Welcome to the All-Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week it’s the Los Angeles Angels‘ turn, a franchise that has undergone several name changes in its 50-year history. If you like this article, you can find all the lineups we’ve created thus far and other great content here.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
- We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Angels were one of two teams to join the AL in 1961, MLB’s first expansion since merging the AL and NL in 1903. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles a few years earlier to much success, so MLB awarded the city a second franchise. The Angels initially took the moniker of “Los Angeles” but changed it to “California” in 1965 in anticipation of the move to their new stadium in Anaheim. Despite a rushed and somewhat disorganized expansion, the Angels fared well in their second season, finishing with the third-best record in the AL. The team couldn’t build on its early success, though, and it was another 15 years before they advanced to the playoffs, winning the AL West crown in 1979 following the addition of Rod Carew via a trade with the Twins in February.
The Angels tried in vain to build a contender in the 1980s, adding superstars Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, and several other notable free agents, but only managed two more trips to the post-season during the decade. In 1997, the team was re-dubbed the “Anaheim Angels” by its future owners, the Disney corporation. The Angels had their best season under this moniker, advancing to and winning the 2002 World Series, defeating the Giants in seven games. Following their world championship, the franchise returned to the playoffs in five of the next seven seasons but did not make it back to the October Classic.
Disney sold the Angels to current owner Artie Moreno in 2005, who rebranded the team again. They were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 2005 through 2015 before dropping the “Anaheim” in 2016 and becoming the Los Angeles Angels once again. Despite having generational talent Mike Trout in the fold since 2011, the Angels have only reached the post-season once since 2009.
Catcher: Brian Downing
Brian Downing mainly played left field and DH for the Angels but did start his career behind the plate. He came up with the Chicago White Sox, who traded him to the Halos after the 1977 season. Downing was the team’s primary catcher in his first two years with the club but broke his ankle early in the 1980 season and transitioned to the outfield upon his return. The other choices for catcher were Bob Boone and Mike Napoli. Boone, an excellent defender, followed Downing as the primary backstop for the team. Napoli spent his first five seasons in Anaheim and was a tremendous power hitter. But neither comes close to Downing’s WAR with the team.
Downing only made one All-Star team as a catcher in 1979, but he was a fixture in California’s lineup for over a decade. Despite lacking speed, “The Incredible Hulk” hit leadoff for the team for many seasons due to his ability to get on base. Downing was adept at taking a walk, leading the AL with 106 free passes in 1987. He was a part of three post-season clubs in his tenure but never made it past the ALCS. Downing’s time in Southern California ended after the 1990 season. He signed with the Rangers and played two more seasons before retiring in 1992. Fans of the Angels in the 1980s no doubt remember the hulking Downing fondly as an OBP machine who played before analytics recognized his value.
First Base: Darin Erstad
Darin Erstad split his time in Anaheim between first base and the outfield. Though he was an excellent defensive outfielder, he gets the nod here, as our outfield is quite full. The other contenders for our first baseman were Wally Joyner and Rod Carew. Joyner was a good hitter but was only with the club for six seasons. Carew played the final seven seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Halos but wasn’t the same player he was in Minnesota (though he could still hit!).
Erstad joined the Angels midway through the 1996 season and finished sixth in the Rookie-of-the-Year balloting. He was an All-Star two years later and again in 2000, his best season. That year, Erstad hit .355, led the AL in plate appearances/at-bats/and hits, clubbed 25 HRs, scored 121 runs, drove in 100, and stole 28 bases. Erstad also added his first of three Gold Gloves and his only Silver Slugger that season.
Erstad played on three Angels’ playoff teams, including the 2002 World Series winner. He was an excellent post-season performer throughout his career, with a lifetime .339/.368/.492 slash line. After an injury-plagued 2006, Erstad left the Angels via free agency, playing three more seasons before retiring in 2009. He carries the distinction of making the final out of the Angels’ only world championship.
Second Base: Bobby Grich
Bobby Grich was an easy choice for second base, though Howie Kendrick received some consideration. Grich was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner with the Orioles prior to signing a free-agent contract with the Angels in November 1976. He got off to a rough start with his new team, as a back injury limited him to 52 games, but he rebounded and had several excellent seasons in Los Angeles after 1977. He went to three more All-Star games and won a Silver Slugger in the strike-shortened 1981 season. His 22 HRs and .543 SLG led the AL that year.
