A Baseball Blog - Scientific and Speculative Thoughts from Third Base

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Retired Numbers Series: Los Angeles Angels

The Angels, despite being an expansion team, have quite a bit of history to them. They were included in the first round of expansion back in 1961, and have the best winning percentage of any expansion team since then (at .499, they also place ahead of four original teams). It’s no surprise, then, that they have several compelling candidacies for retired numbers. And so, they become the next team to be covered in the Retired Numbers Series.

Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.

The Already Retired Numbers
The Angels have retired five numbers as of this moment. The first, number 26, was retired in 1982 on behalf of the team’s first owner, Gene Autry.

Almost a decade later, in 1991, the team retired their first number on behalf of a player. Number 29 was taken out of circulation in honor of Rod Carew. Carew, who was primarily a first baseman by the time he made it to the then California Angels, played with the team for seven seasons (1979 to 1985). In that time, he was accumulated 16 of his 79 career bWAR and 18 of his 80 fWAR. Carew played from 1967 to 1985.

The following year, the team honored longtime ace Nolan Ryan by retiring 30. Ryan, who pitched with the Angels from 1972 to 1979, was worth 41 bWAR while there. For his entire career (1966 to 1993), he was worth 85 bWAR.

In 1995, the Angels performed something no other team has done when they retired number 50 for coach Jimmie Reese. No other team has done either of those-retired the number 50 or honored a coach, that is.* The coach thing is definitely more notable-the only other team that has come close is the Orioles, who removed two numbers from circulation for coaches, but stopped short of actually retiring them. Reese set himself apart with 22 years of coaching for the Angels (1972 to 1994), a term that also made him the oldest official uniformed member ever for any team.

*I feel like 50 would be a more commonly worn number than it actually is and therefore more likely to be retired, just based on the fact that it’s a large, round number, but I guess not.
And finally, in 1998, the team retired their final (up to this point) number, 11, to commemorate former shortstop and manager Jim Fregosi. Fregosi was a member of the first Angel team in 1961 as a rookie. He played with the team until he was traded to the Mets in 1971. His eleven years with the franchise were good for 44 bWAR and 51 fWAR. Fregosi would retire in 1978 and immediately begin managing the Angels-his stint also included the team’s first division title, in 1979. For his career, Fregosi racked up 46 bWAR and 54 fWAR.

Compared to the League
There are three main aspects I looked at when comparing teams’ retired number standards: the stat being used (bWAR vs. fWAR), the players’ career numbers versus numbers just with that team, and the median vs. the average of the retired players’ WAR.

The Angels are interesting in that they have relatively high standards regarding players’ careers, but not so much for the players’ time with the team. When looking at career value, the Angels wound up in the upper half of the league in three out of four comparisons. However, when looking at just value accrued as an Angel, they dropped to the fourth quartile in three of the four methods.

With five retired numbers, they are just below the league’s midpoint (six). This amount ties them with the Athletics and the Padres.

So Who’s Next?
Looking down the team’s WAR leader boards shows a handful of the same candidates clustered at the top of each one. Both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs put Jim Fregosi at the top of their lists. Places two through four, however, are the same three names rearranged. Brian Downing has the highest average position, coming in second on the Fangraphs list and third on the B-R list. The Angels’ designated hitter and outfielder of thirteen seasons (1978 to 1990) was worth 35.3 bWAR and 41 fWAR in that time. On top of that, Wikipedia lists him as one of nine people in the team’s hall of fame (that group also includes all five of the Angels’ retired numbers). It’s kind of interesting that he doesn’t already have a retired number, but at the same time, it took the team 27 years to honor Fregosi. One potential issue is that Downing was best known for wearing 5, a number that may be in use for a bit longer. However, there isn’t exactly a hard limit on when or how many times a team can retire a number. Downing is still a possibility.

Tim Salmon has the next highest average, coming in second on B-R’s rankings and fourth on Fangraphs’. Salmon was a career Angel who played from 1992 to 2006 (but only 13 full seasons-Salmon was rookie of the Year in 1993, and missed all of 2005 with injuries). In that time, he was worth 37.1 bWAR and 37 fWAR (both more than solid figures) and established himself as a face of the franchise. I'm a little surprised he hasn't been honored in some way already-either by getting his number retired or being inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame. But he still has plenty of time; he only just made the Cooperstown ballot this year, for example. I think Salmon will see his number retired eventually. 

