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They Aren’t “Cheap Shots” If They’re True

Los Angeles Angels v Toronto Blue Jays
“$%&#!!! I just saw the standings.”
Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s might currently be the worst run franchise on the planet, giving Sean Murphy away for 50 cents on the dollar and then doubling ticket prices on their way to a historically bad season. Or they might not even be the worst run baseball team in California.

That distinction may fall to the Los Angeles of Southern California Anaheim Angels, mired in a string of sub-.500 seasons despite the presence of 2 generational talents representing 2 great hitters and an ace pitcher.

The Angels faced a key dilemma this week with the trading deadline approaching Tuesday. In Shohei Ohtani they held a trade chip so valuable it might have constituted a rebuild/reload in one transaction. (No, Mr. Forst, that doesn’t mean you can get 3 Kyle Mullers and 2 guys you get to DFA in a year.)

Instead, the Angels have decided to become “buyers” in a “go for it” move before Ohtani tests the free agent waters and returns home — wherever that turns out to be — a half-billionaire. So Ohtani stays, joined by Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and who knows who else by Tuesday.

Here’s the problem. At 54-50 the Angels are 0.5 game behind the Yankees who are 2 games behind the Red Sox who are 1.5 games behind the Blue Jays and Astros. Toronto and Houston, at 58-46, hold the final wild card spots. So currently you have to be 12 games over .500 to get an invitation to the dance and the Angels are but 4 games over with 2 teams to pass.

Oh, and Mike Trout is hurt.

Perhaps the theory is that the Angels hope to lure Ohtani to stay an Angel and feel their chances are better if he never leaves. Thing is, Ohtani’s main beef with his tenure in Anaheim is that the team forgot to reach the post-season or even win more than half their games and he wants to play for a contender.

In that event, Angels GM Perry Minasian’s best move would have been to assure Ohtani that they were going to get big time talent in return for him in order to ensure the team’s success going forward, and then re-sign him in the off-season.

Instead they are, in Minasian’s words, “going to roll the dice” that the group they have can do something they haven’t done for years and that is win more than about half of their games. All in the hopes of winning not the division but the 3rd wild card berth. Fangraphs currently lists the Angels’ odds of making the post-season at 17.1%. Personally that actually seems high to me, but even as such it is all of 1 out of 6.

Perhaps Karma’s way of chastising Minasian for his short-sightedness was for Giolito to make his Angels debut the day after the trade, and for the right-hander to take the loss going 5.1 IP and surrendering 3 ER, including 2 HRs.

Speaking Of Kyle Muller

No one underscores the terrible trading decisions Forst and Co. have made lately like Muller. If you thought he was hittable, wild, and generally ineffective in the big leagues it turns out AAA hitters like him just as much.

Muller’s AAA line currently stands at 2-3, 6.52 ERA in 49.2 IP, during which time he has allowed 57 hits, 8 of them HRs, while walking 30.

Well, desperate times call for desperate measures and while it is tempting to suggest he try throwing right handed I have a different idea. It starts with the realization that Muller has nothing to lose to “reinvent himself” a bit. He is 25 and going downhill fast.

To the Eyeball Scout, despite having a very good slider Muller is plagued by 3 main problems. Another is that his fastball, despite excellent velocity, lacks the movement to miss the barrel of bats. The other is that Muller cannot command his fastball, often leaving it right out over the plate when he’s not missing his target by a foot. The third is that his delivery shows the ball to the batter early and keeps it easy to track as he kicks and throws.

In summary, Muller doesn’t command his pitches well and when he is in the strike zone with his fastball the hitter gets a great look at it until it arrives on a tee waiting to be whacked around the park. Which it generally is. (The “pitch value” on Muller’s fastball in the big leagues this season is an astonishingly bad -14.1.)

If I were the A’s coaches, I would look at changing Muller’s arm slot in the hopes of finding what I call “the Manaea slot”. Manaea’s fastball played up because as he got ready to deliver the pitch his body and glove blocked hitters from tracking the ball until it left his hand and thus got on the batter rather suddenly. That’s how Manaea would throw 91 MPH and get reactions that looked like batters were swinging at 95 MPH.

Here’s the win-win-win. In finding a release point that better hides the ball during the delivery, Muller has a chance to solve the other two problems at the same time. Hopefully, a new arm slot creates more movement (it can’t create any less) and ideally Muller finds he is better able to command his pitches (he can’t command them any worse).

Is it a roll of the dice? Sure. Is it a better one than the gamble the Angels are taking in keeping Ohtani? Sure seems like it. We know two things straightaway:

1. Muller would be far from the first pitcher whose career took off when he adjusted his delivery and/or arm slot a tad.

2. The status quo predicts nothing but continued failure, as it is pretty clear why he keeps failing and it appears extremely unlikely that anything is going to change for the better by itself.

I mean you could have just held onto Murphy a bit longer, or traded him for prospects who were actually good, but here we are and when god hands you lemons you may as well give them to a dyslexic person and tell them to enjoy some melons. (I think that’s how the expression goes — I did read it kind of quickly.)

Here’s hoping that a reinvented Muller helps restore the A’s to respectability and beyond. I still think the A’s can finish ahead of the Angels in 2024!