Angel Moneyball: Anaheim's Island of Misfit Toys

So I finally joined the rest of the baseball fan community and got around to seeing Moneyball last weekend. This is not a review of that movie. But the movie inspired the post because the movie is about the 2002 baseball season where Oakland loses in the ALDS. Of course the Angels fared better than Oakland in the playoffs that year, but in the movie they aren't mentioned.

The movie focuses on Billy Beane acquiring cheap undesirables from other teams that happen to have a high On Base Percentage or other solid statistically measured performance metrics. They acquire a number of players to fill the void left by high priced free agents. Billy Beane had a plan, but down in Anaheim the Angels were ironically doing the exact same thing. Whether or not Bill Stoneman was aware he was doing this at the time is uncertain, but that's exactly what he ended up doing with the 2002 Angels team. Consider the players below:

  1. David Eckstein.....   .363 OBP, 5.5 WAR, $280,000 Salary
  2. Scott Spezio.........   .371 OBP, 3.0 WAR, $2,275,000 Salary
  3. Brad Fullmer.....       .357 OBP, 3.0 WAR, $4,000,000 Salary
  4. Adam Kennedy.....   .345 OBP, 4.8 WAR, $375,000 Salary

These 4 players were all picked up by Bill Stoneman for relatively cheap (Kennedy is a notable exception in that he cost us Jim Edmonds, but his salary was low considering his performance). David Eckstein was an absolute steal off waivers and paid near the league minimum. Fullmer was a trade acquisition for 2002 at the expense of Brian Cooper and led the team in OPS that season (.888). Spiezio was a FA acquisition 2 years prior. What's most notable about the above four players, aside from being otherwise cheap compared to rest of the roster is that their On Base Percentage was very high.  For comparison all four of these players beat the majority of the Angels 2011 roster in OBP (Bobby Abreu and Alberto Callaspo are the only comparable players). What's even more depressing/astonishing is that these 4 were considered role players on the team and not even stars. They filled out the roster around Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad (who also had excellent seasons that year). In fact the only lousy position player on the team was Bengie Molina. Sosh's love of terrible catchers is apparently nothing new.

On the pitching staff, particularly in the pen, you had some real gems that were also part of the 2002 Angels' "island of misfit toys"

  1. Ben Weber ................ 1.6 WAR, $240,000 Salary
  2. Brendan Donnelly .... 1.4 WAR, $225,000 Salary
  3. Scot Shields ............. 1.2 WAR, $225,000 Salary

Weber was grabbed off Waivers, the other two farm callups. All 3 put up ERA in the low to mid 2 ranges.   These 3 guys were better than anyone in the 2011 Angels' bullpen not named Scott Downs. The above list also doesn't include notable relievers from that team:  Francisco Rodriguez and Troy Percival.

It's obvious that the 2002 Angels were a great team. What is impressive to me is how good these otherwise unheralded players actually were for that team, and how cheaply Stoneman acquired them. What is also fascinating is how impressive the 2002 Angels team OBP was. In fact the outperformed the heralded Oakland team that specifically focused on it. The Angels team OBP that year was a stellar .341 even with Erstad and Molina in the lineup. That trumped Oakland's .339, good enough for fourth in the league.

It's entirely possible the Angels won it all in 2002 because of "small ball" or "situational hitting".  But it's also pretty likely that they won because they had a team full of moneyballers putting up consistently good on base percentage statistics. Glaus, Salmon and GA murdering the ball and Erstad roaming Center Field probably helped too. Ironically their pythagorean w/l record was even higher than Scioscia delivered. They fell two games shy of where they should have won the division, statistically speaking. If anything Scioscia undermanaged the team.

Maybe Arte should walk down the office hall and see what Bill Stoneman is doing these days. Maybe Stoneman didn't realize what he was doing at the time, but this team was better than any other team Angel team since (sabermetrically speaking) and assembled for a lot less money.

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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