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The curious futility of the Angels

Second place in the AL West since 2010, but rarely ever good

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners
Trout and Pujols only played 3 postseason games together
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

This post is not really about baseball analysis. It’s also not intended to rip on the Los Angeles Angels, although that’s kind of an inevitable offshoot, and not one that I make much effort to avoid. It’s more just philosophizing on numbers, and how they can do weird things sometimes.

Last weekend, I posted an article based on the combined MLB standings since 2010. The A’s happen to lead the AL West division since that arbitrary endpoint, which is neat, so we took a moment to appreciate that success for whatever it might be worth.

  1. OAK, 961-881
  2. LAA, 925-917, 36.0 GB
  3. TEX, 925-918, 36.5 GB
  4. HOU, 913-929, 48.0 GB
  5. SEA, 875-967, 86.0 GB

However, there was something far more interesting in those standings, noted by AN community member “harmony” in the comments:

“The Los Angeles Angels in second place in [the AL West] is most surprising ... in light of the fact that the Halos have MLB’s longest current streak of consecutive losing seasons.”

That’s an excellent point. We can understand how the A’s would be on top, having gone through two full cycles of contention since 2010, even though the Astros have been better lately. But how in the world did the Angels finish in second? As harmony mentioned, they’ve reeled off six straight losing seasons, the longest active skid in the sport! And it’s not like they were crushing it in the six years before that.

The answer is that the Halos have lived in that dreaded limbo between truly contending and truly rebuilding. They haven’t quite been good enough to make serious noise, but they also haven’t fully bottomed out, with no seasons worse than 90 losses. They’ve been perpetually mediocre while the other clubs have experienced highs and lows.

In the dozen campaigns since 2010, the Angels have reached the playoffs only once, and they were swept out of the 2014 ALDS in three games. They’ve managed winning records in only four seasons, though they got close three other years at 80 wins apiece and twice more at 78 and 77. And they’ve finished in second place or higher only three times, including the one runaway division title that sent them to October, but never in last place.

Meanwhile, the Rangers went to a pair of World Series in 2010-11, then retooled and won a couple more division titles in 2015-16, but finally did a more proper rebuild that resulted in 102 losses this year. The Astros did their scorched-earth from 2011-13 with 324 losses combined, which weighs down their long-term record even after three 100-win campaigns more recently. Even the Mariners, despite missing the playoffs entirely, managed the same number of winning seasons (4) while also doing substantially more rebuilding.

That all added up to a surprising second place in the entire time span for the consistently mediocre Halos, even though they rarely finished that high in any individual year. It’s not a particularly meaningful metric that tells us anything new about them, more like a neat statistical fluke based on an arbitrary endpoint. But it is emblematic of their futility over the past decade-plus, especially when considering they would also be third in a two-team Wild Card race. Just good enough to not get anywhere.

The point isn’t that the Angels suck, even though the evidence would strongly support that. To their credit, from 2002-09 they went to the postseason six times and won a ring, and they’ll get there again someday. Hopefully not soon, but they do still have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani for the foreseeable future, and lots of money, and maybe a little bit of pitching finally.

Rather, numbers are weird sometimes. And in this case, they’re weird in just the right way as to highlight the peculiar misery of the Angels.