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Angel Stadium could face a long season of long outs

TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s a reaction Jered Weaver has grown to enjoy, a combination of surprise and frustration on the face of an opposing batter who was sure he’d hit a home run at Angel Stadium, only to see the ball die on the warning track.

“They’re shocked,” said Weaver, the Angels’ ace and a 20-game winner in 2012. “They think they get it pretty well, and that marine layer kind of knocks it down. During the day, the stadium plays pretty fair, but at night, when the air is cool and moist, it plays into the pitcher’s hands.”

Angel Stadium has been a highly suitable workplace for Weaver, a 30-year-old right-hander whose array of off-speed and breaking pitches has induced far more fly balls than grounders in seven seasons.

Weaver, who according to Fangraphs had the sixth-highest fly-ball rate (42.8%) in baseball last season, has a record of 52-20 with a 2.66 earned-run average and 59 homers allowed in 653 innings at home; he is 50-32 with a 3.80 ERA and 82 homers allowed in 667 innings on the road.

Though not Weaver-like in ability, the Angels’ three new starting pitchers — Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton — are Weaver-like in style, predominantly fly-ball pitchers who don’t shy away from contact, and that could make them good fits in Anaheim too.

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Vargas, a left-hander acquired from Seattle, had the 12th-highest fly-ball rate (40.5%) last season, and Hanson, a right-hander acquired from Atlanta, ranked 17th with a 39.4% rate. Blanton, a right-hander who signed a two-year, $15-million free-agent deal, ranked 51st with a 32% fly-ball rate.

Plenty of those fly balls left the park. Vargas gave up 35 homers, the second-most in baseball, while going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 2012; Blanton was tagged for 29 homers while going 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA for Philadelphia and the Dodgers; and Hanson gave up 27 homers while going 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA.

But with support from a stable of fleet-footed and athletic outfielders, could this rotation, which includes left-hander C.J. Wilson, be tailor-made for its home park?

“It’s not like we woke up one morning and said, ‘Let’s try to get the four most extreme fly-ball pitchers we could find,’” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But the combination of our park and the quality of our range in the outfield gave us less trepidation about building a staff that was very heavy in fly-ball guys.”

Angel Stadium, with its fair dimensions and 18-foot-high wall in right field, has yielded an average of fewer than two homers a game in six of the last seven seasons, making it one of the more difficult American League parks in which to go deep. Compare that with Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, which Blanton called home for most of the last five years. The stadium ranked among the National League’s top four in homers allowed in five of the last seven years and yielded the most homers in the NL in 2007 and 2009.


Where big flies die

Angel Stadium is usually among the American League’s tougher stadiums in which to hit a home run. That’s welcome news for three of the pitchers the Angels acquired in the offseason.

Year HR ave. AL rank
2012 1.99 8th
2011 1.62 10th
2010 1.68 10th
2009 2.40 4th
2008 1.90 8th
2007 1.59 13th
2006 1.74 14th

Source: ESPN Home Run Tracker.


Blanton spent the first four years (2005-08) of his career in Oakland and has fond memories of Angel Stadium, where he was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA and gave up one homer in 481/3 innings.

“I remember that if you hit a ball good, it would go out, and if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be a … I don’t want to say cheap homer, but you know what I mean — those balls you don’t think should go out that do,” Blanton said.

Vargas has also pitched well in Angel Stadium, where he is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts, giving up five homers in 432/3 innings. He expects Anaheim to play like Seattle’s Safeco Field, where Vargas gave up nine homers in 982/3 innings last season. The other 26 homers came in 1182/3 road innings.

“The park in Anaheim is pretty fair. It cools down at night, and the ball doesn’t travel as far,” Vargas said. “And it helps to have guys in the outfield who can run them down.”

The Angels should have one of baseball’s best defensive outfields with Peter Bourjos in center, Mike Trout in left and Josh Hamilton in right.

According to Fangraphs, Trout ranked third among all outfielders by saving 21 runs last season. He robbed opponents of four homers, including a spectacular leaping catch high above the Camden Yards wall in Baltimore in May.

The fact that Bourjos is pushing Trout to left speaks volumes about Bourjos’ ability. Though he lost his job to Trout and played sparingly last season, Bourjos ranked eighth in baseball with 12 runs saved in 2011, and as many highlight-reel plays that season as Trout did in 2012.

Hamilton’s defensive metrics aren’t nearly as impressive as those of Trout and Bourjos, but with excellent speed and a superb throwing arm, the slugger could be a far more effective defender in right field than center and left, the positions he played in Texas.

“His skill set — his range, arm strength and ability to charge the ball — plays very well in right field,” Manager Mike Scioscia said of Hamilton. “There’s no doubt that this outfield has the potential to be as good defensively as any in baseball.”

It’s not just the spectacular diving or home run-robbing catches that will benefit the Angels and their pitchers.

“When you jam a guy or the ball goes off the end of the bat and it’s going to be a single that falls in, it’s nice to have a quick outfielder who’s going to get that,” Blanton said. “They’re going to cut balls off in the gaps, either run them down or keep a double to a single.

“Then, you get a double play and you’re almost out of an inning, as opposed to there being no outs, a guy goes first to third on a hit and scores on a sacrifice fly. A lot of it doesn’t show up in box scores or in highlights, but it can go a long way toward winning games.”

Notes

Trout has lost six pounds since the start of camp, about half of what he hoped to lose during spring training, and now weighs 235. “I feel good, I feel fast,” Trout said. “I’m right on track.” ... Mark Trumbo has signed a one-year contract, leaving Trout and reliever Ernesto Frieri as the only unsigned players before Saturday’s contract renewal date. ... Winless in seven exhibition games, the Angels have aligned their projected rotation — Weaver, Wilson, Blanton, Vargas and Hanson — to start the next five games. ... Hamilton, slowed by what Scioscia called “normal spring-training soreness,” was held out of fielding drills and given a “recharge day” Thursday. He is expected to play Friday. ... Reliever Chad Cordero, making a comeback after a two-year absence from the game, gave up a run and two hits and struck out two in his second spring appearance Thursday. His fastball touched 90 mph.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna


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