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August 7, 2009

Clash of the Other AL Titans?

Rangers vs. Angels

by Christina Kahrl

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While most of the mainstream media's attention is zoomed in on the Bronx, there's another active American League rivalry getting played out on another diamond this weekend, and it's one where the stakes are usually higher still. That's because, unlike the Red Sox and Yankees, it's generally understood that in the clash between the Angels and the Rangers in the AL West, there can be only one winner-the consolation prize for second place isn't the wild card, it's supposed to be an early start date on October tee times.

Is that really true, though? Now that the second-place Rangers are just two behind the second-place Red Sox in the wild-card standings, it's worth wondering if all bets are off as far as the AL Wild Card coming from the East almost automatically. Our adjusted standings report reflects how much the two top teams of the West rank behind the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays as far as their respective schedule strength and in-game performance, and suggests that Texas and L'Anaheim have both been a bit lucky in terms of their records (we'll throw in the AL Central just to give you a peek at the full spread of AL contenders):

Team     Actual W-L    Adjusted W-L
Angels      64-42        57-49
Rangers     60-47        56-51
Yankees     66-42        65-43
Red Sox     62-45        60-47
Rays        60-48        65-43
White Sox   56-53        57-52
Tigers      57-50        53-54
Twins       53-55        54-54

So sure, adjust for schedule strength and performance, and it should still be the East providing us with a pair of playoff teams. The Rangers and Angels undoubtedly have other ideas, however, and given that the schedules of the two teams involve series against the titans of the East and plenty of divisional play, there's a chance the two teams can make things interesting for the total playoff picture if they can keep running as hot as they've been of late. The Angels are 39-18 since the calendar flipped to June, while the Rangers rattled off a 17-8 July before losing four of six in August. The suggestion that both teams might wind up ahead of the second-place finisher in the AL East seems improbable, but it's not impossible.

The interesting thing about this series matchup is that whatever it lacks in history, it makes up for in misconceptions. The Angels' brand of offensive baseball, based on contact hitting and aggressive yet intelligent baserunning, has been decidedly oversold. Although they rank second in MLB in runs added through their work on the bases advancing on base hits, netting an additional five runs, they rank eighth overall because of the runs they've cost themselves on all other baserunning plays, notably by losing runs on the second-most stolen-base attempts in baseball, where they rank 14th. In contrast, the Rangers and A's rank one-two in MLB in runs added on stolen bases, and the Mariners are just a fraction of a run behind, so the Angels might end up being the worst basestealing team in their own division. Nor are the Angels scoring runs via getting well-hit balls in play; however much they might preach contact hitting, the Angels are next-to-last in the AL in their total line-drive percentage.

Instead, the Angels are plating runs by walking well enough, right around league average-their unintentional walk rate of 8.1 percent rates well ahead of the Rangers' 7.4 percent-while getting a big boost in team-wide BABIP, hitting .322 despite that weak line-drive rate. Add in that they're no slouches in terms of hitting extra-base hits, matching the league average in home-run percentage, and the Angels are actually something of an old-school offense-if your schoolmaster's Earl Weaver and not Whitey Herzog-that ranks third in the AL in team-level Equivalent Average. That's the sort of broad basis for offensive success that belies the whole "little engine that could" reputation for the Angels' attack.

The Angels' real problem has been their pitching, which interestingly enough has been Texas' true source of strength this season. The Halos' pen got off to an awful start, but has managed to work its way up to 26th in Fair Run Average and 22nd in WXRL. The Rangers, in contrast, rank fifth in WXRL and 12th in FRA, relying on depth to compensate for closer Frank Francisco's too-frequent absences. The Angels' pen is slowly coming around, with Brian Fuentes getting better support from a now-healthy Darren Oliver and flamethrowing Jason Bulger, but it's a fragile proposition.

The Rangers do live up to their billing as a power-hitting team, tying with the Yankees for the league lead in Isolated Power. They also have followed up on their early-season promise for better defense, perhaps made manifest in entrusting rookie Elvis Andrus the starting shortstop, and ranking second in the American League in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (the Angels are a much more pedestrian seventh). Where they might surprise people is the extent to which the Rangers' rotation has become an asset. Kevin Millwood's former reputation as an ace has been redeemed by his ranking 15th in the AL on the Support-Neutral Winning Percentage leader board (.563), but nobody could have anticipated Scott Feldman's ranking 10th as late in the year as August (.585). The Angels have Jered Weaver (19th) and John Lackey (24th and rising), but where this was an area where the Angels were supposed to have a decided advantage, between Ervin Santana's meltdown and the Rangers' improvements, they're evenly matched at the front ends of their rotations.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Angels,  The Clash

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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How significant is a 0.7% walk rate differential? Assuming 40 PA/G (my est.) with a 33% chance of a runner scoring (my est., but seems high), this rough math works out to 15 runs a year, or 1.5 wins. Is that an accurate assessment?

Aug 07, 2009 13:28 PM
rating: -1
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Lets also not forget Tommy Hunter. Hunter has 8 starts this year. His worst was the 5 runs in 5 innings on August first. Other than that one he's allowed 3 runs or less in all of those starts, and has 5 quality starts out of 8. Given the schedule, its likely he'll make 10 starts over the rest of the year. Based on what we've seen this year, I'm expecting only one more non-quality start. In fact, I expect 9 more starts like last night: 7 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts. and one more like his previous start: 5 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts. That would make his final line: 116 innings, 80 hits, 40 runs, 36 earned, 38 walks, 71 k's, 2.79 ERA.

