October 2007

Los Angeles Times, We’re Awaiting Your Call

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up."

— Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

An article in the Business section of today’s Los Angeles Times writes that some newspapers are exploring working relationships with bloggers.

It’s an interesting concept. In an era where shrinking subscription rates and fewer advertisers result in massive layoffs, newspapers can afford to keep fewer reporters. The depth of the coverage dwindles, too. A decade ago, the Times had special sections for regions throughout Southern California, such as Orange County and the Inland Empire. Now they all compete for coverage in one "California" section.

Bloggers can be a cheap substitute, but with that option come risks.

For openers, bloggers are not professional journalists. Some of them, quite frankly, are loonies. To substitute bloggers for reporters only lowers further the bar of journalistic integrity. News reporting was once respected in this country, but the Walter Cronkites are long gone, replaced by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Fox News isn’t news. Using bloggers for a major source of news would take our collective national intelligence even lower.

Bloggers, however, might have the time and resources to dig deeper than a reporter. I’ve been involved politically in my community for many years, and often worked closely with local political reporters to help them research what was going on at City Hall. I still get calls now and then from newbie reporters who want background on who’s who and what’s what.

Under the right circumstances, an affiliation between a professional news outlet and a blog with a demonstrated track record of credibility might be worth testing the waters.

FutureAngels.com has been around since 1998, and this blog on MLB.com is reaching the one-year mark. I’ve made it clear many times that I’m not a news reporter out for a scoop. I do think I offer some reasoned insight into the Angels minor leagues you can’t find elsewhere. Unlike the hysteria and knee-jerk temper tantrums that are the trademark of many fan blogs, this site has a reputation for sanity.

No other site offers video and audio clips with players, coaches and other personalities within the organization. The idea behind that is to let you see and hear for yourself, so you can make your own informed decision. Other sites tell you what to think. I’ll tell you what I think, but I let you listen to the real experts and see with your own two eyes.

So if the Times or another news outlet wants an arrangement with FutureAngels.com, I’m willing to listen. But I’m not giving up my day job waiting for the call. (smile)

Casey Kotchman Hospitalized

Casey Kotchman was scratched from Sunday’s game due to a "non-baseball" medical condition. This morning’s Los Angeles Times reveals some details.

The paper says that Casey was suffering from "severe flu-like symptoms" and hospitalized.

The Angels were not sure whether Kotchman’s illness was related to that of pitching coach Mike Butcher, who was so sick as the Angels’ charter pulled back from the gate at Boston’s Logan Airport early Saturday morning that the plane returned to the terminal so Butcher could be taken to a hospital.

"It felt like someone poured a Gatorade bucket over my head — I’ve never sweated so much in my life," said Butcher, who recovered in time to attend Sunday’s game. "It wouldn’t stop. I felt lightheaded. I’m not sure if it was a viral or bacterial infection."

UPDATE October 9, 2007 8:00 PM PDTMike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reported this morning:

Kotchman, who missed Sunday’s game because of severe flu-like symptoms, was discharged from Anaheim Memorial Hospital early Sunday evening after a 30-hour stay during which he received five bags of intravenous fluids.

Kotchman’s father, Tom, said Casey was vomiting so violently Saturday he passed out briefly. Doctors did blood work and took cultures but were not sure whether Kotchman had a virus or food poisoning.

“He’s feeling better now,” the elder Kotchman said Monday.

DiGiovanna also reported that “Third base prospect Brandon Wood, who has shown excellent power and a propensity for strikeouts, will play winter ball in Mexico so he can learn to hit breaking and off-speed pitches better.”

Angels in the Playoffs – Part 3

Once upon a time, fans believed in the Angels Curse.

The Curse can be traced back to the very origins of the Angels franchise. It was so pervasive, so tangible, that when Los Angeles Times sports columnist Ross Newhan wrote his book The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History the first chapter was titled, "The Parade of Agony."

After the Angels won the World Series in 2002, most folks figured The Curse had been lifted. Although valuable players continued to suffer improbable injuries — ask Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson — the Angels were competitive for the most part, and went to the post-season in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

The Curse served notice this week that it is alive and well.

The Angels entered the playoffs minus two key players. Pitcher Bartolo Colon, who won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angels, rehabbed himself to the point where he made the post-season roster — only to feel a tweak in his elbow and so he was dropped from the roster. Center fielder Gary Matthews, Jr., whose power and defense were a significant upgrade from 2006, suffered a knee injury and was also dropped from the roster.

But The Curse was just getting started.

