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“It gets Late Early out There�

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By Gregory Bird, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 
We are all experiencing this Yogi quote here on AngelsWin and so I think it is time for a team progress report from Inside Edge. I remember when I was a good, hardworking student I didn’t mind my parents seeing my progress report but if I wasn’t doing well or had been messing around then I dreaded it being mailed home. I feel like just writing “you’re crappy, do better” as my progress report for the team but that would be a lot like the last Angels’ game I watched, depressing. So instead I will look at Angels’ player trends in measurable ways with the existing sample size and give them a grade. Yes, the grades are arbitrary. 

I would first like to thank Pizza Cutter’s research over on the FanGraphs’ site and credit his research with the foundation of this article. Cutter’s research as to when stats stabilize is how I determined what to focus on here. This doesn’t mean these stats won’t change at all throughout the year; it does means there is some real change happening that we can see and measure in these early statistics.

There are three tiers of hitting stats that have stabilized at this time. At 50 plate appearances (PA) a hitter’s swing rate stabilizes. This measures just how often he swings at the pitches he sees. At 100 PA a hitter’s contact rate stabilizes. This measures how often he can actually make contact with the pitches he swings at. At 150 PA three more important things stabilize: strikeout rate, line drive rate, and pitches per plate appearance (P/PA). No Angels’ player has actually reached this level yet, but 5 players are very close.

Let’s look at our star student first and the improvements he is making at the plate. Trumbo, I bet some of you thought I was talking about Trout, has reduced the number of pitches he is swinging at while making a little less contact than last year. Mark has never been very good at making contact and is now about 10% worse than league average. This is the most troubling thing about his game. The good news is most of his reduced swing rate can be attributed to him improving his O-Swing rate (pitches swung at outside the strike zone) by 7.5%. This has resulted in Trumbo cutting down his strikeouts by 1.7% and increasing his line drive percentage by 2%. A big strong guy like Mark striking out less and making better contact with the ball suggests that he could have continued success. His P/PA hasn’t changed instead he is just being more selective at the plate. His strikeouts would probably vastly improve if he could just make more contact with pitches in the zone which is 9.7% worse for him over the past two years.  Mark only has 135 PA so this is still a bit premature. Grade A-

Let’s check in next with the young phenom, Trout. He leads the team with 142 PA but the news is mixed. His overall swing rate is nearly the same as last year but he is making less contact with the pitches he swings at because he is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and less pitches in the zone. He made contact 81.8% of pitches he swung at last year compared to only 79.3% this year which mirrors the difference in his O-Swing rate from this year to last year. The good news is that even though he has poorer pitch selection he is actually striking out less, almost 3% less. Strikeouts were his biggest problem last year, if you can say he had a problem. Hopefully this trend continues but it could be hard if he doesn’t adjust his swing rates. Trout is seeing fewer P/PA this season. All of this hasn’t affected the type of contact he is making as his line drive rate has improved by 1.2%. The only thing I can attribute his increased line drive rate to is his improvement at making contact with pitches in the strike zone. He is successful in reducing strikeouts and increasing line drives yet he is doing it by swinging at some bad pitches and swinging earlier. Hopefully his selectivity sorts itself out but it something to keep our eye on all season. Grade B+

Let’s turn now to the long time teacher’s pet, our aging superstar, Pujols. Albert is swinging at the same number of pitches as last year but making 3% less contact with them. This is mostly because he is making less contact on pitches outside the strike zone, nearly 7% less. The good news is he has reduced his O-Swing rate and improved his Z-Swing rate (swinging at pitches in the zone) over last year. He is seeing fewer P/PA but isn’t striking out any more this year than last and his better selectivity at the plate is probably why. His strikeout rate through the first 100 PA was better than his rate over the past 38. It is also worth noting his 11.6% strikeout rate is nearly a full 2% over his career average. Swinging at better pitches is also helping him hit more line drives which should mean more hits this season, I hope. Grade C+

Next we’ll evaluate the classmate that teachers always expect so much from and who never quite delivers, Howie. Kendrick has been somewhat successful but his underlining numbers this year don’t really make much sense to me. He is swinging at more pitches outside the zone (+4.9% O-Swing rate) this year and making less contact with those pitches (-3.4% O-Contact rate) but he is currently having a career year hitting line drives. His career average for line drives is 19.3% and this year he is hitting 25.5% line drives. He is still seeing about the same number of pitches in the zone but he is seeing fewer fastballs than at any other time in his career. Somehow during this time he has reduced his strikeouts by 3.4%. This doesn’t seem sustainable with him swinging at more pitches outside the zone. He is also seeing slightly more P/PA. None of this really adds up so there is some fear of him regressing as the year progresses unless he drops his O-Swing rate back in line with his career norms, which is possible. My final verdict is that I’m going to take a more wait and see approach with our potential batting champion as he only has 131 PA right now. Grade C

Finally we’ll analyze the transfer from our rival school who we all really wanted to root for this year. I like Josh but his numbers are frustrating and are not very superstar-like. He is swinging at 59.7% of pitches, which is only slightly more than last years’ swing rate of 58.9% and this number has been dropping the last week or so. It is however still 4% more than his career average. He is making 4.5% more contact with the ball this year, but this is still 2.1% below his career average and nearly 5% below his most productive years. Josh is seeing the same number of P/PA but striking out 2.5% more often and hitting 1.8% less line drives. This is evident to any person observing his at bats as he flails at outside pitches, hits weak grounders to the right side, and pops up to outfielders. He is doing better than last year in some areas but not good enough. This is only over 132 PA so this hasn’t really stabilized yet and we can all hope the mental day he had against the Orioles will be the turning point in his season. Grade D

The Rest
Nobody else is really close to 150 PA and only Bourjos and Iannetta were even really close to 100. Aybar, Harris, and Jimenez have all reached the 50 PA level. Here are some highlights from the rest of the class.

