In February of 2018, the world was our oyster. It was no surprise that I felt a little cocky, as the Angels had just won the offseason and were going to coast into a Wild Card two slot easily. Utterly invincible and aware that the Angels were at the top of their game, I proceeded to rub a little salt into the emotional scars of the Mariners, Rangers, and A’s by showcasing the player performances against division rivals to further demonstrate just how in the bag the season was.
So the Angels went ahead and just fell flat on their faces in late April/early May or so.
Now, instead of gloating, I’m revisiting this idea from a 2019 perspective to nurse our wounded hearts. Here are some little victories from both our primary new and returning bats against those most loathed of teams in a major season of loss. If we’re feeling brave, we might even compare the veteran Angels to their best performances from the year prior.
Jonathan Lucroy - The Rangers
Let’s be honest here. Lucroy was just awful last year as an Athletic. What’s more, he had an OPS (yes, OPS) of .500 or less against almost every team that matters. Across 154 plate appearances against the Mariners, Angels (!), and Astros, he slashed .170/.234/.227. There’s not much more you can say about that.
However, Lucroy actually hit rather well against his former 2016/2017 club. Across 58 plate appearances against Arlington, he had an OPS of .877. If he can be a reverse Napoli for us in 2019, then maybe it will all be worth it.
In 2017 as a Ranger, he was very strong against a weaker Houston rotation and, of course, crushed the Angels. A solid showing against either or both Texas teams would go a long way toward helping us make that elusive 81-81 in 2019.
Albert Pujols - The Mariners
2017 Result: The Mariners
Many Angels fans might harbor resentment toward Big Al for the overall performance or the injuries or the resultant financial constraints his contract has put on the team, but so long as he keeps dominating the Mariners, he’s alright in my book.
Slugging .552 against the Dipoto Deckhands is definitely a way to keep in my good graces. His OPS was actually a dramatic improvement over the year before and another increase against a rotation that doesn’t have Paxton would be that much better.
Justin Bour - Inconclusive
Much like Zack Cozart the year prior, the Angels took on another National League veteran with literally zero plate appearances against the AL West. He did do well against the Dodgers though, so he’s practically already an Angel.
Shohei Ohtani - The Rangers
Ohtani absolutely loves the AL Central. Of his top 6 OPSes against AL teams, all 5 AL Central teams are there. The only AL team to eclipse any of those Central ballclubs is the Rangers, beating out the White Sox for 5th place by around 50 points.
The Rangers were just totally demolished by the rookie slugger in 2018. He hit 6 home runs and 4 doubles against them across 57 at-bats. His 9 singles against them alone was more than his total hits of any kind against all but 3 teams [Indians (11 hits), Athletics (10), and Mariners (10)]! He clubbed 14 RBIs to boot, his only double digit total against any team.
Tommy La Stella - Inconclusive
Another position player from the DH-hating side of the game, La Stella did not see any time against the AL West. Also mostly a backup (though a fan favorite one), he did not really have any meaningful data against popularly disliked NL teams. Who knows what to expect here?
As an aside, David Fletcher will likely be seeing a good deal of playing time at assorted positions, but I didn’t consider him to be a starter due to La Stella’s major league contract and Fletcher still having options. If anyone is curious, Fletcher too was best against the Rangers with a slash line of .341/.357/.439.
Andrelton Simmons - The Astros
2017 Result: No One
In 2017, Simba took home the honor of being a non-threat against AL West rivals and the Apocalypse himself against other AL teams. 2018 saw a different side of the superstar, however, as he made one of the greatest rotations of all time look silly when he came up to bat. He hit 3 home runs, 2 triples, and 2 doubles with 15 RBIs against 70 plate appearances.
Sitting in Minute Maid, I watched Simba have his two-homer game after a fun, albeit rocky, Ohtani start. The air was electric after the Astros comeback... until it wasn’t. What a fantastic game. It will always be one of my favorite Simmons moments and I had the privilege of seeing it break the hearts of tens of thousands of fans live.
Zack Cozart - The Athletics (Honorable Mention to the Mariners)
2017 Result: Inconclusive
This genuinely surprised me. Cozart killed both the A’s and Mariners to a very similar tune, though he made much more consistent contact against Oakland. I never would have guessed that he performed that well against Oakland, though it was pretty well known that Zack hit much better away from the Big A than at home.
His OPS was actually better by 55 points against the Mariners, but the number of plate appearances against Oakland while also batting at an average 65 points higher would probably suggest his Oakland performance would be more repeatable. His injury sidelined him before he could get a larger number of plate appearances against many teams, but if Cozart can continue to hit AL West rivals like this, we may see a dramatic uptick in his overall offense next season.
Justin Upton - The Mariners
2017 Result: The Rangers
For all of his struggles in high leverage situations last season, Upton sure did hurt the boys in blue. The most memorable blow would probably have to be his game-tying, extras-inducing 2-run shot off of Edwin Diaz to right center field. We may have ended up losing that game, but it was still a magical moment against one of the best bullpen aces in the game.
This Kraken may have feasted on wayfarers first and foremost, but he also easily outperformed his OPS against the A’s as well as maintaining a respectable slash against the feared Astros pitching behemoth. The only division rival he struggled to hit was his punching bag (and I mean, punching bag) the previous year, the Rangers. This is one player we shouldn’t be worried about. His clutch will regress and the reverberations will be felt throughout the AL.
Mike Trout - The Mariners
2017 Result: The Athletics
Mike Trout experienced considerably higher highs in 2018 than the season before, but he also weathered much lower lows. His best performances had OPSes north of 2.000 while his slash against the crappy Minnesota Twins saw not only an average below .100, but a slugging percentage below it as well.
While he did drop off a bit against the A’s from 2017, Trout increased his OPS by almost 500 points against Seattle. He blasted 7 home runs against the Ohtani runner-up and for good measure, walked 16 times. He racked up 61 total bases against this one team while his second best total was the 37 he had against the A’s. And this was all with him seeing Felix Hernandez LESS than usual!
Kole Calhoun - The Mariners
2017 Result: The Mariners
The surprise that I felt at Cozart was nothing compared to this. I was certain going into this that I would just leave Kole off altogether. This was supposed to be a soothing, joyful piece, not a trip down hard memory lane. But come to think of it, the Angels played the Mariners a good deal during Kole’s hot streak and very little at all during the first two months of the season.
Regardless, this slash was actually a pretty substantial improvement (at least in terms of hitting) over the year before. I would take this type of performance all day long in 2019 if we can get it. A bounceback even remotely close to this would alleviate many of our concerns about the offense going into Spring Training.