Give the Los Angeles Angels credit: they’ve been able to tread water. Without Mike Trout, the greatest player of his generation, the Angels have done just enough, to keep themselves on the playoff fringes.
As my colleague Luis Torres points out, the fact that they have been able to avoid disaster without Trout is no small feat -- this wasn’t exactly a heavyweight team with Trout. We all figured that Trout’s injury would likely spell doom for their season, but surprisingly, it has not. The Troutless Angels gave themselves a chance, and now they’re about to receive a huge boost in return.
Compare Trout’s return to the lineup to the upcoming trade deadline. No single player in baseball is likely to be more valuable to his team over these final months than the reigning American League MVP. In that sense, Trout is the ultimate deadline acquisition, even if he isn’t changing uniforms.
The probability of the Angels actually reaching the playoffs is unquestionably narrowed by the fact that they play in the same division as the Houston Astros, arguably the best team in baseball at the moment and owners of a 16.5-game lead in the AL West. That leaves the Wild Card as their only path to the postseason, and they’ll have to edge out a crowded field just to earn the honor of suiting up for a one game playoff.
Regardless, with Trout back, that is unquestionably the goal. At the moment, the Angels sit at 45-47, tied with the Texas Rangers in fifth in the Wild Card standings. Were the season to end today, the Yankees and Rays would earn those final two spots, with the Twins and Royals also finishing ahead of the Angels. Like I said, it’s crowded.
First, we should look at the projections. Unfortunately, they aren’t all that optimistic. Even with Trout in the lineup, FanGraphs’ playoff odds give the Angels a 13.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, and have them pegged to finish the season under .500 at 79-83.
So I suppose we could end the story there. No, Mike Trout alone probably will not be enough for the Angels to make the playoffs. That’s my honest conclusion, and it should probably be yours too. But what’s the fun in that?
In addition to their projecting the Angels to be on the outside looking in, FanGraphs ZiPS and Steamer projections also project Trout to be worth between 3.0 and 3.7 wins over the course of the last two-plus months. That’s nuts, of course, but this is Trout we’re talking about. It would not be crazy or unprecedented to see him get that figure above four.
Even four would probably not be enough, though, assuming the rest of the Angels continue to play they have (no safe assumption, of course). If we use Trout’s 3.0 rest-of-season WAR and the Angels projected 79-83 record, it is going to take an additional two wins worth of value from Trout just to get to a projected .500 record, all things being equal.
That translates to roughly five WAR over the Angels remaining 70 games, assuming Trout misses no additional time. Does that sound unreasonable? Well, consider how good Trout was in the first 47 games he played this season. In that time span, Trout was worth 3.4 fWAR, in perhaps the greatest stretch of play in his already legendary career. That works out to about .07 WAR per game. And guess what .07 x 70 is? 5.1, if we’re rounding up!
So there you go. If Trout keeps playing like he did pre-injury, he can give the Angels that extra two wins of value that would get them up to 81-81. That would undoubtedly put them in the playoffs. Probably make them World Series favorites.
Wait, no it wouldn’t. 81-81 would still leave them on the outside looking in, according to FanGraphs’ playoff odds. Damn, that leaves us with the same conclusion as before: Trout probably isn’t going to be enough for the Angels to make it to October, or not without several other lucky breaks going their way. That’s a bummer, but at least it’s nothing we’re not already used to, right?