The Angels Are the New Tigers

Torii Hunter

Next Big Thing is MLB FanHouse's look at emerging teams, trends and stars in 2009.

The Detroit Tigers were easily the most disappointing team in the majors last year. A preseason favorite to win the American League Central and compete for the World Series, they opened the year with seven straight losses, setting the tone for a last-place finish, one game behind the lowly Royals.

To be fair, I don't expect the Angels to go the entire opening week before picking up a win, nor do I expect them to fall all the way to last place. But I do expect them to leave a lot of disappointed fans in their wake, not only falling short of their gaudy (and extremely misleading) 100-62 record last season but also missing the playoffs completely.

Before I tell you why the Angels will disappoint, I should start by explaining why they were never as good as some might think. Yes, they won 100 games, and yes, they were the only team in the AL to do so.

But they also ranked just 10th in the league in runs scored, and while their pitching staff was very good (ranking third with a 3.99 ERA), the numbers suggest the Angels also benefited from more than a little luck. Using Bill James' Pythagorean theorem, a formula that predicts records based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Angels "should" have just 89 games last year.

I know, I know -- games are played on the field, not in a spreadsheet. But when you consider how accurate the formula has been in the past (26 of 30 major league teams finished within five wins of their expected record last year, including every other playoff team), it's hard to completely dismiss.

Mark Teixeira

If the Angels overachieved last year, it stands to reason they'd likely fall back to earth even if they returned the exact same roster. Unfortunately, they lost more talent than they gained this winter, watching Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez pack their bags for New York and refusing to pick up Garret Anderson's option in a cost-cutting move.

Everyone figured the Angels would be big spenders this winter, at the very least retaining one of their two marquee free agents and possibly even making a run at CC Sabathia or Manny Ramirez. Instead, their only notable move thus far was inking Brian Fuentes, a talented reliever in his own right but still a slight step down from K-Rod.

I suppose for my Tigers analogy to really work the Angels should have spent a ton of money on unproductive players, but in this case, not spending at all is just as bad as spending poorly. By not improving the lineup, any regression by the pitching staff spells doom. And considering Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders posted career seasons, regression should literally be expected.

My colleague Andrew Johnson already made the argument why the Rangers might emerge as contenders, but the A's are headed in the right direction, as well, picking up both Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi. And while the Mariners are at least a few years away from contending, any progress they make should result in a handful of fewer wins for everyone else in the division.

In other words, while the Angels stand pat, the rest of the AL West is moving to close the gap. And with the wild card all but certain to go to an AL East team yet again, a second place finish is as good as last in the AL West.

The Angels Are the New Tigers originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Tue, 27 Jan 2009 20:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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