What’s wrong with the Angels?

The Sporting Tribune's Taylor Blake Ward explains what's wrong with the Angels.

“Tungsten Arm” O’Doyle of the 1921 Akron Groomsmen is having himself quite the year.

The fictional baseball player from the fictional baseball team was created in a tweet by Twitter user Matt English.

His now-viral tweet began as purely a joke, but it’s had its share of factuality. In the tweet below, Matt mentions that “Mike Trout hit three home runs and raised his average to .528, while Shoehi Ohtani did something that hasn’t been done since “Tungsten Arm” O’Doyle of the 1921 Akron Groomsmen.”

Trout has not had a three-home run game this season and is not batting over .500, but instead has hit home runs in each of his last four games while still possessing a  .982 OPS. Meanwhile, Shohei Ohtani became the fourth player at the highest pinnacle of baseball to have double digits wins as a pitcher and double-digit home runs as a hitter in a single season joining the well-known Babe Ruth in 1918, and the lesser-known Negro League players Bullet Rogan with the 1922 Kansas City Monarchs and Ed Rile with the 1927 Detroit Stars. Ohtani has gone on to become the only player with double digits wins as a pitcher and more than 16 home runs as a hitter.

The final part of what is known as the “Tungsten Arm O’Doyle tweet” is where the factuality really sets in. English closes out the post with the comment: “as the Tigers defeated the Angels 8-3.”

Though the score didn’t match, the Angels did lose their most recent game on Wednesday to the Detroit Tigers by a final score of 5-4, which gives them a record of 60-77, which puts them 28 games out of the American League West and 16.5 games out of a wildcard position. With a .438 winning percentage, the Angels are on pace to lose 91 games in 2022, which would be their highest loss total since 1999 and would be their seventh consecutive season finishing under .500.

It leads to the confusing and constant question that always comes up with the Angels: How can a team with two of the best players ever not find a way to make it to the MLB Playoffs?

Whether fair or not, finger-pointing from the masses is once again the only answer for those who struggle to answer a question that doesn’t have a set answer. Is it pitching? Is it injuries? Is it a lack of system depth? Is it the Front Office? Is it ownership?

“Can he pitch?” became the other constant inquiry among any acquisition the Angels made during the winters from 2016-2022, and for proper reasons. From 2016-2021, the Angels’ pitching staff had the ninth worst team ERA in the Majors and the seventh worst in accumulated WAR and FIP. In 2022, the Angels’ pitching staff is top 15 in the Majors in all three of those categories, and are 10th in ERA.

With a new head athletic trainer in Mike Frostad, there has been more clarity on injuries, but they are still occurring at a costly rate. There are currently seven members of the Angels’ 40-man roster on the 60-day Injured List, including Jared Walsh (thoracic outlet syndrome) and Anthony Rendon (wrist), who has played just 155 games in his three years with the organization. Trout has also spent time on the injured List with a back injury that has questions about lingering effects. Injuries occur with every team, but not each team can bounce back from losses to their star talents for an extended period of time, such as the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves, who were without Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuña Jr. during the 2021 campaign.

Dating back to the Dipoto-era of the Angels, Jerry Dipoto was handcuffed in the draft room for most of his tenure with free agent signings – most not to his fault – limiting Dipoto to just two first- round selections as general manager. On the international side, Dipoto handcuffed himself – to his own fault – by signing Roberto Baldoquin for $8 million, which held the Angels’ international expenditures for years, which impacted the system greatly. Billy Eppler came in with a clean slate with all of his first-round picks intact and an international budget, but most of the high-risk profiles he selected have yet to blossom while his “safer” selections of Matt Thaiss, Will Wilson, and Reid Detmers have come with mixed results, including the trade of Wilson to part with the Zack Cozart contract.

Perry Minasian has received mixed praise and criticism for the drafts he has made during his two years as Angels general manager, with most leaning towards positivity despite still having a bottom five system ranked by major outlets. Most of the criticism comes from taking 20 pitchers with 20 picks in 2021, but the fruits of the labor have already started to blossom as Chase Silseth, an 11th-round pick from 2021, became the first pick from his class to reach the Majors, while other selections like Ky Bush, Landon Marceaux, and Zach Neto are beginning to appear in the internal depth charts, along with recent trade deadline acquisitions; Jose Marte, Elvis Peguero, Janson Junk, Tucker Davidson, Mickey Moniak, and Logan O’Hoppe.

