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April 9, 2010

On the Beat

Friday Update

by John Perrotto

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The Angels have long been noted for doing the little things offensively: Putting runners in motion, making consistent contact on the hit-and-run, dropping down bunts, and basically doing whatever it takes to manufacture runs. However, the Angels' offense has a different feel to it this season. Manager Mike Scioscia calls it "a batter's box offense."

"I think right now, just looking at our potential for batter's box offense, particularly driving the ball, it's as good as any year we've been here," Scioscia said. "How that plays out, we'll see. We think we have a very deep lineup capable of pressuring teams every inning, maybe in a different way than we had with some of our groupings in the past."

The Angels lost leadoff hitter and third baseman Chone Figgins to the Mariners as a free agent over the winter and are replacing him at the top of the lineup with shortstop Erick Aybar and in the field with perennial prospect Brandon Wood. Hideki Matsui was signed as a free agent to replace departing free agent Vladimir Guerrero at designated hitter.

The Angels are the only major-league team to have stolen 100 bases in each of the last nine seasons. Thus, "small ball" has become a big part of their identity under Scioscia.

Yet, not all of Scioscia's teams have had to play for one run. In 2000, his initial season as manager, the Angels hit a franchise-record 236 home runs and Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Mo Vaughn, and Garret Anderson all belted at least 30. The 2010 team might resemble that club.

It might be a stretch to think the Angels will have four 30-homer players. However, 20-homer seasons are certainly realistic for such players as Wood, Matsui, catcher Mike Napoli, first baseman Kendry Morales, left fielder Juan Rivera, center fielder Torii Hunter, and right fielder Bobby Abreu.

"It's not a change in philosophy where you're not going to be as aggressive on the basepaths," Scioscia said. "The reality is the makeup of the team is different. If you had a basketball team that's been running up and down the court then all of a sudden you get two All-Stars that are low-post players, you're going to try to take advantage of that,"

The new-look offense hasn't been very potent in the first few days of the season, as the Angels scored just 12 runs in losing three games in a four-game series against the Twins. Though the Angels are the three-time defending American League West champions, they would like to start scoring some more runs and winning some more games, at least for morale purposes.

"Get off to a good start and it kills all diseases," Hunter said. "Get off to a bad start and all you hear is, 'I told you they weren't going to be any good. Look at who they lost. Look at this guy. Look at that guy.' Get off to a good start and it kills all of that off."

The key to the offense is Aybar, who does not possess the speed, plate discipline or on-base skills of Figgins. Aybar, though, did open some eyes by working Scott Baker for a 10-pitch walk on opening night. Abreu, the Angels' No. 2 hitter and consistently among the league leaders in on-base percentage, has talked with Aybar quite a bit in the last two seasons about pitch recognition and understanding the strike zone.

"One of the things about the way he plays the game is that he's kind of crazy when he plays, crazy in a good way, crazy and exciting," Abreu said. "He runs the bases hard and plays the game hard, but at the same time, he's very relaxed. That's one of the things I like about him and I don't want him to change. Moving to leadoff is going to put a little pressure on him but I asked him, 'How do you play in winter ball? That's how I want you to play.'"

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Perhaps we should root for a Yankees-Brewers World Series this season. Then Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Yankees club president Randy Levine could settle their differences by stepping outside or maybe by at least arm wrestling.

The two got into a bit of a verbal spitting contest this week. Attanasio complained that the Yankees were too free-spending and couldn't be reined in. Levine retaliated by questioning what the Brewers were doing with their revenue-sharing money, a system funded primarily by the Yankees paying a luxury tax on their high payrolls.

Attanasio said in a USA Today article that it will be hard for the Brewers to retain first baseman Prince Fielder once he becomes eligible for free agency because the Yankees' infield is making more money than the entire Milwaukee roster. Levine, in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com, said that Attanasio was whining.

"I didn't think I was whining," Attanasio said. "I was just stating a simple fact."

The Major League Baseball Players Association looked into the finances of a number of clubs that are receiving revenue sharing during the offseason. While the union lodged a formal complaint with Major League Baseball about the way the Marlins were spending their money, Attanasio said the Brewers were found to be in compliance with the revenue-sharing rules.

