2011 Organizational Rankings: #12 – LA Angels

The Angels may not do it like we want them to, but they do do it. Succeed, I mean. Most of the time at least.

Present Talent – 75.83 (T-18th)

Angels Season Preview

Future Talent – 85.00 (t-5th)

Angels Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 85.00 (4th)
Baseball Operations – 76.67 (T-22nd)

Overall Rating – 80.17 (12th)

Coming off a year that saw the Angels fall to third in their four-team division, it may be a little difficult to appreciate the run of success they’ve had. Or maybe we can think back past last year if we really try, and remember that they won five division titles between 2004 and 2009. Even if they seemed to outproduce their peripherals as a team, that’s an impressive run.

It’s this outproduction of the peripherals that lies at the heart of our collective distrust of the front office. The team outperformed their run differential by 20 wins between 2007 and 2009 – and yes, this is using the flawed pythagorean win expectation formulas, but it still speaks to a tendency of the early aught Angels to outdo their underlying abilities. Boring down into the numbers didn’t produce much to hang their Angels cap on either. Since 2004, despite averaging 92.4 wins a season, they have had the seventh-best wRC+ in the AL (99) and the fourth-best UZR/150 (+2.3). Then again, their FIP (4.11) was tops over the same time period. Maybe the suspicion comes from their high-priced offensive pieces that have turned in mediocre results.

Consider the Vernon Wells acquisition this offseason as a microcosm of their recent years. Roundly mocked for taking on what many think is the worst contract in the game, the Angels got a player that will improve the outfield defense even from a corner position, will show some power, and just completed his second-best season at 31. It’s certainly possible that he continues to play at a high level for a few years, even if his on-again off-again power stroke and generally declining glove and wheels suggest quite strongly that he’s not worth the money coming to him. Does this sound like Torii Hunter yet?  That might not be a perfect corollary, but the Angels have made some head-scratching trades and signings in the past.

Though their payroll will again be a top-eight number, they’ll be running out an offense that includes offensive sinkholes at third (Maicer Izturis), shortstop (Erick Aybar), and catcher (Jeff Mathis). Flawed hitters will patrol center (Peter Bourjos) and second (Howie Kendrick), too. In many of these cases, famously in the case of the catcher, the decisions were made in order to beef up defense.

That’s how you end up with 2010’s most runs saved by BIS’ calculations and the ninth-best defense over the past three years by UZR. That’s also how you end up with a catcher that “hit” .195/.219/.278 last year, and an offense that ranked below the middle of the American League pack (8th). But this year’s talent crop is saved by their mostly excellent pitching. And the team has the financial resources to plug holes year-to-year, including an owner that has shown the ability to continually fund high payrolls – payroll is not a sole proxy for financial resources. These aspects of the team are reflected well in the rankings.

It’s the farm system that is the current star of the franchise, and the reason for optimism. Though the team has had some exciting prospects flame out in the past (Brandon Wood anyone), Mike Trout seems like a can’t-misser, an athletic toolsy outfielder that can also control the strike zone. Jean Segura and Hank Conger provide hope at short and catcher. There are some interesting arms in the system, too, but really, Trout is the jewel and without him the group seems less exciting.

Have some money in your pocket and a top-three prospect in your system, and you can feel pretty good about the future. Focus instead on the $150 million still owed to Wells, Hunter and Scott Kazmir, and that good feeling might pale. Look at your well-respected and media-friendly coach, and long track record of recent success, and you’ll feel better again. Focus on this year’s offense, which will start the year with three players with an above-average 2010 wRC+, and you’ll fade again. That sort of bi-polar roller coaster fits perfectly into the middle of the rankings.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

40 Responses to “2011 Organizational Rankings: #12 – LA Angels”

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  1. mmoritz22 says:

    I do believe that the AL West is a four team division, not five, and they finished 3rd, not forth. But as always, great article.

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  2. Lanenator says:

    The process for determining the Future Talent rankings needs a major overhaul next year. It’s simply unacceptable for half the league (exaggerating, obviously) to be tied for 5th place. I’d almost like to see what the rankings would look like if they were compiled without the Future Talent component because it seems like a virtually worthless metric in its current form.

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    • Mike H says:

      Agreed. Makes the series much worse this year. Gotta get more than two voters next year.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Combine that with over-reaction based on previous offseason.

      The only thing that could/should change significantly from year to year is present talent, right?

      Future talent would change to a lesser degree, simply due to the nature of prospects.

      .. and IMO, financial resources does not carry enough weight.

      Almost equal weighting is placed on Baseball Operations, something we don;t have good metrics for.

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    • Xenophanes says:

      Best part is, you’re not even exaggerating that much. Completely agree, I feel like these rankings have told us about nothing. There are a handful of bad teams, a handful of great teams, and a bunch of decent teams with differing strengths and weaknesses that are all about even with each other.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        This is an absolutely stupid criticism. Given the uncertainty inherent in teams’ futures, it would be unscientific to say much more than this with any confidence.

