The last week was a difficult one for the Los Angeles Angels as a five-game losing streak (4-11, last 15) coincided with the unexpected release of baseball icon Albert Pujols. Plus, the Los Angeles Dodgers were coming down I-5 to play a three-game series. Yet, the shock wore off and the Angels took two of three from defending champs. Then, yesterday, they came back to defeat the Houston Astros, in Houston, thanks to the excellence of Jared Walsh. Maybe things are looking up in Anaheim as the Angels return to normal.
End of an Era
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball. Now that we’ve prefaced what comes next, that being the cold, hard, truth, maybe it won’t draw so much ire. Here it is: Albert Pujols is no longer a major league-caliber baseball player. On the basepaths, he looks like he’s running on broken feet. In the field, he seems to be moving in super-slow motion. At the plate, the most feared slugger of his era looks like a Quad-A player trying to hit every pitch out of the stadium. His on-base percentage since 2013 is the same as DJ LeMahieu’s batting average: .306. Sadly, “The Machine” broke down long ago.
The Angels organization has known this for years. So have Angels fans, baseball fans, sportswriters–the list goes on and on. FanGraphs has Pujols with a -2.5 fWAR since the start of the 2016 season. Baseball-Reference tabs him with a much nicer -0.5 bWAR during that stretch. Whichever number you go by, Pujols was worse than a league-average player. And, Angels fans look away, he made $165 million over that time period. Finally, Jared Walsh has become an above-average major leaguer and Shohei Ohtani is superhuman. Simply put, they both need to play every day.
While it is impossible to know exactly what was said behind the scenes, it appears Pujols was insistent that he remained an everyday player. The Angels rightfully didn’t believe that was true. A better franchise, with a better owner, might have fixed this problem before signing a new general manager so as not to saddle him or her with the problem. Alas, the Angels waited until May before GM Perry Minasian was forced to pull the trigger. The Angels return to normalcy will be slow-going but the move was necessary.
On The Field
The Angels currently reside in the cellar of the hotly contested AL West, just four games back from the first-place Oakland Athletics. The Angels’ return to the playoffs will not come to fruition if their current holes remain. While it would be easy to point to the horrendous walk rates and staff ERA, the bigger issue is the atrocious defense that the team has displayed throughout the season. Although the team ERA is third-worst in baseball, their Field Independent Pitching (FIP) is 13th. Their LOB% is dead last despite high strikeout rates (2nd) and ground ball rates (4th). Not surprisingly, they have the worst BABIP against in baseball. These stats all speak to the horrible job that the defense is doing this season. While the offense ranks in the Top-10 in every major stat, the defensive side of the ball has made winning difficult. Hopefully, the return of Anthony Rendon and Jose Iglesias will stabilize the infield defense.
While injuries have definitely shown the Angels’ lack of depth, including promising rookie Chris Rodriguez, help could be on the way. Rightfielder Jo Adell hit two home runs last night for Salt Lake City, giving him three on the season through five games. Relievers Jose Quijada and Noe Ramirez have looked sharp in the early going as well, in case Joe Maddon needs fresh arms out of the bullpen. While Adell is expected to be recalled at some point this season, the Angels are hoping he forces their hand by continuing to excel.
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