The LA Angels got off to a lousy start in 2010. They seem to have turned it around. How far around is yet to be determined. But it did lead to some reflection on the players who left, which led to tracking their numbers so far.
Some regret, some relief, some surprise.
Here's a quick rundown on the ones that got away (or were sent packing.)
JOHN LACKEY. Record so far, 1-1. Sandwiched in between the decisions was a classic Lackey no runs in 6 innings performance. First two starts, stellar, last start an unqualified stinker. But even in the stinker, Lackey brought back great memories of his competitive spirit. When his left fielder let a ball get past him and roll all the way to the wall, the cameras caught Lackey cursing out loud.
Now, I'm not saying it's cool to curse your teammates, but, well, I do miss his fire. That - and his talent - is what made him an ace for the Halos. The only one on the staff now who seems to have the same grit, the same number one capability, is Jered Weaver. Joel Piniero might have it, but it's too early to tell. He's got the scowl, though.
Do the Angels miss Lackey? Yes. The starting rotation has pitched well lately,
but the Angels have reached a level where excelling in the regular season isn't enough. They need three dominant starters that can win the monster games on the road in the playoffs. Lackey was one of those starters.
CHONE FIGGINS. Batting average so far: .192. Is he pressing in Seattle? Obviously. One can't blame him for taking the bigger contract, but it is a rare player who doesn't struggle in a new environment, with new coaches and teammates and philosophy. It took Figgins a long time to find his way with the Angels, and quite frankly, he likely wouldn't have had the opportunity to do so with another manager, especially at third base.
For years Figgins wasted his speed by being a free swinger and fly ball hitter. He finally put it together the last few years, but as we saw in the playoffs, when he presses, he loses the leverage he has worked so hard to obtain.
Figgins won't hit .200 all year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see his final number in the .260's.
Do we miss his smile and enthusiasm? Absolutely. But despite the catastrophic start by Brandon Wood, I still say the Angels don't miss Chone between the lines. Erick Aybar has moved comfortably into the leadoff spot (as evidenced by the fact no one is talking about it.) And Maicer Izturis is a strong back-up plan to Wood.
For the Angels to return to the World Series, they need a better balance of speed and power than they've had the last few years. There were too many of the same type of player: Figgins, Aybar, Izturis, Reggie Willits, even to a certain extent Howie Kendrick. You can't count on three singles in the playoffs against another team's ace to score. Sometimes you need that two out, bases empty, homer.
VLADIMIR GUERRERO. First off, let me just say I love Vladdy. He was a joy to root for, and he was one of the best players the Angels have ever had.
But I don't miss him this season. Yes, he was hitting .327 as of this writing, but he started out in the .600's! So there have been quite a few whiffs since then.
Knowing Vladdy, it's been one pitch and done most of the time. I can only imagine what Texas Ranger fans are going through, seeing his incredible ability in the beginning of the season, and now wondering why he doesn't TAKE a pitch. One pitch. Please!
Vladdy seems to start every year with the intent on being more patient at the plate. When he is, when he swings at his pitch rather than at the pitcher's, Vladdy is unstoppable. He truly makes solid contact better than almost anyone in the game. But a leopard can't change his spots, and sooner rather than later Vladdy starts hacking at every pitch thrown. Vladdy is wired to SWING, so he does.
It's hard to criticize a guy hitting over .300, but Vladdy is the most frustrating .300 hitter around - because he could so easily hit .350 if he would be more selective. He's that gifted.
His replacement in the Angels line-up, Hideki Matsui, doesn't have Vladdy's charm, but he brings a much needed patience to the plate. And he's a pretty good hitter himself.
So, this one has worked out in the Angels' favor. Vladdy had to go. He had worn out his welcome with the wild hacking. But he will forever be appreciated in Angel-land. This season, however, I'm happy to appreciate him as a Texas Ranger.
GARY MATTHEWS JR. Who knows what he's hitting? Who cares? He got a single the other day for the NY Mets, and it felt like a fluke. This guy drugged his way into a huge season, managed to fool the Angels brass (shame on them) into giving him a huge contract, and then played down to his abilities. He was never the all-star fielder he was made out to be, either. That reputation seemed to have been built off of one great catch.
The one thing in his favor is that when he was relegated to fifth outfielder with the Angels, he kept his mouth shut (with the exception of a one-day awol in pre-season) and played out the year. Other guys might have blasted the team to the press all season long.
So good bye to Mister Matthews, and good luck. I would just tell Mets fans not to expect too much.
DARREN OLIVER. The quiet one. The steady one. The one the Angels really miss. His presence in the bullpen was under-appreciated. If the team needed an inning to quell a rally, to get to the closer, the keep the game close, he nearly always came through. A tough out against a tough lefty? He did that well, too. The weak spot on this 2010 team is clearly middle relief. No one talks about Oliver's departure. But the team misses him. Maybe the most of any of the players gone from 2009.
And finally, a quick shout-out to three ex Angels who never wanted to leave: Casey Kotchman, Troy Glaus, and Garret Anderson.
It was great to see Kotchman get come clutch hits for Seattle recently - as long as he doesn't get TOO many of them. Casey was a class act, a solid player, who played hard and well for the Halos.
I always have and always will root for Troy Glaus. He is enshined in Angels' lore for that beautiful line drive double over the head of a flailing Barry Bonds in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. It's good to see him still playing and starting in the bigs. The Angels NEVER should have let him get away.
And it's nice to have Garret close-by playing for that other LA team, although by all rights he should have been allowed to end his career as an Angel, a la Tim Salmon. Most likely, however, Garret would not have been as comfortable being a pinch-hitter for the team he had starred for, as he is with the Dodgers.
I wish them all well... unless, of course, they're playing against the Halos.