Results tagged ‘ A’s ’

Rain, Rain, Go Away. Come Back Again After Opening Day!

As you might have guessed from my title, sunny Southern California isn’t exactly living up to the hype at the moment. April showers and all that. Normally I would be fine with this. Drought year water restrictions are really annoying and I would like to avoid that. But tomorrow is the Angels home opening day and we have tickets and…and…okay, a rain out would hardly be an epic tragedy but I am starting to get seriously twitchy for a live game and the weather report is just teasing me – bouncing back and forth between dire predictions of a 60% chance of rain all day and then roughly a 30% change of rain in the morning and early afternoon.

I sure hope the rain clears out in time for the game. Seth and I could not be more excited and have a whole evening planned it. We’re even both leaving work early enough to carpool and still get there in time to watch batting practice, unheard of on a weekday. It will be nice to start the home opener on a high note after a 5 to 1 win over the Rays. Dan Haren picked up the win. He pitched very well and was no doubt pleased with the Angels generous, early run support after their stinginess last season. Though many were initially confused by the nasty stuff of Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, the bats were alive and well. Jordan Walden had his second outing since assuming the closer role and it was another one, two, three inning. I am so happy with this change! But I think that contests to give Walden a nickname and snazzy walk up music are a little premature. Let’s actually watch the kid play first before we saddle him with a nickname.

Oh, and the tickets arrived today! My husband and I will officially be travelling for baseball this summer. Fairly late in the 2010 season, I was commiserating with an old college friend about the state of our teams. Neither of us liked our chances for a post season and we both knew we would be experiencing withdrawal like symptoms all winter. Of course, his team’s ranking at that point was just so much more torture and it all turned out pretty darned well for him in the end. But we had so much fun goofing around, chatting about the game that he proposed an annual fan exchange program – in 2011 he and his guy will take my husband and I to a Giants game and we will take them to an Angels game. So we are heading up to San Francisco in July for the Giants/Dodgers game and we have great seats! For any family who may be lurking on the blog, first, thank you for reading :) and, second, I will not be wearing either team’s colors but will wear my Angels hat instead.

The Giants game happens to be the same weekend the Angels are in the Bay Area to play the A’s, so I also nabbed good seats for the planned Angels vs. A’s single admission, double header on that Saturday. Single admission, double header! Doesn’t that sound like a great throwback to childhood?! I am so excited, I can’t wait…for this weekend or for that one!

Angels Bats Are Back, but I Have Questions about the Rotation

The Angels continue to hit in spectacular fashion, both those you would expect and those you would not expect. 39 hits and 31 RBIs in the last three games, even with the loss to Milwaukee? Whooooo hooooo! Granted, batting averages don’t really count for much in Spring Training because the pitching takes so long to get into season shape and the number of minor league pitchers each batter sees. However, the bats seem to be warming up more as the pitching warms up and this I will take as a hopeful sign for the season.

Starting rotation issues, however, are giving me concerns where I did not expect to have any just two weeks ago. Now it sounds like Joel Pineiro will spend a few days on the DL at the beginning for the season. I understand. I want him to pitch strong for as much of the season as he can and back precautionary decisions especially now before the season starts. So much for the 4th rotation spot, for now…though after Scott Kazmir’s last start, who knows?

Which brings us to our 5th starting rotation spot…well…How do you solve a problem like Scott Kazmir? And, yes, that did emerge from my head set to a Rodgers and Hammerstein approved tune. Thanks – or blame, depending on your point of view – to Red State Blue State. I wanted Kaz to regain his old form. I was really pulling for him. There were hopefully signs in several of his Spring Training starts – more control in one game, more strikes thrown in another, more consistency, etc. But it never all came together in one game, which in and of itself already has overtones of 2010. Then, on Thursday against the Brewers, he incurred eight hits and ten runs in five innings pitched. Owwwww-ch. And yet it still sounds like Kaz is our 5th starter. Which leaves us where exactly? Praying for rain every 5th start? That would be one baseball tradition I would prefer not to embrace.