Left fielder Garret Anderson, given up for dead by lame fans and sportswriters, was his old self when finally healthy and was the mythical "big bat" the Angels supposedly needed down the stretch. But then he got an infection in his right eye. Looking like he was on the losing end of a bar fight, Garret tried to play through it but finally benched himself in the second inning of today’s Game #3.

Trainer Rick Smith was minding his own business in the visitor’s dugout at Boston when he took a line drive foul off the bat of Casey Kotchman. Smith suffered only bruised ribs, but his injury added new meaning to the adage, "Physician, heal thyself."

Pitching coach Mike Butcher fell ill as the Angels’ plane was taxiing at Logan Airport. The plane had to return to the gate so Butcher could go to the hospital.

And before game time today, it was announced that Kotchman was scratched for an undisclosed "non-baseball" medical condition.

As I’ve written several times in the last week, I didn’t think the Angels had a very good shot at defeating Boston in this series. But c’mon already. At least make it a fair fight.

It would be stupid to make sweeping conclusions about the talent on this roster based on one three-game set against the team I think will win the World Series. Yet we’re already seeing this on the fan boards where they’re calling for Stoneman to be fired, Scioscia to be fired, everyone to be fired, everyone to be traded, Arte Moreno lied to us, etc., ad nauseam.

This is a team that clawed its way to a 94-68 record this year despite the usual wave of injuries. They began the year with two key members of their starting rotation, Colon and Jered Weaver, yet thanks to the organizational depth built by Stoneman the Angels got by with Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley. Chone Figgins broke the tips of his fingers near the end of spring training, so the Angels got by with Maicer Izturis. And when Maicer got hurt, they got by with an amalgam of Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Matt Brown. Howie Kendrick got hurt, but Izturis and Erick Aybar stepped in. When Anderson got hurt, Reggie Willits came up and overachieved.  All the while, key bullpen setup man Justin Speier was out with a mysterious stomach ailment.

The Red Sox had their share of injuries too, but the difference was they entered the playoffs healthy and exited healthy. Take away Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, and Manny Ramirez, and let’s see how far they get.

Despite the knee-jerk reaction that the Angels’ lack of offense was the reason for the loss, the truth is there were many reasons.

The first reason, as detailed above, were the key injuries.

The second season is why the offense went cold. The injuries were part of it, but I think the big difference was Boston’s superior starting rotation. Schilling is a sure future Hall-of-Famer, and Beckett (who’s just entering his prime) could be headed there too. Colon would have played the role of veteran gunslinger, but injuries caught up to him. And Beckett pitched a game for the ages, outdueling John Lackey, who was capable of better.

The third reason was the bullpen. Boston’s bullpen proved itself to be far and away the best. Jonathan Papalbon kept his head while Francisco Rodriguez lost his, but it went deeper than that, as Scot Shields and Justin Speier were inconsistent at times. Compare Shields’ (3.86 ERA) and Speier’s (2.88 ERA) season numbers to Hideki Okajima (2.22 ERA) and Manny Delcarmen (2.05 ERA). Advantage: Boston.

The Angels could have had Alex Rodriguez in the lineup and it wouldn’t have made enough difference.

I’ll do another article in a few days in which I’ll suggest what I think the Angels need to do to improve for 2008. The above is a hint.

But we need to figure out a way to beat that **** Curse.

Dallas McPherson, That’s Why

Dallas McPherson makes a rehab appearance with Rancho Cucamonga in August 2005.

I’ve been slapping around Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enteprise for losing his objectivity when writing about Ervin Santana, so I won’t hesitate to call on the carpet another sportwriter for treating his readers as if they’re stupid.

Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke writes in today’s column that the Angels won’t go to the World Series because they’re basically a toothless wonder.

I, too, had been enamored all season with Angels baseball. But watching the Angels lose the first two games to the Boston Red Sox in this division series, it again became apparent that more is needed.

During the last three trade deadlines, more was needed. During this winter, more will be needed.

General Manager Bill Stoneman’s resistance to deal for a slugger didn’t stop them from winning a division title. But, once again, it’s probably going to prevent them from winning a ring.

Once again, it became apparent that this gentle summer brand of Angels baseball is not necessarily the power brand of October baseball.


First off, let’s remind Mr. Plaschke who won the World Series last year — the 82-79 St. Louis Cardinals.

The multi-tier playoffs are a crapshoot. This year’s NL representative will be either Arizona (90-72) or Colorado (89-73). Many mediocre teams have gone to the World Series since MLB went to this format, and some have taken it all.

But let’s specifically address Plaschke’s theory that the Angels are on the brink now because they don’t have a bunch of power hitters in the lineup.

