How Much Trouble Are the Angels In?

It’s April 26th, so it’s just too early to jump to any conclusions based on what has happened thus far in 2012. There are 140+ games still to go in the season, and as we’ve seen before, the standings at the end of April often don’t look like the standings at the end of September. Three weeks of baseball shouldn’t have changed our minds too much about what we believed to be true before the season began. That the Angels are 6-12, and that Albert Pujols has yet to hit a home run, should not lead us to believe that the Angels are a bad team or that Pujols run as an elite hitter has come to an end.

However, April counts too, and it couldn’t have gone much worse for Anaheim than it did. Not only have they struggled out of the gates, but Texas has blitzed through the American League, and currently hold an 8 1/2 game lead over the Angels in the American League West. Even if we still believe that the Angels are capable of outplaying the Rangers over the rest of the season – and we should – the hole they have to dig out of has become so large that winning their division has become significantly less likely.

For instance, here’s a few examples of what it would take for the Angels to win the AL West by a margin of one game, with all of these scenarios needing to begin immediately:

Angels play .600 baseball (97 win pace) over remainder of season, finish with 92 wins. Rangers play .531 baseball (86 win pace), finish with 91 wins.

Angels play .575 baseball (93 win pace) over remainder of season, finish with with 89 wins. Rangers play .510 baseball (83 win pace) over remainder of season, finish with 88 wins.

Angels play .550 baseball (89 win pace) over remainder of season, finish with 85 wins. Rangers play .483 baseball (78 win pace) over remainder of season, finish with 84 wins.

Before the season began, most projections had the Angels as an 89-93 win team, so if we assume that April has taught us nothing more than what we knew about their roster than we knew at the end of March, then we’d probably expect the Angels to play somewhere between scenario B and C, finishing with a win total in the mid-80s. It’s possible that they could catch fire and end up with 90+ wins, but that’s an unlikely bet at this point.

For some recent historical perspective, here are the teams who posted a winning percentage below .400 in their first 18 games of the season last year, followed by their rest-of-season winning percentage and end-of-year win totals:

Boston: 7-11 (.389), 83-61 (.576) in next 144, 90-72 overall
Houston: 7-11 (.389), 49-95 (.340) in next 144, 56-106 overall
Minnesota: 6-12 (.333), 57-87 (.396) in next 144, 63-99 overall
Seattle: 6-12 (.333), 61-83 (.424) in next 144, 67-95 overall
NY Mets: 5-13 (.278), 72-72 (.500) in next 144, 77-85 overall

Boston is the example that the Angels are hoping to follow, minus the whole September collapse thing. As they showed last year, a slow start doesn’t have to end your season, and can be overcome with strong play throughout the summer. However, that slow start also didn’t leave the Red Sox with enough margin for error, and having another slump later in the season proved to be too much to overcome.

What if we look back two years?

Chicago White Sox: 7-11 (.389), 81-63 (.563) over next 144, 88-74 overall
Cincinnati Reds: 7-11 (.389), 84-60 (.583) over next 144, 91-71 overall
Pittsburgh: 7-11 (.389), 50-94 (.347) over next 144, 57-105 overall
Kansas City: 7-11 (.399), 60-84 (.417) over next 144, 67-95 overall
Baltimore: 2-16 (.111), 64-80 (.444) over next 144, 66-96 overall

Perhaps we should amend the paragraph above and note that Cincinnati is really the example that the Angels are hoping to follow, as they turned their season around and ended up winning the NL Central. In fact, they made up exactly 8.5 games over their final 144 over St. Louis, so even had the Cardinals gotten off to a Rangers-like start to the season, the Reds still would have been able to run them down and take the division. On the other hand, though, the White Sox season shows the perils of an early hole, as they played well over their final 144 games but didn’t gain any ground on Minnesota – the difference in the final standings turned out to be exactly the size of the gap they built over their first 18 games.

However, things are a bit different this year, as the addition of a second wild card lowers the barrier to entry for post-season baseball. The 2010 White Sox would have finished just one game behind Boston for that second wild card spot had the system been in place then, and likely would have adjusted their end-of-season strategy to try and make up that small difference. At the very least, they’d have been in contention all year, even after their slow start.

And, of course, last year’s Red Sox would have won the second wild card, and their season would not have ended after Game 162. Under the current system, at least two and possibly three of the teams that started slow over the last two years would have ended up playing post-season baseball. Given the hole that the Angels have dug for themselves, a 20-30% chance of at least getting into the one game playoff should be encouraging.

