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September 28, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Los Angeles Angels

by Tommy Bennett, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade-- whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Los Angeles Angels goodbye.

The overview

The Angels' season took a dramatic turn on May 29, when Kendry Morales broke his leg jumping on home plate after hitting a walk-off grand slam. Morales didn't play again and the Angels never recovered from losing a key piece of their offense, which had very little means to make up for Morales's lost production and effectively went into hibernation. Brandon Wood was never able to establish himself at third base and Jeff Mathis had a terrible season at the plate (he will finish the year with an OPS under .500). The back end of the Angels' bullpen was sometimes a puzzle, and Scott Kazmir was a disaster, amid signs that he might never have the wipeout slider he used to throw. Ultimately, Mike Scioscia's team was hampered by the production issues— the Angels rank 26th in on-base percentage, and 11th in stolen bases (with a way-too-low success rate of 66 percent).

Jered Weaver, though, might have had the best season that nobody knows about, striking out 229 in 217 1/3 innings while posting a 3.02 ERA. Ervin Santana had a good year as well, winning 17, and Dan Haren threw well after being acquired from the Diamondbacks. Torii Hunter had a solid year of production, and served the Angels well by embracing a switch to right field.

The Angels have a lot of holes to fill—at third base, at catcher, at left field—and beyond that, Scioscia is in need of at least one very dynamic addition for the lineup, which is why the expectation within the industry is that Los Angeles is going to make a very strong and determined push for Carl Crawford. The Rays' left fielder would fit the Angels in so many ways, fueling their aggressive style, playing his shutdown defense in left field, and perhaps serving as the No. 3 hitter in Scioscia's lineup. This is a very different division than it was in 2007 and 2008, because of the ascension of the Rangers and Athletics, and the Angels need a big move to keep up.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Weaver completed his transformation from young pitcher with plenty of potential to legitimate ace; his strikeout rate has surged from his career level of 19 percent to a high of 26 percent in 2010. He has also walked batters and allowed home runs at a stingier rate than he ever had in the past. Combine the new level of performance with a record workload and Weaver's season becomes very impressive indeed. Santana and Joel Pineiro joined Weaver to constitute a strong front of the rotation.

What went wrong: The offense. Their .312 on-base is second worst in the American League. Even for a team reputed to have a small-ball philosophy, that is no way to score runs (compare their .350 OBP in 2009). Replacing Morales with Mike Napoli certainly didn't help. The difficulties weren't confined to run scoring—the team has given 27 starts to Kazmir, who might have been the worst starting pitcher in baseball this year.

The key number: Zero. The Angels regularly outpace their expected win totals (based on run differential). This year, they won't. It's the first time in a long time, and shows both how poor their offense was and how much better the AL West has become.

What won't happen again: A rehabilitated Juan Rivera and a returning Morales should boost the offense. It's difficult to imagine the team further relying on Kazmir absent some evidence that he can pitch remotely like he once could, particularly given the inspired mid-season addition of Haren.—Tommy Bennett, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Catching on: The Angels could shop Napoli this winter after essentially removing him from their catching plans this season and going with Mathis. Problem is, Mathis is hitting under .200 and has drawn just six walks versus 58 strikeouts and the club's offense is an area that GM Tony Reagins admits needs some help despite Morales' expected return from injury. The catching market may not help the Angels, unless Victor Martinez is seen as a viable option or Reagins hooks up with the Dodgers in a deal for Russell Martin, so Mathis may get another shot at the long-term gig. Hank Conger, the club's top catching prospect, could get a look after a strong 2010.

Closing time: Brian Fuentes was traded to the Twins and Scot Shields is a free agent after showing poorly in 2010, leaving Fernando Rodney as the one returning veteran that figures to handle the late innings in Anaheim next season. Right-handers Jason Frasor, J.J. Putz and Kyle Farnsworth could be targets for such a role as free agents. But the Angels could also use Rodney in the eighth inning and make a play for a closer such as Rafael Soriano or Jon Rauch, and if the White Sox dangle Bobby Jenks on the trade market, the Angels could be a match.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

When the Angels traded Fuentes to Minnesota, it left an opening at closer, not that the left-hander was especially effective in the role himself. While Rodney has earned the save chances since the deal, next year's likely closer is getting his big league feet wet in the form of Jordan Walden. Converted to relief due to injury and mechanical issues, the 6-foot-5 pure power righty has been sitting at 99-100 mph while striking out 18 over his first 11 2/3 innings, and his fastball adds the kind of sink rarely seen with such top-notch velocity. He should enter next spring with the job his to lose, and could have the same kind of rookie impact in the bullpen that Neftali Feliz has made with the Rangers this year.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Angels,  Catching

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