Scioscia desperately pinch-hitting for his catcher in the middle of an at-bat because he knew of no other way to get the runner home from second base, that’s not October baseball.

Vladimir Guerrero getting drilled on the shoulder by a kid who has not thrown one wild pitch in his 106 1/3 career innings but obviously figured no other Angels bat would make him pay, that is not October baseball.

Three extra-base hits in two games, nine runners stranded in scoring position with two outs, that’s not October baseball.

The dramatics of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, that’s October baseball.

I wonder if Plaschke is watching the other playoff series, between the Indians and Yankees.

New York has the most powerful hitter in all of baseball, Alex Rodriguez. They also have Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada.

The Yankees were better than Boston in slugging percentage (.463 vs. 444), on-base percentage (.366 vs. .362) and runs scored (968 vs. 867).

Yet the Yankees are down 2-0 to Cleveland.

So much for power equating to "October baseball."

But let’s get down to the bottom line, namely the ability to score runs.

Home runs are very pretty to watch, get people excited and make it easier for a sportswriter to find the lead for his story. But if your team hits three solo home runs and loses 4-3 to a team that scored four runs without a dinger, what does it matter? You still lost.

A couple years ago, I came up with a stat I called Run Efficiency. It’s a simple concept — take the total number of plate appearances (TPA) by a team’s offense in a year and divide it by the total number of runs scored (R). TPA/R = how many batters a team has to send to the plate to generate a run.

I compared the Red Sox this year to the Angels, and here’s what I came up with:

Red Sox 7.41
Angels 7.54

That’s a difference of .13 batters, hardly of significance.

So basically Boston had to send 7.4 batters to the plate to generate a run, while the Angels had to send 7.5 batters. The two offenses are pretty much equally productive.

Plaschke goes on to write:

You want postseason homers? Despite its reputation for purely smart baseball, that 2002 team also hit postseason homers.

Troy Glaus — why did they dump him again? — had seven homers. Salmon had four homers. Adam Kennedy, remember, had three homers in one game.

Why did the Angels "dump" Glaus?!

Dallas McPherson, that’s why.

The Angels did not "dump" Glaus. He left via free agency after the 2004 season.

Waiting in the wings was the far more affordable McPherson, who’d just hit 40 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. He was named the Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News and Topps. At age 24, he seemed ready for the majors, while Glaus was coming off a string of injuries which suggested a long-term investment in him was not prudent.

Nobody on this planet has a crystal ball that works (even Mr. Plaschke), therefore no one could have foreseen the injuries that would befall Dallas.

In spring training 2005, he missed most of spring training due to back spasms and started the year at Salt Lake to play his way into shape. He returned to Anaheim but continued to suffer, and went on the disabled list July 8 with left hip inflammation. Dallas appeared in a rehab stint with Rancho Cucamonga in August, but realized he couldn’t play through the pain so on August 30 he underwent surgery on his left hip. I recall reading an article that winter which said he was in a wheelchair for a month after that surgery, and had to learn how to walk all over again.

McPherson began 2006 at Triple-A Salt Lake to play his way into shape. The season was spent shuttling between Salt Lake and Anaheim, as lower back spasms would keep shutting him down. Dallas hit 17 homers in 56 games for the Bees, and got into 40 games for the Angels. Of his 30 big-league hits, 11 were for extra bases — seven homers and four doubles.

On January 22, 2007, Dallas underwent major surgery to have a central disk herniation removed from his lower back, and shaving of bone spurs. He’s spent the year once again trying just to get into some semblance of physical shape.

McPherson played in his first game on September 21, during a fall instructional league game. He was in the lineup at third base, and played the first three innings. In two at-bats, he doubled and grounded out to drive in a run.

In his second game, Dallas homered, walked and singled. Click Here to watch Dallas’ homer. (You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection to watch the video.)

Instead of pretending Dallas McPherson doesn’t exist, Plaschke could at least acknowledge the suffering and dedication it’s taken Dallas to get to the point where he can even play competitively.

The Angels had a very good reason for not re-signing Glaus. Fate intervened.

The Yankees traded Wally Pipp after Lou Gehrig played his way into the lineup. If Gehrig’s ALS had manifested itself not in 1939 but in 1926, the year after he replaced Pipp, would a time-travelling Plaschke pretend Gehrig never existed?

No doubt Yankees fans of that era would find Plaschke an insult to their intelligence if he had.

Will we ever see Dallas in a major league game again?

Who knows.

But you don’t keep your subscribers by treating them as if they’re stupid.

