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.
Shortstop, Jim Fregosi, 1964
If you have been an Angel fan for a while, it is obvious which Angel shortstop would appear on this roster. Fregosi was the best all-around shortstop the Angels have ever had, playing excellent defense and putting up excellent offensive numbers. He could run, hit for average, and hit for power. When he scored a career high 141 OPS+ in 1964, he hit .277 (when the league average was .247) and drew 72 walks to help boost his OBP to .369, which was 54 points higher than the league average. His power numbers were rare for a shortstop of that era — he hit 18 home runs in 1964, had 22 doubles, and was third in the league with nine triples. All of these bases helped Fregosi put together a .463 SLG, which was 81 points above league average. While he was in the midst of this terrific season, the 22-year-old Fregosi was named the AL’s starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. He was the first hitter of the game and led the contest off with a single off of Don Drysdale, and he would score the first run of the game a few batters later. He also got a sacrifice fly off of Turk Farrell in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie, but the AL would lose the game 7-4.
The best OPS+ for an Angel left fielder, 145, came during the season when Don Baylor became the first AL MVP award recipient in Halo history. He was a slugging RBI machine for that year’s AL West division winners, driving in a league leading 139 runs. Because of this, pitchers feared him and walked him 71 times, which helped drive his OBP to .371. Of course, Baylor also slugged the heck out of the ball that season. He blasted 36 home runs and smacked 33 doubles which helped to make the 1979 Angel offense one of the very best in franchise history. Even though he would later win three Silver Slugger awards, in 1979 Baylor received the only All-Star team selection of his career. He brought his regular season skills with him to the game where he went 2-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored, and a double he hit off of future Hall of Famer Steve Carleton in the first inning.
Center Fielder, Mike Trout, 2013
There should have been no doubt that the holder of the highest OPS+ for an Angel center fielder is Mike Trout. His mark of 179 came in just his second season as a regular player. As a 21-year-old. He hit .323 that season and led the league in walks with 110, and that combination led to a .432 OBP. He ratcheted up his SLG to .557 by adding 27 home runs, nine triples, and 33 doubles on top of all of his singles. He was nearly rewarded for having the highest OPS+ in Angel history by winning his first AL MVP award that year, but an otherworldly season from Miguel Cabrera put that moment off for another day. Trout was chosen to be the lead-off hitter for the AL during that year’s Midseason Classic, and the wunderkind went 1-for-3 with a double off of the Mets’ Matt Harvey in the first inning, but Cabrera, Chris Davis, nor Jose Bautista could do nothing to get him home. As I write this, Trout is sitting on a 166 OPS+ with about seven weeks left in this season, so it is possible that if he goes on a tear he can break his own lofty mark.
Bobby Bonds and Vladimir Guerrero had some terrific seasons for the Angels in right field, but when it comes to OPS+, no Angel right fielder could top Tim Salmon’s mark of 165 from 1995. That’s what happens to your OPS+ when you are 4th in the league in on-base percentage (.429) and fifth in the league in slugging percentage (.594). The Angel right fielder had a .330 batting average that season and an astronomical 91 walks to account for his high OBP. Salmon had an under appreciated base ability to draw a walk. He averaged 94 walks per 162 games during his career and was the best hitter I have ever seen at turning an 0-2 count into a walk. His slugging percentage was also high that year because his .330 average wasn’t all singles — he hit 34 home runs and 34 doubles during that campaign to load up on SLG points. The 1995 season was the best shot Salmon had at making the All-Star team, and even though his OBP was 78 points higher and had five more home runs at the break than the AL’s starting right fielder Kirby Puckett, Salmon did not receive an invitation.
Designated Hitter, Frank Robinson, 1973
Even though he was 37-years-old, the great Frank Robinson still had one more Hall of Fame caliber season left in him, and it almost got the fourth place Angels up to the .500 mark. He clouted 30 home runs and 29 doubles while driving in 97 and scoring 85 runs. Although he had just a .266 batting average, he drew 82 walks and was hit by ten pitches to boost his on-base percentage to .372, which was tenth best in the league. He did even better in the slugging department as his .489 SLG was the fourth best in the AL that year. In all, Robinson posted a 151 OPS+, and he did this as the first designated hitter the Angels ever had, as the DH became a position in the American League in 1973. The All-Star Game did not allow for designated hitters until 1989, so Robinson missed out on being named to the team in 1973, although he had another strong year in 1974 and was given a spot on the team and appeared in one plate appearance as a pinch hitter.