I love how our Angels win. It's what we do. Doubters--mostly sabermetricians, writers at ESPN, and the like--underestimate us year-after-year, choosing instead to side with the "numbers" rather than their gut, which reminds them that any team Scioscia puts on the field will find a way to win. If there's anything that this decade of Angels baseball has shown us, it's that--time and time again--we overachieve the projections and win (For proof, check out our friend over at MonkeyWithAHalo's article from last week where he analyzed the accuracy of the WAR projections in the AL West over the past few years).
During the Scioscia Era, we have dozens of examples of players whose performances exceed pre-season expectations, and many of which who repeat their "surprising" results.
Some of these are obvious, such as former Angels SS David Eckstein. So what he's 5'7" and "too small" to play shortstop? Anyone who has actually watched him play has seen that he possess something different, and that most importantly, he wins--a fact which I'm sure his two World Series rings and World Series MVP trophy remind him daily. Darin Erstad, Scott Spiezio, Kendry Morales, Chone Figgins, and Torii Hunter ("show some nuts") have all silenced doubters with their play, if some of them only did so for a season (sorry Spiez).
But in my view, no current Angel better exemplifies this than the unassuming Joe Saunders. He is not an overpowering pitcher, his stuff is considered mediocre by most, he's not flashy by any means, and in the current rotation, he probably should not be any higher than a number 4 or 5 starter. But like Eck and co., Saundo wins.
In his first two full years in the Majors, Saunders has posted winning records of 17-7 (2008), and 16-7 (2009), which elevated his career winning percentage to .686 (48-22). In fact, Saunders has never had a losing record at any level of professional play. Ever. Certainly, this pattern can't always be attributed to the players around him, and should consequently not be dismissed as a statistic of lesser import. How do you earn the WS title? Wins. Pure and simple.
Somehow, even if it's inexplicable to the number crunchers, Saunders finds a way to keep his team in a position where they can do exactly that, and isn't that what the game is all about? Sure Saundo might not be a Josh Beckett (thankfully!) or a Felix Hernandez, but he is not afraid to compete against anyone--as he showed on May 10, 2009 against Zack Greinke, and in the 2009 ALCS in New York--and he deserves way more credit than he receives.
Saunders exemplifies the style of play that continues to stump the likes of Rob Neyer and propel the Angels past their WAR and PECOTA projections and into the playoffs year after year. Good thing we have him through 2012!
[ Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that we throw out all sabermetrics as a means of analyzing this game we love so much, nor am I suggesting that because Matt Palmer has the best winning % on the team that he should be our opening day starter. I am suggesting, however, that we take a step back and consider the intangibles that set our Angels apart from the anemic A's and remember that this is a game involving not only the body, but also the heart which is much harder to quantify. ]