This ‘N That for November 22

Back from Florida … I have a friend who works at Kennedy Space Center. She invited us out for a “Family Day” event. NASA and contractor employees may bring on base friends and relatives to visit sites normally off-limits, such as the Orbiter Processing Facility and Vehicle Assembly Building. An estimated 40,000 people attended.

If you’re ever out that way, I also recommend the Cocoa Beach Kayaking tour of the lagoons and canals around Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island. The “Space Coast” is known mostly for the space program, but it also happens to be the largest wildlife refuge in the continental U.S.

Anyway, back to baseball … Lots of anecdotal stuff in the last week.

Mike Butcher at Butte in 2000
Mike Butcher began his coaching career with the Angels in 2000 as the pitching coach for Rookie-A Butte.

Mike Butcher returned to the Angels organization as the parent club’s pitching coach, replacing Bud Black who was hired as the Padres’ new manager. “Butch” was the roving pitching instructor from 2003 through 2005. Joe Maddon took Butcher with him to Tampa Bay as his pitching coach.

I interviewed Butch when we were both visiting Triple-A Salt Lake in May 2005. Click Here to listen to the interview. If you listen carefully, in the background you can hear equipment blown about as a windstorm hit Franklin Covey Field. That night’s game was postponed as a nasty thunderstorm blew through. We were both taking dust in our faces while recording, so kudos to Butch for hanging on through the interview.

Black announced his Padres coaching staff yesterday. Bobby Meacham, the Angels’ manager for High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2003-2004, will be the Padres’ first base coach. Meacham was the third base coach for the Marlins this year.

The Angels signed right-handed free-agent reliever Justin Speier yesterday. Largely overlooked so far is that Speier is a lefty killer. In 2006, his AVG/OBP/SLG against righties were .264/.340/.411 but against lefties were .183/.256/.352. For those into WHIP (which totally ignores opponents’ power, so I don’t think it’s as valuable a number as the statheads revere), his WHIP against righties was 1.55 but only 0.97 against lefties.

Mike Scarr of MLB.com wrote of Speier:

Speier throws a fastball and a slider but credits his split-finger pitch for his success against lefties.

“I’m a baseball historian and a baseball fan. I know that a north and south pitch gets lefties out,” Speier said. “My split-finger pitch is my top to bottom pitch and keeps hitters off my fastball.”

For years, the Angels had no front-line left-handed reliever. Certain fans and media pundits bashed Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia, insisting the Angels needed a left-handed reliever. Angels management simply pointed out that Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly all had excellent numbers against lefties, and that premium southpaws are very expensive on the pitching market, so it’s more cost-effective to go with someone who gets the job done at a cheaper price.

But the Angels finally gave in to convention and traded infield prospect Alexi Casilla last December to Minnesota for veteran left-handed reliever J.C. Romero. While Romero was a total bust for the Angels in 2006, Casilla rocketed through the Twins system, finishing the year with the parent club as a September callup. Alexi was part of the Rookie-A Provo team that won the 2004 Pioneer League pennant, and spent most of 2005 at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Earlier this month, the Twins named him their Minor League Player of the Year.

So much for convention.

Romero was released, and by signing Speier the Angels have gone back to what works.

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels are the leading contender to sign free-agent outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr. His AVG/OBP/SLG in 2006 of .313/.371/.495 with Texas are probably career-year numbers unlikely to be repeated, but his spectacular defense will be a significant upgrade over Chone Figgins. He’d be the best defensive center fielder the Angels have had since Darin Erstad was healthy. The Angels will probably have to overpay to sign him in a thin market, but that’s supply-and-demand for ya.

By no means does signing Matthews exclude that “big bat” trade some want. But signing Matthews would move the Angels closer to a profile similar to their 2002 championship year, when they had a healthy Erstad in CF. If you compare Matthews’ career AVG/OBP/SLG (.263/.336/.419) to Erstad’s (.286/.341/.416), the Angels are basically signing a healthy Erstad. Matthews is 32 and just two months younger than Erstad, who’s a free agent (although he could be offered a minor league contract and spring training invite), and Matthews is a switch-hitter whereas Erstad is strictly a leftie.

Even if the Angels don’t make the “big trade” if Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson come back healthy in 2007 then I think it’s a really strong team on paper.

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