As of yesterday, 5/29/2017, the Angels 2017 season is officially dead with the news that Mike Trout needs thumb surgery and will miss 6-8 weeks. Trout was in the middle of his best season to date, already accumulating 3.6 fWAR in just 47 games, well over a pace of 10 fWAR for what would have been the third time in his career. His .337 batting average (BA), .461 on-base percentage (OBP), and .742 slugging percentage (SLG) are all career highs as they stand. Not only is this is a huge blow to the Los Angeles Angels, but a blow to Major League Baseball. Trout has easily been the best player in all of baseball this year, which is no easy task in 2017.
But as bad as this news is for the MLB and their fans, it affects the Angels more than anyone. Taking away Mike Trout from the Angels lineup is beyond devastating. With Trout, the Angels are sitting 26-28 this season, already 11 games back of the Astros for the AL West, though just 2.5 back in the Wildcard behind the Boston Red Sox (27-23), Baltimore Orioles (26-23), and Cleveland Indians (26-23). Though the Angels seem right in the mix of the Wild Card race, the talent gap is already incredibly wide WITH Mike Trout, let alone without the best player in baseball.
The Red Sox, Orioles, and Indians have all struggled to find their footing this season, but all three teams have huge amounts of talent on their MLB squads as well as in their organization that could help them later on this season, and those are things that the Angels just really don’t have. As of yesterday, the Angels position players have a total fWAR of 5.7 on the season. Take away Trout’s value and the Angels are left in a very dire situation. By taking Trout away from the Angels, that would leave them with 2.1 fWAR combined by all other players, which would put take from 16th overall in fWAR as a team by position players all the way down to 27th, just over the Royals, Giants, and Padres. Then keep in mind that the Angels pitching is not good with 3.9 fWAR overall, putting them around the middle of the pack (19th overall) there. Essentially, even if it’s for just two months, the Angels are barely treading water as it is with him, and look like they may start to drown without him.
For almost two years I have been of the belief that the Angels should sell any assets that are not bolted down. This idea started in my head after they had an above average 2015, but a far cry from their 98 win 2014 team. That 2014 club was great. They had a young rising ace starting pitcher in Garrett Richards (2.61 ERA 2.60 FIP 4.3 fWAR in 168.2 IP), good overall pitching (11th overall in pitching fWAR at 15.6), and an extremely deep and overall excellent lineup spearheaded by the best player in baseball. Their position players finished second overall in fWAR with a whopping 30. That Angels lineup had eight players with 2.0 or higher fWAR. That was a scary team to play against.
However, from 2015 on, things have changed drastically for the Angels. Offensively, the Angels have been up and down:
As you can see from these statistics, taken from Fangraphs, the Angels offense has been up and down. At worst, it’s been middle of the road in 2015 and 2017 so far. Defensively they’ve been basically the same team the last four years, with the big spike coming last year from Andrelton Simmons. Without him, they’d have been almost exactly the same the last four season.
The pitching is where you can really see the difference in this team from the 2014, 98-win team, to the team the Angels have now:
The Angels pitching has gotten significantly worse from the 2014 club to the 2017 one. Injuries have been a big part of the decline, but it’s something that they have to deal with and haven’t done a good job of doing it. Home runs seem to be the biggest culprit, going from 0.76 HR/9, to 1.04 HR/9, to 1.32 HR/9, all the way up to 1.42 HR/9 this season. The Angels haven’t had a pitching staff they could use to compete for a playoff spot in all reality since that 2014 bunch.
Up next we have the statistics of the best player in baseball, Mike Trout:
From the above graph, you can see almost pure perfection. Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for longer than 2014, but that’s really where the whole concept for the article started. Funny enough, 2014 was the worst season of his career at only at a 7.9 fWAR overall. What really interests me about Trout is his overall percentage of value to the Angels. In 2014, Trout was worth 26.33% of the positional fWAR. That’s completely acceptable for a good team, even with a superstar player. Once you get into 2015 and beyond, that’s where things start to look very, very bad. In 2015 Trout was worth 50.5% of the Angels positional fWAR. In 2016, Trout was worth 43.5% of the Angels positional fWAR. So far in 2017, it’s been even more unbalanced with Trout accounting for a whopping 63.2% of the Angels total position fWAR.
What this really means is that the team has gone from being a balanced team with a superstar in Mike Trout leading the way in 2014, to a team completely dependent on Mike Trout providing at least 40% of the total position player value. If you think about this while looking both at the MLB talent on the Angels now, as well as the level of talent in the Angels’ farm system, you can see that they are in real trouble. With Trout’s first DL trip and significant injury, it could finally be the time that the Angels realize it’s time for a rebuild. If the Angels continue to stay in this state of limbo, I believe it would only hurt them in the long run because Trout may want to go to a team that he feels is more committed to winning once he is a free agent. The last thing any franchise should want to do is alienate an all-time talent like that.
But with all things considered, maybe it’s time for the Angels to have a complete teardown and do the unthinkable: trade Mike Trout.
Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor