The Angels’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Jered Weaver (2006-present)
Tall, long-haired and thin like older brother (and fellow ex-Angels pitcher) Jeff Weaver, the right-hander with a wily assortment of pitches made a quick ascension through the minors and an immediate impression in the majors, winning his first four starts with a 1.37 ERA after being called up in May 2006 to fill in for injured ace Bartolo Colon. When Colon returned and Weaver was sent back to the minors, Angels fans went into an uproar—criticizing the team for sending the wrong Weaver down. They were satisfied three weeks later when Jeff, struggling horribly all year long, was designated for assignment—and Jered was recalled to take his place.
Weaver would never see the minors again. He ultimately won his first nine major league decisions—tying the all-time record earlier established by Whitey Ford and Livan Hernandez—and although he would be less dominant through his first three full seasons with a fair 3.99 ERA, he was still able to furnish a sharp 40-25 record. The three years that followed would establish Weaver as one of the game’s premier pitchers; he won a combined 51 games while losing 25 with a terrific 2.75 ERA. Highlights during this stretch included an AL-high 233 strikeouts in 2010, his first 20-win season (losing just five) in 2012, and his first career no-hitter, silencing the Minnesota Twins in May 2012. (Weaver also figured in a no-hit loss in 2008, allowing an unearned run in six hitless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers before being removed.) His comfort level at Anaheim is such that, in late 2011, the Los Angeles-area native gave the Angels a hometown discount by accepting a five-year contract extension worth $85 million three months before he was due to become a free agent.
Weaver didn’t suffer a losing record until his tenth season in 2015 as he increasingly struggled with a slowing fastball that now rarely exceeds 85 MPH on the radar.
Frank Tanana (1973-80)
Known principally as Nolan Ryan’s sidekick when the two formed a formidable duo in Anaheim—leading to the local fans’ chant, “Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin’”—Tanana may not have generated the fame or gargantuan numbers of Ryan but was more efficient, recording a better winning percentage while not giving up the copious number of walks that would dog Ryan’s tenure as an Angel.
Like Ryan, Tanana began his career armed with a tremendous fastball that could top out at 100 MPH; it came into good use in 1975 when he struck out a major league-high 269 batters, including 17 in one game. That campaign also shook off the bad vibes of losing 19 games the year before (despite a sharp 3.12 earned run average), as Tanana would win a career-high 19 games in 1976 and, a year later, would lead the American League with a 2.54 ERA and seven shutouts. A muscle tear in his elbow greatly slowed up his fastball in 1977, but he adjusted by focusing on control, stating: “I’m getting by on three pitches: A curve, a change-up and whatever you want to call that thing that used to be my fastball.”
Traded to Boston after the 1980 season, Tanana would transform himself into a veteran warrior who never recaptured his early glory (or certainly his fastball) but remained a dependable asset for any team looking to add depth to its rotation, usually good for 10-to-15 wins. Tanana would last 21 years and make 616 starts—the most by a pitcher who never won 20 games; he would be one of two pitchers (Rick Reuschel being the other) who gave up home runs to both Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
Dean Chance (1961-66)
The Angels’ first top-notch pitcher—albeit on a brief basis—Chance actually was a member of both AL expansion teams of 1961 when he was selected in the expansion draft by the Washington Senators, only to be traded that very same day to the newborn Angels.
Rooming with fellow starting pitcher/free spirit Bo Belinsky, Chance was a common sight on the Hollywood nightlife scene, and the Angels were willing to tolerate it so long as he delivered on the mound—which he did. His failure to be a constant winner with the Angels had more to do with a lack of offensive support, as he always churned out solid ERA numbers. But Chance saved his best stuff for a magnificent 1964 campaign; he led the AL with 20 wins, a miniscule 1.65 ERA (it was 1.07 at the Angels’ temporary home of Dodger Stadium) and 11 shutouts—five of them by a 1-0 count, tying a major league mark. Chance spent part of the year demanding a raise; with each passing week, his performance made it more difficult for the Angels to argue their view of standing pat. Chance got the wage increase, and went on to win the Cy Young Award.
After 1966, Chance was shipped off to Minnesota, where he gave the Twins two solid years—including a 20-win effort in 1967—before arm injuries cut his career short, throwing his last major league pitch at the age of 30. After baseball, Chance took a fancy to boxing, forming and becoming president of the International Boxing Association.