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      • Oscar says:

        Al Dimond: If that’s your attitude, then why do these rankings at all?

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        Xenophanes: your last sentence is completely correct. The purpose of these rankings, I think, is to put a rough sort on those categories and try to get a feel for why each organization is in its respective category and how likely it is to move in one direction or another.

        Oscar: I’m not Al Dimond, but from my point of view, the answer to “why do these rankings?” is simple: because what I’ve said in the paragraph above is worth doing. Just because you can’t grill a filet mignon for dinner tonight doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a bowl of soup instead.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        I’m not “doing” the rankings, I’m just reading them. This may be a bit cynical, but the reason to “do” these rankings is to draw eyeballs to the site and make money on ad impressions.

        I think we’re paying a lot of attention to where the teams rank and less to what the scores and the underlying facts mean. The reason I read these is because when the writeups are good they’re a good summary of a team’s prospects for contention in the future, and because they show how FG authors grade organizations, factual errors and all. Because they cover things that would be overlooked in other types of articles.

        The actual numerical rankings? They’d mean more if the categories were better-defined — perhaps still subjective, but at least with a consistent rubric providing a frame for that subjectivity and forcing the voters to examine it. I still think they’d show that there are a few great orgs primed for long success, a few bad ones primed for long failure, and a lot of teams in the middle with such qualitative differences that it’s hard to rank them quantitatively. I think they’d show that because it’s a reflection of reality.

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    • Sam says:

      It’s absurd for several reasons.

      1) There’s no way ten teams should be tied for 5th. If you’re going to argue that it’s difficult to ordinally rank teams in this fashion, then you shouldn’t be doing these rankings at all.

      2) There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between (Present Talent and Minor League Ranking) and Future Talent. Can anyone explain how the Mariners can be 25th in Present Talent, 16th in the Minor League Ranking, and tied for 5th in Future Talent?

      3) The math doesn’t work. If you’re going to have 10 teams tied for 5th, at least get the math right. How can the Angels get an 85 both for being 4th in financial resources and for being tied with 9 other teams for 5th in Future Talent? You can’t give all 10 teams credit for being 5th.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        1. Why not? If it’s hard to rank future talent we perhaps shouldn’t have a series ranking future talent, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the knowledge we have (ie KC’s huge advantage in minor-league talent over Milwaukee) to inform organizational rankings.

        2. Yeah, this is bad. The numbers plugged into the organizational ranking formula have been all the hell over the place, to the extent that the results have often surprised the people writing the pieces.

        3. That’s not how the math works. The numeric grades are not given based on what place the team finishes in each category, it’s the other way around.

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      • David K says:

        “Can anyone explain how the Mariners can be 25th in Present Talent, 16th in the Minor League Ranking, and tied for 5th in Future Talent?”

        maybe it depends on how you defind “Minor League Ranking” and “Future Talent”. Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say you’re comparing these two teams:

        Team A: minor league W-L%: .560, # top-100 prospects: 3
        Team B: minor league W-L%: .490, # top-100 prospects: 7

        I might be more inclined to prefer to be in Team B’s position. Since most of the minor league players will never see a major league roster, a minor league team’s winning % isn’t really significant. If the “Minor League Ranking” is based on that, you can see how future talent can come out much different than minor league ranking. But correct me if I’m way off base here.

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  3. Xeifrank says:

    I have the Angels ranked as 7th best, so slightly low but reasonable imo. A front office that has put together a winning team in the recent past. A solid minor league system. An organization that is ranked 9th most valuable by Forbes. Then dragged down very slightly for having a large payroll and what amounts to a likely .500 team this year.

    I’d have Toronto then Colorado/Cincy next.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Organizationally, the Blue Jays and Rangers are this high?

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      • MathuC says:

        Remember, this is organizational depth and a front office state of affiars, not necessarily current team depth.

        Last year the Jays farm system was rated 4th – and then they added Gose and Lawrie.

        I have no idea about the Rangers though.

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      • brendan says:

        TEX deserves their high ranking. they have a first place team now, and a good farm system as well. new TV deal means payrolls can drift up (see the beltre deal). they’re definitely looking good.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      You amuse me. Your sole criterion for the value of these rankings appears to be whether they agree with your pre-determined opinion. That sort of attitude toward life is a great way to ensure you never learn anything.

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  4. Rally says:

    “and just completed his second-best season at 32.”

    Wells was 31 in the recently completed season, turned 32 in the offseason. And while his 2010 season was better than most years for him, it sure looks like 2003 and 2006 were better.

