Saturday, October 15, 2005

Have you seen this man?


No. You haven’t seen this man. Not in over a week. Yet he may be the biggest reason the Angels are down 2-1 to the Chicago White Sox

He’s not Doug Eddings. He’s not Josh Paul. He’s Casey Kotchman.

Angel fans, readers of Baseball America, and those who have the distinct pleasure of watching a baseball game with me know who Kotchman is. If you don’t fall into one of those groups, the name may be new to you. Casey Kotchman may very well be the second best hitter on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Now you may be saying, wait, if he’s the second best hitter on the team, why haven’t I seen him in the entire playoffs? That’s a good question, and one that someone should probably ask Mike Scioscia.

Kotchman was called up for good in August, and ended up with just fewer than 150 plate appearances on the season. So it seems that the Angels are weary of letting a guy with such little experience bat with so much on the line. Which is nice for all the opposing right-handers the Angels have faced so far in the postseason.

Look at Kotchman’s numbers this season, compared to those who are in the lineup instead. (VORP is a cumulative stat by the guys at Baseball Prospectus. It measures players factoring position, park effect, and a bunch of things I just don't have the equipment to do).
C. Kotchman143722.278.352.4849.2
D. Erstad667766.273.325.3719.7
J. Rivera3761559.271.316.45410.2
S. Finley4401254.222.271.374-2.5

Not only are Kotchman’s rate stats higher, but also his cumulative stats are almost as high as the regulars. Think that looks bad? Check out against Right-handed pitchers:

C. Kotchman111720.286.355.551
D. Erstad455446.291.337.396
J. Rivera2261138.284.326.498
S. Finley314933.201.252.347
Kotchman hasn’t exactly crawled out of the woodwork either. He was a first round draft pick in 2001, and has been at the top of prospect lists ever since, while tearing up each level of the minors. So he has the pedigree to match his performance.

Ok, so based on the numbers here, Juan Rivera seems to deserve a spot in the lineup. And Darin Erstad is the Angels unofficial captain, and as a guy who came up big for them in the 2002 postseason, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

What about Steve Finley though? He was just as bad as an every day player could be this year. Only a stint on the disabled list cost him from having the lowest OPS of any regular in the American League. So why is he in the lineup? Is it because of his defense? Erstad was a Gold Glove CF as recently as 2002, and wasn’t moved because of any injury, so it’s hard to believe he’s forgotten how to play the position. Is it out of loyalty? Can’t be that, he was just signed as a free agent. So there’s really only one explanation. Finley signed a big free agent contract this past off season, and the Angels apparently feel the need to get at least some return on their investment. Instead what they may be getting is a ticket home while the White Sox march toward the World Series.

This was never more apparent than the 8th inning in tonight’s ALCS Game 3. John Garland had cruised through the first six innings, but showed some wear in the 7th, giving up a two run homer to Orlando Cabrera. After Kevin Gregg held the White Sox scoreless in the top of the 8th, the Angels needed to claw back some more. To lead off the inning Mike Scioscia finally went to his bench for a pinch hitter.

He went to Jeff DaVanon.

After DaVanon was retired on a broken bat grounder. Steve Finley came up. After a couple of fouls straight back, Lou Pinella noted that Garland was leaving his pitches up in the zone, almost hangars. Garland left three more fastballs up in the zone, the first two of which, Finley fouled off. The last one, he hit a line drive to medium depth right field, for the second out of the inning. The Angels didn’t score again.

Chances are, Kotchman wouldn’t have hit any of those balls out of the park either. In fact, if Kotchman comes to the plate, the White Sox probably bring Neil Cotts into the game. But wouldn’t you rather take your chances with a 22-year-old rising star with a .900 OPS against right-handers than a 40+ year whose star appears to have fallen to the tune of making outs a quarter of the times he comes to the plate?

Mike Scioscia didn’t think so, and it’s one of the reasons he is looking at a 2-1 deficit.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Originally posted 10/10/05


Happy Columbus Day!

I figured the holiday was a good time to start this thing up. With the playoffs down to five teams and the World Series less than two weeks away, what better time, I say.

Yesterday's games were probably the highlight of what had been a fairly dull playoffs thus far. The White Sox and Cardinals swept through to the LCS's in short order. The other series were slightly more dramatic, but to this point had not yet provided any classic moments.

That was, until yesterday. The Braves and Astros had an instant classic in the afternoon game, an 18-inning marathon featuring two grand slams, the Houston bullpen throwing 10 consecutive shutout innings, and arguably the best pitcher of the past 75 years giving one of the most memorable performances of his career. Looking back, I'm not sure how much Bobby Cox could have done differently. Hudson was looking great through seven, and was only at about 80 pitches, so it was no surprise to see him in the 8th. He didn�t mess around with setup men either, going straight to Kyle Farnsworth to try to close the door. Sometimes the magic just doesn't work.

The Yankees and Angels featured the most exciting game of their series as well, a pitchers duel between Shawn Chacon and the man who is probably the least talked about good pitcher in the American League, John Lackey. The two matched zeroes through five innings, combining to give up all of two hits. The Angels broke through in the top of the sixth with a walk to former Yankee Juan Rivera, and back-to-back doubles by Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera.

The Yankees answered with one in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by Gary Sheffield, which knocked John Lackey out of the game. After two hits and all of 78 pitches, John Lackey gave way to the vaunted Angel bullpen with two outs in the sixth inning, to get them ten outs and into the League Championship Series. This is where the trouble started. While Scot Shields was probably the top middle reliever in baseball this year, he had already pitched 4.1 innings in the first three games of the series, and may have been suffering from overuse. He certainly did not look sharp in giving up two runs to the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh. He was victimized by the poor throw by Chone Figgins, but by then, much of the damage had already been done. Scot Shields gave way to Kelvim Escobar, who had been used quite a bit, two innings each in both of the previous games. He was clearly not sharp, walking three of the eight hitters he faced, but managed to escape without allowing any runs.

The decision to remove Lackey looked bad at the time, and looks worse now. The Angels have to play a deciding game five tonight, and may not be able to use Shields and Escobar (and they certainly won't be able to use Lackey). Even if they are available, who knows how able they will be, having logged a total of 11 innings between them so far in the series. Going to a bullpen as good as the Angels� to get ten outs isn�t inherently a bad idea, but it probably was in this circumstance, considering that their bullpen had to come in for the 4th inning on Friday, and how well John Lackey was cruising along. Unless Mike Scioscia saw something specific with Lackey that said he was slowing down, he has to take his share of the blame for them losing this game.

In the meantime, while it's fun to put in predictions for tonight's game, it's always good to remember inexplicable things like Adam Kennedy hitting three home runs in the deciding game of the 2002 ALCS.