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Are The Angels Lucky or Good?

One of the fun things about being an Angels fan over the recent years is being able to read about how the so-called experts can't figure the Halo's out.  They consistently write about how the Angels aren't very good because they need another hitter, or they don't take enough walks, and most of lucky they are.  Rarely do I read anything about the strengths of this club and why they've won 4 of the last five division titles.  It amazes me as to how people can discount success.  I get the feeling that the baseball world, outside of Anaheim, think the only reason the Angels have made the play-offs is because they won some sort of lottery or found a golden ticket in a can of beer.

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Apparently some baseball analysts can't explain the Angels' success so they attribute it to luck.   Here are two quotes I've taken from a couple Rob Neyer articles as they seem to represent typical thoughts about the Angels.  Don't get me wrong, I really like Neyer's work although lately, his writing is just a bunch of links to and quotes from other blog articles.  Anyway, here's the quotes:

  • On the need to re-sign Mark Teixeira this winter - "The Angels, on the other hand, do sort of need Teixeira. Remember how lame their lineup looked before they got him? I have to think the front office remembers even better."  On July 29th, the day the Angels acquired Teixeira, the Angels had an 11.5 game lead in the AL West.  Yeah, that's pretty lame.  And this season looks to be just as lame since the difference between the 2008 Angels and the 2009 version is Anderson/Abreu and Kotchman/Morales.
  • Another nugget - "Yes, today the Angels are the favorites in the American League West, and they'll probably be the favorites on Opening Day. But this is the same team -- less two months of Mark Teixeira -- that finished 2008 with the run differential of an 88-win team. You want to argue that they can't be beat?"  January 5, 2009

I found the second quote interesting as it states the Angels had a run differential of an 88-win team.  He's referring to the Pythagorean formula using runs scored and runs allowed to show what a team's record "should have been".  I'm not real sure what the purpose of this information is.  I assume the purpose of calculating expected wins is to identify teams who have either over-performed or under-performed, but the problem I have with using it is there's no reasons that can be deduced from its results.  It typically shows a team's actual and expect records to be very close, usually within just a few games, but when a team has a season that is more than a few games different, there's no explanation why that happened (I have the same problem with the BABIP - batting average of ball in play - statistic).  Most other statistics have easily identifiable reasons to justify the results, where this statistic just produces a number.  Anyway, last season the Angels' expected record was 88-74, however as almost everyone knows the Angels finished the season with 100 wins.  I looked into the Angels 2008 season and their +12 win differential to see how it compared to other teams and other seasons within the American League over the last 10 years.  Here's what I found:

  • There has only been one other team in the last 10 years to have as large of a differential as the Angels did in 2008. 
    The Yankees also had a +12 game differential when they finished 101-61 in 2004.  Additionally, there's only been 4 other teams which finished more than 7 games above expected during the last 10 seasons.  How extraordinary is a season with over +10 wins?  It's only happened those two times in the 140 sampled seasons.
  • The Angels are the only American league team to exceed their expected win totals in each of the last 5 seasons. 
    During the last 5 years the Angels have won 24 more games than expected (the Yankees had the next highest total with 18 wins).  Many mathi-magicians would explain this as being "lucky".  I have a hard time accepting this theory.  I feel a team makes their own good luck by putting themselves in positions to succeed, and on the other side, a team makes their own bad luck by doing things that don't help their cause.  It may be possible to explain random seasons of greater than expected wins as "being lucky", but the Angels have done it 5 years in a row.  When can this be described as a trend?  They must be doing something right to allow them to play better than expected.  I mentioned the Yankees as also having a season with +12 wins, but that's not the entire story as far as expected wins is concerned.  The Yankees have exceeded their expected wins in 9 of the last ten seasons.  They've averaged a little more than +3 wins a season over the last 10 years.  I don't recall the Yankees ever being described as "lucky".  And I don't believe they have been for that long.  There's something else going on that the Pythagorean formula's not picking up.
  • The team with the worst record below expected is the Toronto Blue Jays with -19 wins over the last 5 seasons.
    Maybe the difference in expected win and actual wins can be explained by looking at the division a team plays within.  Although I hate to admit it, the AL East has been the toughest division with the better teams over the last 5 seasons, producing 4 of the last five wild-card teams.  This may explain why the Blue Jays haven't done as well as their numbers would have suggested, and why the Angels have done better.  The AL West hasn't produced more than one exceptional team per season (the last wild-card team to come from the West was the 2002 Angels).

    Could the Angels be fluffing up their record by beating up on inferior teams?  That's not a rhetorical question as I'm not smart enough to figure out why the Angels are considered lucky and the Yankees are considered good, although Pythagorean insists the team from the Bronx has played over their head 9 of the past ten seasons.