Aug 07, 2009 14:20 PM
rating: -4

You expect him to give up only 34 hits in his next 68 innings?

Aug 07, 2009 14:35 PM
rating: 0

Based on 5 QS out of 8, you extrapolate 9 QS out his next 10.

And those 9 QS are all going to be identical to his last start...against OAK...at OAK.

And he's only going to put up 1 clunker, because that's all he gave up to...SEA.

Man, I wish I could find some of what you're smokin'.

Aug 07, 2009 16:30 PM
rating: 0

the two starts I didn't mention which were not, "Quality" starts were his first start of the year in the Majors, where he went 5 and a third and gave up 3 runs. The other non-quality start was his third start, his second after being recalled. In it he went 5 and a third and gave up 1 run on 3 hits. In both that first "spot" start, and his third start, he threw "only" 90 pitches. (of course, in his last start he threw only 94 pitches in 7 innings). The point is, that had he been left in to record 4 more outs, he could have 7 quality starts in 8 starts.

Yeah, that start at Oakland was against a team that just couldn't score runs (note: sarcasm, as Oakland has been scoring runs in bunches since the break)

Aug 07, 2009 23:50 PM
rating: 0

ESPN is reporting that there is a team out there that put in a claim for Alex Rios. Who could it be? And why?

Aug 07, 2009 15:44 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

My money is on the Giants who pursued Rios before and had enough money last offseason to bid for Manny. If they did though, they'd be overpaying ala Freddy Sanchez.

Aug 07, 2009 16:40 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

I have to laugh at this article. It is obvious that focusing on the AL West and trying to hype up such a pathetic division of geographically challenged teams, that they are actually letting their East Coast bias show. How can a team that can't even decide which city it should be named for be considered a contender? If Arte Moreno can't figure out Google maps, how can BP expect the Angels to find something smaller than a city... such as first base! The Rangers are no better. I know Texas is a poor state devastated by the recent presidential decisions to put clunker car salesmen out of business, but surely there is more baseball fields in Arlington than "The Ballpark at Arlington". How egotistical! Still they blindly follow their Old World atlas off the flat edge of the country by sticking their tongue in their tobacco-and-hickory smoked cheek and consider themselves a team in "the West"? My mother is farther west than Texas!

No, it is clear that BP has written this article to appease its Moneyballless critics. I suggest we stand up and cry in outrage at BP's biased attempt at anti-BP bias!


Sorry about that, been reading too much sbnirish lately. This kind of article shows that BP looks and evaluates all of baseball, not just what people unrightly think are BP's favorite teams.

Aug 07, 2009 16:11 PM
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Nice cheap shot Richard ... all of my comments have been directed to BP ... and absolutely none have been directed to you by name ... I see that you have not chosen to stand by the same standards.

Aug 08, 2009 13:09 PM
rating: -5
Richard Bergstrom

Hardly a cheap shot, I put ten minutes of thought into writing it.

Anyway, the reason I mentioned you by name was to highlight to you that BP does write articles about the non-Moneyball teams. Also to highlight to others that BP doesn't seem to exhibit East Coast bias.

Then again, if that fact had been previously remembered and realized, I doubt I would've felt the need to whip up this satirical little comment. But thanks for letting me know you read the article :)

Aug 08, 2009 14:21 PM
rating: -1

I'll reply further only to correct your misrepresentation of my postings. I said

"When the Red Sox, Indians, A's have any success its because they are smarter than everyone else. But when the Angels, Rangers, White Sox, or Phillies have had success in the past, we just have to read about their next regression to the mean."

I also pointed out that

"So the BP writers have picked Boston (4), Cleveland (4), or Oakland (3) to win the division a total of TEN (correction ELEVEN) times in the last five years and have been right exactly TWICE (2006 Oakland, 2007 Clev) thus far."

I said NOTHING about an East or West Coast bias. The last time I checked Oakland was a West coast team treated favorably by BP in the past while the Phillies are an East Coast team that has been treated unfavorably here at BP. So the bias has NOTHING to do with East and West.

So if your are going to represent muy position by name, I'd wish you do so accurately. Otherwise, leave my name out of your misrepresentations.

Aug 09, 2009 07:45 AM
rating: -2
Richard Bergstrom

I realize you sometimes have issues understanding context so let me deign to clarify. I do not think you have an East Coast bias, just a similar mentality to the kind of people who claim BP has bias regardless of evidence to the contrary.Yep, you do not exactly get lumped into other categories because your tunnel-vision is worthy of its own bucket.

And if you want proof of how skewed your perspective is, consider your request that a satire, which is obviously tongue-in-cheek, should accurately represent you.

Aug 09, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 0
John Collins

Richard, don't feed the trolls. I know, hard to resist.

Aug 11, 2009 18:23 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Yeah, you're write. That's what happens when I order fast food and end up with an extra burger lathered in mayonnaise.

Aug 11, 2009 20:01 PM
rating: 0

I'll be the happiest man on earth if both Boston and TB miss the playoffs.

Aug 07, 2009 21:58 PM
rating: -2

I'll be even happier WHEN the Yankees miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Aug 07, 2009 22:31 PM
rating: -3
John Carter

1. No, I'm confidently taking a longer view and saying Millwood and Feldman are still no match for Lackey and Weaver.

Aug 08, 2009 11:43 AM
rating: 0
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