Addressing immediate needs, Minasian went pitcher heavy in his 2021/2022 winter. Minus the signing of Noah Syndergaard, most of the signings were low impact, which have come with minimal production.

The combined efforts of Archie Bradley, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, and Michael Lorenzen have seen a 4.31 ERA, while the return of Kurt Suzuki with new additions in Matt Duffy, Andrew Velazquez, and Magneuris Sierra have combined to hit .203 with a .519 OPS.

This, of course, does not include the re-signing of Raisel Iglesias, who had a 4.04 ERA and 16 saves before being traded to the Atlanta Braves, and Jimmy Herget, who is now serving as the Angels’ closer with a 2.56 ERA.

As noted, and despite the lackluster numbers from the off-season acquisitions, pitching isn’t the problem. The Angels simply can’t hit unless Trout and Ohtani are firing on all cylinders. With a team OPS+ of 91 – nine percent below league average – injuries to Trout, Rendon, Walsh, and David Fletcher have put what could have been a lethal offense into a spiral and demise that has led the Angels to where they are. Only four of the Angels “every day” players on offense are performing above league average.

The primary criticism of Minasian came after the firing of manager Joe Maddon during a 14-game losing streak, which Minasian said was purely his decision and followed it by taking responsibility for the roster with the comment: “There hasn’t been one phase of the game where we’ve been good.”

Maddon has openly expressed his frustration with the state of the game in multiple facets and has included the disconnect between Front Offices and the manager’s decisions being made through the Front Office’s’ analytical models, though that was dismissed by Minasian following initial comments from Maddon to The Athletic, saying, “There was never any disconnect mentioned. Joe made the lineup. Joe made the pitching decisions. I’m a big believer in that is the manager’s job, not the Front Offices’ job.”

Under Maddon, the Angels went 27-29 (.482), while playing under interim manager Phil Nevin the club has gone 33-48 (.407).

The one constant through the struggles over the last decade for the Angels comes from ownership in Arte Moreno. Whether fair or not, Moreno has been widely criticized for his hands-on involvement with key free agent decisions like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Anthony Rendon, while the Angels organization has struggled to find consistency in the Front Office with no general manager having more than a half-decade long tenure and limitations to their internal system building and financial handicaps.

A businessman first, Moreno has seen his product grow substantially after purchasing the team in 2003 for around $180 million and building it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise now valued at $2.2 billion (Forbes).

It is well known that Moreno has a desire to win and understands that winning aides in the business model with it bringing more people to the ballpark and more revenue which could be the key attribute to signing star players and as one executive called it, “wanting shiny things.”

That singular constant for the Angels will be changing in the near future however, as Moreno announced in a press release on August 23 that he – and the Galatioto Sports Partners – was exploring the sale of the Angels franchise.

The sale itself won’t happen overnight and can take anywhere from months to years to occur, but it leads to another large looming question: What will happen with any potential Shohei Ohtani extension?

Ohtani is arguably the best player in baseball as it stands due to his ability to play both sides of the ball as a hitter and pitcher, something that hasn’t been done at this level in a century. The valuation of what an Ohtani extension would look like is a differing question in itself and whether or not he may be the first half-billion-dollar player in the game, and will Arte Moreno spend that kind of money on a player on a team he won’t be owning soon?

One former baseball executive compared it to selling a house noting, “Moreno put a ‘for sale’ sign on the Angels and most people will spruce up their house prior to sellingto the selling it. You could compare most extensions to having a new deck or new roof, but Ohtani is like having a new wing built to your mansion.”

Notably, Ohtani accounted for 28% of 2022 All-Star merchandise sales, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, and makes $6 million in endorsement deals, according to Forbes, with some appearing as sponsors at Angel Stadium. Though there is no exact amount recorded, Forbes mentioned that Ohtani could be worth more than $20 million in off-field value and sales from merchandise and endorsements.

It’s just one more question to the puzzle that is the Los Angeles Angels.

Will they be able to win with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani? Will they extend Shohei Ohtani? Will Arte Moreno want to extend Shohei Ohtani? Will Tungsten Arm O’Doyle finally be put away for good?

Question after question after question.

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