15 June 2007

Angels Preview: Now Better Than the Dodgers

by Joshua Worley

In my preview of the last series between these two teams, I said that the Angels and the Dodgers were just like each other, except that the Dodgers had a better announcer. And this was true, at the time. Both teams were winning with mostly great pitching and an offense that struggled to be average. Well, a month later the same description still applies to the Dodgers, though I think the pitching is better now and the offense may be on its way to getting better with the infusion of Bison and other freed prospects. But the Angels have already seen an improvement in the offense since that series. Maybe it even began with that series where the Angels scored 19 runs and swept the hapless Dodgers.

The improvement to the Angel offense has been led by hot hitting from Figgins, Cabrera, and Kotchman, with Guerrero brilliant as always. They are 42-25, first in the AL west, just percentage points behind Boston for best record in the majors. They've scored 337 runs and allowed 278 runs, which is very good, though not quite as good as their record.

The Dodgers see the same three Angel pitchers they saw in the sweep, while the Angels will see only one repeat pitcher ( Lowe ). Will seeing a pitcher the second time around give the offense an advantage? I doubt it, but it might be a small factor. The pitching matchups are Santana v Lowe, Weaver v Schmidt, and Escobar v Wolf. I'd say the Dodgers are big favorites in the first game, and the Angels are slight favorites in the next two.

Vladamir Alvino Guerrero -- RF

age: 31
bats: right

0.335 -- 0.435 -- 0.574

Vlad is still walking at a rate higher than any previous season, making him an even more productive hitter than he already was. Last year he had 25 non-intentional walks in 156 games; this year he has 22 non-intentional walks in just 64 games. Last time the Dodgers faced the Angels, Vlad had an OPS of 1.125, so he's cooled off a bit, but he's still a top five MVP candidate in the AL. The Dodgers don't have any hitter close to his production. The Dodgers as a team have received 14 intentional walks ( all by Andy LaRoche to hear some tell it ) while Vlad by himself has received 18 intentional passes.

Vlad went 3-11 with a walk and a double in his previous series against the Dodgers, and yet even with that rather modest production the Angels scored 19 runs on their way to a lopsided sweep. Even when facing a team with a hitter as good as Vlad, it's never about stopping or containing just one guy.

Casey John Kotchman -- 1B

age: 24
bats: left

0.330 -- 0.408 -- 0.555

In the last Angel series, when Kotchman had an OPS of 0.731, I wrote: He has Snakes' prospect disease! An aged 24 can't miss prospect struggling to start the 2007 campaign, just like the big four of Arizona.

Wow, he's improved. I hope the Snakes prospects don't all turn it around like Kotchman has, or they might leave the Dodgers and San Diego in the dust. No wonder the Angels suddenly have the most wins in baseball!

It would be nice if the Angels rested Kotchman and played Hillenbrand at first base instead, as they did in a recent game in St. Louis. There is a small chance that this might happen against Randy Wolf, because Kotchman has some awful platoon splits. No longer regular DH Shea Hillenbrand actually has a higher OPS against lefties than Kotchman does. ( 0.648 to 0.643 )

I think Lowe and Wolf will hold him to one or two singles, maybe a walk, while Schmidt could well be lit up by Kotchman.

Orlando Luis Cabrera -- SS

age: 32
bats: right

0.337 -- 0.381 -- 0.452

Cabrera has never hit more than 0.300 in his career, and yet two and a half months into the season, here he is well above that mark. He doesn't walk much or hit many home runs, but he does churn out the doubles and singles, just like the Angels as a team. And just like the Angels as a team, he's been really hot for the last month. So far it's working for them.

Gary Nathaniel Matthews Jr. -- CF

age: 32
bats: switch

0.282 -- 0.340 -- 0.452

Matthews seems to be settling in toward the 0.750 OPS level, which is still better than what the Dodgers get from their expensive free agent center fielder. Cabrera and Matthews flank Guerrero in the Angel lineup, and I think they're the two players the Dodgers really need to keep quiet. Vlad is too talented and too able to hit a pitch thrown anywhere around the plate for the plan to be to stop him. Better to isolate him in the lineup by always getting the guys flanking him out. Easier said than done.

But I don't think Wolf or Lowe should have that much trouble with him if they're on their games. It's Schmidt, again, who seems the most vulnerable to me.

Desmond DeChone Figgins -- 3B

age: 29
bats: switch

0.264 -- 0.314 -- 0.338

Not very good numbers, but infinitely better than the last time the Dodgers saw him when his OPS was 0.349. He's done so well that he's been moved back into the leadoff spot of the lineup.

In June Figgins isn't walking or striking out much at all. He's just hitting the ball hard, for a 0.444 average. I don't see any reason for this hot streak to continue against the Dodgers. Then again, there isn't any reason why it won't, either.

Once he does get on base, Figgins is a threat to steal, with 13 and only 2 caught. I guess the nightmare way for the Dodgers to open these games is for Figgins to single, following by a stolen base on which Martin throws into center field, sending Figgins to third. I don't want to see that happen once in this series.

