We have all heard how one player cannot “carry” a team in the game of baseball. Even a 10-WAR player like Mike Trout is unable to do so. At the same time, as a team FanGraphs projected for 83 wins and a 35 percent chance to make the playoffs, Trout is as important to the Angels’ playoff chances as one player can be. Losing Garrett Richards after one start was bad enough, but when Trout went down with his thumb injury, I believed he took the Angels’ season with him. Even if he missed the minimum projected six weeks, the Angels’ playoff chances are just that sensitive.
At the time of Trout’s thumb injury, the Angels were 26-27 and 10 games behind the Astros in the AL West. Obviously the Angels were not going to win the division, even with the new level that Trout was performing at offensively. With so much parity in the AL, their Wild Card chances were not good either. They were only 1.5 games back of the Wild Card, but so were the Rangers, and there were three teams ahead of them. FanGraphs had their playoff chances at 14 percent. A couple of days after the injury, their Wild Card chances dropped below seven percent.
Had Angels GM
Mike Scioscia Billy Eppler decided to just throw in the towel on the season and consider selling, it would have been hard to fault him. The offense was tied for 23rd in the majors when adjusting for league and park effects, and again, that was with Trout. The starting pitching, on the other hand, had a 4.43 RA9 that ranked ninth in the majors.
The fact that the Angels were only three games back was deceptive of how poor their chances really were. As already mentioned, their sub-seven percent Wild Card chances were emblematic of their struggling offense and the competitiveness of the American League.
Of course since this is baseball, the Angels have gone 19-20 in Trout’s absence. Their playoff chances are still below ten percent, but the fact that the Angels have managed to tread water without Trout is amazing. Crazy things happen in small sample sizes, so let’s take a look at what those crazy things were.
Trout’s playing time went to a player that barely played in the majors the last couple of years: fellow New Jerseyan Eric Young Jr. He has played as well as he has ever played, hitting .260/.336/.396. He already has 3 HR, even though four is his career high and half of those four came at Coors Field. Per FanGraphs, his league average offense combined with his baserunning and center field defense have added up to almost a full win. That is a full win more than I would have projected for him. He is striking out a lot and not walking, and his .135 ISO is out of line with his career rate, so regression is likely coming. However, as long as Trout does not suffer any setbacks in his rehab starts, he will probably be back before the regression monster comes for Young.
Quite a few players excelled in Trout’s absence. After struggling up until Trout’s injury, Kole Calhoun has hit .292/.356/.456 with 7 HR. To have some fun with arbitrary endpoints, he had a great month of June, hitting .324/.388/.505. Yunel Escobar came off a hamstring injury on June 1st and started firing on all cylinders, hitting .319/.388/.440. Andrelton Simmons — who is in the midst of his best offensive season and is already worth 4 bWAR — is getting in on the action, too. He has hit .304/.349/.500 with 5 HR in Trout’s absence. He has only hit 8 HR in the past two seasons combined!
Even utility infielder Chad Pennington is performing better since Trout got injured. The last two seasons he has been a nightmare at the plate, hitting .209/.283/.293 for a 57 wRC+. His .250/.304/.365 line is not good either, but that 83 wRC+ is a big improvement for him. Sadly and ironically, that is better than Albert Pujols has performed in that same time frame.
Even though some players enjoyed increased production at the plate, it was not enough to overcome the Angels’ poor overall offense. They have the fifth-worst offense since Trout’s injury and the sixth-fewest runs scored. The starting rotation has been better, but not by much. They have a 4.95 RA9 since Trout’s injury. So how exactly have the Angels managed to stay afloat without Mike Trout?
The bullpen. In Trout’s absence they have had a 3.87 RA9. Their strikeout rates have been mediocre, but they have done a great job at limiting free passes to a 6.3 percent rate. In fact, the Angels’ bullpen has had a great season overall. Their 4.07 RA9 is tied with the Diamondbacks for fifth-best in baseball. Their 25.5 percent strikeout rate ranks ninth in the majors, and their 7.4 percent walk rate ranks at the top. And this is all with only 4 IP from Huston Street. Let’s take a look at some of their best performers.
Those are some very impressive numbers. Furthermore, who on Earth could have predicted that this bunch of relievers could have performed so well? The Angels are paying pennies for this production, too. Baseball is weird.
Angels Bullpen Value
That is tremendous value right there. Billy Eppler and the Angels’ coaches deserve a lot of credit for assembling and developing these guys.
It is great that the Angels have managed to stay in the Wild Card race without Trout, but they need him back as soon as possible. They will also need a lot of the luck that sustained them in his absence.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.