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)
Future Talent – 85.00 (t-5th)
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.