#81 - JUAN RIVERA - OF
The king of the batsniffers, Juan Rivera came to the Angels in a trade they seemed destined to lose but won big time - faced with having suspended Jose Guillen for insubordination and the whole baseball word knowing they were saddled in trading the short-fused slugger, the Angels acquired Juan and Maicer Izturis from Montreal in either the last trade the Expos ever made or the first one the Nationals did. Either way, the Angels got great production for many years from both of these players as Guillen faded.
Rivera's tenure with the Angels is marked by two great "What-If's"...
The first is the 2006 season, Rivera's career best. In his age-27 season where he batted .310 with a .525 Slugging Percentage and an OPS+ of 126, Mike Scioscia benched him 38 times. he had 23 home runs and 85 RBI despite that but the 89-Win Angels finished four games back of the Athletics. And in addition to those benchings, there were plenty of games where he entered late in the game wither pinch-hitting his way on board or coming in as a defensive replacement. But the numbers are maddening when put into the context of the team coming so close to a division title and winning so many games. What if Scioscia had just played the best available player ...we'll never know so we will always ask "What if..."
The second is "What if Juan had never broken his leg playing winterball after the 2006 season?" Coming off a great year Juan broke his leg on a freak play at 1B and sent the Angels in to a panic signing of Shea Hillenbrand. The Angels managed to win the division in 2007 but Rivera's rise was stunted and the team was quickly eliminated in the ALDS.
But besides these what-ifs, there are the definite good things about Johnny Rivers that Angels fans can look back at with admiration: His .353 batting average and .977 OPS against the 5-Game victory over the Yankees in the 2005 ALDS, and his .464 Slugging % as an Angel - tied for tenth among Halo batters with more than 1,500 Plate Appearances (Mike Trout ended 2013 with 1,490 PAs so this, like may other top-ten rankings, is about to change).
His .789 OPS ranks sixteenth all time in club history (for batters with more than 1500 PA), and his Runs Scored, Hits, Total Bases, Doubles and RBIs are all ranked between #35 and #21 all time. He is tied for 18th on the all time Angels home run list with 92 bombs.
Coincidentally, he is tied for that mark with Mike Napoli, with whom he was traded to Toronto for Vernon Wells, an inexplicably terrible trade that albatrosses the franchise to this very day. But look at the good side, Juan Rivera played for four division champion teams in his six seasons as an Angel and his biggest negatives have to do with his absence. It will take nineteen greats to unseat him from this list so expect to see him on rankings like this for a while.