The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
#27 – Troy Percival
Drafted in the 6th round of the 1990 MLB draft, Troy Percival was a part of that excellent 90’s drafting that would bring prosperity over the next decade.
Percival, or Percy as it were, made his debut in 1995 for the California Angels. It was a good rookie season too as he pitched 74 innings for a 1.95 ERA and an ERA+ of 241! His mostly middle relief appearances were still impressive enough to place 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Under the guidance of HOF closer Lee Smith, Percy learned a thing or two. Management knew he would be next in line to take over. So in May of 1996, Lee Smith was traded to the Reds for pitcher Chuck McElroy. It was now Percy’s chance to step up and be the closer for the Angels.
90’s Door Slammer
Immediately after taking over Troy Percival made his team proud. He made the 1996 All Star game, even pitching a scoreless 7th. A 12.2 K/9 was excellent, as was his 36 saves and 213 ERA+. 1996 was also the season where he had the league lead in Win Probability Added for the AL. Better than Mariano. It was a solid start and something Angels fans would grow accustomed to.
His 1997 season was not nearly as good as his ERA ballooned to 3.46 and ERA+ dropped by nearly 80 points. Still, well above-average to pair with his 27 saves.
He did bounce back in 1998, making the All Star game again despite similar numbers as the year before. The Steroid Era was in full swing now with a home run race in the NL and Griffey Jr. socking 50 dingers in the same division, it wasn’t exactly easy to be a pitcher. What he did do, though, was make the games count. He got 42 saves that year and shut down the NL in the 1998 All Star Game to secure the win.
1999 was a year of highs and lows. Percy made the All Star game, but didn’t pitch. He saved 31 games, with an even bigger ERA than ever at 3.79. His strikeout rate of 9.2 per 9 innings was the lowest of his career, and his FIP skyrocketed to 4.46. A good season, but also one where his emotions got the best of him. He finished the decade with 139 saves, but the team was not making it easy on him.
New millennium, old Percival
Just turning 30, 2000 was a year for Percival to show he still had it. But while the offense was in a historic boom, Percy was struggling mightily. ERA was now at 4.5. ERA+ shrunk down to just 112, a FIP just shy of 5. He faced increasing questions, including those of durability. In the face of it all, he still locked down 32 saves that year.
And then 2001 came around and Percy was reignited. Watching the Yankees win year after year must have irked him, or was it the team making him angry? Whatever it was, it worked. Percy was an All Star again, posting 39 saves with an ERA of 2.65 and an ERA+ of 170. He was back to the Percy of old and he made everyone know it. Once again he led the AL in WPA. K/9 was up to 11.1 and a sub-1 WHIP for the first time ’96.
The only issue? He didn’t want to play for the team beyond 2002. So that year had to be big. And it didn’t disappoint.
Percy put his best effort into 2002. Demanding to be seen as the best closer in baseball, he did not let anyone down, shrinking his ERA to 1.92, an ERA+ of 232, saving 40 games that year when every game counted. The rest of the team knew what was up as well, as the Angels made the playoffs for the first time in any of their careers.
The ALDS versus the Yankees was a bit rocky, admittedly. But when the game was on the line, he pulled through. Game 2 down 1-0 in the series? He got the save and tied the series up. He earned a save in Game 3 to give the Angels the lead. And in game 4, he became part of the first ever Angels playoff series win.
With momentum, the ALCS was even better for Percy, 2 saves and no runs allowed as the Angels won the pennant. Troy Percival, who had played for the Angels since 1995 got to be the AL closer in the World Series. Not Rivera. It was the chance he wanted.
Down one game to zip, Troy Percival took the mound with a lead vs the Giants. With a 2 run lead, the question was, pitch to Bonds? Percy didn’t back down and he paid for it with the iconic blast that was the furthest ball Salmon has ever seen hit. Well, Percy just shrugged. It didn’t matter he could get the next guy. And he did. 11-10 the final score. That was all that mattered.
Percy wasn’t needed in game 3 as the offense carried the team. He wasn’t used in game 4, as Sosh preferred roles. And game 5 was a lopsided, crushing loss. After witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, Percy did not let the team down and slammed the door in the Giants’ faces.
It was game 7 time. After the other innings were pitched by rookies, it was only fitting for the old vet to seal the deal. Troy Percival, in a season that was proof he was the best closer in the game, finished the postseason for the Angels and was hugged so hard by longtime teammate Bengie Molina. The Angels were World Champions.
Percival recorded 7 saves that postseason. He brought his A-game, that was for certain. The angry man, who once wanted to leave, was now the happiest he had ever looked. I do not think he minded.
Troy Percival did not recapture that 2002 level of excellence. Perhaps the fire was spent. He did desire to pitch and he stayed on the team for 2 years. Doing what? Chasing milestones.
Specifically, he stayed on in 2004 for that 300th save. It was a joy that I really wish I could find a video of.
“Early in my career, 300 saves was the only goal I had — if I
could be around long enough to get it,” Percival said. “I thought
to myself, if I could get 300, I’d feel like I’d accomplished
something — especially knowing that Goose Gossage, one of my
favorite players of all time, had over 300. But I hadn’t thought
about it again until this year.”
Percy didn’t stay on the Angels after 2004. He left for free agency. It was K-Rod’s team now. But Percy left a standard that would be hard to measure up against.
316 saves, most in Angels history. 10.432 K/9, most in Angels history (with 500 innings); 157 ERA+, best in Angels history (with 500 innings); 1.101 WHIP, best in Angels history (with 500 innings pitched); same goes for hits per innings pitched, most games pitched, most games finished, and best Win Probability added in Angels history. He was the best closer the Angels ever had, and a stable one where even at his worst, he was still really, really good. 9 consecutive seasons of being top 10 in saves, 10th in franchise pitching bWAR at 16.8, and 3rd best ERA at 2.99.
The whole 2002 team is in the Angels Hall-of-Fame and Percival threw out the first pitch in 2012. He didn’t make the MLB’s Hall, but he well deserves an Angels HOF induction. Get on it, Arte!