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Angels played above their expectations

By Kenneth Broder
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
October 2, 1988

As this is being written, the Angels are still slogging through the final days of a dismal season more depressing for its predictable mediocrity than its ineptness.

But I thought I'd bring the team's season to a premature end and do a final statistical wrap now so that we all could move on to the more compelling issues of war and peace and playoffs.

For all their disappointments, Angel fans actually got more than they deserved from the ballclub. This is not to say that Angel fans deserve no better. That still remains to be seen.

What I mean is that the Angels have actually scored more runs than the hitters' individual accomplishments would seem to merit. And consequently, they've won more games than even Gene Autry had a right to expect.

We can make these bold assertions thanks to a host of new analytical tools, not the least of which is baseball stat guru Bill James' Pythagorean formula, inspired by a mathematical theorist from the ancient playing fields of Greece.

Paul Johnson, who is neither Greek nor ancient, has conjured up a formula often mentioned in this space (and which serves as the heart of my own Hardball Rotisserie League) that predicts with well over 90 percent accuracy the number of runs a team should score based on its AtBats, Total Bases, Walks and base running. Maybe it was clutch hitting, plain good luck or a flaw in the formula but the Angels scored 33 more runs than it predicted, a 5 percent bonus. Bill James' own hitting formula makes virtually the same prediction.

Five percent might not seem like much of a difference, but according to the Pythagorean formula, that's the difference between the Angels' 75-84 mark and the 70-89 record they probably deserve.

This statistical anomaly goes a long way toward explaining the success of that apparition we've called the Angel offense all year. Because on the face of it, these guys haven't really hit too well.

A lineup of nine Wally Joyners would theoretically score about 5.5 runs per game this year; that's not bad when you consider that the average American League team is scoring about 4.4 runs a game, down half a run from last year thanks to the new and improved strike zone.

But that's nearly a full run less per game than the lofty standard Joyner has set in his short, but brilliant career. Going one step further, Joyner's offense was theoretically responsible for about 10 Angel wins. Unfortunately, the outs he made contributed to approximately six losses for a net productivity of 4.1 wins -- decent, but not All-Star caliber.

After Joyner the dropoff is precipitous. Johnny Ray is one of the few Angels having a better year than his career average. But those pre-'88 stats were compiled in the National League, where hitters generally have worse numbers and where he made his reputation as a good-hitting second baseman. In the American League, he's going to be an average-hitting outfielder unless the Angels give up on Mark McLemore.

Brian Downing, despite the usual preseason predictions of his imminent demise, quietly has had another fine year, though not as good as '87 when he finished second to Wade Boggs in Secondary Average (a measure of offense stripped of singles). His OnBase Average is nearly the equal of team leader Joyner and his Isolated Power (Slugging Pct. minus Batting Average) is 50 points higher than his career average .154.

But Downing turns 38 next week and the Angels are about to lose one of the four regulars on the team that hit well in '88.

Chili Davis, who, like fellow former National Leaguer Johnny Ray, has improved slightly on his career marks, can't be expected to much more than the erratic hitter and fielder he was in '88. He produces runs but makes a lot of outs in the process.

As for the rest of this sorry squad, only Jack Howell holds any promise of substantially improving his offensive contribution to the team, which was actually a negative factor. That includes slick fielding Devon White, whose main contribution to the team was being injured enough to let Tony Armas slip into the lineup and whack a few balls around.

The conventional wisdom is that a healthy White can be the long-ball hitting centerpiece of the Angel offense. But if he's going to continue to walk about once every 18 Plate Appearances, he'll have to hit homers like Armas in his prime to succeed -- and he won't.

About the only other Angel worth mentioning is Dick Schofield -- and in his case it's a dubious distinction. I haven't compiled stats for the entire league yet, but my guess is that few hitters played regularly enough to cost their team a net 3.7 games like he did. His OnBase Percentage flirts with .300 and his pathetic Isolated Power (.080) is worse than Bob Boone's. Even Ozzie Smith's defense wouldn't come close to justifying this kind of hitting.

Whatever the Angels do to shore up the offense, it won't mean much if the pitching doesn't improve dramatically. But at least there's hope in that quarter.

The bullpen seems in good hands with Brian Harvey, though nothing is more unpredictable in baseball than relief pitching.

It wouldn't surprise me if Mike Witt bounced back and led a rejuvenated Angel staff, though only the Orioles have surrendered more runs this year.

Only two of Witt's nine worst pitched games this year occurred after July 1 and his record would be far better if he hadn't received the second-worst hitting support on the team (3.84 runs per game) -- about the same as much-noted hard-luck pitcher Chuck Finley.

Oft-injured Kirk McCaskill and Dan Petry still have a lot to prove, but at least there's potential on the staff. The hitters, however, are not only inadequate, there is little there to suggest improvement next year. Unless the Angels take advantage of the recent free agent rulings and dip, one again, into the Cowboy's satchel for some gold nuggets, that Angel halo could become a noose.


4.Davis C.

5.Armas49.94.79.5465.804.83 .97
6.Boone44.74.84.5515.194.22 .96
7.Wynegar .92 .69 .23
8.Eppard13.04.58.5231.521.38 .14

9.Bichette .38 .44-.06
10.Dorsett 0.2 .43.010 .00 .39-.38

13.Ramos .371.47-1.10

18.Polidor .142.57-2.43

* RC is Runs Created. RC = (Hits + Walks - Caught Stealing) x (Total Bases + .55 x Stolen Bases) / (AtBats + Walks)
* RC/G is Runs Created Per Game. RC/G = RC * 25.5 / (Hits + Caught Stealing)
* Pct = (RC/G)2 / (RC/G)2 + (LeagueRuns/G)2)
* Wins = Pct x Games
* Losses = Games - Wins
* Diff = Wins - Losses