Falling Angels

By virtue of getting blown out repeatedly, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the worst run differential in baseball, at a staggering -89 runs. Following in second place are the woeful Houston Astros at -52, and the Baltimore Orioles check in third at -42 runs. None of this is surprising – these teams aren’t very good.

Know who has the fourth worst run differential in MLB right now? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, at -37. Yes, the Angels have almost the same ratio of runs scored to runs allowed as the 7-19 Orioles, and yet, their past success and the name value of the guys on the roster continue to convince people that this is a good baseball team.

The evidence continues to mount that it’s just not true. Heading into the season, the projection systems were universally down on the Angels roster, projecting them for between 75 and 85 wins, a steep drop-off from their 97 wins of a year ago. The outfield defense looked really bad, the offense was relying on guys sustaining career best performances, and the success of the rotation involved big bets on a few guys with lingering health concerns.

To date, all of that has manifest itself on the field. The corner outfield rotation of Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, and Hideki Matsui have failed to make plays, costing their flyball pitching staff outs and allowing opponents to put runs on the board. In addition, Rivera hasn’t hit nearly as well as he did last year, and neither has Erick Aybar, another key breakout player from last year’s team who the Angels were relying on for offense.

But, while those problems are legitimate, the main concern for the Angels has to be their pitching staff.

Jered Weaver and Joel Pineiro are pitching strong up front (don’t let Pineiro’s ERA fool you), but beyond those two, the questions add up very quickly. Ervin Santana’s fastball is exactly the same as it was last year, and he’s not showing any signs of returning to the front-line starter that he was in 2008. Scott Kazmir continues to try to adjust to life without a good fastball, but it’s still not going well. Joe Saunders is pitching like a #5 starter who needs a better defense to survive.

The Angels rotation has always been the strength of their teams, as they ran away with the AL West. Now, though, it’s no longer a strength, and the rest of the team isn’t making up for the lost ground.

The Angels are a good hitting team that will struggle to keep teams from putting runs on the board. In many ways, they’re pretty similar to the teams that the Rangers used to run out a few years ago, featuring good hitters who couldn’t field and a pitching staff that couldn’t overcome their defense. That formula never worked for Texas, and I don’t see much evidence that it will work for Anaheim either.

A month into the season, we have a bit more reason to believe the projection systems. This Angels team has a lot of problems.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steve Balboni
13 years ago

But they have veteran moxie, a potent chemistry headed by ebbuliient Torri Hunter, a crafty manager, cheap beers, the best fans in AL West, and the monkey. If your projection is just using numbers, you have a GIGO problem.