Chance was one of the worst hitters the game has ever seen; he finished his career with a lifetime .066 average—and in 662 at-bats, he struck out 420 times.
Nolan Ryan (1972-79)
Misunderstood and misused by the New York Mets for five years, the Ryan Express was dealt in a famously one-sided trade that gave the Angels the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher along with three other players for veteran Jim Fregosi, who would become a major bust at third base for the Mets. Given his freedom in the AL with a higher strike zone and more attentive coaching guidance, Ryan was unleashed at his most sensational yet raw form with the Angels, producing utterly spectacular results tempered with maddening side effects.
Over his eight-year term in Anaheim, Ryan led the majors seven times in strikeouts—with 300-plus in five of those years, the highlight among those his 383 K’s in 1973 to beat Sandy Koufax’s all-time mark by one. Four times, he struck out 19 batters in a game. In 1972, batters hit just .171 against Ryan—an all-time low. He threw four no-hitters—and six one-hitters—for the Angels; Detroit’s Mickey Stanley, after Ryan fired his second no-no in 1973 against the Tigers, commented, “Those were the best pitches I ever heard.” In consecutive seasons (1973-74), Ryan won 20 games—the only two times he reached the milestone throughout his illustrious career.
But with the good came the bad. Ryan averaged 160 walks per year in Anaheim, twice eclipsing 200. He was poor at holding on baserunners, who often stole at will. And he was never to be confused for a Gold Glove winner, four times leading AL pitchers in errors and finishing his Angel career with an embarrassing .879 fielding percentage.
Still, the numerous high points that came courtesy of an electrifying 100-MPH fastball made Ryan a major star that the Angels had desperately starved for; he was a five-time All-Star with California and although he never won a Cy Young Award, he came close three times with the Angels, placing among the top three in the final vote.
Suddenly surrounded by an All-Star roster in the late 1970s courtesy of free-spending Angels owner Gene Autry, Ryan’s game shrunk as he suffered relative subpar seasons in 1978-79; the Angels refused to resign Ryan after his contract expired in 1979, with veteran general manager Buzzie Bavasi asserting, “Nolan Ryan can be replaced by two 8-7 pitchers.” The Houston Astros thought more of Ryan than Bavasi, making the ace pitcher the first $1 million-a-year major leaguer.
Jim Abbott (1989-92, 1995-96)
Born without a right hand, Abbott became one of baseball’s great tales of inspiration, differing from the game’s significant other handicapped major leaguers in that he wasn’t able to use his disability to his advantage (as Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown did during the 1900s) or become a quasi-public relations stunt in time of war (Pete Gray, Bert Shepard).
Bypassing the minors, the left-handed Abbott made the Angels’ roster straight out of college, overcoming serious skepticism (as he did at every previous level he played at) that he could compete with his disability. Since the age of five, Abbott had his fielding routine down; he would throw while cradling his glove between his chest and disfigured right arm, and would quickly transfer the glove into his pitching hand should he need to field the ball. Opponents figured he had to be easy to bunt on, but Abbott proved them wrong; he would post a career .976 fielding percentage, average if not better for big league pitchers.
As a 21-year-old rookie, Abbott won 12 games in 1989, the most victories recorded by any major leaguer in his first season of professional ball dating back to 1924. After a disappointing sophomore effort, Abbott came back strong in 1991 with his best year ever, finishing at 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA, numbers that would place him third in the AL Cy Young Award vote. His ERA further improved a year later to 2.77, but his record inexplicably sank to 7-15 thanks to the lowest run support (2.55) given to an AL pitcher since the initiation of the designated hitter in 1973.
Abbott left the Angels after the 1992 season, but some eye-opening accomplishments were still to come: A no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993 and two hits while being forced to bat playing in the National League for Milwaukee in 1999. A second tour of duty with the Angels ended in disaster, with a 2-18 record and 7.48 ERA in 1996; a slowing fastball was part of the issue, but opponents had gradually come to figure that Abbott was unavoidably tipping his pitches because of his handicapped method of holding his mitt.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Angels, decade by decade.
The Angels' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Angels' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Angels' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Angels' five greatest hitters? Find out here.
Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.
© 2016 This Great Game.