Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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The Angels Are Insane

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In December of 2011, the Los Angeles Angels were looking to make a splash. With the incredibly talented center fielder Mike Trout showing flashes in the outfield, the Angels thought they were a bat away from contention. Who better to lead this team than World Series champion and two-time MVP Albert Pujols? Pujols had just turned 31, and the Angels looked to secure the end of his prime for $240 million over 10 years.

Long story short, it didn’t work. Pujols produced for the first few years, but as he missed time with injuries and Trout emerged as the greatest player of the decade, Pujols atrophied into a below replacement hitter. His contract ensured that the much needed money to shore up the pitching rotation instead lined the aging hitter’s pocket. 

In December of 2019, the Los Angeles Angels were looking to make a splash. With three-time MVP Mike Trout coming into his age 28 season and young pitcher/hitter phenom Shohei Ohtani capturing the Rookie of the Year award, the Angels thought they were a bat away from contention. Who better to compliment these two generational players than veteran silver slugger and World Series champion Anthony Rendon? Rendon had just turned 30 and the Angels paid $245 million to obtain his services for seven years.

The poor outcome was predictable. Rendon’s performance has been abysmal for the Angels so far in his short tenure, showing the terminal signs for an old hitter: injury, defensive lapses and loss of power. 

In a span of less than three months in 2021, Rendon hurt his groin, knee, tricep and hip, landing himself on the injured list for 80 days in total. Of the 162 games the Angels played in 2021, Rendon suited up for only 58 of them and got only 249 plate appearances. That means that the Angels paid Rendon more than $100,000 per plate appearance and $500,000 per hit. 

During his time with the Washington Nationals, Rendon was a serviceable defender, consistently performing about average in the league. Those days are evidently behind him as he has played his worst defense of his career with the Angels. Rendon went from consistently saving 6-12 runs above average every season with the Nationals to allowing 6-12 more runs than average this season according to Fielding Bible.

This all might be forgivable to Angels fans if they could see the pure batting power that carried the Nationals to their 2019 World Series. Unfortunately, this appears to be a thing of the past. Hard-hit Rate is a simple measure of a player’s power, with every ball a player hits over 95 mph classified as a “hard-hit ball” and the total rate calculated by dividing the number of “hard-hit balls” by the player’s total batted balls. Basically, the rate calculates what percentage of a player’s at-bats showed some power.

In Rendon’s 2019 season, his hard-hit rate ranked third in the league among players with 450 batted balls, with 46.6% of his batted balls coming at over 95 mph. In 2021, he was 242nd. His percentage fell by almost eight full points to 38.8%. He was becoming out-powered by legends of the game like Ty France and DJ Peters. These players are fighting to stay in the majors, not getting paid $28 million a year.

Personally, I don’t blame Rendon or Pujols in the slightest. If someone told me to sign on the dotted line for $250 million, I would do it. The issue here isn’t necessarily that they gave up, rather, it is the reality of being old hitters with squat frames and previous injuries doesn’t bode well going into your thirties. 

All of this begs the question: Why? Why did the Angels, after their traumatic experience with the Pujols contract, decide to do it all again with a batter who wasn’t as good in the first place?

Puzzling over this for more time than I care to tell, I have come up with one explanation: insanity. 

James Fulton famously said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” The vanity and pride wrapped up in running an enterprise worth billions of dollars has blinded the Angels leadership.

In that fateful December of 2019, with the Pujols deal the joke of the league, Angels’ general manager Billy Eppler had the opportunity to admit his mistake and spend his money on the pitching staff that had consistently been at the bottom of the league. Instead he signed Rendon, and started the cycle all over again. 

No one rises this high in the incredibly competitive and stat-intensive game of baseball being stupid. However, being immersed in that competitive environment and rising to the top can lead to pride — and refusing to see when you are blatantly wrong.

The first step out of this hole is accepting reality. Rendon is not the answer to the Angels’ problems, and he never was. The Angels should see if Rendon can find himself again, but shouldn’t be afraid to cut bait with him if there is a more promising option available.

I hope for Ohtani and Trout’s sake that the Angels find their sense, but if they don’t, I’m afraid we will have to see the greatest baseball players of our generation languish in a mental institution.

Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at bahendr1@uci.edu.