Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Catching up

Last night's game notwithstanding, I think we can look back and say that the Angels had a pretty successful road trip. If you could pick one player who was the key to their success, it would probably be Casey Kotchman. All he did over the six games in Boston and Detroit was put up a 400/520/700 line, with two homers, four RBIs, and 5 walks. His six homers was good enough to tie for the league lead through the end of the trip. He continues to be their best hitter, with a line of 326/392/565, including last night's 0-fer. And that's before taking his gold glove defense into account. Despite all of the complaints about his proclivity for injury and illness, all of the rumors of his eventual trade from Anaheim, all of the attempts to sign a "slugging" first baseman to replace him, he's emerging as the best hitter on the team. All of this goes to show that people could stand to be a bit more patient. Very few guys enter the league and kick ass at 22 or 23 years of age.

Their numbers on the recent trip weren't wonderful, but the catcher spot continues to pleasantly surprise. Last year, the Angels got 14 home runs from that position, with a line of 229/299/372. That's over 162 games. This year, Napoli and Mathis have nine homers, and have combined for a line of 263/323/589. They're actually getting offensive production from the catcher position.

Chone Figgins has come back to earth a bit, but he hasn't plummeted. He's still hitting .314, and he had a pretty wretched trip, but he's got 18 walks in 129 plate appearances (one HBP), for an ISO OBP of .105. That's excellent for a leadoff hitter, especially one who will hit around .300.

Hokey Joe continues to impress, and Ervin Santana has been nothing short of outstanding so far. The Angels' fifth and sixth starters have combined to go 8-0 with a 2.75 ERA. They're allowing barely more than a baserunner per inning, they're striking out almost two and a half hitter for every walk, and they're keeping the ball in the park (6 homers in 68.2 innings). And to think but for the injuries, one of those guys would have started in the pen. They've nicely covered for shaky starts by Weaver and Garland.

And to close it out, the front end of the bullpen has been getting the job done as well. Despite shaky starts to the season, Justin Speier, Scot Shields, and Frankie Rodriguez all have it going. Frankie has saved his last six games, and has allowed four hits and two walks in that time. Three of those hits came in one appearance. Shields has been even better, allowing 9 baserunners in his last 10 innings, and two runs in mop-up work against the Red Sox.

Critics of the Angels bullpen have been silent lately, and all of the sudden, re-signing Frankie is looking more and more like a priority. A quick glance at the league's top closers shows a group that are either not on the market (Rivera, Papelbon, Jenks, Cordero), or not reliable (Sherrill, Isringhausen, Gagne). There's a reason Coco got that big contract over the off-season. And the only other reliable 9th inning guy on the market (Joe Nathan) is seven years older than Frankie. Remember, the comparison is not what Frankie is vs. what we'd like Frankie to be. It's between what he is vs. what else is out there (including going in house). If you're going to break the bank for Gary Matthews Jr., how do not do it for a franchise hero who is still one of the most effective players in the league at his position?

So a tough loss last night, but hopefully they got that performance out of the way early. Kendrick is set to return soon, as is John Lackey. And despite the early season loss of 37 wins from the previous year, the Angels still sit in a pretty good position as we head into May.

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