Aybar is swinging at a lot less pitches this year. He swung at 51.6% of pitches last year and has held himself to a 46.7% swing rate so far this year. This is also nearly 3% below his career average. Most of this has to do with him lowering his O-Swing rate (pitches outside the strike zone) by 8.8%, a big improvement. Hopefully this new plate selectivity keeps up throughout the year and he shakes off his free-swinging ways.

Bourjos is swinging more this year, 3.9% more than last year. This is closer to his 2011 swing rate. Last year Peter swung at less pitches out of the zone than in 2011 but also at less pitches in the zone. This year he is maintaining the same low O-Swing rate of 2012 but is now swinging at more strikes instead of letting them go by.

Iannetta is also swinging more in 2013 than in 2012. He is swinging more at both balls in and out of the zone and making less contact with those outside the zone. This looks a lot like he is pressing or trying to make something happen instead of just staying within his skillset. He is still walking a lot but this new ‘freer-swinging’ strategy seems to be contributing to Chris’ lower batting average.

For pitchers we look at how many batters they’ve faced to get a read on how they’re doing. It takes a lot more data to really decipher these stats and there is only one tier that has been achieved so far this season and only by three of the starters: Wilson, Blanton, and Vargas. It is 150 batters faced (BF) and here we see a pitcher’s strike out rate (K%,) groundball rate, and line drive rate stabilize.

Last year’s new kid and jack of all trades, CJ, has stats that are both interesting and boring all at the same time. Almost nothing has changed for Wilson from last year. His K% is 19.6%, his groundball rate is 49.5%, and his line drive rate is 19%. These are all within 1% of last year’s numbers. They are also very much in line with his career numbers. He is pretty much doing what he has always done, as far as anyone can tell. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .298, just about where it always is for him so hitters aren’t getting lucky either. His only out of line stat is his walks per 9 innings. It looks like if he can just cut down on the walks he could turn it around. Maybe he should just throw strikes, eh? Grade B-

Blanton, or as many refer “Blantana,”may be the universally hated classmate right now but he has some positives. Blanton’s biggest problem is his K%. He is striking out only 9.5% of batters he has faced. That is 11.1% fewer than last year and 6.3% fewer than his career average. He doesn’t appear to be fooling people, which is kind of what we’ve all seen out there. What he does seem to be doing is limiting line drives and getting more groundballs. He is getting 50% of balls in play to be hit on the ground, which is a jump of 5.4%. That is huge. Also, despite what it seems, he is limiting hard hit balls as his line drive rate has dropped 3.4% from last year. Fewer line drives and more groundballs could mean his recent success isn’t a total fluke. He has been raising his K rate recently too. If this all turns around he could be exactly what DiPoto billed him as: a reliable innings eater that keeps us in games. Grade C+

This year’s new kid, Jason Vargas, is turning out to be the same mixed bag last year’s new kid was. He is striking out 4.2% less people than last year and that has nothing to do with the park factors. His line drive rates are consistent with last year, so hitters aren’t making any better contact than before. He has also become more of a groundball pitcher. He has raised his groundball rate from last year’s 40.2% to 43.7% this year. This can’t hurt him and if this helps him keep the ball in the park more I’m all for it. If he can raise his K% closer to career norms and keep the lower groundball rate then he could be very effective the rest of the year for the Halos. Grade C

Hanson and Richards are the next Pitchers that will reach the 150 BF plateau. They both have around 125 BF right now. Hanson has fewer line drives and fewer strikeouts so far this year while maintaining his 40% groundball rate. Richards has more strikeouts, a lot more grounders and fewer line drives. We will see what happens over their next 25 batters faced.

Looks like the overall grade is a C+ on process but the results on the field are a D- in my grade book. There are some positives but the biggest problems here are our two superstars and our pitching. I didn’t even look at the bullpen, which looks like 5-year olds in a food fight. Hopefully with Madson going out on rehab assignment later this week, Jepsen throwing off a mound soon, Burnett’s positive medical news, and with Lowe coming back Tuesday it will straighten itself out. We can only hope, right?

I believe Butcher is a smart guy but I think he is the first to go if the pitching woes continue. I don’t believe another pitching coach is actually that much of an improvement over Butcher but it could serve to shake up the pitching staff and be a warning shot across the bow. We will check in again next month at which time I hope to have better news to write about.  Let’s hope and pray it is still early enough to get back into this thing but I am very afraid “it’s getting late early out here.”
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Thanks for the positive feedback everyone and glad I could make the advanced stats accessible.

Street, know that the D was warranted because he is improving in some small process ways. An F would be him showing NO improvement. He is reducing swing rate and making more contact. Not trying to be emotional just factual.

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