The Los Angeles Angels have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball for the last few years. As a big market team with the best player in the sport you’d think that the Angels would consistently be in the mix for championships. But the opposite has been true.
They haven’t won a playoff game, nevermind a series, since 2009, and have a win percentage of just .519 since Mike Trout became an everyday player for them in 2012.
But are they finally putting together a team that can compete? Are they going to stop wasting the best player in the league and contend for the World Series?
Since 2012, Mike Trout has averaged 9.1 WAR per season, which is just ridiculous and a massive 41.4 wins above average, not just replacement. With a player like that you would think it shouldn’t be too hard to put together a team that can make the playoffs. After all, if you are just league-average at every other position, or an 81-81 ball club, then with Mike Trout in your lineup you should be going 88-74, a record that almost always gets you into the postseason.
League average shouldn’t be that hard to achieve, right? After all, when you have the bright lights of LA and a big budget to attract players it should be downright easy, but it hasn’t been. The Angels have consistently failed to put a team around Trout that can compete even at a .500 pace.
In 2017 Trout, who played only 114 games, registered a 6.9 WAR per Fangraphs, Andrelton Simmons (4.9) and Kole Calhoun (2.2) were the only other players above the league-average benchmark of 2.0.
The rest of their lineup was full of easy-outs and ridiculously light bats. Albert Pujols might have a big name, but he slashed .241/.286/.386 last year and registered a whopping -2.0 WAR in his 149 games. Danny Espinosa took 254 plate appearances before being released, slashed .162/.237/.276 and had a -1.0 WAR.
Then there is the pitching. Yusmeiro Petit was the only useful arm the Angels had all season. The rotation featured players that would barely register as innings-eaters on most rosters. Ricky Nolasco started 33 games and was a walking home run with an ERA of 4.92. JC Ramirez was a bit better in his 24 starts, but Jesse Chavez was a mess in his 21 starts.
The Angels may have gone 80-82, last year, but the talent around Trout was truly abysmal.
Building a ball club
This winter has seen signs of change however. The signing of Shohei Ohtani stole headlines and could well give the Angels a reliable front-line starter to pair with a, fingers-crossed, healthy Garrett Richards. But it is their other moves that should truly give Angels fans hope.
Trading for Ian Kinsler may seem to be a move that is two years too late, but he is a huge upgrade at second base. The 35-year-old hit 22 homers last year, but with a shaky slash line of .236/.313/.412. The combination of that and some solid defense was a 2.4 WAR, or just above league average.
Signing an average player isn’t exciting, but for the Angels it represents an enormous upgrade. LA got a -0.1 WAR from second base last year. For the cost of a pair of low-end prospects that will probably amount to very little, it was a no-brainer for the Angels and the kind of move they have needed to make for years.
Justin Upton arrived in LA at the trade deadline last year, and while he struggled in his new home, he registered 4.1 WAR before the trade, a whole 2.0 WAR better than the Angels combined for in left field last season.
The five-year, $106 million contract they handed Upton sounds like a huge amount, but given the monstrous deal JD Martinez is after this winter it is a bargain.
There is of course risk in these signings. Kinsler posted his worst season in years in 2017, and could continue to decline or bounce back. Likewise, Justin Upton had his best year in a while last season and could fall away again, but both are low-cost signings that represent at least an upgrade on what was there before.
Another low-cost move was the signing of Zack Cozart. The former Reds shortstop had the best season of his life in 2017 and inked a three-year, $38 million deal to play third base for LA. It gives them possibly the best SS-3B glove combination in the Majors, and even if Cozart’s bat comes back to earth in 2018 he’ll be another upgrade for the Angels.
All these deals barely move the needle when placed next to the Giancarlo Stanton trade or the Martinez and Jake Arrieta sagas. Jumping from bottom of the barrel to league-average is not sexy, but it is sensible. Just maybe the Angels will finally be able to compete more consistently, and if they all work out then the Angels could finally have a team that won’t waste the talents of Mike Trout.