The Angels have played poorly, but not as poorly as their record would indicate. In fact, the next time someone tells you that that their offensive struggles to this point in the season show that they don’t have the bats to be a legitimate contender, point out that their offensive batting line (.252/.303/.376) is nearly identical to that of the vaunted Tigers offense (.244/.305/.389). Once Ervin Santana stops giving up home runs at a record pace and Albert Pujols remembers how to hit balls over the fence, the Angels will start winning games. Can they win enough to overcome the early lead they’ve given the Rangers? Probably not, but the new playoff structure should give them at least a fighting chance to still get into the post-season.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


63 Responses to “How Much Trouble Are the Angels In?”

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  1. mnt says:

    You have 4 244′s that should be 144′s – feel free to delete this after you fix it

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  2. Jordan says:

    You also say that the Reds made up 8.5 games over their last 162, which seems unlikely unless that season had over 170 games.

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  3. Daniel says:

    the rangers are also way more likely to continue to dominate than the 2010 cardinals were, the twins of 2010 and the 2011 rays. good article.

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  4. ligand says:

    Is this going to have an effect on pushing Trout to the majors earlier?

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  5. Semi Pro says:

    Solution: Ervin Santana pitches to Albert Pujols.

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  6. Snowblind says:

    The Rangers are a batch of injury timebombs waiting to go off. It’s entirely likely they careen off the tracks by late July.

    But then, it’s also likely they’re the first team in the majors to clinch. As you noted, a lot can happen in 140 games.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Inury timebombs? Maybe Hamilton and Cruz, but every team in the league is. The Angels are one of the oldest teams in the league when you look at their lineup. they are just as likely to suffer injuries.

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    • j6takish says:

      The Rangers also have more than enough depth to overcome injuries, Hamilton and Cruz have missed time every year. When Hamilton/Cruz/Beltre get injured, guys like Young and David Murphy take their places. Thats the difference between a team like Texas and the Red Sox or the Angels

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      • adohaj says:

        Aren’t Young and Murphy already starting? How could Young and Murphy take their place?

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      • Jacob says:

        Haha that was the case last year with Murphy but now Gentry would take his spot which still isn’t shabby. With an infielder getting injured it’s a little more complicated but basically Napoli, Torrealba, Moreland, and Young would all get more playing time.

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  7. Pat says:

    Shucks, you can’t buy the best team in the league. Anaheim and Philly must be disappointed, time to go out and buy some more players at the deadline I guess.

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  8. sprot says:

    The Angels offense isn’t bad because it’s roughly equal to the Tigers offense? Got it.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    I’m going to guess that that LAA will player a lesser schedule over the next 140 than BOS did over their last 140 of 2011.

    I think last year the message to BOS was not to panic.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Playing in the West could provide some help for LAA. Although an early weak schedule has not helped so far…

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      • Mike says:

        AL West is just as good or better than the AL East.

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      • Will says:

        In what world? There’s only two teams that aren’t bad in the AL West. You have 3-4 in the East.

        The Mariners and Athletics are mediocre at best. The Angels are underachieving (but potentially very good) and the Rangers are very good.

        The Orioles are mediocre at best, the Blue Jays are above average, the Rays and Red Sox are underachieving (but potentially very good) and the Yankees are very good.

        I don’t see any argument for the AL West being better than the AL East. That isn’t to say the Rangels aren’t very good, but as a division the AL West is pretty weak.

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      • David K says:

        “AL West is just as good or better than the AL East.”

        Seriously? The AL East does have the downtrodden Orioles, but the West has both Seattle AND Oakland, so 50% of their division is weak. With NYY, BOS, TAM, and TOR, only 20% of the AL East is weak. I say it’s not a contest.

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      • Ned Colletti says:

        The pitching in the AL West is better, except for the Angels’ bullpen. Texas, Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle all have strong starting staffs. You can’t say the same for the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles or Blue Jays. The Rays’ staff is fantastic, but the rest of that division is pretty lame. More offense in the East, but isn’t that as much a product of the sub-par pitching than the collective talent of each teams’ roster?

        The A’s and Mariners are not particularly scary on offense, but see what happens when even Seattle runs into crappy Rick Porcello offerings? Seattle sits right in the middle of the American League as far as runs are concerned, albeit in a small amount of games.

        The AL East has this perception of being this juggernaut, but Texas is still the best team in the AL, and if the Angels can shake off this bad start and get a spark from Trout, they’ll be right up there too.

