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The Angels’ fragile playoff hopes

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After some disappointing seasons, there is at least a solid chance that Mike Trout could be in the playoffs this October.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The idea that Mike Trout is trapped on a terrible team has become increasingly popular over the last year, especially on the heels of his MVP-winning 2016 season. Despite Trout’s heroics, the Los Angeles Angels finished near the bottom of the American League with a 74-88 record. While other stars like Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw got their chances to battle in the playoffs, Trout — by many metrics the best player in the game — was once again forced to sit October out.

However, the Angels’ outlook may be changing. Despite the complete lack of production around Trout in recent years, there are actually reasons to believe that the Angels could field a playoff team this season. The team’s margin for error is fairly thin, though, and and any optimism around the 2017 Angels should be tempered.

Last season, Trout put up monstrous numbers (hardly a surprise for anyone even remotely familiar with the game of baseball). While there are numerous statistical arguments to choose from to illustrate his greatness, WAR provides perhaps the simplest explanation. By FanGraphs' calculation, Trout led all MLB hitters in this category, but to find another Angels player (Kole Calhoun), one would have to go all the way down to 45th on the list.

Trout did enough with his bat to make the Angels a top-10 hitting team by fWAR, but the real problems facing the Angels came from their pitching staff. Angels starting pitchers ranked 28th in the league in fWAR, and relievers (also 28th) did no better. Much of this poor showing came from a combination of poor performances and injuries, a brutal combination that plagued the team for much of the season.

However, recent projections give the Angels a decent chance to reboubd in 2017 — and even make a run at the postseason. FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections currently have Los Angeles finishing with a 84-78 record, which would be good enough for the first Wild Card spot. While this projection has the Angels finishing well below the Astros for the division title, a Wild Card would be a massive improvement over the last two seasons for this team.

Despite the potential for success, though, the Angels’ playoff hopes are extremely tenuous. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection lays out a detailed analysis of the team’s roster, concluding that many of the same problems that kept the team out of the 2016 playoffs are still present. Essentially, Trout, Calhoun, and Andrelton Simmons are all good players, but beyond them there isn’t much to look forward to. The team’s pitching, despite some changes, projects to still be below-average as well.

Given all of this evidence, then, there is a reasonable, yet not ironclad, argument to see the Angels as a potential playoff team. This projection doesn’t rely on more production from Trout (since he already is playing at a near-superhuman level), but rather slightly better pitching and more contributions from other players. How well the supporting cast performs could determine the course of the season.

Mike Trout’s predicament has understandably motivated a great number of posts and articles from those who cover baseball. Many made the case that the Angels should consider trading him in the middle of their disappointing 2016 campaign, and a recent article on FanGraphs laid out a hypothetical way that he could instantly become a free agent. From either the mindset of a casual or more involved fan, it seems wrong to have the game’s best player consistently miss the playoffs.

However, according to various projections, there is at least a chance that this won’t be the case in 2017. While 84 wins isn’t a terribly impressive number, the Angels (should they reach this goal) will have a reasonable case for making the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Whether the latest version of the Los Angeles Angels can make significant noise in October is an open question; still, there is reason to believe that Mike Trout will finally get another chance to build his playoff resume.


Thomas Jenkins is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and Peachtree Hoops. You can also follow him on Twitter for tweets about sports.