Michael Fulmer‘s dominance prevented the sweep on Wednesday, but the Angels took the three-game series from Detroit anyway thanks to Jhoulys Chacin on Monday and a dinger parade on Tuesday. It was the Halos’ first series victory since taking three of four games from the Dodgers two weeks ago.
Defeating Detroit is nothing new for the Angels in the Mike Trout era. Since the beginning of 2013 — a.k.a. the season immediately after Miguel Cabrera first defeated Trout on the MVP ballot — the Angels are 18-5 against Detroit, including a dominant 12-2 mark in Anaheim. The Tigers are always pretty good, so I’m not sure what we can attribute that level of ass-kicking to other than Trout’s vengeance against Cabrera. Even an Angels team that at best looks doomed to fourth place can’t prevent Trout’s wrath.
Game 1: Angels 5, Tigers 1
Game 2: Angels 11, Tigers 9
Game 3: Tigers 3, Angels 0
Mike Trout: Still Fast
Trout stole 49 bases in his now-legendary rookie season in 2012, and per FanGraphs’ base running metric he was 14.1 runs above average on the base paths, nearly five runs better than Jason Heyward‘s second place mark. While Trout has remained an above average base runner in subsequent seasons, he hasn’t been in the top-five since 2012. Until now. Trout rates as the second best base runner in the game, behind (oddly) Ian Desmond. Trout’s 3.7 runs above average on the base paths has already surpassed last season’s total and he’s well on pace to post his second-best career mark in that department. And he’s still hitting the snot out of the ball and providing good center field defense. Trout is a baseball unicorn.
As Trout aged and accumulated muscle it was fair to assume the base running would be left behind. That’s evident in his decreasing stolen base total every season. But on Wednesday Trout stole his seventh base of the season* and he is on pace to surpass 20 stolen bases for the first time since 2013. I don’t figure that pace to slow down either; Albert Pujols is mired in his worst offensive season as an Angel, and if he’s not slapping homers then Trout will need to put himself in scoring position more often than prior seasons. Perhaps because Pujols is no longer seen as a viable threat, pitchers are also walking Trout at a career-high 15.5% clip. The more often Trout finds himself at first base, the more opportunities he’ll have to swipe a bag.
* At a healthy 87.5% success rate, too.
Each iteration of Trout has been the best player in baseball, but I’m still partial to the 2012 version that blew all our minds. The guy that was arguably the best player in each facet of the game. Before the season I wondered if Trout’s elite base running was gone for good after his 11-steal performance last year on a dreadful 61.1% success rate. So far, it looks like I was wrong. Trout stealing or taking the extra base is a more exciting brand of baseball, and it’s cool to see he still has that tool at his disposal when I assumed it was gone.
I Have No Idea What To Make Of Matt Shoemaker
Shoemaker had his worst of his last three starts on Wednesday, allowing two runs in seven innings while striking out eight and walking none. Had the Halo offense not been nearly no-hit by Fulmer, Shoemaker would have picked up his third straight win. Granted he did allow ten hits, and on a different day when the Tigers sequenced their hits better Shoe might have been clobbered. But after Shoemaker looked like a Quad-A pitcher for most of the first six weeks of the season, he now has three straight starts of at least seven innings, eight strikeouts, and no walks. In his previous seven starts he didn’t hit any of those benchmarks except for a lone no-walk performance on April 30 in Texas, when he was hit so badly in 2-1/3 innings he didn’t have any time to allow a free pass.
Even after all his poor outings, Shoemaker’s hard and medium contact rates are lower than his breakout 2014 campaign while his soft contact rate is 2.4% higher. He still has a ways to go to make that 5.50 ERA look acceptable, but his FIP and xFIP are only a shade higher than 2014, too. His groundball rate on Wednesday was his best of the season. Two of his three recent starts are against top-five AL offenses (according to wRC+) and the other is against a dangerous Houston lineup that is probably under performing. According to Brooks Baseball, the velocity of all his pitches this season are actually higher than the past two seasons, largely thanks to a recent uptick in his recent starts. He started throwing his best pitch, the splitter, more.
So basically, is…is Matt Shoemaker back? I think I’m just about sold. I’m sold enough that I picked him up in my fantasy league, but not sold enough to where I’m going to start him just yet. I eagerly await his start next week in Yankee Stadium, because another good start lends credence to the idea that the Angels just stumbled onto a legitimate mid-rotation arm for the second time in three seasons; what makes that so odd is it’s the same pitcher.