Jerome Williams: The Angels “Luck” Personified

marc w · August 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Jeff Sullivan distilled the feeling of being an M’s fan looking at the Angels’ sustained run of success perfectly yesterday:
“Why the Angels? Why the Angels, still? Why do they get to be magic? Are they really magic? It has to be luck, right? Why do they get to be so lucky? Why do they get to be so consistently whatever they are?”
Every year, a bunch of smart people write dozens of smart articles pointing out that the team’s core is aging, or that their line-up lacks power, that their defense may be suspect, or any number of perfectly logical reasons why they should struggle. And yet they don’t.

We can’t point to a once-in-a-generation alignment of great prospects, like the Rays in 2008. The Angels’ current crop of young players flew under the radar (Mike Trout excepted), but Peter Bourjos, Jordan Walden and Mark Trumbo have produced nonetheless. But while Bourjos never had the reputation of Trout (or hell, Michael Saunders), it’s not like he came out of nowhere. Everyone knew he’d be a plus defender, just like everyone knew Walden could throw really hard. It’s somewhat annoying that just when M’s fans were getting used to mocking overhyped Angels prospects, we’ve needed to adjust to underrated stars like Bourjos – but it’s not crazy.

We can’t chalk it up to an elite GM; this is the team that turned Mike Napoli into Vernon Wells. This is the team that’s obsessed with Jeff Mathis (and, to a lesser extent, Bobby Wilson). A little earlier, they were renowned for building a great farm system and scouting group, but most of those vaunted prospects flamed out, or turned into unlikely contributors in Tampa. They’ve not been above petty in-fighting either: they fired the scouting director who found most of their young stars (including Trout) last year. There’s crazy here, but not the kind that would explain sustained success.

Tonight, we saw something pretty crazy. Jerome Williams made his second consecutive solid start, tossing a great sinker, a change-up, a curveball and a cutter. The M’s scored two runs in the 4th on a series of slow ground balls and an opposite field double, and got a couple of consolation runs in the 7th when the game was out of reach. Williams wasn’t overpowering, but he generated 10 swinging strikes, got six strikeouts and a flurry of ground balls. This is the guy who last pitched in the majors in 2007, and who tore his rotator cuff before getting released by the Nationals. Time, indy-league bus rides, some valuable experience in the Taiwanese league and now he’s throwing nasty 92mph sinkers, and beating the M’s at Safeco? What? I’m still adjusting to the fact that Jerome Williams is playing baseball at all.

Go back and look at that BA Top 100 prospect list from 2002 or 2001 – both had Williams at #19. Several players on it went on to have full, fairly normal MLB careers – they broke in, bounced around a bit, had some good years, then declined, and ultimately retired. Guys like Jack Cust, who appears with Williams in both 2001 and 2002 and looks to be about done now. Or Brad Wilkerson, who had a decent run with the Expos before crashing out with the M’s (and that was three years ago). Marcus Giles, Joe Crede, Kevin Mench, Ramon Vasquez!

Williams came up with the Giants as one of three feared pitching prospects (Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert were the others) who all suffered serious arm injuries. Jesse Foppert had Tommy John surgery, then knee surgery. Williams had shoulder surgery in 2007. Ainsworth outdid his teammates, suffering a broken shoulder blade, a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum before retiring in 2006. The point of this isn’t to point out that other teams have seen their pitching prospect depth wiped out in quick succession, it’s that Williams pitching well for the Angels in 2011 is roughly the equivalent of Jesse Foppert pitching well in the majors in 2011.*

Perhaps worst of all, I can’t root against him. The whole thing is so ludicrous, it almost transcends the rivalry. It’s quite easy to say that now that the M’s are out of it and that Williams started opposite Anthony Vasquez, but I think I might cheer for Ryan Anderson or Clint Nageotte if they pitched for the A’s next year. Williams isn’t a difference-maker in the 2011 AL West race; he’s a talisman. The Angels roster includes Vernon Wells, Mike Trout, Bobby Wilson, Peter Bourjos, Jered Weaver and Jerome Williams. The Angels keep shooting themselves in the foot, but they’ve had enough prospects to overcome that. Now, apparently, they can raise the dead.

*We must keep the Angels away from Jesse Foppert.


11 Responses to “Jerome Williams: The Angels “Luck” Personified”

  1. marc w on August 30th, 2011 11:27 pm

    Not only have the Angels scouts turned up guys like Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, but their kids have hurt their divisional rivals.
    Anthony Vasquez and Casey Kotchman are both the sons of Angels’ scouts, and they’ve combined for something around 2 wins below replacement for the M’s in 2010-11. At long last, Anaheim, have you no sense of decency?

  2. The_Waco_Kid on August 31st, 2011 12:29 am

    Haha, one of the hardest parts of sports, and life, is dealing with ridiculous luck and things breaking against you at crazy rates. You just have to tell yourself things will regress to the mean. It’s hard though.

  3. Brantid on August 31st, 2011 4:48 am

    It is an interesting thought. I just played around at baseball reference and the Angels have averaged 89.1 wins from 2000-2010. Good enough for 3rd place in the AL East (NY 96.4, BOS 91.7). I thought that was going to be my premise, that the AL West has been so bad for a decade…but looking at the baseball references page on the Angels, two things did jump out at me in comparison to the M’s (aside from the wins):
    1. Mike Scioscia (even though I have triple checked, that still looks like it is spelled wrong) and 2. The Angels have kept their average player ages remarkably consistent between 27.7 to 30.0 (and only reaching 30.0 once), which is typically the “prime” for most players. The M’s, have typically averaged 2-4 yrs older (except for recently with the pitchers) or above the “typical prime” for a player. They break it down by hitters and pitchers and our hitters avgd above 31 yrs old about half the time. Granted, those where good years (mostly in the early 2000s) but with good older players, when we started to turn over, our average age of a hitter was typically ~29-30 yrs old. Not really a youth movement.

