Is 2013 the new 2002 in Anaheim?
After yet another busy offseason—one that saw the additions of Josh Hamilton, and a revamped bullpen—the Los Angeles Angels have pieced together (at a price) a roster that could challenge the dominant Angels' teams from the late 2000s and…dare I say, even the 2002 World Series team.
Armed with three possible MVP candidates (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) anchoring a solid lineup, and a Cy Young candidate on the hill (Jered Weaver), it’s difficult to see why they wouldn’t.
But is this 2013 roster worthy of being labeled the best team in franchise history?
Although it’s really early in the year—I usually like to wait until pitchers and catchers start to MapQuest directions to their respective camps before predicting anything—this team does have certain abilities (on paper) that can stand atop the organization’s hierarchy of great teams.
True, it will be difficult to give them a complete “bill of greatness” with their starting rotation being such an unknown, but if we are talking about the “best team,” specific areas don’t really matter; it’s about the collective effort towards domination.
However, it does mean that most of the possible historical importance will be provided via the offense. And anything short of a title in 2013 would erase whatever statistical achievements the team accomplishes, which leaves the 2002 Angels' team—99 wins and a World Series ring—as the bench mark for success in 2013 (or any season for that matter).
With that in mind, armed with 50-plus years of statistical surplus, let’s take a look at several record-high marks the 2013 team has a chance to break, while competing for supremacy against the 2002 squad.
(All stats provided came via baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.)
Best: .285 (2009).
The Angels’ lineup will have high expectations to hit, and hit constantly, in 2013—more than one $20-million man among the first five hitters will do that sometimes.
The team was tops in the AL last season with a .274 average, leaving me to believe that the new addition of Hamilton, plus an improved core (Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo), will only strengthen an already-impressive lineup.
It won't be a major shock if they can bring the average up a few points towards .280, but that is not going to garner them any franchise-greatest recognition. They will need to bury the idea of a slow start—a la 2012—and keep the bats hot all season, showing owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto the money spent will calculate to a barrage of hits well into October.
Kendrick, Aybar should see a lot of fastballs in 2013.
Best: 1604 (2009)
If the team collectively ranks as the all-time best in batting average, then the total hits will coincide with that accomplishment—like the Angels 2009 mark (.285), when they also tallied a record 1604 hits.
The players that will be responsible for reaching such a number, however, won't be the ones you would expect.
We know Josh Hamilton (average of 189 hits per season) will make up for the offense lost from Torii Hunter. Pujols will remain in the 170 to 190 hits range—200 may be possible if he gets protection—in his second season with the club. And Mike Trout will continue to benefit from the lead-off spot, where he will get pitches to attack.
We also know hitters (not named Pujols, Trout or Hamilton) will see plenty of good pitches in 2013. If Howie Kendrick, Eric Aybar and Alberto Callaspo build on their 2012 seasons, where the team had a combined 1518 hits, then 1600 can be a reachable goal in 2013.
The unknown in all of this, moreover, will come down to Mark Trumbo not slumping drastically in the second half, Vernon Wells providing at least a portion of the expectations from his $42 million contract and Peter Bourjos improving his offense to go along with his solid defense.
Again, the domination for the 2013 squad will be a team effort.
Best: 883 (2009)
The reoccurrence of opposing pitchers tiptoeing around the Angels lineup in 2013 will be high. When staring down the pipe towards the likes of Pujols, Trout and Hamilton why wouldn't it?
Although I don't believe the team will break the walks record set in 1961 (681), there will still be plenty of merry-go-round opportunities, from the unwilling pitchers, to a lineup as loaded as the Angels.
The result: Base runners.
And at some point, regardless if the battery wants to (or not), somebody is going to have to get a pitch to hit.
The result of that: Run production.
Reaching the Angels record for runs scored in a season (883) may be difficult—the last AL team to post more than 870 was the 2011 Red Sox (h/t ESPN.com)—but if the team is going to dominate, really dominate, then it will begin will this high-priced attack scoring constantly (almost like a video game).
Without a season-long run machine, the idea of this team being hoisted into the ranks of "best," doesn't stand a chance—because the pitching will need a similar 5.52 runs per game, like in 1995, to ease the pressure of carrying the team.
Hamilton may look just as surprised if the team gets to 100 wins.
Best: 100 (2008)
If there is one, constant factor in judging a team's dominance (in any sport) it has to be the number in the win column.
Just ask Herm Edwards—"You play to win the game!"
The 2008 Angels' team set the club record with 100 wins, and the 2002 club had 99. So if we are going to even consider the 2013 club as the best ever then they will certainly have to come near the century mark for wins.
True, you don't see 100-win teams too often anymore in the MLB because the top tier of both leagues has grown—thanks to the monetary sharing in the MLB (h/t MLB.com's Paul Hagen). But the Angels have the ability to accomplish such a task.
It all begins within their Division.
With the addition of the Houston Astros, accompanied by a still-searching Rangers' team (that has gotten an offseason grade of C- by Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington), an unknown Mariners' team (I'm not sold on Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales and Jason Bay changing the culture) and the always-unknown status of the Oakland A's, the AL West doesn't look as strong.
The Halos were 30-27 in the AL West last season, totaling 89 wins for the year; with the added bonus of 19 games against the Astros in 2013, their win total—as the dominant team—can certainly exceed 100 for the year.
Best: 2.91 ERA (1964)
2002: 3.69 ERA
There seems to be a general disconcerting feeling about the current Angels' staff (especially the starters). Admittedly, I have even listed them as a weakness for this current team's success.
But that doesn't mean they can't surprise us all.
I have always agreed with the notion that pitching greatness is based on the era. What happened in the 1960s can't be looked at in the same way as the "steroid era," and what happened in the 1970s or 1980s can't be used to compare the pitchers of the current game.
So if you are looking for a Dean Chance or Nolan Ryan reference towards the 2013 Angels' staff, there may be some disappointment. This staff can be great in its own way. And it doesn't have to come with a sub-three ERA.
If Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and a combination of other starters (Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Garrett Richards and Jason Vargas) pitch to their potential, there isn't any reason (or argument) I would listen to that doubts they can't at least shave the 2012 ERA of 4.02 down to the 3.50-3.60 range this season.
Which would put the current staff right on par with the 2002 group.
And remember this: much of the pitching woes came from the bullpen last season, not the starters. And that problem has been remedied with smart acquisitions like Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.
The Angels' community has witnessed a lot in their 50-plus years of MLB existence: four name changes and a relocation process; one World Series Championship and one Pennant; and even several Hollywood big-screen appearances—complete with Reggie Jackson unknowingly attempting to assassinate the Queen of England in The Naked Gun—to name a few.
However, nothing compares to the athletically-gifted dominance Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton will provide to the franchise.
And, regardless of how long it lasts, the benefits will begin in 2013.
Just how great of a trio are they?
In the past 12 years (for trios that were tops in WAR), only the 2001 San Francisco Giants (Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Rich Aurilia) featured two players that have won the MVP Award (h/t MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
For argument's sake, and for the Sabermetric types out there, the Angels were almost the first to have all three players—with Mike Trout nearly missing in 2012. However, assuming this group does stay together for several years, and Trout continues to mature, that may just be the end result.
For now, it will only help make the 2013 team the best in franchise history.