Angels in the Playoffs – Part 2

I wrote on September 30 that I thought the Red Sox were the team most likely to go to the World Series. After the Angels lost Game #1, I wrote on October 3 that the Angels had to win Game #2 to earn a split if they were to have any shot at winning this playoff.

Well, say hello to a Boston-Arizona World Series.

The Angels were a good team this year. But Boston is a great team.

In almost every aspect of the game, the Red Sox did better than the Angels this year.

Yeah, we all know the Sox can hit, they have more power, yadda yadda, snore.

But if you look at the entire season, the Sox scored only 45 runs more than the Angels — or about one run more every 3.6 games.

Seasonal numbers can be deceptive, though, because in the post-season the game is different.

Even stathead deity Billy Beane admitted this. When asked why his A’s never advanced to the World Series, Beane said, “My s— don’t work in the playoffs.”

For the Angels to have won this series, they needed to be aggressive, smart, and error-free.

So far, though, the Red Sox look more like the Angels.

Manny Ramirez’ dinger isn’t the issue. That’s just one pitch. Vlad Guerrero just as easily could have hit a homer — if he were still in the game. But he wasn’t, due to an injury.

The issue is that the Angels kept giving the Sox opportunities to score, while missing opportunities of their own.

Nobody could have beaten Josh Beckett on Wednesday. That was a performance for the ages.

Kelvim Escobar had a pretty good chance to beat Daisuke Matsuzaka, and for a while it looked like the Angels had figured him out. But they let him off the hook in the top of the 3rd when Garret Anderson made a rookie mistake. After hitting a double to lead off the frame, Izturis hit a grounder to short, in front of Garret. Players are taught in rookie ball that if the grounder is in front of you, freeze at second. But inexplicably Garret took off for third, and was thrown out.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, utilized speed and a deep bullpen to tie the game and keep quiet the Angels’ bats. That’s Angels baseball.

The Angels’ pitching staff gave up nine walks, so it’s surprising we even played the bottom of the 9th. Our pitching is better than that.

And then we get to the bottom of the 9th, when Francisco Rodriguez gave up the homer to Ramirez.

The inning began with a single off Justin Speier by Julio Lugo. He advanced to second on a ground out. Rodriguez replaced Speier and got Kevin Youkilis swinging. Two outs.

Up comes David Ortiz. His run doesn’t matter, so he’s walked intentionally.

Ramirez comes to bat. Whether he homered or singled really doesn’t matter either, because Lugo’s run beats the Angels.

The issue here is that yet again Rodriguez had a meltdown in a pressure situation.

In my September 30 entry, I wrote that Frankie’s record this year was abysmal with runners in scoring position. With the bases empty, his ERA was 0.57. With RISP, it was 9.31. His WHIP (Walks + Hits Divided by Innings Pitched) leapt from 1.15 to 1.66, and his OPS (OBP + SLG) increased from .617 to .707.

Here’s what Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the Rodriguez-Ramirez confrontation.

Rodriguez threw a first-pitch ball. His next pitch, catcher Mike Napoli said, was supposed to be a fastball "down and away, and it went up and in." Ramirez pulverized it. Game over.

"I can’t really say what it was, but obviously it wasn’t a good pitch," Rodriguez said. "But that’s baseball. You have to go out and challenge them. I had no plan. I was just going to go after him. If you make a mistake, those guys are going to hurt you. Now we just have to turn the page."

"I had no plan."

That, I believe.

Swear to God, just before Frankie threw that pitch, I said to my wife, "So how far do you think the home run will go?"

I’ve been intending to write a separate column on this subject, which I will, but for now I’m going to posit the notion that the Angels should trade Rodriguez this winter. He’ll be a free agent after 2008, so rather than investing long-term in his combustible ego he should be moved for what we can get. More on that in the separate column.

Sure, it’s still possible for the Angels to win this playoff. To do so, they have to win Games #3 and #4 in Anaheim. But then they still have to go back to Boston. Most likely, the Angels will throw John Lackey in #4 and Kelvim Escobar in #5, if we get that far. Escobar held his own last night, but he’ll need to be better. Josh Beckett still lurks out there, though, and the Red Sox have the luxury of saving him for #5.

They can play a nine-game series, but they won’t have Gary Matthews, Jr. who’s ineligible due to a knee injury. And we’ll have to see about Vlad. So a crippled Angels team really won’t have much of a chance against Curt Schilling on Sunday, even with the Rally Monkey and the fan mojo and the rest of the mythological karma.

Stranger things have happened, though, such as Boston’s miraculous comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS to upset the Yankees.

I want to see the Angels win the playoff.

But my brain tells me it won’t happen.

