ANAHEIM -- As recently as a year ago it would have been difficult to image the Angels being able to compete for a divisional crown with a strictly pitching and defense strategy.
In 2009, the Angels were able to advance to the American League Championship Series thanks in large part to a battery that ranked second in the league in runs and first in batting average. Their success at the plate overshadowed some defensive limitations in the field. But when the offense took a dramatic step backward, the need to shore up that area became a point of emphasis in the offseason for general manager Tony Reagins.
"We saw what happened in '09, we had a terrific offense that absorbed a lot of defensive inadequacies that really manifested themselves in 2010," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We weren't able to absorb them with as much offense. Some of the range we had in the corner outfield, and Erick wasn't as sharp at shortstop."
The 2010 Angels ranked 13th in baseball according the Fangraphs' UZR rating (a defensive metric used to estimate fielder's defensive contributions). This year with Peter Bourjos at center fulltime, Vernon Wells in left, Torii Hunter in right and Gold Glove caliber play in the infield from Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, the Halos have been able to keep up with the Rangers despite their offensive limitations.
This year the Angels rank fourth in UZR at 29.3 runs above average.
Scioscia said the makeup of the Angels defense began to improve when Bourjos took over center field duties last August.
"When we first made the move with Peter Bourjos in center and Torii in right that gave us a huge move forward on the defensive side," he said. "I think it reflected in some of the statistics you looked at from when that move was made in August. And definitely acquiring Vernon Wells was as much as to try to get a bat ... as it was to get another Gold Glove caliber outfield playing three positions. That was definitely something that was targeted."
Scioscia added: "Alberto Callaspo has quietly played [a] Gold Glove third base. I don't think a lot of people have given it notice, but he's played as well as any third baseman in baseball down there."
Callaspo ranks third in both putouts (75) and assists (174) among AL third baseman.