The final unanimous top four hitter is the perennially-underrated Bobby Grich. The Angels traded for Grich from the Orioles for the 1977 season, after which he established himself as their second baseman for the next decade. In that decade, he was worth 32.9 bWAR and 39 fWAR (good for fourth on B-R and third on Fangraphs) as he established himself as a more-than-worthy (not that that has stopped the Hall's voters from snubbing him). He did become the charter member of the Angels Hall of Fame two years after his retirement, though. I would say it's likely his number 4 gets retired eventually, especially if the Veterans Committee eventually corrects his snub.

Both versions of WAR agree there's a drop-off between fourth place and fifth, although both sites agree on Darin Erstad as that fifth-best player. The outfielder spent an overwhelming majority of his career as an Angel, playing there for eleven of his fourteen seasons. In that time, Erstad was worth 30.4 bWAR and 28 fWAR. Both are very solid, but they don't quite measure up to the players ahead of him, and he doesn't really have any other major factors to consider like a Hall of Fame case or an induction into the Angels Hall. However, he did only just retire in 2009, so there's plenty of time to see if anything develops for his retired number candidacy.

Next going down the lists is Garrett Anderson. A fifteen-year veteran of the team (1994 to 2008), Anderson is actually also the franchise leader in games played and plate appearances. That’s probably worth some extra credit, even if his value in that time (23.6 bWAR, 28 fWAR) was a little less than some other players’. He just recently retired (2010 was his final season), and though I’m not sure he’s likely to see his number honored, there’s still plenty of time for us to see otherwise.

After Anderson, there’s a small plateau of players at a similar level, followed by another fall off. This small group of six of players is probably about as far down the list as we can seriously consider before looking elsewhere. And, even then, most of their cases are riddled with holes. Three of them are Troy Glaus, Chone Figgins, and Wally Joyner, all of whom have a similar case. They all came up as Angels, had some great years, then left as free agents. The details are really what set them apart.

Joyner played six years there (1986 to 1991), left, then returned at the end of his career (2001). His time in Anaheim earned him 17.4 of his 32.2 career bWAR and 21 of his 40 career fWAR. Glaus spent his first seven years there (1998 through 2004) before leaving and playing his final six seasons elsewhere. Overall, his stint in an Angels uniform garnered 20.8 of his 35.0 career bWAR and 21 of his 37 career fWAR. Finally, Figgins spent eight seasons there (2002 through 2009), accounting for 20.8 bWAR and 23 fWAR (both sources agree that he has actually been worth negative value since joining Seattle). Really, barring amazing fan support, none of them stands a real chance.

Doug DeCinces is sort of the opposite. He came to California as a free agent, and had a few good years (1982 to 1987, 17.5 bWAR, 20 fWAR). I would imagine his case is even worse than the case for those three, though.

Really, for a player to be at this level and get their number retired, they need something extra, like a Hall of Fame case (similar to the team’s retirement of Rod Carew’s number). Interestingly enough, though, two players at this plateau do have strong Hall cases. Vladimir Guerrero seems to be agreed upon as a Hall favorite for his strong career and exciting play. He won an MVP the year the Angels brought him in, and proceeded to put up 22 fWAR and 20.9 bWAR in his six year run. It will be interesting to see what the Angels do if he does get elected, as his other team seems to be distancing themselves from their history. For his career, Guerrero put up 55.2 bWAR and 60 fWAR.

The other similar case is Jim Edmonds. Although he got his start as an Angel, he’s actually probably less likely to have the team retire his number-unlike Guerrero, Edmonds is overwhelmingly remembered (with the exception of a certain catch) as a Cardinal, with a vast majority of his time and value coming from St. Louis. In fact, despite playing with the team from 1993 to 1999, they only account for 19.1 of his 57.3 bWAR and 20 of his 68 career fWAR.

The only other hitter even worth mentioning is Don Baylor. He’s one of the nine players in the team’s Hall. However, However, even counting his MVP season, he wasn’t overwhelmingly valuable to the Angels in his six years with the team (4.9 bWAR, 10 fWAR). Maybe he has enough fan support to overcome his low numbers, but that’s more or less the only case I can see with him outside of him returning as a manager or coach.