“I don't think (Levine) was responding to the Brewers but was making a general statement about what the Yankees are doing,” Attanasio said. “It's really an apples-and-oranges comment. We do get a piece of revenue sharing, and we appreciate it, and we need it, and we use it. We put it to use. It's a matter of record that we use our revenue sharing dollars pretty much every year in our budget.”

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Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco has a pretty lofty goal for this season. He wants to pitch at least 200 innings and walk no more than 25 batters.

In the last decade, just two major-league pitchers have achieved that feat as David Wells walked 20 in 213 innings for the 2003 Yankees and Brad Radke issued 23 bases on balls in 200 2/3 innings for the 2005 Twins. Greg Maddux and Bob Tewksbury are the only pitchers to do it twice since 1980.

"To me, that's a tough one," Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "Of course, it's realistic, especially the way he throws the ball over the plate, but sometimes maybe you're walking a guy unintentionally intentionally because you feel better in a certain situation the guy on deck isn't going to get you. He's capable of doing it. (Opposing hitters) can't eliminate anything with him. It makes them aggressive. They know he's going to throw strikes, so they're up there swinging, which is good. It forces the hand on them and they have to be aggressive because they don't want to get behind."

Nolasco didn't get off on the right foot in his attempt to reach his goal as he walked three in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday in his first start of the season against the Mets. However, Nolasco has allowed just 2.2 walks per nine innings in his career and gave up 44 bases on balls last season in 185 innings.

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Scouts give their views of various major-league players:

Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo: "He's been getting better every year, and I really think this is the year he blossoms into a superstar. He has a lot of tools and he's learned how to use them all."

Rays right-hander Matt Garza: "He's ready to take that step up to being a true No. 1 starter. He has great stuff and now he's developing an edge on the mound. He's got a little cockiness in him and he has the confidence that nobody can beat him."

Red Sox designated hitter: David Ortiz: "He lost bat speed last season and it doesn't look it is going to come back at this stage of his career. Pitchers are busting him with inside heat and he can't catch up."

Rangers right-hander Rich Harden: "They lowered his arm angle to try to keep him healthy, but now he can't throw strikes. He looks completely uncomfortable on the mound with no confidence."

Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder: "He really is a freak of nature. He has never been in good shape in his career and he seems to get heavier every year. Yet the guy plays every single day, never gets hurt, and puts up big numbers."

Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart: "He seems more comfortable at the plate than in other years. A lot of times he would get into the rut where he would swing at the bad pitches and take the good ones. He has finally figured out the strike zone and his approach at the plate is so much better."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn't ready to commit to a primary set-up man yet as Joba Chamberlain, Chan Ho Park, and David Robertson will all get chances to pitch in front of closer Mariano Rivera. … Ronald Belisario should be back in the Dodgers' bullpen within two weeks, as he is presently in their extending spring training program in Scottsdale, Arizona, working to get into shape after missing the first five weeks of spring training while detained in his native Venezuela because of visa problem. … The Brewers' Jim Edmonds is expected to get the majority of starts in right field against right-handed pitching while incumbent Corey Hart will be relegated to basically playing against lefties. … Right-hander Jeff Suppan will get the nod when the Brewers need a fifth starter for the first time on April 15 … The Red Sox will pitch left-handed reliever Alan Embree as often as possible at Triple-A Pawtucket in the next week in order to evaluate him because he has a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent on April 15. …  The Blue Jays are paying $6 million of Roy Halladay's salary this season to serve as the Phillies' ace while their starting rotation of Shaun Marcum, Brian Tallet, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Dana Eveland are making a combined $4,088,000. … Opening Day starter Jake Westbrook has a $10-million salary this season while the other 11 other pitchers on the Indians' active roster are making a combined $7.4 million. Injured closer Kerry Wood's $10.5-million salary isn't counted since he is on the disabled list. … The Phillies' payroll at the start of the 1999 season was $27.3 million. The three pitchers currently on their disabled list--Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero—will make a combined $22.5 million this season.

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

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