Grich played on three Angels’ post-season clubs, but as was the case with Downing, none advanced. Injuries became a factor for Grich over his last few seasons, causing him to miss several games and eventually forcing him into a utility role. The SoCal native wanted to finish his career in Anaheim and stayed with the Angels through the 1986 season, after which he retired. Grich was a pivotal contributor to the Angels’ push for relevancy from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, and he ranks high on the franchise’s all-time lists in several offensive categories.
Shortstop: Jim Fregosi
The Angels selected Jim Fregosi in the expansion draft before their inaugural season in 1961. He spent most of his first two seasons with the franchise in the minors but established himself as their everyday shortstop by the end of 1962. Fregosi’s career took off after that. He received MVP votes over the next eight seasons and made six All-Star teams. In 1967 the shortstop added a Gold Glove and developed into the team’s best offensive player. His numbers look relatively pedestrian by modern standards, but in the pitching-dominant 1960s, he was a rare middle infielder who hit in the middle of the order.
After a rough 1971 season, the Angels traded Fregosi to the Mets, who were trying to contend. One of the players coming back to the Halos in the deal was a young hurler named Nolan Ryan. Fregosi did little for the Mets, making the trade one of the most lopsided in MLB history. He played seven seasons after leaving Los Angeles but never regained his All-Star status. After his retirement in May 1977, he wasn’t out of work long. Angels owner Gene Autry was a huge fan of Fregosi’s intellect and hired him to be the clubs’ manager in 1978. Fregosi helmed the team for three and a half seasons and managed 15 years in total. In 1998, the Angels retired Fregosi’s #11, making him one of only three former Angels players to receive the honor. Sadly, Fregosi passed away in 2014 after suffering a stroke.
Third Base: Troy Glaus
The choice for our third baseman was the toughest. In addition to Troy Glaus, Chone Figgins and Doug DeCinces deserved consideration. We also thought about putting Bobby Grich at third and Howie Kendrick at second, but Grich only played 37 games at the position, so that seemed like a reach. Ultimately we decided to go with Glaus, largely due to his heroics in the Angels’ 2002 World Championship.
Glaus debuted for the Halos on the last day of July in 1998. He did little in his first season but slugged 29 HRs in 1999. Glaus broke out in 2000, leading the AL with 47 HRs while scoring 120 runs and driving in 102 with a .284 average. He was an All-Star that season and won the Silver Slugger. As if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Glaus nearly duplicated his production the following year and was again an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner. The highlight of his career came in 2002, though. After another strong regular season, Glaus kicked it up a notch in the playoffs. He hit three HRs in the ALDS and added another in the ALCS, helping the Angels get to the World Series. In the Fall Classic, Glaus hit .385 and slugged three more HRs with eight RBI and seven runs scored en route to being named the series MVP.
Glaus made the All-Star squad again the following season, but injuries limited his playing time in 2003 and 2004. He signed with Arizona in December 2004, ending his run in Anaheim. Glaus played six more seasons after leaving the Angels and made one more All-Star team. Glaus was mentioned in the Mitchell Report in 2007 but never tested positive for steroids. He retired in 2010 after persistent injuries limited his ability to stay on the field and his effectiveness. Glaus ranks sixth on the Angels’ all-time home run list.
Left Field: Garret Anderson
Garret Anderson is the longest-tenured Angel, playing in fifteen seasons for the club. Only 13 plate appearances constituted his first season in 1994. However, by the end of the following season, he established himself as a regular and finished second in the Rookie-of-the-Year balloting. Anderson quietly produced year in and year out for the Halos. In his 16 years as a regular, he never hit below .280. Anderson was remarkably consistent, averaging 143 games, 19 HRs, 73 runs, 92 RBI, and 35 doubles with a .296 batting average.
Anderson’s best two seasons were 2002 and 2003. He led the league in doubles both seasons, winning Silver Sluggers and attending the All-Star game. Anderson produced as usual in the 2002 World Series, hitting .281 with six RBI. He made another All-Star team in 2005 and developed into the face of the franchise as contemporaries Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, and Troy Glaus retired or moved on. Anderson finally left via free agency after the 2008 season, joining Atlanta, and retired in August 2010. His longevity and consistency put him high on the Angels’ all-time leaderboards in several categories. Anderson is the franchise leader in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, and RBI.
