When Did "Decent" Become Good?

In his recent posting, ESPN LA writer Mark Saxon claims the 2011 Angels might be a good team.  And then he takes a step back and suggests the team has the possibility to be decent.  Which is it, "good" or "decent"?  Since when is having a "decent" team something to celebrate, especially when an offseason held so much potential for improvement.  Apparently "decent" can be a term to describe success.  

Within his post, Saxon makes a couple points as to how the 2011 Angels could actually be a better club than some expect, however there's nothing in it to prove they have improved to the point of contending. 

  • "As for the Angels, let's look at facts, not expectations. The one big lineup change swaps Hideki Matsui for Kendry Morales, a declining, 37-year-old designated hitter for a 28-year-old first baseman who looks a lot like a burgeoning superstar."

    Saxon follows the company line in his claim that the Angels made an improvement by replacing departed DH Hideki Matsui with recovering first baseman Kendry Morales.  Why are people treating the return of Morales as if it were a free-agent signing instead of the return of a player who has been on the team for 5 seasons?  A fair comparison would be to look at the projected line-ups heading into the 2010 season with the team we're faced with seeing in 2011:

2010

2011

C

Mathis

Mathis

1B

Morales

Morales

2B

Kendrick

Kendrick

3B

Wood

Callaspo

SS

Aybar

Aybar

LF

Rivera

Abreu

CF

Hunter

Bourjos

RF

Abreu

Hunter

DH

Matsui

Napoli

 

Morales isn't replacing Matsui, Matsui is being replaced by Mike Napoli.  So please, we're not that stupid, stop acting like Morales is a big time free-agent acquisition.  The following are some points made in Saxon's post:

  • "There's also the bounce-back theory, a reasonable assumption that players' performances should, over the long run, drift back to their career norms."

    Nine players played below their career averages (based on OPS) while just one player improved. Torii Hunter, the lone regular to better his career OPS, did so by just .016. Saxon continues:
    "Aybar, Abreu, Izturis, Kendrick, Napoli and Rivera probably aren't that bad. Mathis and Wood probably aren't that awful." Yes, Aybar is probably that bad. Aging Abreu might do better than he did in 2010, but he'll be 37 in a couple months, so his decline may be the natural progression of his career. Fragile Izturis turns 30 this fall and played in the least amount of games since his rookie season in Montreal. Considering his inability to stay healthy, a bounce-back season is probably not something fans should look forward to. Kendrick stayed health in 2010 and posted the most plate appearances of his career. However, he also posted the lowest WAR since his 2006 rookie season. I think Saxon's right about Kendrick, we can probably look forward to an improved Howie in 2011. During the 2010 season, Kendrick walked a little more, struck out a little less, and had the lowest BABIP of his career. Although Napoli's slash-stats declined in 2010, he posted the same WAR as in 2009. Continuing improvement would be a better term to use in describing Napoli's 2011 season rather than a bounce-back. Rivera will turn 32 this summer and he plays like he's 72. Unless someone gets hurt, Rivera won't have the opportunity to bounce-back. At least not for the Angels. Finally, yes, Mathis is that awful. And probably so is Wood.
  • "... a full season of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Joel Pineiro, Ervin Santana and, um, Scott Kazmir should keep the Angels afloat even if the offense is as bad as everyone thinks. Plus, the bullpen is the one part of the team that got some stimulus money."

    Yes, both the starting and relief pitching is better than last season, but the pitching wasn't the priority going into the offseason. Overall, the Angels' pitching staff was slightly better than league average. It was the offense who needed the stimulus package and yet were ignored.

A quick look at the projected WAR for the lineups for the four teams in the A.L. West shows the Angels are still trailing the Rangers and Athletics (to determine a player's projected WAR, I divided the player's career total WAR by their career PA and then multiplied that number by the projected PA for 2011):

Rangers

23.31

A's

22.68

Angels

21.12

Mariners

15.79

Los Angeles Angels


Oakland Athletics

C

Mathis

-0.12


C

Suzuki

2.37

1B

Morales

2.90


1B

Barton

3.00

2B

Kendrick

2.32


2B

Ellis

2.57

3B

Callaspo

1.17


3B

Kouzmanoff

2.36

SS

Aybar

1.55


SS

Pennington

2.42

LF

Abreu

4.72


LF

DeJesus

3.20

CF

Bourjos

2.48


CF

Crisp

2.12

RF

Hunter

3.05


RF

Willingham

2.69

DH

Napoli

3.06


DH

Matsui

1.94



21.12




22.68

Seattle Mariners


Texas Rangers

C

Olivo

1.71


C

Torrealba

1.48

1B

Smoak

0.15


1B

Moreland

0.80

2B

Ryan

0.00


2B

Kinsler

3.51

3B

Figgins

2.47


3B

Beltre

4.18

SS

Wilson

1.02


SS

Andrus

2.22

LF

Saunders

0.16


LF

Hamilton

4.14

CF

Gutierrez

3.55


CF

Borbon

1.06

RF

Suzuki

4.89


RF

Cruz

3.33

DH

Cust

1.85


DH

Young

2.58



15.79




23.31

Although the methodology used to get these projections may not be the most accurate, they don't look too far off.  At least as far as the Angels are concerned. The only notable exception for the Angels is Abreu.  I doubt he'll put up a WAR of almost 5, but it does show how good he was throughout most of his career.  The obvious improvement of replacing Mathis with Napoli at catcher, and adding Rivera (1.3 WAR) to the DH spot would improve the team's projected WAR to 22.54, but would still leave the club behind Texas and Oakland.  Adrian Beltre's projection looks to be a bit high, but had the Angels signed the free-agent third baseman, they would have jumped to the head of the division (while reducing the Rangers' team total).

Saxon's claim that the Angels are a good team is optimistic, and some fans may appreciate the positive outlook this post provides, but the truth is they certainly aren't as good as two of their division rivals.  Are the Angels "decent"?  Sure, but a "decent" team has never won anything.

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