UPDATE October 6, 2007 2:00 PM PDT — Mychael Urban of MLB.com offers a more comprehensive report on Frankie’s post-game comments:

Asked about his plan of attack against Ramirez, K-Rod struck a fairly defiant tone.

"No plan," he said. "I was just trying to go at him, trying to challenge him. You either get him out, or you give up a hit. It’s 50-50."

So basically Frankie chose a critical moment in the playoffs to test his manhood. Swell.

Angels on Baseball America’s Top Prospects List

Nick Adenhart was the #3 prospect in the Texas League this year, according to Baseball America.

Baseball America has been publishing on-line their post-season Top 20 Prospects lists for each league. They’ve been working from Rookie-A upward, and are currently doing the High-A leagues.

But the latest BA print issue arrived in the mail yesterday, listing all the leagues along with other rankings, so if you don’t want to wait for the online posts here are the rankings for all the Angels affiliates.

Pacific Coast League

Brandon Wood ranked #9, the only Salt Lake player in the Top 20. "Still just 22, Wood has plenty of time to fill out physically and refine his approach."

Texas League

Nick Adenhart ranked #3. I’m glad the BA analysts haven’t gone the way of the sabermetric community, some of whom already are dismissing Adenhart as a bust. BA correctly takes into account Nick’s age. "Adenhart held his own in his first Double-A experience at age 20, finishing fifth in the league with a 3.65 ERA, but inconsistency with his delivery and command kept him from dominating as his stuff might dictate."

Infielder Sean Rodriguez ranked #15.

California League

The only Angel on the list is Quakes infielder Hainley Statia, who ranked #15.

Midwest League

Catcher Hank Conger ranked #5, judging that "he has a sound swing with plus pop from both sides of the plate." Defensively, "MWL managers believe he can stay a catcher, but scouts are less sanguine." (Personally, I agree with the managers …)

RHP Sean O’Sullivan, recently named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year, ranked #18, which in my opinion may have been too low.

Pioneer League

The Owlz’ RHP Jordan Walden ranked #3. "He maintained a plus-plus fastball in his pro debut, sitting at 94-96 MPH even in the later innings of his starts."

LHP Robert Fish ranked #14 and SS Andrew Romine was #17.

Arizona League

RHP Mason Tobin was ranked #11, LHP Michael Anton was #12, OF Clay Fuller was #17, and and 2B Ivan Contreras was #19.

Angels in the Playoffs – Part 1

The Angels lost 4-0 at Boston tonight, to fall behind 1-0 in their best-of-five series.

As I wrote on Sunday, I think the only scenario the Angels have for taking this series is to split one of the first two games. Given John Lackey’s poor record in Fenway Park, and Josh Beckett opposing him, I figured we’d lose Game #1 and our best chance to win at Fenway would come with Kelvim Escobar in Game #2.

Assuming the Angels win on Friday, they will have to sweep Games #3 and #4 in Anaheim or else they’ll have to return to Boston for the deciding Game #5, most likely with a rematch of Lackey and Beckett. I’m not optimistic that the Angels triumph in that scenario.

If you look back at 2002, the Angels lost Game #1 of their ALDS at Yankee Stadium, then won Game #2 before sweeping the next two in Anaheim, avoiding a return to New York for a decisive Game #5. That needs to be the scenario in 2007.

If there was any silver lining in tonight’s dark cloud, it was the two shutout innings of relief by Ervin Santana. Ervin struck out two of the six batters he faced, not allowing a baserunner.

Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise continues his vendetta against Ervin. On September 30, Hurst wrote in his blog:

… If you were the Angels, who would you take into the bullpen? Ervin Santana, Dustin Moseley, Bartolo Colon, Chris Bootcheck? How can the team rely on Colon and Santana when they’ve been unreliable all season and Moseley and Bootcheck have?

I do know that the Angels really like Santana pitching out of the ‘pen (why, I have no idea, but they do) and I know that Moseley’s arm is out of whack lately – his second-half ERA is over six – and Bootcheck has been solid and can pitch in several roles. Colon can throw the stuff out of the ball for one inning or perhaps pitch two or three in a pinch.

Well, at least Hurst admitted that he has no idea, and that the Angels do. Progress.

In watching the videotape of the Angels’ post-game celebration after winning the division title, Santana granted an interview in English to Jose Mota. If you’ve read Hurst, you know one of his gripes is that Santana will only speak to him now through a translator. The main gripe began when Ervin granted an interview to a Los Angeles Times news reporter instead of one of the beat writers assigned to cover the Angels, e.g. Mr. Hurst.

I never understand why some people can’t grasp the adage, “You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.”