At this point, it’s probably time to move on to the pitchers. Like with the hitters, there’s a recent favorite towards the top. Chuck Finley leads the franchise in both innings pitched and bWAR (2675.0 and 48.7, respectively).* On top of that, he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2009. I would have to think that Finley has the best case of anyone that been covered so far. Finley pitched for the team from 1986 to 1999.

*Also, Fangraphs agrees he was great in his time with the team, crediting him with 48.2 fWAR.
Nolan Ryan is second on the pitching list, followed by his long-time number two in the rotation, Frank Tanana. In his eight years in California (1973 to 1980), Tanana was worth 32.5 bWAR (and 30.4 fWAR). However, he left the team at a rather young age (27) due to injuries, and his best days were already behind him at that point. I can definitely see a case for retiring his number, but I’m not sure his memory has held up well enough with the fan base to merit retirement; he hasn’t even made the team Hall yet.

Fourth on the list is Jered Weaver. In seven seasons, he’s been worth 26.8 bWAR (and 26.7 fWAR). He’s also under contract for the next four years at minimum, so I would say there’s a good chance he moves to the top of at least a few of the team’s leader boards before he’s done. All in all, he has a strong candidacy so far.

After that, we drop off quite a bit. The next two players are Mark Langston (1990 to 1997, 24.4 bWAR) and John Lackey (2002 to 2009, 22.9 bWAR). As solid as their stints in Orange County were, I can’t imagine either getting their numbers retired.

Before covering the current roster, I would like to mention two relievers. The methodology from relievers tends to be more confusing. Troy Percival spent a solid decade with the team (1995 to 2004), but because relievers pitch less than starters, they tend to contribute less value. For example, Percival was only worth 16.1 bWAR. Any case for him would need to be based on fan support or something similar.

Francisco Rodriguez is a little different. He pitched less with the team (2002 to 2008). However, he may wind up with an actual Hall of Fame case-he’s only 30, and the Hall voters seem to base Hall votes partially on large save totals, something K-Rod may end up fulfilling. He already has 292, but his recent role as a set-up man has certainly set him back. His retired number case will rely mostly on getting into the Hall of Fame and spending more time in Los Angeles than anywhere else, but huge ifs.

And that just leaves the present roster. Ervin Santana, Howie Kendrick, and Ervin Santana have all been on the team for a while, and have been solid, but that isn’t really a recipe for a retired number. None of the three has any real run of dominance to point to, and their numbers support this.

Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson do have some dominance to point to, but neither is guaranteed to spend more than five years with the team (Haren has an option for 2013, while Wilson’s contract runs through 2016). Peter Bourjos had a good 2011, but has already lost his starting gig.

As it stands right now, I see four above average candidates. Albert Pujols has less than 90 games with the Angels to date, but the team has relied on marketing him rather heavily. Also, he’s guaranteed to be in L.A. through 2021, so he has time. His time as best hitter in the majors is probably over, but an above-average decade is not out of the question.

Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout also arrived rather recently. With Trout, the sky is obviously the limit, but only time will tell. Trumbo is less of a sure thing (with issues like his lack of a clear position, relatively late start, and low patience), but he could very well put together a solid run over the next few years. Again, only time will tell.

And lastly, there’s Mike Scoscia. I would go as far as to call him the best bet of anyone I’ve covered for the team. 2012 represents his 13th year managing (all with the Angels), and in that time, he’s led the team to a 1115-918 record, good for a .548 winning percentage, and their first World Series win. Along the way, he’s added two Manager of the Year Awards and six playoff appearances. On top of that, he’s pretty much locked in with the team for the foreseeable future; his contract goes through 2018. I can’t imagine any other managers in the game today have as strong of a resume for a retired number.

So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the future are, in order:

Mike Scoscia-14
Chuck Finley-31
Tim Salmon-15
Jered Weaver-36
Mike Trout-27
Bobby Grich-4
Albert Pujols-5
Mark Trumbo-44
Brian Downing-5
Vladimir Guerrero-27
Frank Tanana-40
Garrett Anderson-16
Jim Edmonds-25
Don Baylor-25
Peter Bourjos-25
Francisco Rodriguez-57
Troy Percival-40
Darin Erstad-17
Wally Joyner-21
Troy Glaus-25
John Lackey-41
Chone Figgins-9
Mark Langston-12

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