The mid to late 2000s Angels, or the whole decade in general was a special run. I was spoiled to become a fan of a team so close to me that was so successful, especially considering the years of pain that preceded the franchise. Last year was the first year where the Angels were truly terrible in all my years of being a die-hard fan of the team. Yes, I am young (21), but I grew up a box score junkie, reading them since I was five, and my elementary years were spent studying the Baseball Prospectus primers. Even in the years where we were not very good, we still had runs in the season that brought us to, or at least close to .500 at the end.
This season is looking like we will be going downwards quickly with the injury to Trout. Our lord and savior is the current identity of our team. With Trout, if we can put an absolutely average team around him, that could mean a Wild Card slot. Without him, we are a 72 win team at best, and have no identity. We are Mike Trout and the Halos when he is around, and I’m more than fine with that. Except for the fact that he’s now injured, and we have to rely on the guys who were dragging us down to not only become average, but actually contribute.
Dipoto and the Missing Identity
During our 2000’s run, the Angels were known for being a “small ball” team. We went for double steals, attempted to stretch for extras bases (especially Vladdy, to my chagrin), hit for contact, and put down bunts in order to grind games. The 02 season, it was a mix of guys that helped us win, however, the years where we consistently acted as a playoff team, we had generations of these hustle guys who seemed to do all the little things: Gen 1 (Eckstein, Kennedy, Erstad, Spezio), Gen 2 (Cabrera, Figgins, Kennedy, Maicer, Kotchman, Rivera), Gen 3 (Figgins, Maicer, Kendrick, Aybar, Rivera). We had our sluggers, yet it was these guys who would chip in the ground ball hits and fill in at multiple positions that were the heart of the team.
Chone Figgins was a guy who I hated playing with in MLB 2k, as he could not hit dingers. In real life, he was our most valuable guy, someone we could put anywhere on the field to contribute defensively, bat lead off, and steal bases. His final year is probably my favorite in Angel history, he Slugged less than 400, yet managed to lead the league in walks (101), and put up a total of WAR of 7.7 according to Baseball Reference. That is superstar level production out of a guy who from the outside struck little fear into pitchers.
Maicer Izturis is weirdly one of my favorite Angels ever. He always started the year on the bench and worked his way into the line-up of at least half the games, seemed to be more most clutch hitter at times, and even acted as the Angels lead-off hitter in a season where he didn’t start in the everyday line-up. Y’all remember that? Weird, but I loved it.
That’s two of my favorites, I am sure that one of those guys I listed above was one of yours. Whether it was Howie, who was a borderline all star during his time with us, or Juan Rivera, who was always sneaky good, or maybe you have a sweet spot for ALCS Hero, Adam Kennedy. It seemed like we always had these guys on reserve to be clutch for us when we needed it. These weren’t stars, heck they weren’t even always analytics stars, these were winners.
During these years we also had excellent bullpen arms: K-Rod, Scott Shields, Brennan Donelly, Troy Percival, Ben Weber, Kevin Gregg, and Darren Oliver. Our bullpen always made some of our starters look better than they actually were, holding down games once it got to the 7th inning. My favorite recent Angel season was 2014, not because we made the playoffs (well kinda was), it was because our awesome bullpen that held down games for us, and by the end of the season, Scioscia was playing the bullpen as a 5th starter. We were messed up and flawed team that had heart and won games.
I love analytics, taking pitches is smart, and I subscribe to playing baseball the smart way 99% of the time. Except I want to be the 1%. I miss the days when we had gritty contact guys, and no, not ones like Johnny Giavotella, I miss us going for balanced average hitters rather than shooting for possible platoons. Mike Napoli was flawed, the guys we have holding down the catcher slot since have not been good, there is a difference, it might be smart to go for the cheaper similar statistical value, but we were already one of the top payrolls in the league, at that point there is no reason to give up talent.
I loved 3–2 wins, I don’t care if they are inefficient, the game is about winning, and considering we have not done a lot of it in recent years, it irks me for us to be spending money on superstars or guys with little sample size of consistency. The year the Angels won 100 game, our Pythagoras win total was 88, we had differences of 3+ in a good amount of those winning years. We were the Royals before the Royals. I miss those days.
We have the manager who you want to play small ball with, Scioscia has won with this style of play, we have some good pieces to try it with (Escobar, Simmons, Calhoun), and more than anything it feels like we need a true identity with Trout out.
I may sound stupid, these are my true feelings. I was born into analytics, in middle school I made powerpoints where I made a revisionist history of baseballs best players of the 80s based off of OBP, high school was creating satirical Facebook retorts towards Harold Reynolds and Joe Morgan comments, and here I am as a college student, wanting the Angels to be focused on culture rather than numbers. Life comes at you fast sometimes.