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Angels Done: Is It Mike Trout’s Fault?

September 27th, 2017 · No Comments · Angels, Baseball

About now, we can depend on baseball pundits to pose the Big Question pertaining to another disappointing season by the Los Angeles Angels:

Is Mike Trout wasting his career playing for this club?

It was a fair question, in recent years, as the Angels found themselves stuck on one playoffs appearance since Trout’s breakout 2012 season, The one postseason appearance, was in 2014, when they were swept out of the division round.

This year, a clearly underwhelming Angels team somehow managed to remain relevant in the wild-card chase until tonight, when their 4-2 loss in 10 innings in Chicago gave the second AL wild card to the Minnesota Twins.

The difference this season, in the Trout-and-Angels relationship, is that Trout has had a less-than-sterling season, by his twice-MVP standards, and it is fair to wonder if the Angels might have won a few more games — and still be battling for a wild card — had they gotten the Trout of the previous five seasons.


–Trout missed 53 games with an injury he probably could/should have avoided, a damaged thumb ligament suffered on May 28 in a head-first slide, the sort of slide that seems eventually to lead inexorably to hand injuries.

–The Angels were 19-20 while he was out, one game under .500. The rest of the season, through tonight’s game, they are 59-60, one game under, suggesting they are not any worse without him, this year, than they were with him.

–Trout has a modest (for him) 6.5 WAR (wins above replacement) according to Baseball Reference, by far the lowest since he became a regular in 2012. (He was at 10.5 in 2016.) Some of his decline no doubt is the volume of numbers he would have gotten during the period when he was out, but he is dragged down 0.6 points by what has been a season of below-league-average defense in center field.

–He does not lead the league in WAR — Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge are Nos. 1 and 2 — nor even his team. That honor belongs to Andrelton Simmons, the elite-level shortstop, who is sitting on 7.2 WAR, with 4.2 of it coming from the defensive side, according to BR.

To be sure, the 2017 Angels had problems aplenty. Their notional starting rotation was compromised early, as ace Garrett Richards missed five months, and Matt Shoemaker missed half the season.

Their bullpen was a bunch of guys who never settled into a role, in part because manager-for-life Mike Scioscia (18 seasons now) seemed to like it that way, in part because nearly everyone failed significantly at some point.

Their lineup was full of soft spots. Second base was a offensive void, between Danny Espinosa and Cliff Pennington. Left field was soft, with light-hitting Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere getting most of the starts. Martin Maldonado, a career platoon player before this season, was perfectly ordinary with the bat, for a catcher.

And then there was Albert Pujols, the 10-year, $240 million man who is breaking down before our eyes. He got to triple digits in RBI, but his on-base percentage fell under .300 and he is reduced to jogging on the basepaths (he has scored only 52 runs) and cannot be trusted to play defense anywhere. He will be 38 when the 2018 seasons starts.

The club has four seasons left of that onerous contract.

In retrospect, the American League has four good teams and a half-dozen mediocrities (and five really bad clubs). One of the mediocrities, the Twins, caught fire and burned a bit more brightly, and the other five seem likely to finish below .500.

It wasn’t all bad news for the Angels. They were fun to contemplate, from time to time, because they were not far from wild-card consideration nearly all season, and we wondered how that could be.

Simmons had a career-year. Trout was good, when he played. And Upton was a revelation; he instantly became the club’s second-best player, hitting in the 3 hole and taking care of business in left field. The Angels have said they hope to keep him — which would entail taking on the final four years and $88.5 million of his contract, which Upton, 30, can opt out of, if he wishes to try his hand at free agency.

More good news for owner Arte Moreno and general manager Billy Eppler includes the end, finally, of the impossibly awful Josh Hamilton contract. The Angels gave the troubled outfielder $26 million this year, and now they are done with him.

Moreno seemed resigned to a down year, but when the Angels did enough in August to climb over .500, giving them a chance to make the playoffs, he and Eppler made the moves that brought in Upton and Phillips.

The Angels as recently as September 16 were 76-72, only one game behind Minnesota for the second wild card.

The Twins went 6-3 in their next nine games while the Angels ran into Cleveland and Houston, two serious AL teams, lost five of six, and went 2-8 in the 10 games ending tonight.

And now they are done.

Trout’s fault? Of course not. But the gap between him and his team wasn’t as yawning as it normally is.



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