ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- There is the Dick Williams theory, which holds that Mark Langston lacks fortitude, is a quitter and incapable of pitching for a winning team.

In Anaheim, however, when the California Angels analyze Langston and his 6-15 record, the opinions are -- not surprisingly -- less inflammatory.

The Angels are paying Langston $3 million in salary and bonus this year and have guaranteed him another $13 million over the next four years.

They are not ready to second-guess the wisdom of that decision or alienate Langston by calling him gutless, as Williams did when he managed Langston and the Seattle Mariners in 1988 and again in his soon-to-be-released book, "No More Mr. Nice Guy."

The Angels say Langston's current rate of $500,000 per victory -- based on his 1990 income -- is an aberration and he will eventually prove that he was worth $16 million.

"I still believe they believe in me and I still believe in myself," Langston said of the Angels as he sat at his Anaheim Stadium locker the other day. "As bad as I've been, I know I can pitch and I know I have people behind me. That's important."

Langston was to put his and the Angels' beliefs on the line again Monday night against the Tigers in Detroit, making his 26th start. He is coming back off an 11-strikeout, four-hit win over the New York Yankees that broke a streak of poor showings at the Big A. He did that on two days of rest after lasting only 2 2/3 innings of an 11-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

That was the third time in a span of five starts that he failed to last three innings. He gave up 29 earned runs in the 20 innings of those five starts and 46 earned runs in a stretch of 49 2/3 innings, his overall ERA ballooning to 4.79. Heading to Detroit, it was at 4.58.

The win over the Yankees came after he'd gone 1-9 in his last 11 starts at home, 1-10 in his last 11 decisions overall, and led the major leagues in losses, the 15 representing a career high.

Langston said he is baffled and frustrated. Attorney Arn Tellem said his client's confidence has been badly shaken.

"Mark is very disappointed, very down right now," Tellem said. "He obviously feels he's let the owner {Gene Autry}, manager {Doug Rader} and team down, and he feels he's let himself down because he takes great pride in his performance.

"After he came out of {the Orioles} game, he apologized to Rader for having let the team down again and Rader told him that he would prove to be a great investment, that the Angels had signed him for five years and not this year alone. Bert Blyleven, Kirk McCaskill, Jim Abbott and others came up to the clubhouse to give him support, and all of that helped.

"He feels fine physically and knows the situation will correct itself, but right now it's a struggle, a very tough time."

Said Rader, experiencing a test himself as the Angels stumble through the summer:

"It's impossible for someone who isn't in the spotlight, the public eye, to understand what Mark is going through right now.

"From a vocational standpoint it's probably the toughest thing he'll ever have to deal with, but once through it, and I'm confident he'll get through it, it should set him up for the rest of his life. There are few worthwhile lessons that don't come hard."

The lesson here deals with adversity. Langston, who turned 30 Monday, said he has never experienced anything like it, calling it the toughest period of a career in which he was previously 86-76 during six seasons with the Mariners and Montreal Expos, compiling a .531 percentage for teams that were .455.

Now he is with a team battling to stay out of last place in the American League West. Only two of the American League's 14 teams have made more errors or scored fewer runs.

Langston said none of that is a factor, nor is the size of his paycheck. He said he is his own toughest critic, that his effort would be the same if he was making the minimum, that he does not feel he has been consciously pressing, carrying the burden and expectations of his contract.

Others disagree.

"I think he wants so badly to do well, to justify the investment, that he's fighting a lot of self-imposed pressure," General Manager Mike Port said. "I think he's going through much the same thing that Mark Davis is with Kansas City. The key thing is for him to relax so that Mark Langston can be Mark Langston."

Despite face-to-face assurances from Port that the Angels have no regrets, that the club is looking at his signing as a five-year investment, the bimonthly paychecks remind Langston that the expectations are greater than they were in Seattle.

There also is the lingering frustration of a four-start span in June in which Langston lost twice by 2-1, once by 2-0 and emerged with no decision from a 2-1 loss.

Having combined with Mike Witt on a no-hitter in his first Angels start, Langston seemed to come out of June thinking he needed a no-hitter every start.

Bob Harrison, the scout who signed Langston for the Mariners and regularly operates out of Anaheim Stadium, sensed it.