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  5. Joel says:

    Vernon Wells = Edmund Fitzgerald

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    • Jim says:

      So, Vernon Wells is going to sink into the stormy waters of Lake Superior this summer, then have Gordon Lightfoot write a moving ballad about him?

      I hope Torii Hunter doesn’t stop by the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, then–otherwise, it’s curtains for the Angels’ outfield!

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  6. Dave Cameron says:

    I will say that this is the one ranking that I disagree with my co-authors on the most – I’d have the Angels 5-10 spots lower than this. They’ve squandered a lot of their future resources by locking themselves into awful contracts, and I just don’t see the depth of talent needed to compensate for some high priced failures.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      Yeah, it must hurt to see the Angels this much higher than the M’s. :)

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    • Sam says:

      The Angels have a better current team (according to all projections), a better farm system (according to BA, BP, and Law), and more financial resources than the Mariners.

      Yet you still have the Mariners ahead?

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    • Ivdown says:

      I like how 5-10 spots lower would put them behind the lowly (yes, very lowly) Mariners. Funny how that works out :)

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  7. AndyS says:

    Does no one else thing the Angels’ franchise is a disaster?

    It has huge payroll potential, but has lots of locked up assets in the next couple of years and thus little flexibility.

    It has good future talent, but they’re all pretty far away.

    It has pretty bad present talent, this is a team that was .500 and by various rankings you could argue that they were still pretty lucky and may be worse this year.

    Reagins is just a bad GM. Wells for Napoli? Really?

    Honestly, this team is one of the worser franchises IMO, I have no idea how this got ranked so highly.

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    • BJsWorld says:

      They have $75m tied up in 2012. $25m in 2013. $21m in 2014.

      Compare that to …

      Boston – 2012 – $101m / 2013 – $79m / 2014 – $65m
      New York A – 2012 – $153m / 2013 – $126m / 2014 – $76m
      Philly – 2012 – $112m / 2013 – $82m / 2014 – $50m
      Chicago A – 2012 – $95m / 2013 – $63m / 2014 – $39m

      I could go on but for a team that is ranked with the 4th highest Financial Resources their commitments don’t seem too high.

      After this off-season the team sheds GMJ and Kazmir ($25m in dead contracts). Following year is the last for Torii. I’m not sure how you could argue that the team doesn’t have financial flexibility in the future.

      This was a 500 team in 2010 that lost their best hitter for 2/3rds of the season. Had less than half of a season of Haren, and missed 60+ innings from Pineiro. They won’t see the sinkhole they had at 3rd. Every regular hitter regressed in 2010. That also won’t happen again.

      The team was “lucky” in that I don’t anticipate Weaver repeating his 2010 season. Every other member of the pitching staff was well within their talent level. The bullpen will be significantly better.

      Anyway, to each their own. I’ll be happy to eat crow if the team is really “one of the worser franchises”.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Weaver has godly peripherals. I don’t follow the Angels closely, but based on stats alone I’d rather have him going forward than just about any other starter in the AL.

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      • AndyS says:

        Just because other teams have high commitment doesn’t mean that the Angels don’t also have really high commitments. I’m really talking more about 2011-2012.

        Anyway, just because they lost Morales for 2/3 of a season, doesn’t make them better. Injuries are not an excuse, they’re an additional worry, because now you have to worry how these players are going to do coming back from injury. And you can’t just assume players are not going to be injured again – every season, there will be injuries. I don’t know why you assume that the regular hitters are going to get better, when all the high quality hitters other than Morales are past their primes.

        The team was lucky by things like beyondtheboxscore’s standings, and baseballprospectus’ third order and second order wins, not in Jered Weaver, who probably IS legit: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/standings.php

        Both have the team pegged at 72-73 win quality in a neutral environment.

        I have no idea why you say the bullpen will be significantly better – they were already good and it doesn’t seem to have changed much.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      Not nearly a disaster. A mediocrity at worst. I think the ranking’s about right. One terrible trade does not a terrible franchise make.

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  8. john says:

    If “Baseball Operations” includes Mike Scioscia, that 22nd ranking seems awfully low, and as a Mariner fan I’m not biased in their favor. We can argue about the value of a manager and obviously the dubious Vernon Wells acquisition colors this category, but the Dan Haren heist ought to partly offset that. Someone needs to figure out how the Angels consistently outperform their projected record, but it seems to me that the Angels’ on field management and coaching staff are just about the best in baseball (Joe Madden and Bud Black have done pretty well of late after apprenticing with Scioscia). Bump up that category a bit and the Angels would be in the top ten, where I think they belong.

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  9. BJsWorld says:

    As a fan I would have the team ranked quite a bit higher.

    — Track record of success – check.
    — Strong farm system (top 10) – check
    — Large capital resources – check
    — Team that could easily win 85+ games – check

    I guess if the emphasis is on winning in just 2011 then the Angels should fall outside the top 10. However, if we are talking about laying bets on who will continue to be an 85-90 win team over the next 5 years the Angels have to be among just a few teams in baseball.

