It Takes Two To Make a Team Go Right
This offseason looks to be a busy one, not unlike the last two, for completely different reasons, when it comes to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Two offseasons ago, the Halos signed CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols to contracts, with the signing of Pujols being the biggest shock in baseball in a long time, perhaps ever. Wilson's signing was expected, for the most part and it has paid off. Pujols however, has been underperforming, injured and not at all like the worldbeater he was in St. Louis. One offseason ago was the equally shocking signing of former Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. That signing was supposed to give the Angels a clear path to the AL West crown and as we all know, it simply wasn't meant to be.
There's plenty of reasons why the Angels performed so badly in 2013 but for myself, I would say it came down to pitching and chemistry. Pitching was an obvious issue, something that could not be ignored. From the performance of Joe Blanton (an ERA of 6.04, a record of 2-14, a .346 batting average of opposing batters for balls that were put in play and his highest HR per 9 innings of his career with a mark of 19.1%, all in a span of 28 games and 132.2 innings) to the injury ravaged season that Jered Weaver had (highest BB per 9 innings since 2009 at 2.29, his least innings pitched since his rookie year of 2006 with 154.1 innings, his lowest WAR of his career at 2.4 and the additional damage his absence did for the team when it came to his replacements in the rotaton), it was not at all like the team that the Angels used to be, a squad that was based on pitching and defense. With the addition of long time Angels Don Baylor and Gary DiSarcina to the coaching staff, one would think it might not matter, with how bad the pitching was. That would be wrong, there is more to it than that.
To those who didn't know, Mr. Baylor has done quite a bit with the Angels. In 1979, Baylor led the Halos to their first ever AL West title, led the American League in RBI with 139 RBI, led the AL with runs with 120, won the AL MVP and I'm fairly sure he also came close to curing cancer. Basically, Don Baylor was the man. For this Angels team to be the man, you don't have to beat the man, you have to learn from him.
With Baylor joining the Angels coaching staff as their new hitting coach, it would be a complete shock to see the team regress with their offensive stats at all, there should be a marked improvement across the board. That's all fine and dandy but at the same time, there's a general feeling that while the addition of Baylor is a great move, the real move that had to be done hasn't taken place, getting a new pitching coach. Really, there's no excuse for Mike Butcher to still be employed, if one is to look at the statistics and nothing else. Still, one may begin to realize that it's not Butcher's fault, it is the fault of a few pitchers who have always underperformed but in 2013, did it with more flair, more grace. You know what's cooler than Joe Blanton giving up a solo home run?
Joe Blanton giving up a balk, a wild pitch, a visit to the mound from Butcher, scratching his ass, two walks in a row and giving up a grand slam to Juan Pierre which was followed by a call to Papa Johns from the dugout phone. Which, surprisingly, did not happen in 2013. There's a select group of players that are just simply bad, not just regular bad, but nickelback bad. Joe Blanton is one of those players and if Blanton did not play at all in 2013 and Garrett Richards took his spot in the rotation, the team would have been right there in the AL Wild Card chase, if not better. If the team doesn't stash Blanton away or release him somehow, then I would be rather angry. However, Joe Blanton being a home run amoeba doesn't make Butcher the worst pitching coach ever, it just doesn't help the case for him being anything better than below average.
What I'm getting to is with the addition of Baylor, I can't help but feel this team will be held much more accountable for their actions. An understated positive note for Baylor joining the team is one that may seem like a bit of a stretch but at the same time, may work out perfectly. Let's say that Mike Scioscia gets fired in the first few months of 2014, who do you think will take over at that point?
Most likely, it will be Baylor. Baylor was a manager for nine entire seasons, six with the Colorado Rockies and three with the Chicago Cubs. The experience is there, the credentials are there and personally, I believe Baylor would bring a welcome change in attitude, if the team's situation got so dire as to where Scioscia would be gone. Don't forget, Baylor once won the NL Manager of the Year award, this isn't a signing that was made just because Baylor played for the team, once upon a time. I can guarantee that I am not the only one who sees Baylor managing the team in the future.
When it comes to Gary DiSarcina, this is a move that was a long time coming for the former California Angels shortstop. Formerly the manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox (the AAA affliate of the Boston Red Sox), DiSarcina led the Pawtucket squad to the AAA championship finals in 2013, after many years of an on again/off again relationship with the New England area. During his career with the Angels that lasted from 1989 through 2000, DiSarcina was known as a reliable shortstop with the team and actually made the All-Star team in the lockout shortened year of 1995, which saw DiSarcina put up an AVG of .307, 41 RBI and a WAR of 2.6, all in just 99 games, an impressive year all around. DiSarcina recently interviewed with the Seattle Mariners for their then vacant manager position (which was filled by Lloyd McClendon) and the general consensus around the league is that he will become a big league manager, eventually. The addition of DiSarcina is at best, a wonderful and perfect move and at worst, just icing on the cake with the addition of Baylor.
A frustrating element of the Angels in 2013 is that for the most part, the entire team seemed complacent and stagnant for most of the year. The additions of Baylor and DiSarcina will help the team find an identity and that's even before the likely trades that will take place, ones that may see Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and others traded. These moves are sound, solid and heartfelt additions of players who know "the Angel Way" and with the new players that will most likely join the team, Anaheim should see a huge difference in their performance for 2013. All it may take for this team to improve is a shot in the arm, managerial wise, player wise, attitude wise and a general grasp of common sense.
Yes, that means you, Joe Blanton. Please, step away from the mound, nothing to see here.