Halo Highlights: Angels Drop Home Opener to A’s 9-5, Scioscia mismanages bullpen


April 9, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Grant Balfour (50) and catcher John Jaso (5) celebrate the 9-5 victory against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Halos opened up their home schedule last night at the Big A against the Oakland Athletics and once again it was the pitching that let the team down. The final score was 9-5 and the Angels are now 2-5 on the season.

How it all went down
With Jered Weaver slated to miss the next four to six weeks with a broken left elbow, left-hander C.J. Wilson needs to step up and carry the rotation if the Halos don’t want to find themselves too far out of the division by late May.

Unfortunately it took him a few innings to get settled. After retiring Coco Crisp and Chris Young to start the game, Wilson allowed the next six batters to reach, walking three and giving up three not-so-hardly hit singles. By the end of the inning, not only did the A’s have a 3-0 lead, Wilson had thrown 43 pitches.

Crisp led off the second inning with a solo home run to put Oakland up 4-0 before Wilson finally settled down. He retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced, striking out seven to end up going six decent innings.

The Angels got on the board against Oakland starter Jarrod Parker in the bottom-of-the-third when Mark Trumbo singled in Brendan Harris (who entered the game after Erick Aybar injured himself legging out an infield single—more on that in a minute). Two more singles by Howie Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo brought Trumbo home to make it 4-2.

It stayed that way until the bottom-of-the-sixth when Oakland’s defense booted the ball around a few times, lleading to trouble. Mike Trout led off the inning by absolutely torching a ball to deep right-centerfield off of A’s reliever Pat Neshek. The ball hit off the top of the wall and was played well by Young in rightfield, but in case you haven’t heard, Mike Trout is kind of fast. Exhibit A:

Mike Trout y’all.

The next hitter was Harris who hit one deep to right and what should have been a routine sacrifice fly ended up being dropped by Young.

Harris ended up at second and moved over to third when A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie booted an Albert Pujols grounder, which put runners at the corners. Two batters after a sac fly tied the game at 4, Howie Kendrick hit the second triple of the inning when Young misread the ball off the bat, scoring Trumbo and giving the Angels the lead 5-4 and putting Wilson in line for the win.

Left-hander Scott Downs came on in the seventh and after giving up an infield single to Crisp, got both Young and Lowrie to put the Angels in good position before turning it over to Kevin Jepsen who was brought in to face Yoenis Cespedes.

Jepsen promptly walked Cespedes and then gave up a three-run home run to A’s catcher John Jaso, putting the A’s back on top 7-5. Oakland wasn’t done, however. The next batter, Josh Donaldson, single hard to leftfield and then Brandon Moss did this:

Notice that Chris Iannetta set up low and away, but Jepsen threw the ball low and in, missing his spot badly. Now consider the following heat map, showing Moss’ true Average (tAV), a Baseball Prospectus stat that attempts to encompass everything a player does at the plate—scaled to a batting average-like number:

As you can see, Moss’ true Average throughout his career is a modest .258 when the ball is placed down and away, but jumps to .330 when it comes inside. Jepsen’s mistake was a costly one and that put the A’s up 9-5 and all but ended any chance at a comeback.

Most important play(ers) of the game
The single most impactful play of the game was Jaso’s three-run homer in the top-of-the-seventh inning off of Jepsen, which increased the Oakland’s chances of winning by 52%. Foor the Halos, the most positively impacful play was Kendrick’s triple the half inning before which put the Halos in front. That hit increased Anaheim’s chances by 20.7%.

Jaso, obviously, was the single most important player of the game for Oakland after coming on to pinch hit in the seventh, increasing the A’s’ chances of winning by 51.6%. Brandon Moss put up a WPA of .295 by going 3-for-4 with a home run, and reliever Chris Resop struck out two of the five outs he recorded to lead all A’s pitchers with a .259 WPA.

For the Halos, Kendrick went 3-for-4 and posted a team-best .313 WPA while both Pujols and Trout increased Anaheim’s chances by more than 20%. Jepsen’s terrible half-inning saw him retire only one of the five batters he faced, allowing four to score. He decreased the Halos’ chances of winning by 69.2% in the single most costly performance by any Angel so far this year.

The crazy thing(s) that Mike Scioscia did
There wasn’t a lot Scioscia could have done to prevent the Jaso home run considering A’s manager Bob Melvin pinch hit for Derek Norris with Jaso, giving Oakland a favourable advantage. Jaso, of course, has drastic splits—in 2012, he hit .302/.419/.508 against right-handers and just .119/.250/.143 against lefties. Considering lefty Sean Burnett had not yet started warming when Jaso came to bat, it would have been difficult to make the change.

Still, why wasn’t Burnett already warming up? Knowing that Moss—another hitter who struggles against left-handers—was coming up and there were already two on against Jepsen, it would have made sense to have Burnett ready in case Melvin pinch hit for Norris, whch was the obvious thing to do.

Scioscia claimed that Burnett was only available for one inning due to a blister on his finger, but Burnett insisted he was good to go. Even then, why is Scioscia so wedded to “bullpen roles” when the game is on the line. There were two out in the top-of-the-seventh when Jaso went deep—if Scioscia has Burnett ready to go, there’s a good chance he gets out of the inning unscathed and the Angels head to the bottom-half of the inning with the lead.

Of course, Jepsen was still in the game to face Moss showing just how stubborn Scioscia was to have Burnett pitch in his standardized role as “eighth-inning lefty.” Of course, by the time Burnett did enter the game, the Angels were trailing by four runs and all high-leverage situations were in the rear-view mirror.

But hey, bullpen roles.

Important notes from the game
·         Aybar left the game in the bottom-of-the-third after bruising his heel legging out an infield hit. No word yet on whether or not he’ll miss any time, but it doesn’t appear too serious and the Angels were likely just being cautious.

·         For the A’s meanwhile, their impressive depth is being tested in the early going. Second baseman Scott Sizemore left last night’s game after spraining his left knee—the same knee that caused him to miss all of last season after he tore his ACL—and is likely to be placed on the DL today, joining fellow infielders Hiro Nakajima and Adam Rosales who are out with hamstring and rib cage injuries respectively. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicles says it will be Andy Parrino who gets the callup to the Major League roster over Jemile Weeks due to his ability to play the outfield and the infield. Josh Reddick is out for this series with a sprained wrist.

·         One positive concerning the Angels’ offense can be found in their lackluster performance with runners in scoring position—they are hitting just .119 in that regard so far in 2013. Why is that a positive, you ask? Because most of the time, a particularly bad or good performance with runners in scoring position relative to the team’s overall performance is generally the result of luck. This would suggest that at least in this regard, the Angels have been fairly unlucky so far this year.

·         Right-hander Dane de la Rosa made his Angels’ debut last night, pitching a relatively clean ninth, surrendering a single to Cespedes to start the inning, then getting Jaso to ground into a double play and Donaldson to ground out to third. de la Rosa had made 12 relief appearances over the previous two seasons with the Rays and was acquired in late March from Tampa for right-hander Steve Geltz.

Tonight’s game
The Angels and A’s are back at it tonight at the Big A as Joe Blanton takes the hill for his first home start as an Angel against left-hander Tommy Milone. The game gets underway at 7:05 PST.