SHL Expansion One: What’s Wrong with the Angels?
Two weeks into the season, the Angels look positively cursed. What’s the problem in SoCal?
The teams from the Expansion One division in theÂ Seamheads Historical LeagueÂ are in an interesting place historically. Created in the 1960s and 1970s, they’ve all had enough time to develop a few crops of their own talent, but still bear the mark of expansion. The rosters are littered with Hall of Famers past their expiration dates, who helped at the gate if not always at the plate. Of the four teams, the Angels have had the most success as of late, dominating the A.L. West and winning the championship in 2002. It comes as a surprise, to find them in the league cellar, with a pitiful 1-10 record.
A cursory glance at the line scores tells the story clearly: in their 11 games, they’ve scored over four runs only once, in theirÂ opening day victory over Houston. Their opponents, meanwhile, have scored over four runs seven times. They’re also the only team with a negativeÂ Power Ranking. I don’t know what that means, but I do know it’s not good. Clearly, there is more than one problem.
Let’s start with the offense. Two players are hitting over .300: Bobby Grich at .316 and Mike Napoli at .353. Napoli has actually been a very pleasant surprise, leading the team in every rate stat (he’s the only player with an OPS over .800) and pounding a ninth inning pinch-hit home run in the Angels’Â 3-1 lossÂ to Cleveland on April 16. Unfortunately, he only has 17 at-bats in 11 games. The starting catcher is Brian Downing, producing to the tune of .171/.256/.257 in 35 at-bats. Why is that? You’d have to ask the skipper.
Another big concern presents itself at first base, where Mark Texeira, at .143/.167/.250, makes Brian Downing look like, well, Mike Napoli. Tex has only four hits, and only one of them for extra bases (a home run). For a big-time player at an offensive position like first base, that has to improve for the team to have a chance. On the whole, they’ve hit only five home runs. Three players (Troy Glaus, Grich, Texeira) have struck out ten times already, yet no one has more than six walks.Â
As bad as the offense has been, the pitching hasn’t been much better. With the exception of John Lackey, every starter has a WHIP over 1.40. Frank Tanana has allowed almost a run an inning in two starts, with a preposterous .370 batting average against. Nominal ace Nolan Ryan has posted two consecutive poor outings after the opening day victory, and is second in the league in walks allowed, with 13 (although, to be fair, he’s pitched much better for this team than for Houston or Texas). Among the starters, Lackey has the best numbers for WHIP and opponents’ batting average. The only problem? He got demoted to Salt Lake City after one game. Whoops.
One bright spot is the bullpen, where closer Jose Arredondo has been downright stingy, giving up just one hit in four appearances. Troy Percival leads a solid middle relief corps, where only Francisco Rodriguez has given up more than one run (he’s allowed two). Of course, given the starters’ performance, much of that work has been mop-up. If this team can ever get a lead going into the late innings, though, it should be able to count on the bullpen to hold it.Â
As seen above, this team has got a number of problems. It should also be noted, however, that they have a number of potential solutions. An obvious start would be replacing Downing with Napoli. Another would be bringing John Lackey back from the sticks, ideally in place of Frank Tanana. In fact, Salt Lake has got a number of excellent players that should, without question, be granted their halos. Consider that the Bees have four players hitting over .350 (Don Baylor, Doug DeCinces, Frank Robinson and Fred Lynn). Although Troy Glaus has been fairly productive on offensive for the Angels at third base, it’s impossible to look atÂ Decinces’ statsÂ and argue that he wouldn’t be an immediate improvement. The outfield in Salt Lake is monstrous, led by Lynn, who’s batting .386/.453/.481. By simply importing the entire Salt Lake outfield to California, the Angels would be taking a big step forward. That would also help defensively, as Vlad Guerrero has been uncharacteristically sloppy in right field.
To the GM’s credit, the Angels did recall Jim Abbott, who had been stellar in Salt Lake City. The only problem is that he demoted Lackey to make roster space. In the mediocre Expansion One division, there’s no reason the Angels can’t overcome their early season woes to make a run for the pennant. Indeed, the pieces are already available, for the most part. A roster re-shuffling is the spark this team needs to break its slide and live up to its potential. Â