Angels have weak link at closer

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Fuentes_Brian.standard[1].jpgThe Los Angeles Angels look like a solid championship contender this season.

They’ve got a good offense (1st in AL in hitting, 2nd in runs), speed on the bases (2nd in steals), a decent defense (6th in UZR) and a solid starting rotation that has improved with the addition of Scott Kazmir.

The weakness, if they have one, seems to be at closer, where the Angels replaced the record-setting (and expensive) Francisco Rodriguez with the crafty (and less expensive) journeyman Brian Fuentes.

Fuentes hasn’t been a disaster, saving 41 games. But he has blown seven save opportunities and been shaky enough at times to prompt manager Mike Scioscia to give rookie Kevin Jepsen some time in the ninth inning.

So, should the Angels replace Fuentes?

(Note: We’re not going to pin Wednesday night’s loss entirely on Fuentes, as he did have Nick Green struck out twice, only to be foiled by bad calls)

Eno Sarris breaks down the problem nicely over at Fangraphs, pointing out that Fuentes has pretty much given up on his curveball, and has lost velocity – and perhaps most alarmingly, a ton of movement – on his slider.

A case could certainly be made that Jepsen would make a better closer than Fuentes.

Jepsen does own the blazing fastball of a traditional closer (96.4 MPH this year), and with his two primary pitches coming down the pipe over 90 MPH (he owns a 90 MPH cutter that’s been worth 2.5 runs this year) he is a decent change of pace from Fuentes.

In fact, Jepsen profiles very differently from Fuentes in other ways. Fuentes is more of a fly-baller (46.9% fly balls), while Jepsen is inducing ground balls in bunches this year (58.6% ground balls). Jepsen is doing a great job supressing line drives (13.6%), and batters are centering Fuentes better (17.5%).

The big question is if Jepsen can continue to keep his walk rate down, as it was a bit of an issue in the minor leagues, and how well he can adjust to playoff pressure as a closer. For his part, he says he’s ready.

“Everybody has to have their first playoff experience — you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Jepsen, the setup man who has emerged as the team’s top reliever in the second half. “I can’t wait. I feel like I will feed off the energy, whether we’re home or away.”

I think it would be wise for Scioscia to take a long look at Jepsen down the stretch this month, and if he continues to look good, at least consider using both pitchers in save situations. Can’t hurt to have some insurance.


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Breitbart gives Curt Schilling a radio show to fight the Clinton criminal conspiracy

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
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Former major league pitcher and recently unemployed baseball commentator Curt Schilling has a new gig. He will be joining Breitbart News as the host of a daily online radio show during which he will offer political commentary and take calls from listeners. The radio show will be called “Whatever it Takes.”

The press release describes the show as, “Schilling’s unfiltered and insightful commentary on a mix of topics ranging from politics and culture to current affairs and perhaps some sports.”

Here’s Schilling’s take on it all, again, from the press release:

“God places things in our lives for specific reasons. After being fired by ESPN for my conservative opinions, I arrive here at Breitbart News, which I consider the last bastion of actual journalism. Yes, it’s openly conservative, but as much as liberals despise us they can’t deny the facts behind the arguments. This is the most important election of our lifetimes and under no circumstances can we allow a career criminal to be put in the Oval Office . . . I am proud to be a part of a team that will continue to point out the very thing that’s ruining this country: liberal, progressive, socialist agenda driven by the elite globalist connected to American politics and the Clinton family.”

That’s special. And I suspect the sorts of people who tell Bill and me to “stick to sports” won’t be doing the same to Schilling. Which is fine. I’m all for letting a thousand freak flags fly.  And Schilling’s is one of the freakiest.

In other news, Schilling tried to organize a Donald Trump rally over the weekend at Boston’s city hall. About 15 people showed up for it. Good luck with those radio ratings, Curt.

World Series umpiring crew announced. Hi, Joe West!

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs is ejected from the game in the ninth inning by umpire Joe West #22 at against the St. Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium on September 12, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has announced the umpiring crew for the World Series. John Hirschbeck is the crew chief. It’s his fifth World Series assignment, third as a crew chief.

A surprising name on the crew is Joe West. It’ll be his sixth World Series overall, but first since 2012. There had been chatter for several years that Major League Baseball was making a more concerted effort to get its best umpires into the World Series more often while minimizing the appearances of its weakest umpires. Most assumed West’s absence from the Fall Classic in recent years, despite his seniority, was a function of that. Maybe they’re still making merit a priority and maybe West has just improved? I’ll leave that for you to judge.

Anyway, here is the lineup of umps for Game 1. They will rotate after that, of course. If the series goes six games, Cowboy Joe will be calling the balls and strikes:

Home plate: Larry Vanover
1B: Chris Guccione
2B: John Hirschbeck
3B: Marvin Hudson
LF: Tony Randazzo
RF: Joe West
Replay Official for Games 1-2: Sam Holbrook (with assistance from Todd Tichenor)
Replay Official for Games 3-7: Larry Vanover (with assistance from Todd Tichenor)