January 22, 2003
Team Health Reports
Team Health Report: Anaheim Angels
Smoke and mirrors is a lame explanation. I'm probably guilty of using that term myself in relation to the Angels last year, but cut me some slack--you do five or six radio interviews and you'll find yourself saying the same drivel. Back to point, smoke and mirrors is precisely what you're trying to think on your feet and don't know what else to say. Many of us were taken aback by the Angels' come from nowhere championship. When the best apparent explanation involved a bleeping monkey on a big screen, you can understand why smoke and mirrors seemed a tenable argument.
The Angels were one of the more unexpected World Champs ever. Even as late as the start of the playoffs, I didn't give the Angels a chance. Of course, I picked every single Division Series incorrectly. (So did Joe Sheehan and plenty of others, so I don't feel so bad.) The Angels ran out a team full of young players who had big, but not breakout seasons, older players that played consistently, and several players who filled support roles admirably. Add in excellent leadership in their field staff and an underrated front office and there are reasons beyond the primate that the Angels succeeded.
Angel trainer Ned Bergert deserves every bit of his full share of the World Series winnings, because the health of the team played a pivotal role in the Angels' title run. Bergert and the medical team kept the pitching staff relatively injury free and managed to keep Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, and Darin Erstad healthy enough to play through the Series before heading under the knife. During the playoffs, much was made of Tim Salmon having a healthy season. Salmon is no Larry Walker--only twice since breaking into the starting lineup has he dipped below 450 at-bats--but avoiding a recurrence of his foot problems and other maladies which limited him in the past facilitated a strong season after a slow start.
To start their defense of the championship, the Angels will have to rely once again on a pitching staff that's been well-managed. Jarrod Washburn emerged as an ace, but his profile doesn't fit the type that can go an entire career without some bumps. While his usage patterns weren't what we'd normally call "abusive," Washburn also pitched further into the season than ever before and in pressure situations that appeared to wear him down. Washburn didn't show the same consistent velocity in October that he did in August. Comparable left-handers tend to trend downward the next season and his high-effort motion screams tendonitis to me.
Elsewhere, we see solid pitchers who operated around the 100-pitch threshold; all of them finished with an average three pitches on either side of the century mark. (Only Washburn, with a 105 average, was outside that range, and just barely.) John Lackey was very impressive for a rookie and figures to be their number two or three starter by the end of this season. There are concerns about his health, though. Lackey made a large jump in innings pitched, going over 200 between Triple-A and the Big A. While I like what I've seen of his delivery, Lackey's youth makes him an injury risk, especially if he's asked to shoulder an even heavier load in 2003.
The staff will also be asking Aaron Sele to return from shoulder problems and resume his innings consumption. Given what we know about shoulder problems, he'll likely struggle to pick up the slack, especially early in the season. This could force more innings on Lackey and perhaps push the inconsistent Scott Schoeneweis--or someone from Triple-A like Chris Bootcheck--into the rotation.
On the field, the Halos rarely give regulars like Erstad, Garret Anderson and Glaus time off. Anderson had a very good season in spite of recurring hamstring problems. That alone warrants him a yellow flag--I'll leave it to our other analysts to explain why he's not an elite outfielder.
Of course, Erstad's the bigger concern. He had off-season surgery to remove a broken bone in his wrist. The surgery is no major concern, but Erstad often finds a way to hurt himself, diving all over center field. Even when he makes it into the lineup, he often plays hurt. One of these years, he may not even get to do that much.
I also have my eye on Glaus. Despite his imposing performance in the playoffs, his numbers have tumbled since an early-career peak in 2002. He's another one who often fights off nagging injuries.
Most teams that make a big jump tend to fall back some the following year; Bill James called this the "Plexiglass Principle." I'd expect the Angels to follow that pattern, with the root cause being an increase in injuries. Looks like Ned Bergert has his work cut out for him again this season.