Monkey Business

Sunday, March 30 2003 @ 09:08 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike D

Well, even with overwhelming response to the Batter's Box Throwing Down The Gauntlet (TM) challenge, there is one set of predictions that stands out. Humbly, I suggest that it was authored by yours truly.

Even though we have a championship club that hardly changed its roster at all, only I predicted the Anaheim Angels to have another Disneyland parade. At the risk of being banished forever from the ZLC, I'll explain why.

The Angels are an interesting lot. Consider:

*No player in the nucleus is firmly on the downside of his career, save possibly a very serviceable 35-year-old Tim Salmon and Kevin Appier, the #3-4 starter;

*No player on last year's "breakout club" really had a career year last year, save possibly their short-to-middle relievers Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz, each of whom could easily duplicate or surpass their numbers. Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus could each conceivably do much better.

*Francisco Rodriguez and John Lackey are just getting started.

In the sabermetric community, the Angels excel in what are perceived to be "overrated" traits: they don't strike out, they play small ball, they lead the league in batting average but not OBP. Consequently, the Angels are underrated by the new school of baseball analysis because their talents are "overrated."

The Angels set an 11-year low for batters' strikeouts last year. Sabermetricians snort at the importance of striking out to an offense, because the stats show that non-strikeouts aren't reliably "productive outs." But if you don't strike out, you put the ball in play, and the Angels make good things happen: according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Angels led the majors in "productive outs," or first/second outs of an inning in which runners score or advance. The Angels' hitting puts pressure on opponents' pitching and defence. They turn their on-base opportunities into runs, and runs are, as we all know, what Willis was talkin' about. Their "offensive efficiency," described by many as statistically fluky, is more likely to be durable given their consistent ability to put the ball in play.

In fact, in a short postseason series, I'd prefer the versatility of the Angels to an Earl Weaver-type attack that amasses regular-season wins by capitalizing on the control issues suffered by the majority of big-league pitching. The Angels have home-run power, but by being tough outs in addition, even the (by definition) superior pitching of a playoff club has a tough time shutting them down. How do you reliably squelch the Angels' offense? They hit fastballs hard and fight off breaking balls as well as any club. They run the bases smartly and aggressively, although they admittedly bunt too much.

Serviceable starting pitching (that could be much better this season) is backed up by an outstanding 'pen, both short and long. The Halos also play great defence, and for what it's worth, they were #1 in the big leagues in converting chances into outs. Then there's the "dreaded chemistry," as Coach might say, to which I will only offer Mike Scioscia's impact on the Angels' record as evidence. I could do without the uber-bunting, but the team plays hard...

Anyway, I am knowingly throwing these thoughts out to the zombie-like wolves. Fire away, and when somebody else hoists the World Championship Trophy in October, feel free to shame me with this column. But all things being equal, I'll take the champs against the field.