MLB Handicapping: Blue Jays and Angels Struggles
by Trevor Whenham - 5/10/2013
If you had surveyed 100 baseball fans before this season started about which team was going to win the American League, the large majority of answers would have been split between the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays. At the time that made sense, but right now it is proving to be very, very wrong.
The Angels, at 12-22, have the second worst record in the AL ahead of only Houston. They sit nine games out of first place in the AL West. Toronto is better, but by such a narrow margin that it hardly counts. They sit at 13-23, and are 8.5 games behind the Yankees. Both teams are on the verge of seeing their entire season lost and have yet to show any real signs of life. It’s really, really ugly.
There is still an interesting question when looking at these two wasted teams — which one is in worse shape? And, will either provide any value for bettors down the line? Let’s do some comparing:
It all starts at the top, and there has been a whole lot of failing here. There is a clear difference, though. Mike Scioscia is a very good, World Series-winning manager. He seems to have lost his passion, and he doesn’t have the support of his team right now. He’ll likely be fired before the World Series — perhaps well before — but at least he has credibility.
Toronto’s John Gibbons doesn’t have that going for him. His hiring seemed like a terrible idea at the start of the season, and it has proven to be worse than you ever could have imagined. With 610 games managed in his first stint with the Jays, he was just a .500 manager, but he was really good at alienating his players and getting into petty fights. After deservedly being fired in 2008, he spent some time as the bench boss for the Royals and then managed in Double-A last year. Incomprehensibly, he was given another chance with the Jays. You could spend the next hour trying to describe how bad that idea was or how badly things are going for Gibbons, and you wouldn’t be close to accurate. There is almost no chance that Gibbons finishes this season.
You don’t struggle as badly as these two teams have without pitching woes, and that is certainly the case here. L.A. is 28th in the league in ERA at 4.66. Toronto is one step behind at 4.84. They are 29th and 28th in team WHIP and 27th and 26th in opposing batting average, respectively. For the Angels, C.J. Wilson has been somewhat decent, though not for what he is being paid. Joe Blanton has been an epic disaster, Jason Vargas has been frustrating, and injuries have been a big issue. The only thing going for them is that the pitching was not expected to be what made this team work.
Toronto’s story is bleaker. They invested very heavily in a rotation for the ages, and it has fallen very flat. Defending NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is 2-5 and is very hittable most nights. Josh Johnson is on the DL and was lousy before he was hurt. Mark Buehrle has a 7.02 ERA in seven starts. J.A. Happ was competent but nothing more until a line drive to the head put a pause on his season. Brandon Morrow leads all starters in ERA, but at 4.69 that’s hardly something to be proud of. Ricky Romero was left behind in Spring Training to try to get his mojo back. In two appearances back in the big leagues it is pretty clear he didn’t find it. In short, the Jays’ pitching has pretty much been the worst case scenario in every circumstance.
Jose Reyes was hitting well for Toronto until he was hurt, but now he’s not doing his team any good. Melky Cabrera is learning how tough it is to hit without heavy doses of steroids running through your blood. Jose Bautista has been a disappointment. Brett Lawrie is awful. Colby Rasmus is a disappointment. Edwin Encarnacion is really not hitting for average, but he is making contact when he does get a hit — he leads the league in home runs. Catcher J.P. Arencibia is the lone highlight. He sits just one homer behind Encarnacion and is providing much more production than expected from his position. It’s not much, but it’s something.
As bad as it has been for the Jays, the Angels would likely happily trade places with them. When Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick have been the most productive members of this lineup, there are issues. After an epic, all-world season last year as a rookie, Mike Trout looks like a very talented sophomore who is struggling to find his game consistently — like so many talented sophomores before him. Albert Pujols would struggle to find the lineup every day if his name wasn’t Albert Pujols. Very disappointing — for the second straight year. Josh Hamilton could take hitting lessons from Albert Pujols. The sad thing is that if you added the numbers of the two super sluggers together — nine home runs and 30 RBI — you would still only barely be at what was expected form one of them for the money they are making.
Both teams have excelled at burning bettors’ money all year. The Angels have been the most expensive team in the league to bet on all year. The Jays sit 28th, just slightly better than the Dodgers (another massively disappointing, painfully expensive team that could easily be a part of this comparison). The only comparatively bright spot for the Angels is that they have only been really bad for bettors at home, while the Jays have been really terrible. The good news for both teams is that betting against them has been very attractive and should continue to be for a while yet.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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