Center Field: Mike Trout
Mike Trout already leads the franchise in WAR, and he has plenty more baseball left in him. He’s the franchise leader in home runs, runs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Should Trout remain with the Angels, and stay healthy, which has been an issue for him, he may end up owning all of the offensive records for the franchise before he hangs up his cleats.
Trout struggled in his first taste of the Show when he debuted in August 2011. That was the last time he’d struggle. In 2012, Trout won rookie-of-the-year and his first Silver Slugger and was an All-Star and the MVP runner-up. These honors have become commonplace for Trout, who has won three MVPs, eight Silver Sluggers, and has been an All-Star ten times in his eleven full seasons.
Trout was a duel-threat player early on, leading the league with 49 SBs as a rookie to go with 30 HRs. Various leg injuries have slowed his running recently, but he remains a premier hitter. Trout has led the league in runs, OBP, and OPS four times; SLG and walks three times; and RBI and SBs once. In addition to his three MVPs, Trout has finished second in the voting four times.
Unfortunately for Trout and baseball fans, the Angels have only made the post-season once during his tenure. Injuries have also kept him off the field a fair bit over the past few years, but he’s still amazing when he’s out there, evidenced by his 40 HRs in 119 games in 2022. Trout is only 30 years old, so hopefully, we’ll get another decade from this future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Right Field: Tim Salmon
Like Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon was a fixture for the Angels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike Anderson, Salmon played his entire career with the franchise, though injuries cut his career short. “Kingfish” debuted in August 1992 but didn’t fare well in his first taste of the big leagues. That didn’t stop the team from making the highly-touted prospect their starting right fielder the following spring, though. The clubs’ faith in Salmon paid off as he won Rookie-of-the-Year in 1993 after hitting .283 with 31 HRs, 93 runs, and 95 RBI.
Salmon’s best season came in 1995 when he won his lone Silver Slugger award. He hit .330 that year with 34 HRs, 111 runs, and 105 RBI. Throughout the 1990s, Kingfish put up big numbers, though injuries limited him to 98 games in 1999. Salmon’s first and only taste of the post-season came in 2002 when the Angels marched to a World Championship. He did his part in the series, hitting .346 with two dingers, seven runs scored, and five RBI. Salmon had another good season for the club in 2003, but it would be his last healthy campaign. Injuries limited him to 60 games in 2004 and took away his entire 2005 season due to multiple surgeries. Salmon returned in 2006 and had a respectable season as a part-time DH, but it was clear he was on his last legs, and he retired after the season. Kingfish ranks second to Garret Anderson in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, and RBI among all historical Angels. In addition, he’s second in HRs behind Mike Trout.
Designated Hitter: Shohei Ohtani
The choice for the last spot in our lineup was difficult. There were several good candidates, but it came down to Shohei Ohtani versus Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero’s well-below-average defense pulled down his WAR, but he was one of the best offensive players in Angels’ history. Ohtani is a generational talent but has only amassed 2,272 plate appearances. We went with Ohtani as it felt odd to leave a player who has made such a huge impact on the game out of our lineup. Guerrero deserved a spot, but there were none left to give.
Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels out of Japan before the 2018 season. Most people predicted that the two-way player would make a greater impact with his arm than his bat, but he proved himself at the plate as a rookie. Ohtani won the Rookie-of-the-Year after hitting .285 with 22 HR and 61 RBI in 367 plate appearances. On the mound, an elbow injury limited him to 51 innings and eventually led to Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him from pitching in 2019. He continued to hit, though, and put together another solid campaign his sophomore year.
Ohtani tried to return to the mound in the short 2020 season but lasted less than two innings. He also struggled at the plate, and many were beginning to doubt his future. In 2021, Ohtani silenced his critics by putting together a season for the ages. He was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger and MVP that season after slugging 46 HRs, scoring 103 runs, driving in 100, and stealing 26 bases. On the mound, he went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season, Shohei’s offensive numbers tailed off a bit but were still impressive, and he was a better pitcher. He returned to the All-Star game, and his WAR was higher than in 2021. Even if he doesn’t win any awards next week, he’s proven himself to be one of the greatest players in MLB currently.
