Much has been made of Mike Trout’s GOAT-level season. He has been MLB’s best player and the easy AL MVP leader, having been able to stay healthy and avoid any significant slumps. We could go over his video game batting and fielding stats all day, but I’ll stick with this: His Baseball Reference WAR is 6.5, almost a full 2.0 ahead of second-place Jose Ramirez.
Everything about this season is consistent with his Hall of Fame career. He is hitting a lot of home runs (most in the majors), walking a lot (easily the most in the majors), hitting for a high average (.335, fifth in MLB), and dominating in center field (0.9 fielding WAR). He will probably win his third MVP. Most amazingly, though, is that his team, the LA Angels, are underperforming. Again.
The Angels, who have played a grand total of three playoff games — all losses in a 2014 sweep against the Royals — since Trout’s 2011 arrival, are 39-35 this season, losing seven of their last nine games. Despite an offseason effort to improve, they are seven games out of the AL wild-card race.
They got what they could out of Shohei Ohtani before he inevitably went down with an arm injury, although he could be back in as soon as two to three weeks. Zack Cozart, whom they signed in the offseason, has taken a step back as a fielder and hasn’t lived up to his 24 home run expectations as a hitter. 36-year-old newcomer Ian Kinsler is hitting .225 in the leadoff role.
Problems particularly lie in the pitching, where the Angels have yet to find an ace. Garrett Richards is historically their best pitcher and has been with the team since 2011, but Tyler Skaggs has been their premier arm this season, with a 2.81 ERA and a 6-4 record. Their rotation is inconsistent, even with Skaggs growing into a solid starter.
Richards and Andrew Heaney have played well enough this season — Heaney has a 1.102 WHIP, the lowest of any Angels starter — but the currently injured Nick Tropeano has struggled, and the bullpen lacks a go-to guy. There simply aren’t the difference-makers and consistent performers needed to win a lot of games in MLB.
Among the relievers, Noe Ramirez is an innings-eater and strikeout machine (he’s throwing his slider a lot more this season), although he is giving up too much hard contact and has struggled during the Angels’ recent down stretch. L.A. relies on Blake Parker, the nominal closer, and Cam Bedrosian to get big outs late in games. ERA isn’t everything, but their ERAs are 3.18 and 4.02, disappointing numbers for late-inning relievers.
L.A. needs pitchers who can carry them, who they know can step in and get outs. They’ve needed it for years, and with Trout playing as well as he is, there’s no reason not to go for it now.
But every year, it seems, the Angels lose just enough games in late spring to deter them from making aggressive trades at the deadline. Trading prospects for pitching or lineup depth would be difficult this summer if they stay eight games out of the wild-card race.
The Angels might not get another season quite like this from Trout, though, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons has also had a career year that would be devastating to waste. Simmons, still arguably the best fielder in the entire league, is batting .317 with a .827 OPS. He has a 2.9 WAR, second on the team, and a 9.2 defensive rating, per FanGraphs.
There are other good and talented contributors on the team. Justin Upton has been their third best player this season, with a 1.6 WAR, and Martin Maldonado is a perfectly acceptable late-in-the-lineup catcher. Kole Calhoun can make great plays in right field and throw the heck out of the ball, even if he hasn’t hit to save his life this year. Some underlying numbers suggest Kinsler could bounce back.
Those great seasons from Simmons and Skaggs look headed to the bin of wasted MLB career years and Hall of Fame performances, a bin piling up with Babe Ruth-like Trout years. Trout will be a free agent after the 2020 season, and the team’s recent struggles underscore once again what a shame it would be if the Angels fail to make a single real playoff run with this century’s best player.