Howard Joseph Kendrick III -- 2B

age: 23
bats: right

0.270 -- 0.310 -- 0.410

Last time these teams played Kendrick was still injured and Erick Aybar was the second baseman, but Kendrick has taken over. He just had an off day on Wednesday, so he may play the entire series.

Kendrick is on an 8 games hitting streak, which has brought his line up to a semi-decent level. He had a great April before getting injured, then had an awful May after coming back from the injury, and now seems to be getting back to being a decent hitter in June.

Reggie Gene Willits -- LF

age: 26
bats: switch

0.323 -- 0.419 -- 0.377

Willits has started to revert to his likely true level of ablity in June. He was dropped to the eight spot in the lineup when Figgins was moved to lead-off. Without the DH the Angels have a lineup crunch, with either Willits or Garret Anderson being the odd man out. In the Angels previous six NL stadium games, Anderson and Willits have each started three.

I will be really annoyed if the Dodgers let him on base a bunch of times, because I don't think he's that good, and because he's 15 of 17 in stolen bases.

Garret Joseph Anderson -- LF

age: 34
bats: left

0.272 -- 0.273 -- 0.424

Anderson has been battling a strained hip flexor the last week, which may have been a factor in him splitting time with Willits. I don't know, though. Comparing their stats I'd rather go with Willits more often, injury to Anderson or no. I know I just got done saying that I don't think Willits is really that good, but he has hit well and does know how to take a walk at least. Anderson has a mere one walk this season!

Michael Anthony Napoli -- C

age: 25
bats: right

0.253 -- 0.347 -- 0.473

Napoli is the anti-Angel, with a low batting average but a lot of walks and home runs to make up for it. Backup Jose Molina has a higher batting average by a few points, but doesn't walk or hit home runs. Any game that Molina starts is good news for the Dodgers.

Ervin Ramon Santana -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
5.26 -- 77.0 -- 61 -- 29 -- 16

The million dollar question with Santana: does pitching at Dodger Stadium count as pitching on the road?

Technically, the answer is yes, of course. But will whatever road factor that screws with Ervin's head or mechanics or whatever that produces such insane home/road splits be present when he pitches at Dodger Stadium?

The answer to this question appears to be yes. The "road factor" is present at Dodger stadium for Santana, if his previous start there when he gave up 5 runs in 4 innings is anything to go on.

Santana is such a fascinating player. Has there been anyone as extreme in their home/road splits in the history of baseball, for really no good reason? I mean, Mel Ott hit a ton of his homers at home, but that was explicable, since the Polo grounds had really short fences down the lines. It's not as if Angel stadium is a pitchers park of renown, is it? Santana has made a quality start in all six of his home starts this year. He has just two quality starts in his seven road starts, both of the bare minimum kind with 6 innings pitched and 3 runs given up. His more usual road start is to give up more runs than innings pitched. 13 of his 16 home runs allowed have been on the road. 18 of his 29 walks have been on the road. Only his strikeout rate seems to stay the same no matter where he pitches, oddly.

Santana's last road start was one of the quality ones, against the Cardinals. We'll see if he can string two together at Dodger Stadium tonight. With Lowe pitching, this is a game the Dodgers really ought to win.

Jered David Weaver -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.14 -- 58.2 -- 48 -- 23 -- 7

Last time I wrote about Weaver, I mentioned he was a fly ball pitcher and hoped that Saenz and Betemit would start at DH and third. This time I hope that Betemit and Kemp get the starts. Throw in Kuo as a pinch hitter maybe, too!

Weaver left his last start in the third inning with lower back tightness. Now when they say lower back, do they mean lower back or is that a euphemism for tightness in the buttocks, or reverse-groin, if you will? The little blurb I read on espn.com also mentions that he needs to keep his hammies stretched out to avoid re-aggravating the injury. Pierre and Furcal ought to try bunting on him, see if they can mess with his hammies. Baseball is a vicious game.

Last time Weaver pitched against the Dodgers he was coming into the game with a great last four starts. This time, only one of his past four starts has been good. The Dodgers will need to score on him a lot if Schimdt falters, though.

Kelvim Jose Escobar -- P

age: 30
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
2.89 -- 81.0 -- 66 -- 23 -- 3

You know, Escobar's home/road splits aren't so hot either, though he's not the road disaster that Santana is. Actually, he's not much of anything on the road, since he's only had three starts away from Anaheim! Gosh, would it have been that hard for the Angels to figure this out before the season and swap Escobar and Santana in the rotation? I know it's hard to plan out rotations that far in advance, and I know players shouldn't really be coddled, but still it's a sensible maximization of resources given what they know about Santana.

I don't think anything should be read into Escobar's home/road splits, since he pitched great in two of the starts and had his worst outing of the year in the other. Against the Dodgers he had second best start of the year, an eight inning, three hit, no run masterpiece. But this is a different Dodger team then the one he faced. I hope that means a different result.

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