        East Coast bias is weathering with every 5 ER performance from John Lester.

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  10. elijah says:

    “In fact, the next time someone tells you that that their offensive struggles to this point in the season show that they don’t have the bats to be a legitimate contender, point out that their offensive batting line (.252/.303/.376) is nearly identical to that of the vaunted Tigers offense (.244/.305/.389)”

    Eh, the problem with this is that the Tigers offense isn’t exactly mashing at this moment. I don’t think comparing the Angels offense to the Tigers offense right now gives any comfort to the Angels fans.

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    • JoeC says:

      That isn’t the point. The point is, with Detroit’s so-so offense, they’re 10-9, whereas the Angels are 6-13 with a roughly equivalent offense.

      So the Angels are running into a bit of bad luck, which should turn around soon enough.

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  11. Ron Paul says:

    At the beginning of ’10 & ’11, Boston, Cincy and the White Sox were the only three of those listed teams most would say a solid teams with legit chances of postseason baseball.

    Those clubs finished with 88, 90 and 91 wins. The Angels have plenty of time to get back into the wild card race, but they are going to have a real tough time catching Texas. Texas is a very deep team with very few weaknesses. Their rotation is so deep they move Ogando to the bullpen. Name another MLB team that would’ve been able to do that! They have a terrific defense, great rotation, solid & deep bullpen….not to mention the real good lineup that can afford to bat 7-hr Napoli 8th.

    With as bad as the Angels have been though, they do need to get things turned around within a couple weeks. They won’t be able to bounce back from a 12-24 start and still make the playoffs IMO.

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  12. Angelsjunky says:

    Don’t forget that the Angels started 2002 6-14 and we all know how that turned out. Obviously it isn’t 2002–and they don’t have Darin “Gritz” Erstad”–but these things do happen.

    I’m holding to my pre-season prediction of 93 wins and a wild card berth. The season is still young enough that all they need is a hot week and a half to be back to .500. If they can make it to the postseason they’ll be hard to beat with Weaver, Haren, and Wilson.

    Now if only they’d cut their losses with Abreu and Wells and call up Trout and later Calhoun…

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    • Baltar says:

      Yes, and this is exactly the same team the Angels had in 2002, so they are bound to pull off another miracle.

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      • sc2gg says:

        If they had the 2002 version of the players that are currently on the roster, they’d be laughing. Instead, we’re laughing.

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      • JoeC says:

        Obviously the point he was making was that it’s possible for the Angels to recover from their bad start. The 2002 Angels are just one of many examples of teams doing so.

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  13. Mike says:

    This is odd. Last year at this time, you said the Rockies locked up the division.

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  14. Steve says:

    Well, the Angels did start 6-14 in 2002.

    Then they won the World Series.

    The AL West was pretty good back then too, with Oakland and Seattle.

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  15. Dr. David Altchek says:

    The Angels are as likely to maintain their current pace as the Rangers are to maintain theirs. 8.5 is a pretty decent hole to dig out of, but the Tigers dropped as far as eight games back around this time last year and the Rays were considered practically eliminated in August. Plus, there’s that extra Wild Card to fall back on, which the Angels are currently only five games out on.

    The Orioles are leading the AL East right now and this time last year, the Indians were the best team in the MLB and the Tigers were a sub-.500 ballclub.

    In short, to answer you question: Results are inconclusive. Check back around July, when there’s something resembling a sample size big enough to venture a guess.

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  16. BiffFortuna says:

    As of right now, The Angels are playing for a Wild Card spot. The Rangers aren’t going to play less than .550 ball.

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    • Jonathan says:

      And what makes you so certain of that? They played roughly .554 from May through August last year. They actually played a shade under .500 for a good 1/3 of the season last year.

      Considering how good the Rangers are overall, I don’t expect the Angels to overtake them with this deep of a hole, but let’s not pretend it’s a ridiculous idea with the amount of talent the Angels have.

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  17. BryanT says:

    Are you suggesting the Angels have a higher talent level than the Rangers?

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  18. Joebrady says:

    Wow.

    $20M for Wells
    $9.5M for Abreu
    $18M for Hunter
    $24M for Pujols

    There seems to be a continuous denial among GMs that players will age.

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  19. Joe Lovitto says:

    “Even if we still believe that the Angels are capable of outplaying the Rangers over the rest of the season – and we should – ”

    Flatly stating that we SHOULD expect the Angels to outplay the Rangers over the rest of the season? Based on what, pray tell?