Right-Handed Starter: Nolan Ryan
The Angels have had several great right-handed starters, including Jered Weaver, Mike Witt, and John Lackey. But there was no doubt who would be our starter, as nobody in franchise history can measure up to the great Nolan Ryan.
As mentioned earlier, Nolan Ryan was part of a package of players that went to the Angels in exchange for Jim Fregosi in December 1971. The flamethrower had shown plenty of potential in New York but was still very wild at the time of the trade. The walks continued, but Ryan made up for them by leading the AL in strikeouts in seven of his eight seasons in California. In five of these seasons, he struck out more than 300 batters, and he eclipsed Sandy Koufax’s record with his 383 Ks in 1973. In addition, he tossed four no-hitters with the franchise, went to five All-Star games, and finished in the top three of the Cy Young voting three times.
The “Ryan Express” was also a workhorse, averaging 273 innings and 20 complete games per season over his tenure with the franchise. Despite his success, Ryan only made one post-season start for the Angels in 1979. He pitched well but didn’t factor into the decision of a game that California lost. The appearance was his last as an Angel, as after the season, the club let their star walk via free agency. The club thought that Ryan’s best years were behind him, but they were wrong. Ryan pitched another 14 seasons at a high level, winning two ERA titles and playing in three more All-Star games before finally retiring in 1993 at 46 years old. The Angels retired Ryan’s #30 in 1992 before his playing days were over, and the Hall of Fame inducted him on a near-unanimous vote in 1999.
Left-Handed Starter: Chuck Finley
Our choice for the left-handed starter came down to Chuck Finley or Frank Tanana. Finley’s WAR is higher by a fair bit, even though his statistics were not as dominant. The higher WAR is a result of two things. First, Finley was with the Angels longer, starting 379 games for the franchise vs. 218 for Tanana. Second, Finley pitched in the more dominant offensive period of the 1990s. We went with Finley because his lifetime WAR is second to only Trout among all Angels and because he’s the franchise leader in starts, innings, and wins. Tanana also would have been an excellent choice, though.
Finley was a reliever for the Halos in his first two seasons of 1986 and 1987. In 1988 he became a full-time starter and never threw out of the bullpen for the club again. Finley became a rock in the Angels’ rotation for the next twelve seasons. He never pitched less than 183 innings in a year for the club, and that was in the strike-shortened 1994. Finley took the ball every five games, year in and year out, and put up solid to strong numbers. He made four All-Star teams with the club and twice won 18 games.
Unfortunately for Finley, his only post-season with the Angels came in his rookie year. He threw two innings in relief in the ALCS, then didn’t see the playoffs again until 2001 with Cleveland. Finley had the unfortunate luck of pitching during one of the franchise’s down periods. He left in 1999 as a free agent and pitched three more seasons before retiring in 2002 with exactly 200 wins.
Reliever: Troy Percival
It was another tough decision for our reliever, as Troy Percival and Francisco Rodríguez’s stats are very similar. “K-Rod” had a lower ERA and FIP and a slightly higher K-rate, but “Percy” saved over a hundred more games and had a slightly higher WAR. Once again, both were deserving, and either would be a fine choice.
Percival stormed onto the scene in 1995, finishing fourth in Rookie-of-the-Year despite not being the closer. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings that season with a 1.95 ERA. The following season, he assumed the closer mantle after future Hall of Famer Lee Smith moved on and did not disappoint. Percy saved 36 games and made his first of four All-Star squads. He remained the closer for the club for the rest of his tenure in Anaheim, amassing a team-record 316 saves in the process. In the 2002 post-season, Percival saved seven games, including three of the four victories in the World Series. However, Rodriguez emerged as a hero in 2002 also, and when Percival hit free agency two years later, they let him walk in favor of the younger player. The club’s decision was wise as Percival’s body began breaking down. He pitched with mixed effectiveness for parts of four more seasons, missing 2006 altogether, before retiring in 2009.
We’ll head across town in three weeks and reveal the lineup for the more storied L.A. team, the Dodgers. Undoubtedly, some great players will get left out of that lineup. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)