Jerome Williams: The Angels “Luck” Personified
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.