Matt Palmer did pretty well today, pitching to contact with the infield and outfield living up to their capabilities. Hmmm…is he an alternative plan or is he bullpen bound, no ifs, ands or buts? Oh well, I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday after the game, when Mike Scioscia has promised he will announce the starting rotation, the 25 man roster and the opening day starters…because waiting for Wednesday evening would have been too last minute, she says with extreme affection.

In other news, preparing to buy tickets for a few games in Northern California has given me a renewed appreciation for buying Angels tickets down here in Southern California. On Stubhub you pay more than full price for even generic Giants and A’s tickets. Even now before the season has started. It is actually better to go through Ticketmaster for Giants and A’s tickets. The horror!! The Big A is so large and enough of our season ticket holders so unable to attend every game, that I can usually grab tickets at season ticket prices or even cheaper now or the week of the game off Stubhub or Craig’s list. Games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are notable exceptions to this rule. But even so, wow. I had no idea I was so spoiled, but I’ll take it!

Spring Has Sprung, the Pitches Are Zinging and the Bats are in Bloom

Silly as it sounds, after Sunday’s game I felt somewhat deflated. But two better spring training outings for the Angels was all it took to return the buoyancy to my mood. First and foremost, the regular pitchers and most of the core bullpen candidates both days looked good – a little rust here and there, a couple of instances where the pitch placement could still use a little work, but on the whole very good.

I got to see the debut of our most likely new outfield configuration – all centerfielders, all the time with Vernon Wells in left, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right. I loved it! Between the three of them they cover a lot of ground and seem to work well together. Bourjos seemed to have a little trouble calling off Wells at first, but he came around much like he did last season with Torii and Bobby Abreu.

I think I have now seen the real Mike Trout and I too am impressed. That was a heck of a catch at the end of this afternoon’s game and he made it look absolutely effortless. And when he does get the bat on the ball, you can see the power there. I like this all centerfielder outfield idea and think Trout will fit in just fine when the time comes to replace one of the centers currently in the corners.

We’re nailing the double plays!! One of the first indications I had that things were amiss in 2010 was how few and far between the jaw dropping double plays, once an Angels hallmark, had become. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the guys nailing that 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 again! Also, the fielding so far has been error free, which is especially nice to see so early in spring training.

We have bats! Everyone who should be hitting has had at least one good solid hit in the last three games (remember, each player in question has only played about one full game worth of innings in those three games) except Torii, and Torii’s bat usually doesn’t really heat up until late April. I would jump for joy if it happened earlier, of course, but I’m not going to panic when it doesn’t. Yes, this does mean that Jeff Mathis, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and even Brandon Wood all had hits – Wood’s a hard hit double in his spring training debut today. I don’t know if this will last in all cases but it sure was good to see.

Certain old bad habits were still evident. Eighth and ninth inning excitement: Monday’s game against the A’s was 8 to 2 Angels going into the eighth inning and the final score was 8 to 7. Stranding runners on the bases: seven runners were left in scoring position in today’s game against the Reds. Failing to strike again: today’s game was another score in the first inning and never again outing. Aybar’s base running: he’s like the little girl with the little curl and today’s game was one of the horrid outings. But I’m not really concerned about this, this early on. These observations, good and bad, are all based on one two-game snapshot and I think early spring training games, where the pitchers change every one to two innings and all of the regular position players are out of the game by the 6th inning, are not the best representation of how the regular season will progress. I’m just grounding myself by taking note of the worrisome things along with the hopeful ones.

* * * * *

The baseball fever is so thick in my house that my husband actually convinced me to go play catch with him in the park the other day. Seth never played baseball growing up, not beyond the usual neighborhood pick-up games. I played softball in the local park and rec ponytail league from t-ball up through the beginning of high school but I haven’t touched a glove with any intent beyond catching a ball at batting practice in more than 15 years. So it was odd that he would ask and odder still that I would accept. I think that maybe seeing all of the young minor leaguers play a day game in such a small setting brings more nostalgia for the games you played in your own youth than a regular baseball game.

