The Los Angeles Angels lead the American League by wide margins in times reaching base on error; double plays grounded into; productive outs, as recorded by Elias Sports Bureau; and infield hits. They hit more ground balls, as a percentage of total batted balls, than any other club on the junior circuit.
This isn’t really, necessarily, relevant information. The Angels’ offense is quite good, so the combination of those things is not causing problems. They were hitting .267/.331/.419 entering Thursday, good for a .342 park-adjusted wOBA, or about 45 runs better than a theoretical average team that also calls Angel Stadium home. (Those numbers come from StatCorner.com.) I don’t think the stats given above have inhibited or augmented the offense’s efforts; their level of success more or less matches the talent level of the personnel.
I just wanted to make note of these numbers, so people can keep in mind what it is the Angels do at the plate. They’re ground-ball hitters. They put the ball in play. It creates a certain amount of chaos. I didn’t give specific numbers above, so let me delve into each a bit more now.
They have reached on errors 40 times. No other team in the AL has done that more than 31 times. That 40 figure would be a low but not outrageous full-season total for many teams in this day and age. In fact, they have already reached base more times on errors than they did all last year.
Their 81 double plays grounded into lead the AL by 10, and also eclipse some full-season totals, although mostly ones for teams that played on turf in the 1980s. It’s an outlier, but not yet an historic, radical one.
Ninety-nine infield hits is the most in the AL by nine, and the only team in the NL with more is the Brewers, and the Brewers have 104 on the strength of Jean Segura’s 28 such hits, and Jean Segura was an Angel a year ago today. Neat, huh?
In 41 percent of all the plate appearances that have presented the Angels an opportunity to make a productive out, they have at least done so, or have done better. The Tigers are second in the AL at 35 percent. Less room separates Detroit from Minnesota, at 30 percent, and the Twins are 13th in the AL there.
I don’t know that hitting ground balls is a good thing in this day and age. It usually takes three ground balls going right to score a run, barring stolen bases, and it’s hard to string together that much contact anymore. Now, the Angels have the sixth-lowest strikeout rate in the AL, but it’s still 18 percent. It does seem, though, that they at least keep runners running, once they get on, by getting the ball on the ground and seeing what can happen. Personnel comes into play a bit, of course. Erick Aybar, Mike Trout, J.B. Shuck, these are players who don’t leave a defense much margin for error when they chop one toward a hole.
The ballpark matters, too. The Angels’ home park is very unfriendly to home runs. Maybe the team has decided to adjust to this by becoming an anachronistic offense that can come up with timely hits by keeping pressure on the defense. Trout, Trumbo and Pujols are all among the five AL batters with the longest average home-run distances, so they (and honestly, Josh Hamilton, too) need not worry about it, but the rest of the Angels probably do need to worry about it, and maybe the coaching staff has drilled that into them.
Is this Scioscia ball, in a classical sense? I’m unsure. It feels like it. They still try to take the extra base very often, even in some situations where that’s a bad idea. They rank third in the AL with 32 outs on the bases, per Baseball-Reference. They’ve attempted fewer steals than the average team, and been less successful, on average, though not by much in either case. They have attempted the second-most sacrifice bunts in the AL, and succeeded (gotten the runner over or better) on the second-most, but the way the numbers line up, they rank 10th in the AL in success rate. So what it might be is Scioscia ball, but with imperfect personnel for the gig, and poor execution.
Again, not that this is really the problem. They’re tied with the Red Sox for the best OPS+ in the AL. They’re scoring plenty. They’re on a winning streak that has them back on the fringe (the very fringe) of contention. If they fail to complete this surge and never become truly competitive, it’s likely to be for the same reason that they fell to these depths in the first place: poor pitching. They’re surrendering 4.74 runs per game. A healthy Jered Weaver has revived their run-prevention somewhat, but this is a bad pitching staff stretched very thin. I just found the specific things they’re doing offensively to be interesting.
Hey, here’s a nice way to tie a ribbon on this. The Angels just finished sweeping the Tigers, for the second time this year. They’re 6-0 against the Tigers. They outscored them 46-17 in those six contests. The Tigers, and I bet you see where I’m going here, have the worst defensive infield in baseball. Hitting ground balls is not ideal in the current environment, but the Angels match up well with any team whose infield is not good at getting to the ball and fielding it efficiently. The A’s are another team that sticks out in my mind as being bad at defending the dirt, and although the Angels have lost five of six in that season series, they’ve scored 30 runs in the six games. There are sometimes trends in the way a team does things that we should pay closer attention to, and this is one of those times.
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