Friday, August 06, 2010

Angels Run Appears to Be Over

For the first time since 2006, the AL post season will probably not include the Angels. It seems fitting that the rebirth of the Orioles under Buck Showalter also doubled as a requiem for Mike Scioscia's Angels. Showalter began his reclamation project with a series sweep of the proud old team and for once, even Scioscia's magic can't save this season.

Scioscia, who has had one of the greatest managerial runs in history the last five years (his Pythagorean win/loss record is amazing) continued that run this year as the team is two wins better than they should be. And they hung in there for half of the year as they refused to die gracefully. But the weight of their lack of talent and the aging of a few key players brought the team down at last. Now 9.5 games out of first place and even behind the Athletics in the standings, only a miracle the likes of which we have never seen, could revive any hopes for the Angels this year. And frankly, they just don't have the talent to pull off that miracle.

Two key regulars the Angels counted on were Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Both former Yankees and winners. Both could be counted on in the clutch. Both could be counted on for a high OBP and smart at bats. But age has caught them from behind and both will end up the year in the league average category. You have to hand it to Brian Cashman to avoid a sentimental signing of Matsui after he won the World Series with his heroics. That's what good GMs do. The Angels took the bait and unfortunately, it didn't work out.

Abreu was kept one year too long too but it is more understandable. In the past couple of years, it seemed that Abreu defied his age. He still stole bases, he still put up .400 OBPs. But Abreu gave everyone a sneak peak at his decline in last year's post season. He could not catch up to good pitching and he was invisible. The Angels have to see this as the last year Abreu will be even marginally effective.

Torii Hunter has been a great fit for the Angels since the very beginning. He's had two of his very best years for the Angels and his heroics this year are magnified because he had so little help around him. His 131 OPS+ follows last years 129. He's been terrific. But he is 34 years old too and his age caught up with him in the field. After having one of his best seasons in the field last year, he fell off to severe negative numbers this year. This week, the Angels announced that Hunter was moving to right to let young Bourios take over center.

The previous move pushes Abreu to left (he's been a lousy right-fielder for a very long time) which is okay for the rest of this year. That knocks Juan Rivera out of the line up, but Rivera, though a nice player, isn't really anything more than a role player who is solidly league average at the plate. He did have one good year in 2006 but got hurt the following year and has been just okay since.

To say that the Angels' infield has been disappointing would be a gross understatement. Chone Figgins may be showing the world that he played with mirrors when with the Angels, but he was a darn sure sight better than anything the Angels have now. Losing Kendry Morales at first was a huge blow and the Angels haven't been able to come close to replacing his production. Howie Kendrick was thought to be a budding star, but he's somewhat weak in the field and he's less than league average with the bat. He also has only 18 walks in over 450 plate appearances. His double-play mate, Erick Aybar is slick with the glove, but carries an 89 OPS+. But it's third base that has been frightful.

You have to give credit for the Angels giving Brandon Wood every opportunity to prove he belonged in the big leagues. But the 25 year old now has 420 plate appearances over four years and his lifetime batting average is .181. He never walked and he struck out a lot. His 10 OPS+ this season is sad. It's hard to understand. Wood was a first round draft pick (2003) and has a career .536 slugging mark in the minors. But he couldn't put it together and who knows where he goes from here.

His replacements have all been terrible. It hasn't mattered if it's been Maicer Izturis or Kevin Frandsen or now, Alberto Callaspo. They've all been less than league average. The Angels will have to see how Callaspo does down the stretch, but look for them to be scouring high and low for a third baseman next year.

But despite all of the above, the real difference for Scioscia's team this year compared to years past is pitching. The Angels made a calculated gamble that Scott Kazmir could be fixed and could again be a good pitcher in the AL. Their gamble folded badly as Kazmir was terrible. Saunders had better years (thought he's always going to be league average) but now he's gone off to Arizona. Weaver has been great. Santana has only been average and Pineiro was good most of the time until he got hurt.

But as disappointing as the rotation has been--especially the bottom of it--the bullpen has been a real letdown. Brian Fuentes isn't K-Rod. Not even close. And he leads the bullpen regulars in OPS+ at 118. For a closer, that's not impressive at all. The rest of the bullpen? Well, if Scott Shields got into 35 games, that's about 25 too many.

This year, the Angels are 12th out of 14 AL teams in earned runs allowed. Last year, it was ninth, which doesn't seem like much of a difference. But it's enough of a difference to make all the difference.

The big question is what the Angels should do from here. It's not like they can keep Abreu and Matsui in their diminished capacity. Morales will be back, but there isn't a whole lot of help available in the high minors. The Angels will have to get their checkbook out and make some real savvy signings because otherwise, it is hard to see this team competing next year either. But with Mike Scioscia at the helm, you can never take the Angels at face value. They are always better than on paper.

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