Playing catch? It’s not like riding a bicycle. Not after more than 15 years anyway. My arm is so much spaghetti, it’s embarrassing and, after this much time, it actually stings to catch the ball bare handed. But I’m still reasonably reliable with the glove and was even able to jump and stretch high to catch a few like back in the old days. And the unmistakable thunk of a perfect throw landing solidly in his glove the few times I managed a good one is absolutely addicting – childhood, laughter and fun all bottled up in a single sound. Yes, I will do this again. It was a lot of fun and I am way too stubborn not to give it another try. Besides, I’m not talking trash here but, um, I’m not the one with the sore shoulder today…he he he.

“Nothing Is Remotely Imminent” eh?

I guess I’ll let Nolan Ryan off on a technicality. I mean there isn’t a whole lot that’s remote in the 48 hour distance between that statement and a signed contract now is there? No, that pretty much is just imminent. What was it I was saying a few weeks ago about the different front offices playing a little too much Diplomacy this off season? If I were actually sitting in on this particular game of Diplomacy I might say well played in addition to growling less sportsmanlike comments but, as it is, I’m just growling.

So Adrian Beltre is a Ranger and the Angels missed the boat again. I understand that the free agent market got outrageously expensive again this year. Under normal circumstances, I think sticking to one’s principals is laudable but, right now, claiming to stick to their principals just looks like the Angels front office is making a piss poor excuse for terrible performance. We didn’t strike out this off season, we barely even bothered to step up to the plate. And they better not start carting out Takahashi and Downs again like those signings make for a fine off season on their own and anything else would just have been gravy. Those signings were a great start, alas apparently on a road to nowhere. When nothing else followed, just admit that you messed up. That way you only look really stupid instead of abysmally stupid.

If I am being rational, I know this isn’t the absolute end of the world. If I am being rational, I know that there is no one player who is the answer for us in a vacuum without any other changes. If we had landed Beltre and, defying all reason, the rest of bats went missing for most of the season again, a season with only Beltre and Weaver consistently performing to expectations isn’t going to be any prettier than one where Weaver more or less consistently performed to expectations alone. If the bats actually show up, I think the team that hits the field in 2011, as it stands right now, is a better team than the one that hit the field in 2010. Rationally though, I really don’t know if that is enough.

Again, if I’m being rational, it’s a long season and we haven’t started Spring Training yet. Everybody has to play 162 games, blah, blah, blah and all of the other clichés. But, seriously, a lot can happen in that amount of time, especially in California baseball. My sister and I have always said that no one, but no can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (or, sadly, defeat from the jaws of victory but let’s not go there right now) in the most unexpected of ways like California baseball teams. Angels, Dodgers, Giants, A’s and Padres fans, you all know what I’m talking about. And tomorrow…okay maybe by next week, I will probably truly believe all of this and the other hopeful posts I have made on this blog again.

But tonight I don’t feel like being rational. I am angry, enough so that I didn’t so much type this as I beat and pounded it into the keyboard. Whether or not Beltre was the answer, I just wanted something, anything to point at and say, look, the front office is really trying this off season instead of well, just being trying.

Michael Lewis, Moneyball and Team Chemistry

My father-in-law discovered Michael Lewis this Christmas. One relative gave him The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Lewis’ new book on the mortgage meltdown and my husband and I loaned him Liar’s Poker, Lewis’ first book about his early career as a Wall Street bond trader in the 1980’s. He’s really enjoying The Big Short and we got into a huge discussion about both books and all things Michael Lewis over the weekend. And, of course, you can’t talk about Michael Lewis without talking about Moneyball, or at least I can’t.