    For the record, the Vernon Wells deal was bad. No other way to spin it. They are paying $12m/year too much for Wells. However, the team will be better with him in LF. And the $12m isn’t that big of a deal. GMJ’s 100 year contract at $10m/year finally falls off the payroll this year. We were paying Speier $5m for the last 2 years to watch baseball from his house. Kazmir was a sinkhole in 2010 and is shaping up to be one in 2011. Point is, as horrid as that trade was (and yes it was horrid) there is just way too much emphasis on it. The deal will hurt the club but not cripple it. We’ve dealt with far worse in the past.

    But that’s OK. The Angels are always the underdog because they do things their way. It may not make sense. It may not seem right. However, the formula for success is there.

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  10. Joel says:

    I don’t disagree too much with the ranking, while I think it is slightly low, I can understand 12th. What I have a problem with is the crappy, careless assessment written up here. Originally had the AL West as a five team division, and Wells age being wrong are pretty careless mistakes. Sinkhole Aybar had the 9th best wRC+ of all SS last year. While he likely wont hit that well again, and is by no means a plus hitter, he is not a sinkhole, and has actually averaged a tick over 2.0 WAR over the last 3 years. Maicer Izturis, who apparently is good enough to start for a bunch of teams (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/macier-izturis-could-start-for/), has a career .325 wOBA (number dragged down alot from his first 100 games) is clearly not a sinkhole and right around league average with the bat. Mathis, no defense there, he just plain sucks, but with Conger up and coming, and Wilson to hopefully poach a good number of starts, that damage should be mitigated. Howie Kendrick has a career .328 wOBA as a second baseman, so flawed isnt even close to the right word there. Bourjous is projected to have around a 92 wRC+ as a CF with plus plus defense, which is an asset, not a liability as you made it seem.
    Theres no way Ill defend the Wells trade, but it did mean that Abreu will not see the outfield this year, and if Mathis doesnt see a huge jump in playing time, it should at least make the team slightly better. While the financial flexibility is not at full capacity right now, Wells shorter contract offers more future flexibility than signing Beltre or Crawford would have allowed (again not defending the trade).
    The Angels have enough flaws and problems to justify the position, but this is one of the worse articles I’ve read on fangraphs, and I was frankly expecting much better.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Aybar avoids the strikeout and has some speed. Maicer has an average walk rate, slightly above-average speed, and avoids the strikeout. I paused before putting them in the sinkhole category, and perhaps you were right that I was harsh on them.

      I also said that those guys had good gloves for the most part, especially with Bourjos – it goes into a whole thing about defense right after that part, even.

      But putting up an averageish wOBA does not mean you can’t be flawed. Last year, Kendrick’s only above-average skill was the ability to avoid the strikeout.

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    • ineedanap says:

      Actually, “flawed” is a great way to describe Howie. The way he can square-up seemingly every pitch is amazing. But, his career 3.8 BB% can only be described as a flaw.

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  11. Fat Spiderman says:

    Seems a bit high to me. Having that much money tied up in aging and/or bad players (Kazmir, Wells, Hunter) seems like it should hinder their finances quite a bit. It doesn’t really make sense to me that the Angels (who opened last season with a payroll of around $121 million) are above the Cubs ($144 million), for example.

    Also, I’m curious to see the standard deviation in the baseball operations ranking.

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  12. Fat Spiderman says:

    One other thing: Take a glance at these two players.

    Player A (2011 ZIPS projections):
    .260/.313/.432, .322 wOBA, 95 wRC+ in 619 PA. The fans project his defense as -5.0 in 149 games.

    Player B:
    .274/.322/.448, .331 wOBA, 101 wRC+ in 425 PA. Fans project his defense as -2.0 in 122 games.

    Player A is Vernon Wells, and player B is Juan Rivera, who the Angels gave up along with one of their best position players to get Wells and take on his contract. Saying that the acquisition is an upgrade in any way is silly. It’s far more likely that Wells provides nothing that Rivera wouldn’t. In essence, the Angels released Mike Napoli and gave Rivera an $80 million extension. There would be absolutely no way to justify that, and there is no way to justify the Wells acquisition, but the article attempts to do so.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      whoa. Did not. Just tried to give another side to the story. And ended the paragraph by saying that Wells is an overpaid outfielder whose wheels and glove are declining. I don’t really know what the Angels were doing with that one.

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      • Fat Spiderman says:

        Well, I interpreted this:

        “the Angels got a player that will improve the outfield defense even from a corner position, will show some power, and just completed his second-best season at 31”

        as saying that Wells was an upgrade, albeit obviously one that they paid way too much for. Comparing him to Rivera, it doesn’t seem like there is any upgrade at all.

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