Anaheim currently has a magic number of one, so I'm going to start with them. Stats are a few days old, which reflects time required to run the data and write this up. Keep in mind that while I'm trying to learn about these guys, I don't know many of the players on these teams very well and thus am basing my opinions largely on what I see in the stats. All data come from The Hardball Times unless noted otherwise.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Brief
Overall Record: 91-62 (0.595, with 9 games to go)
PythagenPat Record: 87-66 (0.569, 4 games below actual record)
5-yr Park Factor: 0.97 (moderate pitchers' park)
PFadj Runs Scored: 821 (5.4 r/g, 3rd in AL)
PFadj Runs Allowed: 707 (4.6 r/g, 5th in AL)
Team OBP: 0.347 (3rd in AL)
Team SLG: 0.422 (8th in AL)
Team FIP: 4.20 (2nd in AL)
Team Fielding: 49 Plays Below Average (12th in AL)
The AL West Race
The AL West began the year as a dead heat, but in early May the Angels went on an absurd tear that never really let up until the end of June. At the time, they seemed to be running away with the division, but a (barely) sub-0.500 July allowed the Seattle Mariners to nearly catch up after their own hot streak. These two teams battled it out until the end of August, when the Mariners' implosion coincided with a modest hot streak by the Angels. As I write this, the Angels have a magic number of just one game with a week to go, despite dropping the last two games to the Mariners.
C Mike Napoli
C Jeff Mathis
Mike Napoli posted a nice offensive season for a catcher (0.249/0.347/0.444), showing good walk rates and impressive power. Defensively, however, he has left something to be desired, catching only 20% of would-be base stealers.
Jeff Mathis is the secondary catcher, and seems inferior to Napoli on both offense (0.222/0.279/0.370) and defense (18% CS rate). Jose Molina, a better defensive catcher than either of these two, was traded in July to the Yankees.
1B Casey Kotchman
2B Howie Kendrick
3B Chone Figgins
SS Orlando Cabrera
IF: Macier Izturis, Erick Aybar
First base is manned by Casey Kotchman, who had a nice year while laying claim to the first base job in Anaheim, hitting 0.293/0.364/0.456 in his first full season. Perhaps even more impressively, he proved to be the best defensive starter on this Angels ballclub, saving nearly 15 runs above average at first base--tops in the AL. He's not a masher at first base, but altogether he brought the team nearly 40 runs above replacement level performance.
Second base has been most commonly played by rookie Howie Kendrick, who had a fine hitting line of 0.329/0.350/0.463. Unfortunately, that seems largely the result of luck. His BABIP was 0.389 this season, despite having just a 16% line drive percentage. PrOPS backs up that conclusion, as players with his batted ball profiles are predicted to have an OPS of just 0.653. At the least, he's a plus defender, saving roughly 5 runs above average in roughly half a season.
Third Baseman Chone Figgins, 29, had his best season, posting a fabulous 0.406 on-base percentage, which was helped substantially by an 0.408 BABIP. Surprisingly, I don't think that BABIP was just dumb luck -- Chone had an amazing 27% line drive percentage this season, which would predict a BABIP ~0.390. He also has great speed, stealing 40 bases and netting the team ~2 additional runs via the stolen base, plus, I'm sure, additional runs via distractions and extra bases. Figgins isn't a prototypical power-hitting third baseman--indeed, this is the first year that the former utility man has really had a position to call his own--but players who can hit and walk at high percentages, and then be distracting once they are one base, are quite valuable. Defensively, he's solidly league average at the hot corner.
Finally, Orlando Cabrera is the team's shortstop. Cabrera was extremely durable this season, playing in all but one of his team's games, and had his best offensive season in years, posting a 0.345 OBP and stealing 20 bases (~net 1.6 runs). Surprisingly, however, his defensive numbers were not very good, costing the Angels an estimated 8 runs compared to an average defender. Cabrera's past UZR scores have been positive more often than not, though last season they dropped to -7 runs, so this could very well be accurate. Perhaps the 32-year old has lost a step or two?
Other infielders getting substantial playing time included Macier Izturis, who was an excellent defensive third baseman, though was not as good at second base. As a hitter, he's all contact and little power, but he walks at a good clip and avoids the strikeout well. Erick Aybar also put in a fair amount of time at second base, but while defensively he was Anaheim's best defender at the keystone (4.7 runs saved), he was dreadful at the plate, hitting just 0.235/0.277/0.274. VORP estimates that Aybar performed 10 runs below replacement level. Even his excellent defense can't make up for that.
LF Garret Anderson
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
RF Vladimir Guerrero
OF Reggie Willits
Left field continues to be manned by Garret Anderson. Now 35, had his best offensive season--at least judging by his rate stats--since 2003, hitting 0.308/0.346/0.513 despite gradually diminished playing time. With Figgins and Kotchman, he provided the primary offense for team aside from Vladimir Guerrero (see below). While his defense is starting to fade (-10 runs vs. average) in left field, he played in the outfield more often than not.
The Angels' center fielder is $10 million/yr man Gary Matthews Jr. Matthews did not hit like he did last year, so most would consider his '07 hitting line (0.257/0.323/0.428) a tremendous disappointment. But frankly, the Angels shouldn't be that surprised. His '06 line (0.866), which was easily the best of his career featured an unusually high BABIP (0.354) which was at odds with his line drive rate (18.8%), indicating that he had been rather hit-lucky. PrOPS supported the notion that he had been fortunate, estimating his actual OPS should have been closer to 0.790. Factor in the fact that he was already 32 when he signed his 5-year deal, and that he was moving from the best hitting park in the American League (1.07 park factor) to a moderate pitchers' park (0.97 park factor), and his hitting line doesn't seem all that surprising. Furthermore, Matthews also seems to be declining as a defender. THT's data put him at -4 runs vs. average this season, which was consistent with UZR's rating of -2 runs vs. average at the All-Star break. Fortunately for Matthews, the Angels don't have anyone (except maybe Figgins) who can even be that good of a defender in center field.
