Doesn’t it seem like certain players perform better against certain teams? For years, Angels broadcasters said Tim Salmon always hit well against the Rangers. Or Alex Rodriguez always hit well against the Angels. It’s a whimsical thought, a ballplayer entering a particular road stadium and energized by local strip clubs the batting eye in center field or the pregame spread. Really, it’s likely a fluke or can easily be explained with some context. Salmon was a good hitter, Texas usually had poor pitchers, and Arlington is a good hitter’s park. A-Rod is one of the greatest players ever. Boring things like that. Great hitters hit because they are great hitters, a dull yet true reality.
What’s more curious than A-Rod going yard in Anaheim, though, is the mediocre or worse players that for some reason excel against the Angels. Similar to Salmon, I recall for years Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler praising Willie Bloomquist’s efforts against the Angels. Carlos Silva seemed to induce about 8 GIDPs per game when facing the Halos. Raul Ibanez was The Babe versus the Angels and, well, Willie Bloomquist when he donned an Angel uniform. Why do these little recognized players excel against the Angels? Probably for no reason at all!
I don’t actually know if Bloomquist or Ibanez or Silva really played better against the Angels, but it sure felt like it. So today, I’m attempting to answer the eternal question:* which players perform the best against the Angels? Here was my methodology: using BaseballReference’s Play Index, I sorted at each position which players had accrued the most Win Probability Added (WPA) against the Angels since 2010 — the caveat is that each position on this team has to be filled by a player that has never made an All Star team.
* No, not the meaning of life.
WPA, in a nutshell, is the percentage a player adds (or takes away) from his team’s chance of winning. For example, if the Angels have a 12% chance of winning a game, and Mike Trout hits a homer to increase the chance of victory to 32%, Trout’s at-bat improved the Angels’ chances by 20% and gave Trout .20 WPA. Pretty simple.
There are problems using WPA; in short, it’s a counting stat, so players that face the Angels most often have a greater likelihood of making the team. That means lots of AL West guys. But I kind of prefer it that way. The reason it feels like Justin Smoak murders the Angels is because we get sick of watching him 19 games a year bash the Halos. And, division games are the most important, so an opponent’s success hurts all the more.
The reason I chose WPA is precisely because it is a counting stat. It’s a less vague counting stat than homers and RBI — I don’t care all that much if Mitch Moreland hits a home run in the 8th when the Angels are winning or trailing by seven runs, but I care a whole lot if Moreland hits a game-tying double in the top of the 9th. Choosing a rate state like OPS could also be problematic, because a player could have 10 plate appearances against the Angels and flash an OPS of 1800. With WPA, there’s at least some context.
Now, some of these guys aren’t no-name players. Many of them are quite good. yet may not be recognized among casual fans. But…had to draw the line somewhere, and with something more tangible than “I perceive this guy isn’t very good.” With all that background out of the way, I present to you the Angels Annoying Opponent All Stars.
Catcher – John Jaso (1.4 WPA)
Old friend Mike Napoli was disqualified from consideration due to his one and only All Star appearance in 2012, so Jaso gets the nod. Second to only Kurt Suzuki and A.J. Pierzynski in appearances against the Angels, Jaso has made the most of his opportunities, batting 41 points higher against the Angels than his career batting average.
Backup: AJ Pierzynski, with a 1.3 WPA and 3.6 DQAR (Douche Quota Above Replacement)
First Base – Mike Carp (0.6 WPA)
I’m cheating a bit. Brandon Moss is easily the WPA leader for first baseman against the Angels with 2.1, more than double the next closest (Mark Teixiera at 1.0). But Moss is raking this season, and despite his relative anonymity I’ll give American Leagues players the benefit of the doubt that he’s Miguel Cabrera’s backup at the Midsummer Classic in July. So the choice is Mike Carp, proving that not all species of fish are bred to help the Angels.
Also, a special shout out to Jose Bautista, who in only two appearances as a first baseman against the Angels still has the fifth highest WPA for “first basemen.”
Backup: Anthony Rizzo (0.6 WPA)
Second Base – Adam Rosales (0.5 WPA)
I’m not even entirely certain who this person is.
Tommy La Stella is fifth among all second basemen in WPA against the Angels since 2010. That’s in 14 plate appearances, mind you. I watched very little of the #Barves series a couple weeks ago, but whenever I was checking the score on my MLB app, some dude named La Stella — as if he was a minor character in West Side Story — was on base. Baseball is stupid.
Backup: Tommy La Stella (0.5 WPA)
Third base – Lonnie Chisenhall (0.5 WPA)
He of the ridiculous game versus the Rangers recently, also apparently kills the Angels. David Freese is fifth on the list against the Angels, but he would be disqualified anyway because he was an All Star in 2012. Maybe he’ll make the the All Star team this year too lol.
