The Anaheim Angels came into 2002 fresh off a number of acquisitions, though they were not as grandiose as many believed at the time. They acquired two main cogs in their rotation in Kevin Appier (14-12, 3.92 ERA) and Aaron Sele (8-9, 4.89 ERA), as well as DH Brad Fullmer from the Blue Jays, who subsequently went on to hit 22 home runs. However, the Angels of 2002 were not flush with money; starting the season with the 15th highest payroll in baseball (the Indians were 9th in 2002).
Sports Illustrated predicted the Angels to finish third in the AL West (18th overall), with Tom Verducci stating that this team needs their big name hitters to contribute and their rotation to eat enough innings to get the ball to their bullpen, namely Troy Percival. He went on to state that the Angels’ rotation threw the second highest amount of innings in the MLB behind the Athletics. Overall, the Angels looked like a middling team that had potential, but needed a multitude of things to go their way to become contenders.
Anaheim opened the 2002 season with a loss to Cleveland that got the ball rolling on a 6-14 start, the worst in Angels’ history. Combined with their 6-25 finish to 2001, the Angels were 12-39 in their past 51 games. At this point, few believed the Angels were close to playoff contention in the juggernaut AL West. However, the ball started to roll for the Angels, as they finished the season 99-63 to win the AL Wild Card. From that point, they went on to go on a magical postseason run, (remember the Rally Monkey?) defeating the Yankees, Twins, and the Barry Bonds led Giants. In Game 7 of the World Series, rookie John Lackey pitched five innings of one-hit ball to lead the Angels to the promise land, an personification of the good fortune the Angels saw throughout the 2002 season.
Could the 2013 Indians of all teams be even remotely related to such a magical and successful team? To be honest, the similarities are scary, but very exciting.
Both the 2002 Angels and 2013 Indians started poorly after a terrible collapse to finish the prior season. Both teams were middle of the road payroll wise (15th and 21st respectively), and were predicted to be an average team. Both teams are also in divisions with an apparent juggernaut (Mariners and Tigers, respectively.) Despite all of this, the similarities extend into the rosters as well.
It is conventional wisdom that teams need elite starting rotations to become World Series contenders. Take for instance, the 2012 Giants. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito combined to start 160 games, pitch 987 2/3 innings and post a 3.73 ERA. Teams see this continuity and success and try their best to replicate it. What is the easiest way to compile elite talent? Overspend. For example, the Blue Jays traded for big name starters R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle this past offseason. However, this is incredibly expensive, and is only marginally successful. What good is an elite rotation if the bullpen ultimately blows games? (I’m looking at you, Detroit.)
Because of the cost and infrequency of compiling such an elite rotation, it makes sense to compile an elite bullpen (because most of the pitchers will be relatively cheap) while acquiring bargains or innings-eaters as starters. Thusly you will get more wins per dollar spent, a concept now used prevalently throughout baseball (though apparently not widely enough).
Tieing in with my point, these are the stats of the starters for the 2002 Angels who started more than six games:
This was in my opinion the sixth best rotation in the AL, behind the Yankees, Mariners, Athletics, Red Sox and Twins. This rotation had an ERA of 4.00, and had marginal success from the 4-5 positions. I believe that the Indians at their best have a rotation capable of being as good as this Angels rotation, and at any other times, they are at least comparable. The 2002 Angels rotation was not dominant. While they did have two very good starters at the top, it was very average from there on. One mainstay in the second half of the season was rookie John Lackey, who showed signs of stardom after being called up to assist in the rotation. Lackey replaced Scott Schoeneweis in the rotation, who moved to the bullpen and subsequently compiled a 3.25 while working in a set-up role. Could Trevor Bauer be our John Lackey? Overall, I believe that with Masterson, Jimenez, McAllister, Myers and Bauer/Kazmir/Carrasco, the Indians could match the effectiveness that the 2002 Angels rotation had.
Specifically, one thing that the Indians rotation must do that the 2002 Angels rotation did is eat innings. The 2002 Angels averaged 6.23 innings per start, and despite its inability to be elite, it handed the ball to a bullpen that would lock up the game almost every night. It is imperative that the Indians rotation as a whole learns how to go deeper into games. It is also possible that the Indians are buyers at the trade deadline, go out, and acquire a solid starting pitcher, if necessary. Nevertheless, with the effectiveness described above, I really like our chances.
What separated the Angels’ pitching from just average to super was their lights-out bullpen. Look at the effectiveness of the arms they had available:
The Angels had six arms that were below 3.25 ERA in their bullpen! Not to mention the addition of Francisco Rodriguez at the end of the season, who went on to hold a 1.48 ERA and 15.17 K/9 during the final two weeks/playoffs of 2002. Even if one or two pitchers weren’t available, they had four to five other arms at their disposal that would be similarly effective. I believe that the Indians have an equal amount of strength within their pen, with arms such as Perez, Pestano, Smith, Shaw, et al. Through 25 games, not a single Indians reliever has an ERA below Matt Albers’ 3.52 (via Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto). The Indians also rejected a number of solid arms this spring training, speaking to the depth and strength of this bullpen. Nick Hagadone, a solid young reliever with a 2.45 ERA, is even having problems staying in Cleveland.
The offensive ability of both teams seems to be rather equal. The Indians do not have an offensive sieve at any position, and neither did the 2002 Angels. However, the Angels were more focused on batting average than home runs, as they led the MLB with a team batting average of .282 and ranked 21st in home runs at 152. However, this lineup was not filled with superstars, rather a group of solid hitters with two standouts: Garrett Anderson (.306, 29 HR, 123 RBI) and Troy Glaus (.250, 30 HR, 111 RBI). I could see Mark Reynolds approaching Glaus’ numbers, and Carlos Santana providing the production that Anderson produced for the 2002 Angels.
With the amount of youth and potential on this team, the Indians can become an offensive powerhouse. We saw that potential against the Rays and Phillies, posting 10+ runs while making light of their pitchers’ Cy Young awards. While this team may fall in love with the home run, it is an efficient way of scoring. Although, one thing that the Indians must also avoid is injury. The Angels had their nine starters all compile greater than 425 at-bats.
Overall, if the Cleveland Indians put it all together as the 2002 Angels did, I vehemently believe they can take a run at the World Series. It is plausible to see the Indians winning 90+ games, especially with the optimism of their recent games. The 2002 Angels only had one All-Star in Garrett Anderson. They were not the average World Series team. The Indians would not be either. An energetic fan base and an icon to rally behind (come on Slider!) would not hurt as well. Ultimately, the pessimism around the Indians’ chances this year is sickening when such a similar example of success is right in front of our eyes. The pieces are here to win, we just need to look at history and embrace the possibilities of the 2013 season.