This brings us to Anaheim's best position player, Vladimir Guerrero. I'm not sure what it is, but somehow I always seem to forget about this guy when I think about the best players in baseball. But my goodness... Guerrero, still just 31, has now posted ten consecutive seasons with an OPS over 0.900 despite being one of the most extreme free swingers in baseball. There isn't anyone quite like the guy in terms of approach, production, durability, and style. Defensively, the picture wasn't quite as rosy, with Guerrero's range costing his team an estimated 15 runs compared to average. Furthermore, his 5 outfield assists this season were the lowest total of his career, indicating that his arm isn't quite the canon that it used to be. Nevertheless, despite his defensive struggles, he is still the best position player on the team.
Update: In 23 Sept's Under the Knife, Will Carroll discussed Guerrero's back issues and how they are affecting his throwing arm. While it sounds like they're trying to keep him in the field, I'd be inclined to stick him at DH and play Willits or (if he's ready) Juan Rivera in right field instead. The Angels don't have a clear choice at DH (I sure as heck wouldn't put Hillenbrand on the postseason roster with his performance this season), so I don't see a reason not to do this.Finally, roving about and picking up a lot of work as a fourth outfielder was 26-year old Reggie Willits. He demonstrated zero power, but achieved legitimate offensive value in his rookie season thanks to his excellent ability to get on base via both walks and hits (0.384 OBP). His 23% line drive indicates that his 0.358 BABIP was no accident. Surprisingly, given his speed (26 steals), he isn't a particularly remarkable defender. He is fine in the corners (+3 runs), but he really struggled in the 200 innings he played in center field this season, costing the team an estimated 10 runs below average.
Lackey has probably had the best season of his career, and is considered among the leading contenders for the AL Cy Young award. He might not win that award, but that does nothing to take away from what has been an excellent season. Lackey's strikeout rate is above average, his walk rate is below average, and his allowed home run rate is below average. Very solid.
What surprised me in looking at these numbers, however, was that Kelvim Escobar might have been even better. Their strikeout rates are virtually identical, and while Escobar has walked more than Lackey, Escobar's hr-allowed rate has been better. While that might be attributable to an usually low hr/f rate (6%), Escobar's nonetheless FIP comes in below Lackey's this season (3.37 vs. 3.61). Assuming his recent shoulder issues subside, Escobar looks like a very nice #2 starter.
Trailing just behind the first two is 24-year old Jered Weaver. If you start with John Lackey's peripherals, and then just shift each of them to be slightly worse, you'd end up with Weavers' 2007 stats. He's not racking up the strikeout totals than I somehow thought he was (all I ever hear about this kid is hype), but he's been very solid for the Angels this year as a legitimate #3.
The likely #4 starter is 26-year old Joe Saunders. The lone left-hander in the rotation, Saunders' peripherals look a lot like Weavers', except that Saunders doesn't strike out quite as many batters. Even so, he makes for a solid #4 guy in this rotation, which can probably match any other in baseball in its depth.
Bartolo Colon seems to be the odd man out. Colon isn't the pitcher that he once was, but I don't think his reconstructed arm is as bad as his ERA would indicate. He still has stuck out an above-average number of hitters. In fact, his strikeout rate this season is identical to that of his Cy Young 2005 campaign. What has hurt him has been his location, in that his walk rates and home run rates are much higher than they were in his best seasons. Nevertheless, I can still see him coming up big out of the bullpen if the Angels should need a long man.
The Angels' top weapon in their bullpen continues to be the perennially outstanding--and still just 25 years old--Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod walks his share of hitters, but when you strike out 12+ per nine innings and only allow a home run every 18, that doesn't matter much.
The remaining relievers look more or less equivalent in effectiveness, all posting an FIP between 3.83 (Oliver) and 4.15 (Moseley). They do it in different ways, however, with Shields and Speier posting high strikeout numbers, Moseley and Bootcheck keeping the ball in the park and avoiding the walk, and Oliver being generally solid all-around. This gives Scioscia the opportunity to try to vary the sort of pitcher the opposition is seeing before giving the ball to Rodriguez, and focus on matchups that exploit hitter weaknesses. The one real weakness in the 'pen is that Oliver is the only left-hander, which virtually guarantees that that he will have some big-time match-ups in the postseason.
Overall, this is clearly a really solid if unspectacular ballclub with a great mix of young and veteran talent. Their offense, with the exception of Guerrero, doesn't feature much power. But they have eight hitters with OBP's over 0.340 in more than 300 AB's, and that's excludes their 0.348 OBP catcher, Mike Napoli (245 PA's). So one can expect a consistent attack throughout the game with from these guys.
Their pitching is also solid and deep. Their rotation should match up well against just about anyone, Boston included. And their bullpen is deep, even if the only genuine stopper is closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Their Achilles Heel, if they have one, is their fielding. Some of their players seem to have lost some range (Cabrera, Matthews, Guerrero), and none of their starters except first baseman Kotchman have been substantially above average. The outfield would seem to be a particular problem, especially when Anderson is starting over Willits in left field (I'd use Anderson as a DH). The pitching staff, in general, is not one that will strike a ton of guys out, so the defense could hurt them. But let's not overstate matters--this is still a squad that has allowed the third fewest runs to be scored in the American League.