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Are the Los Angeles Angels the New Texas “Power” Rangers?

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I hate to pile on the underperforming Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (actually I kind of enjoy it), but with the loss of Jered Weaver for 4-6 weeks with a fractured elbow, and the poor start (2 games, no decisions, ERA of 5.25) of C.J. Wilson, I have to wonder if the $142 million the Angels are spending on salaries for 2013 is being spent wisely. With the usual April caveat of “it’s really too early to tell,” here’s a look at some comparative stats that might provide some insight into the Angels’ future.

Everyone who knows anything about baseball knows that it’s “all about the pitching.” Jason Vargas, a tough competitor and a good pickup during the off-season, is the Angels’ only starter with an ERA below 4.50 so far this year. The team’s ERA over the first 7 games stood at 4.55, 8th out of 15 teams in the league. Beyond the $38 million in salary represented by Weaver, Wilson, and Vargas, the team is spending $6.5 million on Joe Blanton, a guy who went 10-13 last year and is barely over .500 (83-76) lifetime. With Weaver out, Wilson has to perform. On Tuesday night against the Oakland Athletics, he could barely find the strike zone for the first 2 innings. So much for starting pitching.

On the offense side, the Angels clearly have one of the best collection of power hitters any team has assembled in recent years. When your leadoff hitter, Mike Trout, is a guy who recorded 30 homeruns in less than a full year in the majors, you know your lineup has got plenty of pop. Pujols in the number 3 hole pitched in with 30 last year, too. Mark Trumbo, who batted 5th against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night, hit 32 homeruns in 2012.  And, of course, the Angels added Josh Hamilton and his 43 homers from 2012 to their 2013 lineup. Hamilton and Pujols will be paid a combined $33 million this year. Lots of power with questions about the starting pitching. Sounds like the Texas Rangers of 2001-2003.

Back then Texas was known as the “Power Rangers,” a reference to a slightly weird children’s television show. The name stuck because of the teams’ offensive output for three years in a row. In 2001, the Rangers were first in the American League with 246 home runs. They were also last in the American League in team ERA, giving up 5.71 earned runs every nine innings. The homeruns may have delighted the fans on any given day, but the team finished last in the West that year with a record of 73-89. The next year wasn’t much better.  In 2002, the Rangers managed to move up to 12th out of 14 teams with a team ERA of 5.15. They once again led the American League in homeruns with 230, and they once again finished last in the West with a record of 72-90. The year 2003, the last year Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez were on the Rangers, the team’s ERA was again last in the league at 5.67. They did hit 239 homeruns for a league best, but all of that power went largely to waste as the team finished 71-91, good for last in the West for the fourth year in a row. Lots of power with lousy starting pitching. Sounds like what could be in store for the Los Angeles Angels of 2013.

The Angels’ lineup will undoubtedly provide their fans with plenty of thrills this year. After all, the long ball is one of the game’s most exciting moments. But unless their starting pitchers find a way to fill in for their missing ace Jered Weaver, and perform in a way that exceeds their recent performances, the Angels might find themselves, in spite of having the 7th highest payroll in MLB, missing the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

Jonathan Dyer’s website is www.jonathanpdyer.com. He can be followed on Twitter @dyer_jp, and he can be reached via email at [email protected].

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