The 2016 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are not going to be invited to this year’s post season tournament, so that leaves fans to relax and just enjoy the incredible defensive plays performed by Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, and Andrelton Simmons and root for Albert Pujols to climb ever higher into the upper echelon of baseball’s home run hitting immortals. But even while enjoying these delights, with the Angels being so decidedly out of contention, the mind tends to wander a bit, and I got to wondering which Angels, by position, recorded the highest OPS+ in a season. With fifty-five seasons of Angel baseball in the history books, it seemed like there would be some impressive numbers on this list, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Catcher, Brian Downing, 1979
Downing always had the ability to draw a high amount of walks, but in this season, he was able to combine the best batting average of his career (.326 in 148 games) with the 77 bases on balls he drew to help him amass a .418 OBP. He finished third in the American League that year in both batting average and on-base percentage. He had good power numbers for a catcher, hitting 12 home runs and 27 doubles that year. When you add his OBP to his SLG and then adjust for the park and the league in which he played, Downing laid claim to a 142 OPS+. He also racked up 5.6 WAR in 1979 and was an All-Star (bafflingly, this was Downing’s only All-Star Game selection — he always had a high OBP, and he grew to increase his power production all the while being an above average defender). In the 1979 All-Star Game, Downing got one at bat as a pinch hitter, and he delivered an 8th inning single off of Bruce Sutter, but he was later thrown out at home by right fielder Dave Parker for the final out of the inning.
First Baseman, Don Mincher, 1967
With all of the great offensive first basemen the Angels have had over the years — Rod Carew, Wally Joyner, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Albert Pujols — it surprised me to find that the one with the highest OPS+ in Angel history was Don Mincher, with a mark of 156. He achieved this distinction during one of baseball’s deadball eras, but even so, Mincher had a .367 OBP and hit 25 home runs and 23 doubles. He was the cleanup hitter for the fifth place Angels that year, which was appropriate since his .487 SLG was 136 points higher than the league average. The Angels acquired him in 1966 in a trade that sent Dean Chance to the Twins, which tells you how much the Angels coveted Mincher’s batting skills. He received the first of his two career All-Star team selections in 1967, and got a pinch hit, lead off single against the great Bob Gibson in the eighth inning.
Second Baseman, Bobby Grich, 1981
In the strike shortened season on 1981, Bobby Grich posted an incredible 165 OPS+ in the 100 games he played in. Grich was always an on-base machine, and this season was no different as he reached the .378 mark, helped in part by finishing 9th in the league in being hit by a pitch, a valuable skill he and Don Baylor both learned during their time with Frank Robinson’s Baltimore Orioles. But what sent Grich’s OPS+ through the roof this season was his slugging. He finished seventh in total bases in the AL that season, but more impressive than that was that he was the first second baseman to lead the AL in home runs since Nap Lajoie did it with the Philadelphia Athletics back in 1901. Although Grich won a Silver Slugger award for the 1981 season, he was not named to that year’s All-Star team. Grich had a higher OBP and more home runs than both Willie Randolph and Frank White, the two second basemen who were selected for the team, but Grich had broken his finger on June 6th when he was hit by a pitch, so he was unavailable. Luckily, the time he spent nursing his injury pretty much overlapped with the time that play was suspended during the mid-season strike.
Third Baseman, Troy Glaus, 2000
In just his second year as a regular player, the former UCLA star had a tremendous season for the third place Anaheim Angels. He led the league in home runs with 47, which was four more than second place finishers Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas could muster. Glaus also had 37 doubles which helped him come in sixth in the league in SLG (.604). Not only did Glaus post a towering slugging percentage that season, but his on-base percentage was also stratospheric. His mark of .404 was bolstered by the 112 walks he drew, which was good for fourth best in the league. Overall, the record will show that Glaus posted a 150 OPS+ for the 2000 campaign, a season that saw Glaus win a Silver Slugger award and an All-Star team selection. This would be the first of four All-Star teams Glaus would make, and in this one he had one plate appearance, in the sixth inning, that resulted in a 6-3 ground out against Darryl Kile.
Tune in tomorrow to check out the shortstop spot in this lineup.