Backup: Brett Lawrie (0.4 WPA)
Shortstop – Yunel Escobar (0.6 WPA)
Guh. He sucks as a human, so it’s especially obnoxious to recognize that he excels versus Weaver & Co. With each base hit it’s like he’s kicking a civil rights activist in the groin. Against the Angels since 2010 he’s batting .333/.400/.500, because Angels pitchers hate equality.
Backup: Jonathan Herrera (0.6 WPA)
Left Field – Yoenis Cespedes (1.0 WPA)
I wrote some love poems to Cespedes a couple weeks ago due to his defensive prowess, but he rakes against Halo pitching too, slugging .781 in 20 games as a left fielder against the Angels.
Backup: Josh Willingham (0.9 WPA)
Center Field – Craig Gentry (0.6 WPA)
Like first base, I called an audible. Michael Brantley leads the bunch with 0.9 WPA added, but currently in his breakout campaign he seems a safe bet to represent the Cleveland Indians at the All Star Game. The next non-All Star? Mr. Cespedes, again. While I don’t doubt Billy Beane and Jonah Hill are working on a way to clone Cespedes, I cannot have two Cespedi on the team. So Gentry gets the call. Of note in his center field games against the Angels: 13 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
Backup: Shin-Soo Choo, who to my surprise has never been an All Star (0.4 WPA)
Right Field – Nick Markakis (0.9 WPA)
It’s not even like he’s hitting for power against the Angels, with only six extra-base hits in 108 plate appearances. But he’s still hitting .300. Death by single is the most frustrating death.
Backup: David Murphy (0.6 WPA)
Designated Hitter – Adam Lind (0.4 WPA)
I was surprised I didn’t even have to bypass David Ortiz, who sits in ninth place. Doesn’t seem like this position has really killed the Angels, other than Billy Butler’s 1.5 WPA — the next closest was Nick Swisher, and he’s about a full win worse than Butler. Despite Lind’s inclusion on the team, he’s still only slashing .226/.317/.472 as a DH against the Angels. This is like when a crappy team, by rule, needs an All Star, except they have no good players so their closer with a 3.68 ERA makes the team by default.
Backup: Jed Lowrie (0.4 WPA)
Pinch Hitter – Brandon Allen (0.9 WPA)
In 13 plate appearances as a pinch hitter against the Angels, John Jaso is slugging .800. So, yeah, screw that guy. Cespedes Rules apply here, so no Jaso means Allen makes the squad. Allen more or less delivered a full win for the Rays when he hit a walk-off shot off then-closer Jordan Walden on April 26, 2012. You may recall this game knocked Walden out of the closer role, a job he did not regain. After the season, the Angels dealt Walden for Tommy Hanson, who was terrible for the Angels in 2013 (5.42 ERA) and currently has a 6.16 ERA for the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox’ Triple-A affiliate. Meanwhile Walden has had a sub-.2.90 FIP the last two seasons in Atlanta, and the Angels could really use some bullpen help.
Brandon Allen is the worst.
Backup: Kurt Suzuki (0.4 WPA)
Pitcher, as a batter – Brad Penny (0.3 WPA)
Out of morbid curiosity I wanted to list this position as well. Penny was an All Star, but I have a hunch it wasn’t for his batting prowess. On May 21, 2010, Penny, then a Cardinal, hit a 3rd inning grand slam off Joel Pineiro (remember him?!). For a pitcher, allowing a home run to a pitcher has to be the worst feeling. A grand slam just turns the embarrassment up to 11. By the way, Brandon Wood started at third base in that game, went 0-for-4, and lowered his slash line to .157/169/.215. Dark days, 2010.
Backup: Taylor Jordan (0.1 WPA)
Starting Pitcher – Jason Vargas (1.1 WPA)
This one isn’t surprising at all. Jerry Dipoto knew this, and that’s why he acquired Vargas for 2013, so the Angels could at least have one season of reprieve. In 12 starts against the Angels, Vargas has a 2.40 ERA, just a little lower than his 4.19 career mark. At least Vargas is in Kansas City for a few years, where the Angels will only have to face him once or twice a year.
Backup: Erik Bedard (1.0 WPA)
Relief Pitcher – Tom Wilhelmsen (1.2 WPA)
I debated even including a relief pitcher on the team. Their WPA’s skew very high or very low just based on when they pitch, i.e. late in games where wins or losses are imminent. And with very few, Mariano-like exceptions, they probably don’t really deserve to make the All Star team anyway. There’s not much “annoying” about a guy that comes in and throws 98 MPH for 11 pitches then sits down. But, for the sake of completion, here we are. In 23 innings against the Angels, Wilhelmsen has struck out 25 Angels. That is good.
Backup: Jerry Blevins (0.9 WPA)
Manager – Bob Melvin, probably
There’s no WPA for managers, but given Oakland’s surprising success since 2012 and their Angels-related beat downs, Melvin is a safe bet. It doesn’t hurt that the Athletics are the most represented team on this list, with four players that have been in Oakland since 2010.
Backup: Mike Scioscia — I wonder sometimes.