Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What do multiple former MVPs signed to nine-figure deals, a $137 million payroll and Mike Trout get you? Apparently not very much. For the second straight season the Angels entered the season as one of the favorites to win the World Series only to disappoint wildly. Now it looks like the club's failures are going to cost people their jobs and maybe even a total regime change in the Halo dugout.
Preseason prediction: There's no reason that the Angels shouldn't be in the AL West and/or Wild Card race until the final day of the season, and really they should earn a playoff berth. The team has a ton of talent, but the rotation does leave one wanting for more. Still, a lot went wrong for them last season and they still won 89 games. With just a little more luck this season, it is hard to conceive of a lot of scenarios in which they don't win 90+ games and earn a playoff spot.
What Went Right: A lot of internet ink has already been spilled in praise of Mike Trout this season, and for good reason. After his incredible rookie season many believed that there was no possible way that Trout could repeat that virtuoso performance. Those people were right. Trout didn't just repeat his rookie success, he improved upon it. Trout was able to continue hitting for power at a level that scouts previously didn't think he could sustain. His already excellent approach at the plate got more refined, causing his walk rate to jump through the roof. As of now, Trout is in position to improve on his wOBA by 20 points over last season, finish with 10+ fWAR and pull off the rare feat of leading the league in hits and walks, which has only been done four times since 1900). Oh, and he only just turned 22 in August.
Aside from Trout, nothing really went right in a big way. They had some small moral victories in C.J. Wilson bouncing back from elbow problems to approximate the form he showed when he was leading the Rangers rotation. Howie Kendrick had a strong season, though he hardly blew his career numbers out of the water. Really the best non-Trout developments for the Halos is that Garrett Richards emerged as a strong mid-rotation starting pitcher late in the season and Kole Calhoun might have played well enough to make Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo expendable via trade this off-season.
What Went Wrong: The pitching staff was a known concern for the Angels going into the season and it turns out those concerns were well-founded and then some. The Halo pitching staff was the rare combination of bad, unlucky and injury-prone. Workhorse ace Jered Weaver missed over a month after a freak accident in which he broke his non-throwing elbow. Jason Vargas missed several weeks after he developed a blood clot in his shoulder. Tommy Hanson missed extended time dealing with the untimely death of his brother and struggled so mightily on his return that he was demoted to the minors. And then there is Joe Blanton who was so bad that took until May before he had his first 1-2-3 inning. He might very well have been the worst pitcher in the league this year and has a good argument for having one of the ten worst years by a starting pitcher ever due to the alarming rate at which he allowed hits and homers.
And we haven't even mentioned the bullpen yet. Knowing full well that their relief corps was their Achilles heel in 2012, the Halos brought in Ryan Madson and Ryan Madson to bolster the 'pen. Welp, that didn't work out either. Madson never threw a pitch for the Angels as his recovery from Tommy John surgery went horribly awry. Sean Burnett only managed to squeeze in a handful of innings before arm problems shut him down for the year. As you might imagine, that left the bullpen horribly short-handed and under-talented. As a result, the Angels are likely to lead the league in meltdowns when the season ends.
But wait! There's more! One of the reasons the Angels thought they could get away with such a suspect rotation is that they were supposed to score so many runs. With Trout, Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo as the foundation of the order, they had the potential to be the best offense in the league. It didn't turn out that way though. While the offense still performed solidly, it was hardly the juggernaut many imagined. Trout obviously did his part, but Hamilton wound up being a giant bust, Trumbo regressed and is struggling to get his OBP over .300 and Pujols spent the entire season playing on bad feet which severely hampered his production and ultimately caused his season to be put to an end early. Even with as great as Trout was, it is hard to be an efficient offense when your 3-4-5 hitters all significantly underperform.
Most Surprising Player: Just to give you an idea of how just about everything went wrong for the Angels this season, it was incredibly difficult to think of a legitimate surprise player for the 2013 Angels. It ultimately boiled down to middle reliever Dane De La Rosa, who was probably the lone bright spot in the Angel bullpen this season after a savvy trade with the Rays brought him over shortly before the season began. He is hardly a star reliever or anything like that, but he does finally give the Halos the reliable setup man they've been looking for since Scot Shields retired.
The other option is outfielder J.B. Shuck. He was a surprise just to make the roster and then surprised again by getting to make over 450 plate appearances (that isn't necessarily a good surprise though). Shuck has sustained a .294 batting average, which is impressive, but he seldom walks, has no power and is a poor fielder. So, if empty batting averages impress you, then Shuck is your choice for Most Surprising Player.
Most Disappointing Player: Oh, there is just so many, how can you force me to choose? If I really just have to settle on one, it has to be Josh Hamilton. While there were certainly signs last season that he was headed for a decline, nobody thought it would be this deep and this fast. For much of the season, Hamilton was one of the worst hitters in baseball seemingly swinging at anything within five zip codes of home plate. For months and months pitchers just dumped changeups into the right-handed batter's box and Josh happily but hopelessly flailed away at them. He is finishing the season with a mini-surge that finally nudged his OBP over .300, but his .186 ISO is well below his career mark of .236, so he wasn't even delivering in that area. The worst part of all is that he is in the first year of a five-year, $125 million contract. For all the effort the Angels went through to dump Vernon Wells on the Yankees, they did so only to replace him with a new, more expensive version.
The Future: What the future holds for the Halos is anyone's guess. The rumor mill insists that either Mike Scioscia or GM Jerry Dipoto is going to be fired once the season is over. Who the ax drops on is going to have a major impact on how this club goes about fixing their roster in an effort to contend in 2014. Make no mistake about that, as down as the Angels were this season, owner Arte Moreno has every intention of seeing his team challenge for a World Series next season and he clearly he isn't afraid to meddle in personnel matters to make it happen. People are going to be fired. Established starters are going to be traded. If it works, the Angels will challenge for a World Series. If it doesn't, they'll have dug a hole so deep that they may not be able to climb their way out of it before Mike Trout hits free agency.