    Not a robust analysis, just something I found to be interesting. But the Angels may make a conserted effort to use players in and around their prime years where the M’s haven’t.

  4. paracorto on August 31st, 2011 7:22 am

    What happened to Kendry Morales does not look so lucky.

  5. Alec on August 31st, 2011 11:07 am

    Not only have the Angels scouts turned up guys like Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, but their kids have hurt their divisional rivals.
    Anthony Vasquez and Casey Kotchman are both the sons of Angels’ scouts, and they’ve combined for something around 2 wins below replacement for the M’s in 2010-11. At long last, Anaheim, have you no sense of decency?

    We can’t forget Figgins!

  6. Sports on a Schtick on August 31st, 2011 11:23 am

    At least the Angels got rid of Eddie Bane, the scouting director who helped load up their farm system.

  7. Mike Snow on August 31st, 2011 12:32 pm

    Actually, the really weird thing is to look at that 2001 list and see who’s ten spots above Williams… Ichiro.

  8. George Kaplan on August 31st, 2011 5:31 pm

    You seem genuinely perplexed, so maybe I can help…

    Before the franchise moved to LA, the Brooklyn Dodgers had the audacity to publish a book entitled “The Dodger Way to Play Baseball”.

    Now it was full of ideas and concepts and must-dos, but the takeaway from this is that the Dodgers of 1954 were a very regimented organization, one which taught fundamentals from the Rookie League through AAA Montreal which were consistent with what was practiced on the big team.

    In my youth, the manager of the Dodgers was Walter Alston, who led the team for 23 years, all by one-year contracts. He was followed by Tommy Lasorda, who was a lifer from the Dodgers system and who managed the team for another 20 straight seasons. While this isn’t a referendum on whether one does or doesn’t like Lasorda, it points out that over 43 seasons, the Dodgers were led by a total of two men. Very few teams today can even begin to emulate that concept, though the Braves under Bobby Cox were off to a good start, as are the Cardinals under LaRussa.

    One of the young players raised in the Dodger farm system was, of course, Mike Scioscia, and while some in the organization had groomed him to be the future manager of the Dodgers, after spending his career with the team, he was passed over for the managership of the team. The Dodgers’ loss became the Angels’ gain, as Bill Stoneman snapped Scioscia up to lead an underperforming and feuding Angels team.

    The irony here, as you might have guessed, is that the “Dodger Way to Play Baseball” is now practiced in Anaheim, while the Dodgers flounder under their charlatan ownership. The Angels are more like the Dodgers of the Walter O’Malley era than the LA Dodgers have been in over a decade.

    THAT is why the kids coming up do better than some (like you) might have expected: From Rookie League to AAA SLC, they’re taught one way to execute every possible action, and when they arrive in Anaheim they’re ready to perform, with no ambiguity or confusion. Scioscia makes his players ready for the bigs before they ever get promoted.

    How many teams have that kind of monolithic attitude, from the front office in Anaheim to the cramped manager’s office in Orem, UT? Very, very few.

    Get used to it, too, because Sciosica is signed on to play one season beyond the Second Coming. You don’t have to like the man, but it the organization is deserving of respect and props. The Angels have a system, and they work it very, very well.

  9. Slippery Elmer on August 31st, 2011 7:08 pm

    Nice post, George Kaplan.

  10. Breadbaker on August 31st, 2011 11:47 pm

    I agree that George Kaplan’s post (and with the shout out to Hitchcock and Cary Grant name) was excellent, though there would be more heft to it if Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman had become stars for the Angels like they were supposed to. One thing I noted when Manchester United played here was how disciplined they were in practice. The Sounders before the game look like Brownian motion; Man U looked like a ballet. There’s something to organizational discipline, even if you’re playing in High Desert and you’re tempted to just hit popups because they turn into dingers.

  11. George Kaplan on September 1st, 2011 4:04 am

    @Breadbaker–You could add Brandon Wood to that list as well, though in fairness to Kotchman, he was considered good enough in 2009 to pry Mark Teixeira from the Braves for 60 days. His defense has always been exemplary, his hitting frustratingly justthatfar away. In a different vein, McPherson’s body betrayed him, not his talent.

    But my overarching point was not that players come out of the Angels’ system as future Hall of Famers, but rather that they emerge and blend in with the team with no effort. There is a Borg-like quality to the Scioscia era (including his “pick one from Column A, one from Column B” post-game comments), and that is due to the players having a system drilled into their consciousness, level after level after level.

    For a team famous for its free agent signings, it is worth noting that 7 out of 10 players in the starting lineup last night were of products of the Angels’ farm system. They ran into the buzzsaw known as Felix Hernandez, but the lone run scored was a single, a sacrifice and a situational hit all performed by players from the Angels’ system.

    Kotchman, McPherson and Wood may not have become stars in the game, but they entered MLB-level ball with the same knowledgebase as the veterans for how to run the bases, hit the cut-off man and to execute situational hitting. When the kids have their fundamentals down, then the focus in solely on improving their personal skills, and in guys like Bourjos and Trumbo, it is easy to see how much their hitting game has improved during the season, because they’re not wasting time learning how to do the fundamentals expected by the manager.

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