Friday, September 30, 2011

Members Of The Los Angeles Angels Hang On The Rail Of The Dugout

By Adam Dodge - Senior Writer

There were a number of things that went right for Mike Scioscia’s ballclub in 2011. Howie Kendrick produced arguably his best year as a big-leaguer, walloping a career high 18 homeruns and posting an OPS over .800 for the first time during an all-star campaign. When Kendry Morales (sorry dude. You should’ve told us there was an “s” in your first name years ago) did not return to the Halo’s line-up as hoped, rookie Mark Trumbo stepped in, and while he struggled with aspects of his game – most notably, plate discipline and defense – he did provide the Angels with a much needed power boost, leading the team with 29 homeruns and 87 RBI. Perhaps the biggest piece of good news the Angels received in 2011 was the willingness of Jered Weaver to take a hometown discount. The team extended their ace with a 5 year deal worth $85 million in the middle of the season. Mike Trout showed flashes of brilliance as the youngest player in the big leagues and Peter Bourjos continued to amaze us with his defense and speed while also showing signs that he may just develop into a very good hitter as well. Erick Aybar bounced back to have a solid season, posting career highs with a 109 OPS+ and 4.0 WAR (whatever the hell that means) and continued to entertain us with his colorful base running and defensive decision making.

The Angels finished 2011 with a record of 86-76, 10 games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West and 5 games behind the Tampa Rays for the AL Wild Card. So, what went wrong? We could fill pages and pages listing and documenting each and every thing that went wrong for the Angels in 2011. For the purpose of this piece, we’ll focus on the top 4 things, as I see them of course.

Vernon Wells

Tony Reagins sent Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells last off-season – a risky move to be sure considering the dollars attached to the Toronto slugger, and the production and versatility of Napoli. Most Angel fans fell somewhere between ambivalence (at best) and utter disdain towards the trade. Even those who flung about high fives over the move were most likely the victims of irrational and unbridled optimism.

Most Angels’ fans were realistic when contemplating their expectations for Vernon Wells before the season began. Rational projections had Wells putting up numbers anywhere between a .770 OPS with 20 HRs and 80 RBI to a more robust line of .830 with 30 HRs and 100 RBI. Wells did hit the long ball – 25 of them in fact, but the rest of his offensive numbers were beyond bad. They were so awful in fact that he almost broke the record for the worst offensive season for any player in history with more than 20 homeruns.

When the highest paid player on the team is the also the least productive, it isn’t a surprise when team goals aren’t accomplished.

Wells was “too blessed to be stressed” when he got off to a terrible start and while he did get a little better as the season went on, perhaps some stress would do him some good. So, if the good Lord sees fit, an IRS auditor will be knocking on the door of the Wells mansion this off-season.

The Other Vets

Torii Hunter’s big second half helped him to secure decent numbers by year’s end. Despite that run he still finished with his lowest OPS since 2003. It was his horrible first half, particularly his April and June that stalled the Angels’ offense.

Bobby Abreu continued his decline, posting his worst statistical season as a full-time player.

Abreu-Hunter-Wells was supposed to be the “meat” of the Angels’ line-up. It performed much more like a small house salad.

The Bullpen

With an offense incapable of blowing teams out, the Angels, as they have done so often under Mike Scioscia, relied on pitching and defense to win close games.

While the bullpen put up one of the American League’s best ERAs, it was anything but reliable, especially late in games. The Angels blew 25 saves in 2011 led by rookie closer Jordan Walden’s 10 blown chances.

If Walden closes out just half of those ten games, the Angels would’ve finished tied for the American League Wild Card.

The Final 13

With the September collapse of the Boston Red Sox, the Angels found themselves in the middle of the American League Wild Card race, much to everyone’s surprise. What seemed impossible became feasible.

The Red Sox did complete their historic collapse on the final day of the season and Tampa was lifted to the Wild Card by Evan Longoria in what might go down as the most exciting five minutes of regular season play in Major League history.

The Rays finished with a record of 91-71, five games ahead of the Angels, who blew the opportunity Tampa seized by finishing their final 13 games with a 4-9 record. Had the Angels gone 9-4 during the final stretch they would have found themselves in one game playoff with the Rays. If, if, if…

Probably most disappointing about the Angels’ own mini-collapse was who they earned that 4-9 record against. They lost 2 of 3 to the Baltimore Orioles, split 4 games with the Blue Jays, lost 2 of 3 to the Oakland A’s – all three teams far inferior to the Angels – and were swept by a Texas Rangers team, who had already clinched the AL West.

The Red Sox tried their best to give the Angels a gift. The Angels refused it in embarrassing fashion.

Offseason plans

If I were the GM, here are the moves I would make, as well as some of my colleagues offseason moves.

*Sign CJ Wilson or Mark Buerhle
*Sign Heath Bell
*Sign Michael Cuddyer to play 3B
*Non-Tender Mathis and Wilson & Sign Barajas

Geoff Bilau’s Offseason Moves

*Sign Fielder
*Trade Trumbo, Callaspo and other parts for a good young 3B
*Get a serviceable veteran catcher to split time with Conger
*Sign a veteran starting pitcher
*Veteran reliever

Chuck Richter's Offseason Moves

*Sign Prince Fielder.
*Sign CJ Wilson. If you can sign Fielder, Kuroda works too.
*Sign Madson or Bell.
*Work Trumbo out at 3B. He's got the arm and accuracy.
*Sign Ramon Hernandez to share time with Conger.
*Extend Howie Kendrick.
Love to hear what you think!

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