November 1, 2014

1987 California Angels

January 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels came so close to realizing their World Series dreams in 1986, but they were destined for heartbreak. As they set out to conquer their demons in the spring of ’87, the team and their fans could not imagine that they would suffer a 16-year dry spell before achieving their goal. The changing of the guard was now in full swing. Bobby Grich retired after the conclusion of the 1986 playoffs. At the time of his retirement, Grich was the Angels all-time home run leader (154). GM Mike Port allowed Reggie Jackson, Rick Burleson, and Terry Forster to leave via free agency. Doug DeCinces and Brian Downing came to terms in January, while Bob Boone failed to re-sign until May. Rob Wilfong and Jerry Narron were released at the end of spring training, while Doug Corbett and Vern Ruhle inked minor-league deals. The youth movement of the past 4 seasons had produced Gary Pettis, Dick Schofield, and Kirk McCaskill. Additional reinforcements would break camp with starting jobs in 1987.

Growing Pains

Devon White, Jack Howell, and Mark McLemore all assumed full-time roles. White finished fifth in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting, batting .263/24/87 with 32 stolen bases. He effectively replaced the right field platoon of Ruppert Jones and George Hendrick. Jack Howell (.245/23/64) split time between left field and third base, with Brian Downing assuming most of the designated hitter at-bats. Mark McLemore (.236/3/41/25 SB) won the second base position that was previously shared by Wilfong and Grich. In 1986, the club finished in the middle of the pack in batting, on-base percentage, and slugging. One year later, they were dead last in batting and slugging.

The pitching staff faltered as well. After placing second in the American League in most pitching categories in ’86, the Halo hurlers fell back to Earth. Almost every member of the mound corps experienced a downturn.

1986 Angels pitching staff 1987 Angels pitching staff
Name, W-L ERA WHIP Name , W-L ERA WHIP
M. Witt 18-10 2.84 1.082 M. Witt 16-14 4.01 1.360
K. McCaskill 17-10 3.36 1.214 K. McCaskill 4-6 5.67 1.580
D. Sutton 15-10 3.76 1.164 D. Sutton 11-11 4.70 1.252
J. Candelaria 10-2 2.55 1.025 J. Candelaria 8-6 4.71 1.260
R. Romanick 5-8 5.50 1.580 W. Fraser, 10-10 3.92 1.262
D. Moore, 21 SV 2.97 1.128 D. Moore, 5 SV 2.70 1.538
D. Corbett, 10 SV 3.66 1.119 D. Buice, 17 SV 3.39 1.114
T. Forster, 5 SV 3.51 1.561 G. Minton, 10 SV 3.08 1.316
G. Lucas, 2 SV 3.15 1.117 G. Lucas, 3 SV 3.63 1.359
C. Finley, 3-1 3.30 1.360 C. Finley, 2-7 4.67 1.599
J. Slaton, 4-6 5.65 1.541 J. Lazorko, 5-6 4.59 1.292

 

Kirk McCaskill landed on the disabled list after his third starting assignment, diagnosed with bone spurs in his right elbow. He was out of action for nearly three months, and did not fare well upon his return (6.88 ERA, 1.901 WHIP in 11 appearances). Willie Fraser assumed McCaskill’s slot in the rotation, and delivered a solid effort in his inaugural campaign. To fill McCaskill’s roster spot, California recalled a 29 year-old minor leaguer. DeWayne Buice had no previous major league experience, and had bounced around in the minors for 11 years. However, by early May, he found himself as the Halos closer in place of the injured Donnie Moore (nerve irritation in the right rib cage). Buice twirled 114 innings in 57 appearances, saving 17. He shared the closer’s role with Greg Minton, who was signed on June 1 following his release from the Giants. Minton notched 10 saves, and remained in the setup role for California through early 1990. Chuck Finley was plagued with bouts of wildness, and his three September starts (6.92 ERA, 2.077 WHIP) gave no indication of his future success.

Rabbit Ball?

According to my research, 99 players established their high water mark for home runs during the 1987 season. 1977 is the only season in the first 125 seasons of major league baseball where this total exceeded the century mark (100). This includes Wally Joyner (.285/34/117), Brian Downing (.272/29/77), Devon White (24), and Jack Howell (23). In Joyner’s case, his 1987 home run totals surpassed his ’86 mark by 12, and he only exceeded twenty in one other season (21 in 1991). Overall home run output increased from 2,290 in 1986 to 2,634 in 1987, and declined drastically in 1988 to 1,901. Home run levels remained below 2,000 until MLB expanded in 1993.

Down on the Farm

Jim Eppard topped the Pacific Coast League with a .341 batting average. He drove in 94 runs but only managed 3 long balls. Pete Coachman batted .309, but remained in Edmonton for 4 seasons. He finally received a call to the majors in 1990, batting .311 in 16 games for the Angels. Bryan Harvey notched 20 saves with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 78 batters in 53 innings for Midland (AA). Harvey twirled 5 scoreless innings in a late-season stint with the Halos. Miguel Garcia was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a September trade for Johnny Ray. Prior to the trade, Garcia managed a 10-6 record with a 2.59 ERA for Midland.

Pennant Race

California didn’t bust out of the gates in April (12-11), but they alternated between first and second place for the entire month. They struggled mightily in May, falling out of first place on May 13, and enduring a 9 game losing streak (May 22-31). This dreadful performance set them 7.5 games behind Kansas City. The Halos rebounded in June with a 17-11 mark, enjoying an 8-game winning streak from June 22-29, which brought them back to a .500 record at 38-38. They followed with a 15-11 mark in July. The Angels victory over the Twins on August 5 placed them within one-half game of first place, behind Minnesota and Oakland. However, that was the final time the club would sniff the division lead in ’87. California ended August at 13-16, then collapsed during September/October (9-21). Starting pitching was the primary culprit, as the moundsmen posted a 5.96 ERA and 1.530 WHIP. In 7 starts, Mike Witt yielded 10 home runs, with a 1-5 record and a 4.58 ERA. Don Sutton (7.58 ERA in 7 appearances), Jerry Reuss (0-3, 6.82), and the aforementioned Chuck Finley contributed to the poor results down the stretch. The Angels finished the year in a last-place tie with Texas, 10 games behind  Minnesota. The Twins (85-77) rallied behind Kirby Puckett and Frank Viola to earn an unlikely World Series victory over Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, and the St. Louis Cardinals (95-67).

Silver Lining

The minor league system was producing excellent ballplayers such as Wally Joyner, and Devon White, and Bryan Harvey was on the verge of breaking into the bullpen as the closer. .

On Deck

Gene Mauch resigns, and the 1988 Angels match their 1987 won-loss record.

Derek Bain is a devoted husband and father of three wonderful children. In his “spare” time, he is working on a baseball simulator, along with several other video games for Tuatara Software.

References and Resources

Baseball-Reference

Baseball America – Executive Database

1988 California Angels Media Digest

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