My father-in-law is as much of a numbers geek as I am. I hooked him on the idea of reading Moneyball with my descriptions of the newer sabermetric stats and Lewis’ comparison of the analysis of certain key pieces of a baseball player’s skill set to the derivatives trade market. However, while I also appreciated these aspects of Moneyball when I read the book, they are not the reason it is one of my favorite baseball books. No, what grabbed my attention were the strong but unintentional arguments Michael Lewis made on the way to arguing his main points: namely that personalities, clubhouse/teammate chemistry and other intangibles that stats cannot measure are every bit as important as those skills the stats can measure and that being a passionate baseball fan sometimes causes you to defy logic and reason. If this doesn’t sound like the Moneyball you read or have heard about, check my logic here:

In talking about on base percentage, slugging percentage and other at the time undervalued stats Lewis dedicates a entire chapter each to A’s acquisitions Jeremy Brown, Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. Each player exhibited one or more sabermetrically valuable skills while lacking many of the qualities that Major League Baseball placed a high value on. In the course of outlining the different ways this situation made each player a brilliant bargain for Billy Beane’s larger vision for the A’s an entirely different argument emerges. In telling their stories, Lewis’ also describes a crucial unexpected personal element that helps each player achieve success. Brown, for example, is a talented hitter who suffers from the fragile psychology of the chronically picked on kid. In Lewis’ telling, once Brown makes the first jump away from the A’s rookie team, he is on the verge of crumpling from a lack of confidence when his friend, the much more socially adept Nick Swisher, gives him the encouragement he needs, a sympathetic ear and a one-man cheerleading squad in the dugout.

Scott Hatteberg’s story is my favorite. A former catcher with a damaged elbow that destroyed his throwing arm, Hatteberg’s high on base percentage brings him to the attention of the A’s who want to retrain him as a first baseman. What the A’s have no way of knowing is how much Hatteberg’s love for baseball is built around the chats and personal interactions he had with the opposing teams’ batters when he used to catch. What I took from Lewis’s argument is that, more than the desire to excel at baseball again, it was the realization that he could have that same level of personal interaction and possibly even longer conversations with opposing players as a first baseman that gave Hatteberg the drive he needed to learn the challenging new position.

Hatteberg’s personality becomes a real asset when Chad Bradford begins pitching for the A’s. Lewis describes Bradford almost crumpling under the pressure of past manager’s reactions to his quirky submarine pitching style until Hatteberg gives him a timely confidence boost by sharing the hitters shocked and impressed reactions to the pitches when they reach first base. I assume that Lewis’ point in sharing these stories is that they are great stories which bring a compelling personal element to the book. But after reading them, I for one can’t imagine any of the players functioning in the way Beane felt their stats indicated they would perform if the intangible qualities in the player and/or their teammates weren’t there right along with the tangible ones. I know this is not what Lewis intended to argue at all, but the argument is there nevertheless and largely, I think, becuase you can’t escape the importance the human element plays in baseball no matter how you crunch the numbers.

As to the unintentional argument about the passion of baseball fans, one of Moneyball‘s biggest controversies is the perception that Lewis argues in favor of new sabermetric stats hands down over traditional stats. This isn’t Lewis’ original argument at all. He starts out by saying that sabermetrics allows managers to pick and choose undervalued skills, the skills that can give a less wealthy team the most talent for their limited dollars. His central premise is not that a team with relatively unlimited resources should prize these undervalued skills over traditionally valued skills…but it sure doesn’t sound that way by the time you get to the draft scenes in the middle of the book. Lewis begins to praise the skill sets the A’s have chosen to focus on to a greater and greater degree as the book progresses. He brings things back around to his central point by the end but seems unaware of the degree to which he strayed from it in the middle…and, understandably, it is the points where Lewis strays that the book’s detractors fixate on. Why the discrepancy? I think Lewis’ own obviously growing enthusiasm and occasional downright giddiness in describing his subject tells the whole story. By the end of his research, Michael Lewis has evolved from an interested but unbiased researcher into passionate baseball fan. And who among us really sounds logical and reasonable once we start talking about our team and their chances in any given season?

As much I appreciated Lewis’ sabermetrics history and analysis of the new stats, to me the combination of his intentional and unintentional arguments cuts right to the heart of baseball. The stats are important. The stats give you an amazing amount of crucial information. The newer stats give you even more. But the stats can never and will never tell you the whole story. I hope my father-in-law asks to borrow Moneyball soon. I want to discuss this with him and see if he thinks it compares to gut instinct vs. in depth market analysis on the stock market.

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