"His stuff seems to be as good as ever, but what happened is that losing all those close games snowballed, and now it's become a mental thing," said Harrison. "As much as anything, Mark seems to be fighting himself."

Said Tellem: "If he had gotten some wins early, when he was pitching well, his confidence would have been bolstered. Now it's badly shaken. Instead of pitching aggressively, pitching to win, he seems to be pitching from a fear of losing. He's much more tentative. I'm getting this from hitters I know."

In other words, Langston has been victimized by a combination of factors. At times, pressing, he has overthrown. At times, tentative, he has shelved his 90 mph-plus fastball and thrown too many breaking balls, particularly when behind in the count, which he has been consistently.

Langston led the American League in strikeouts three times at Seattle, averaging 8.2 per nine innings when he won 17 games as a rookie in 1984 and 8.7 when he won 19 games in 1987. He is now down to 7.8 per nine innings with a walk ratio of 4.3, up from 3.7 in '87.

"One of Mark's problems is that he has four pitches {fastball, slider, curve and change-up} and wants to show all four to every hitter," a source close to the Angels' situation said. "He's not aggressive enough when he's behind in the count. Challenge 'em. Throw that fastball."

Behind in the count and throwing high in the strike zone, Langston has given up 47 of his 94 runs with two outs, an exasperating aspect of his struggle.

Catcher Lance Parrish said he has tried different formats -- increasing the number of fastballs and decreasing the number of curves, etc. -- in an effort to turn Langston around, but "it comes down to an inability to put the ball where he wants it at crucial times. He may be trying to do too much, but I also think there's a mechanical block that affects his release point and prevents him from locating his pitches. He hasn't lost anything {in the quality of his pitches}, but he's not able to set a hitter up, and a lot of times he has to guide a fastball up there just to avoid walking a hitter."

Langston and the Angels have watched films and tinkered some with his mechanics to the point where pitching coach Marcel Lachemann believes he may have distracted Langston from his No. 1 objective: concentrating on the pitch and the hitter. He believes it's time for Langston to relax, follow Parrish's guidance and work within his mechanics as they are.

"I'm as frustrated as he is," Lachemann said.

"When you've got that much ability, you shouldn't have to struggle."

Some tend to believe that the elusive nature of Langston's struggle gives credence to Williams's comments.

Can Langston cope with the pressure? Can he win in an environment where it's expected? In his book, Williams revives the subject and says Langston took himself out of close games in 1988, choked during the pennant stretch with the Expos last year and is perceived as gutless.

"Anybody can pitch for a loser," Williams says in the book, ". . . but let's see you pitch for a winner. That's the sign of a true competitor, which Langston is not. I don't care how many saddlebags Gene Autry dumped on his head. . . . Come on Langston. Let's see you pitch for a winner. Let's see you be a winner."

Langston reacted dispassionately when told he was the subject of a new Williams attack.

"He's said that every year since Seattle," Langston said. "Maybe people will take it in now and say he's right, but he doesn't know me, doesn't know my drive, doesn't know what makes me tick.

"If Dick gets satisfaction out of those comments, fine, but he's not right. I know my makeup. I know I can win. I know I'm not a loser."

Langston also said he didn't think it was a matter of too many curves or not enough aggressiveness. "No pitcher can consistently pitch behind in the count, and I'm just not making the right pitch at the right time or hitting the right spot at the right time," he said. "So much of pitching is repetition, and I just don't have a groove right now.

"I need to get back that reputation of dominating a game, and I feel I'm close. I'm healthy, my stuff is as good as it's ever been and I'm comfortable with my mechanics. It's a matter now of application, getting locked in."

Toward that end, Langston said he was happy to be have been given another start so quickly after the Orioles game -- as a replacement for Blyleven, who is out with a shoulder strain -- because the toughest part is the five days in between. He said he will accept the ball any time it is given him and that it would serve no purpose to miss a start or go to the bullpen.

Said Parrish, disputing Williams:

"I don't think Mark is the type to give in to the situation or environment. There's not a hitter who walks to the plate that I don't feel he'll strike out or get out.

"All it will really take is one good inning or one good game. He only needs to realize where he's been making his mistakes and it'll be all over."