'd be places you wanted to go.

1 comment:

She-Fan said...

I don't know what to make of the Angels right now. They aren't looking like the old model, that's for sure. Figgins might not be cutting it with the Mariners and I adore Matsui, but the Angels aren't as formidable without Figgins and Vlad (and Garet Anderson) in the lineup.