The Angels had a great offseason. Obviously winning the Shohei Ohtani lottery was the biggest reason why, but not the only reason. Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart were also a couple of nice acquisitions that solved problems from the year before. Getting those players also allowed the team to move on from C.J. Cron, who only played 100 games in 2017 and was nothing more than an average hitting first baseman. Going into the 2018 season, the Angels clearly still had their problems, but on the bright side they had assembled the best infield defense in the majors.
Kinsler was a nice buy-low, positive regression candidate coming off a disappointing 2017 season. Considering the Angels got replacement level play from second base, Kinsler’s defense alone had the potential to be a one-win upgrade.
As for Cozart, he entered free agency after an uncharacteristically good 5 WAR season. He was a below average hitter for his entire career, and then suddenly hit .297/.385/.548 in 2017. Nobody believed that was repeatable, but it was certainly worth taking a chance with him on a three-year, $38 million deal. Because nobody should every displace Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, Cozart had to be moved to third base, but he had the potential to be at least a 70-grade defender there.
Third base was by no means a disaster for the 2017 Angels, but it was certainly an area that needed improvement. Playing Luis Valbuena there everyday was definitely not the preferred option. Valbuena is better served as a platoon bat and occasional first baseman.
The 2018 AL playoff picture is pretty much set, with the only question being whether the Red Sox or Yankees will be hosting the Mariners in the coin-flip game. Truth be told, we did not know much less than that before the season started. The Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Astros were virtual locks to make the playoffs. If you were to look at the next tier down on the FanGraphs playoff odds page, the three teams with the best shot at grabbing that final Wild Card slot were the Blue Jays, Twins, and Angels. Even then, the Angels were only given a 27.1 percent chance. For what it’s worth, they were my pick to grab that last slot.
Now the Angels’ season is basically over.
The Angels are currently sitting at 43-41 with only a 9.4 percent chance to make the playoffs. Even the Athletics are three games ahead of them in the standings.
Cozart is going to miss the rest of the season in order to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Perhaps the injury is to blame, but he was having a very disappointing season. He hit only .219/.296/.362 and failed to make up for his offensive shortcomings with his glove.
Unfortunately, Kinsler has failed to bounce back at the plate this year, and he is currently hitting the same as Cozart did. At least he is making it up with excellent defense, which does make him an upgrade at second base over last year.
All of baseball was devastated by Ohtani’s partially torn UCL, but at least there is hope that he can come back soon as a hitter. However, it is not going to impact the Angels’ playoff chances.
Elsewhere on the diamond, Albert Pujols is continuing his tragically poor aging curve. The living legend is hitting just .245/.281/.403. As Chris Anders wrote here before, Kole Calhoun is having a historically bad season that would be getting more attention if it were not for Chris Davis’s even more historically bad season.
The Angels’ rotation has actually been pretty effective, sporting a 4.26 RA9, 4.42 DRA, and striking out about 24 percent of hitters faced. We all know how good Ohtani was, but Tyler Skaggs was very good too.
Skaggs was never more than a back-end starter, and he has had Tommy John surgery before, but this year he has a 2.93 RA9 and his strikeout rate has risen to 26.4 percent. He had a career 0.8 WAR going into this season. He is currently sitting at 2.3 WAR for 2018 alone.
No Angels article would be complete without gushing over Mike Trout — we’ll get there — but Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton have been very productive too, and they have been a couple of the few extra bright spots in the Angels’ lineup. Andrelton is combining is all-world defense with the best offensive season of his career, hitting .322/.383/.444. He has always had great contact rates, but a 4.7 K% is unreal. That is almost Tony Gwynn good. Not only does that easily lead the league, but it is half the rate of the runner up, Michael Brantley.
I never ever thought that Andrelton’s ceiling was more than a league average hitter, and now he has a 133 wRC+. He finished eighth in the MVP voting last year, and he could finish around there this year even with all the great performances in the AL.
Now for the obligatory Trout love: he is having the best year of his career, which is completely unbelievable. He is hitting an other worldly .317/.461/.641, good for a 200 wRC+. He leads the league in OBP, walks, and wRC+. Only Mookie Betts has a higher slugging average, but he has played in 20 fewer games than Trout. He is walking more than he strikes out.
About a month ago, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote about Trout’s pace to break Babe Ruth’s all-time single season WAR record at Baseball Reference. His sprained right index finger has likely ruined any chance of that happening for two reasons: 1) DHing as opposed to playing center field is a big loss in the positional adjustment, and 2) during his nine games at DH, though he put up a stellar .421 OBP, he hit only .214 and failed to get even a single extra-base hit.
It was great to see Trout hit a home run in his first game back in center field. As long as that finger does not sap his power anymore, he should add to his nice 6.9 WAR.
Henry Druschel, one of my former managing editors here, wrote a few years ago about how the Angels are wasting Mike Trout. They are still wasting Mike Trout. For the sixth time in seven years, MLB will be deprived of its best player during the playoffs. He is only under contract for two more years before he gets half a billion dollars in free agency (seriously). If the Angels can’t do any better next year, they should consider trading Trout. It might be near impossible to get fair value back for a player of Trout’s caliber, but it could end up being the Angels’ best option, sad as it would be to part with their best player ever.
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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.