Wait 'Til Next Year: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait ‘Til Next Year series.
Current record: 76-79 (.490, 3rd place in AL West)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 21
What went right in 2013:
Mike Trout has been every bit as good as he was in 2012, if not better, which didn't even seem possible given how great he was last season. To this point, Trout has hit for the same average (.326) with similar power (.238 isolated slugging last year, .236 this year) but an on-base percentage 34 points higher (.433), and a lower strikeout rate (5.4 plate appearances per strikeout compared to 4.6 PA/K last year). Trout has stolen fewer bases and been caught two more times and the advanced fielding metrics which likely overrated his play in the field last year have not been favorable this year, but the total package remains arguably the best player in baseball, and one that just turned 22 last month.
C.J. Wilson bounced back from a disappointing first season in Anaheim to go 17-7 with a 3.36 ERA while improving his strikeout and walk rates and pitching deeper into games. L.A.'s top two catchers, Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger, combined to start all of the team's games thus far, hitting .242/.346/.396 compared to a major league average of .246/.311/.389. The Angels have also finished strong, going 21-8 (.724) from Aug. 23 through this writing.
What went wrong in 2013:
Josh Hamilton, who was signed to a five-year, $125 million contract in December, didn't hit for most of the season, not getting his batting average above .239 or his on-base percentage above .299 until Sept. 10 and posting a mere .245/.302/.429 line thus far. Albert Pujols, in the second year of a 10-year, $240 million deal, struggled with foot and knee injuries and hit just .258/.330/.437 before suffering a season-ending tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot at the end of July. Jered Weaver broke his elbow dodging a comebacker in his second start of the season and didn't return until the end of July.
The three pitchers acquired in the offseason to fill out the rotation behind Weaver and Wilson were a collective disaster, going 14-24 with a 5.24 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Tommy Hanson (4-3, 5.59 ERA), whose health was a question mark coming into the season, missed a month with a forearm strain and then was optioned to Triple-A four starts after his return. He also missed most of May following the death of his step-brother, and there's no telling how that loss affected him the rest of the season. Joe Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA) was demoted to the bullpen in late July. Jason Vargas (8-7, 4.28 ERA) was far better than the other two, but still posted an ERA+ of 88.
Mark Trumbo hit 34 home runs and is on the verge of driving in 100 runs, but he has also hit just .237 with a .296 on-base percentage and 171 strikeouts so far. Opening Day centerfielder Peter Bourjos suffered two injuries (hamstring, broken wrist) each of which put him on the disabled list for more than a month. Second baseman Howie Kendrick missed a month after hyperextending his knee. Shortstop Erick Aybar has had his worst offensive season since 2010, posting a sub-.300 on-base percentage and being successful on just 61 percent of his stolen base attempts. The bullpen has been among the worst in baseball, posting a collective 4.06 ERA (24th in MLB) and 2.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio (26th) due to walking four men per nine innings as a group.
In addition to all of that, the team's management came under fire late in the season with reports of owner Arte Moreno's meddling in player acquisitions (including those of Vernon Wells, Pujols and Hamilton) and "philosophical differences" between general manager Jerry DiPoto and manager Mike Scioscia that are expected to result in the dismissal of one of the two this fall.
With $126.5 million already committed for 2014—not counting potential arbitration settlements for Trumbo, Ernesto Frieri, Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen, Bourjos, Hanson and righty reliever J.C. Gutierrez—the Angels lack flexibility. They have openings at third base and in leftfield, but the fate of the lineup rests in the hands of Trout, Hamilton, Pujols and Trumbo. The real priority this offseason should be the pitching staff. The trick is that Vargas is the only Angel headed to free agency this offseason. Blanton has another year on his contract, and Hanson remains under team control (though he could be a non-tender candidate heading into his second year of arbitration). What's more, it's not even clear right now who is going to be charged with solving that puzzle given that DiPoto's days might be numbered. The team's strong finish combined with the decline of the Rangers provides a glimmer of hope for 2014, but the Angels' combination of dysfunction and malfunction this season doesn't bode well for a swift and convincing return to contention.