An optimist can look at it as a rebuilding year that saw contention through game 160. A pessimist can say that every metric on earth predicted just about this result. The 2011 Angels will not be playing baseball in October. Why not? Here are the top ten reasons why:
1. The Vernon Wells Trade
Either General Manager Tony Reagins is in over his head or he is Mike Scioscia's puppet and Mike might be the smartest of the jocks but at the end of the day he is just a dumb jock and Reagins ain't any brighter. Regardless of the hierarchy, the worst trade of the 21st century brought Vernon Wells to Anaheim. Abandoning Mike Napoli bordered on the unconscionable for even a great return in a trade. Juan Rivera and Napoli would be going to the playoffs in an Angels uniform had this trade never taken place.
2. Playing Jeff Mathis
The cult of Mike Scioscia has lost a lot of true believers n 2011. Game by game they walked away in disbelief that the name of Jeff Mathis was included in the lineup. Four automatic outs each night, rarely pinch-hit for, rarely made to hit situationally, allowed to free swing with no ability to produce. Mathis is, statistically, the worst offensive player in baseball history besides Mario Mendoza, but as the season wore on and Napoli became a star in Arlington, about the time that Bobby Wilson caught Ervin Santana's no-hitter, a mass consciousness of the average fan suddenly realized that there were no intangibles and no measurement of defensive certainty that rationalized playng MAthis at all. Meanwhile Hank Conger lost about a year of development at age 23.
3. Not Signing Adrian Beltre
As productive as the unheralded Alberto Callaspo was for the Angels in 2011, Adrian Beltre starting 130 games for the Angels in Anaheim this season would have meant they would be playing at least three games in October. 31 Homeruns from the 3B position would have been a great complement to Mark Trumbo's 29 from the other side of the infield. Instead those bombs meant runs for Texas.
4. Not Adjusting to Vernon's Awfulness
The Angels held off on calling up Mike Trout until a July injury to Peter Bourjos forced them to. Had they platooned Wells and Bobby Abreu at Designated Hitter and handed Trout the keys to Left Field, Wells might have been able to contribute solidly only seeing lefthanders, Abreu would have certainly seen the gaps in his production lessened and Trout would have three months of solid experience instead of three months of spotty playing time amidst hotel suite exploration.
5. Sticking with Tyler Chatwood
After the complete implosion of Scott Kazmir a week into the season, rookie Tyler Chatwood was brought into the bigs. He was serviceable at first and the club stuck with him. As he withered on the vine when late spring became early summer, though, there was no in-house solution. With a mid-season meltdown of Joel Pineiro, the Chatwood loyalty became high comedy and a deer-in-the-headlights Garrett Richards was just not ready for prime time. A bizarre twist saw reclamation project Jerome Williams pick up four wins in the heat of a contending September and seal a spot as the #4/5 guy to start 2012. Trading for a league average veteran to eat innings would have been the move to make in July when the clock struck midnight for CinderChatwood. No doubt he will be in the conversation for the 2012 rotation, but 2011 made it more likely he gets more seasoning in the minors next year.
6. Sticking With Joel Pineiro
While Pineiro was actually statistically worse than Chatwood, as a veteran he would occasionally shake off the bad starts and hurl a gem and considering they were paying him $8 million, his eventual demotion was actually bigger news. Could the Angels have gotten a gem or two out of Matt Palmer, stuck in AAA almost all season long, or perennial #7 Starter Trevor Bell? 145 innings of a 5.13 ERA insist that either of these two would have perhaps squeezed a victory or two more than Joel.
7. Bad Bullpen Blueprint
The bullpen was actually a highlight for the Angels, most notably the domination of Scott Downs and the emergence of Jordan Walden as an effective, if green, closer. But the bullpen that ran steady late in the season was making up for the sins of the pen's construction in the spring. 67 IP by a mediocre Hisanori Takahashi (an ERA+ of 109 is nothing to brag about in high leverage situations) and 32 IP by Fernando Rodney, he of 5 losses and a 4.50 ERA. Mike Sciosica's best move of the season was demoting Rodney after an early-April loss. But the first three losses of the season were by Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger in relief. None of them finished the season with the big club. While organizational depth saw Bobby Cassevah and Rich Thompson contribute later on, the downright lousiness of the initial product created losses and reinforced doubt about the organization's ability to accurately evaluate players.
8. Bobby Powerless
Bobby Abreu's power outage form the DH position was mitigated by the emergence of Mark Trumbo as well as Abreu being delivering an OBP of over .350 (2nd highest on the team). But when more than 580 Plate Appearances yield 183 total bases from the DH position, staying in contention as long as they did only begs the question of what a little more power in some spots would have meant at critical times during the season.
9. Under-utilization of Russell Branyan
Mid-season, Mike Scioscia was given a left-handed power bat who could play 1B. He got less that 80 Plate Appearances. The innumerable times Jeff Mathis stayed in games late to face a right handed pitcher with nary a flinch form Mike Scioscia is just one of may Branyan-free scenarios that will haunt the "What-If" box of Angels fans looking back at '11 in the years to come.
10. NOT Pulling The Plug
Smoke and Mirrors, Ace level pitching by Dan Haren and especially Jered Weaver, a great season by Howie Kendrick, a shock rookie year by Mark Trumbo, day in and day out great glove by Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos and superb relief from Scott Downs were the difference in making this an overachieving team. But none of it was pretty and it took an epic Boston implosion to sell tickets to the final six-game homestand of the season. So the team is left with no playoffs for the second year in a row - their longest drought since '99-'00-'01. Throw in a lousier draft spot and maybe what went wrong with the 2011 Angels was that too much went right for them to justify trading some decent spare parts for prospects. Abreu, Santana, Callaspo, Ayabr and even Thompson could have brought great prospect returns in a trade with playoff contenders. Those prospects could now be on the depth chart, but instead the Angels are another year older and deeper in debt.