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    • jim says:

      why, didn’t you read the articles ranking the MLB rotations? ZiPS said the angels had the best rotation, so dave has to think they’ll outplay the rangers. plus, there’s *totally* not several legitimate concerns about pujols and he’s guaranteed to bounce back to an 8+ WAR player

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    • Max says:

      he only said that we should believe they are CAPABLE of outplaying them, never that they WOULD outplay them

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      • Joe Lovitto says:

        Read the quote.

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      • DBW says:

        Again, Joe, *you’re* not reading the quote. You keep skipping over “capable.” We “should” believe they are “capable” of “outplaying” the Rangers. They have the capacity to outplay the Rangers. That does not exclude the capacity of the Angels not outplaying the Rangers. Jesus.

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      • KG says:

        I read the quote. It says we should believe that the Angels are capable of outplaying the Rangers. Joe Lovitto: reading comprehension failure.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        Haha, telling someone to read a quote you yourself don’t understand.

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    • DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

      +1 Rangers back to back AL Champs, i don’t buy that i’m supposed to think the Angels can get it done over them.

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  20. Rich Johnson says:

    Forget the offensive stuggles talk. I can’t find an Angels fan that believes in the bullpen right now. I feel that if Jered/Dan/C.J./Ervin can’t combine to pitch well/stay healthy enough to produce between 900-920 innings they might be toast. I live in SoCal, my radio and tv is tuned to the action, I think they know it’s all on them right now to get the team turned around. Some solid efforts have been wasted, and Haren/Santana drag down the current average. 16 starts for 103.67 IP so far…Let’s expect 33 starts from all 4. Current pace is 855 over those 132 starts. That’s 45 extra innings left to the bullpen. A lot of craziness can happen in 45 innings of bullpen work that you originally might not plan to absorb during starts from pitchers you expect to log 225-230 innings. All four pitchers have seen gasoline poured on the fire during some of those innings, leading to losses.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      Ohhh….Uhh… I’m going to grab my bat to beat this horse.

      Small Sample Size, trying to project a full season’s worth of pitching after about what you said is ~1/8th of their innings is overly aggressive. Dan Haren will turn it around, E. Santana will not keep giving up THIS many home runs, though admittedly he’s a 2.5-3 WAR pitcher going forward, and even Jerome Williams won’t keep letting so many base runners score.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        Also I would ignore the SoCal TV and radio because if I didn’t I’d be a believer in Torii Hunter’s ability to keep up his performance so far.

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  21. Phantom Stranger says:

    As of right now the Angels are nine games back of the Rangers. The division is already lost to them and the wild card is the best they can hope for this year. Hamilton is back to his MVP level of play and as long the rotation remains healthy, the Rangers have a better chance than anyone for 100 wins.

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    • Jason B says:

      ‘The division is already lost to them and the wild card is the best they can hope for this year.”

      Well that’s settled then. Dave did you even think of checking with Phantom Stranger before doing your analysis?!? Could have saved yourself a lot of trouble my friend…

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  22. adohaj says:

    95% of teams have a slump. The Angels are having theirs in April. I bet the Rangers have theirs in June

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  23. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    I would say they are done, but as get closer and closer to an NBA style of playoff format they still have a good shot.

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  24. Have we forgotten 2011 already? Not 1 but 2 playoff teams were “out of it” by late August. It’s still April.

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  25. wespom9 says:

    Come late May, the Angels will probably be closer to .500, Pujols will probably have hit 10 bombs, and this slow start will largely be forgotten. Let’s not forget too that other perennial picks as wild card contenders haven’t gotten out to a hot start – BoSox 8-10, Jays 10-8. Hell even the Tigers have lost 4 of their last 5. I agree with the above statement. It’s only April.

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  26. Joebrady says:

    Of course it’s early, but if TX plays at a 90-win rate the rest of the way, and I think most reasonable people would feel comfortable with that, they win 93.78 games. In order for LAA to tie them, they’d have to play at a 100.4 win rate the rest of the way.

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  27. Sonny says:

    Albert changed his bat position, Why? who knows. He used to hold it almost straight up, now he has flattened it out and in the process it leveled his swing . taking away his power swing , he’s just going to be a singles and doubles hitter now, until he goes back to his old stance and upright bat angle.
    Albert , if its not broke don’t fix it, look at the tapes. I seen this when he came to Aneheim,” i thought why did he change his bat angle?”

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