Ken Griffey Jr. never played in a World Series.
While he isn’t the greatest player to go without winning the Fall Classic (the Splendid Splinter holds that honor), Griffey was a fantastic player who was almost universally idolized by baseball fans my age. Watching him end his career without ever making it to the World Series – despite a last ditch attempt with the White Sox – was disappointing not only for Mariners fans, but for baseball fans in general. We want to see what the best players can do on the biggest stage, if Manny Ramirez or Derek Jeter or Buster Posey or A-Rod has what it takes to deliver in clutch situations. And yes, budding sabermetrician, I understand that consistent clutch ability only exists for players named Allen Craig, but it is fun in the moment. Let me live.
I’m not bringing this up to compare or contrast Griffey and Trout’s careers – Dave Cameron already did a great job of that over at FanGraphs – but to point out that a great player missing the chance to play for a World Series is a tragedy.
Mike Trout is the best baseball player in the world by a wide margin. This is neither a revolutionary nor an inflammatory statement. If you disagree, your argument must be based off of something other than looking at the numbers and/or watching baseball for the last five years.
Since Trout has been in the Majors, the Angels have made the playoffs once – in 2014 – and have recorded win totals of 86, 89, 78, 98, and 85. In addition, they’ve outperformed their pythagorean win expectation in every year except for one. Basically, that means that they’ve been pretty lucky. They would need to improve significantly to make a playoff run likely. Unfortunately, the Angels team today seems to be declining rather than improving.
Let’s take a look at the Angel’s projected starting lineup this year with their slash lines (batting average/On-base percentage/slugging percentage) from last year:
DH: Albert Pujols (.244/.307/.480)
C: Geovany Soto (.219/.301/.406) / Carlos Perez (.250/.299/.346)
1B: C.J. Cron (.262/.300/.439)
2B: Johnny Giavotella (.272/.318/.375)
SS: Andrelton Simmons (.265/.321/.338)
3B: Yunel Escobar (.314/.375/.415)
LF: Daniel Nava (.233/.364/.301) / Todd Cunningham (.221/.280/.267)
CF: Mike Trout (.299/.402/.590)
RF: Kole Calhoun (.256/.308/.432)
Wow. Just from last year’s numbers, it looks like Pujols, Calhoun, Escobar, and Cron are the only semi-decent bats in the lineup not held by Trout, and Pujols will be injured to start the season. Maybe Yunel will have another good year at the plate, but smart money would have the 33 year-old regressing in a big way after a year that saw a major spike in his performance. Cron and Calhoun were both decent last year – Cron’s line is about average for a 1B and Calhoun swings and misses more than you would like. We’ll assume one will improve and one will regress (I’m betting on Calhoun to turn in a decent performance). So if you believe a 36 year-old coming off an injury repeating last year’s impressive performance is a certainty, we can bank on the Angels having three good hitters. That doesn’t cut it for a contender.
But look, offense isn’t everything. Defense wins championships, right? Maybe you’re thinking this is a squad ripe with Gold Glovers. Well, it has a couple. Simmons, fresh off a trade from Atlanta, is the best defensive shortstop in the majors (arguably making him the best defensive player in the MLB). Trout is a very good defender as well, although his advanced defensive metrics have fluctuated from season to season. The reason for that is up for debate, but dWar and UZR are relatively recent inventions and still have a ways to go in the opinions of many experts. I believe the fluctuation has more to do with the metrics themselves than with Trout’s abilities. After those two, though, the Angels don’t have any standout glovemen. Kole Calhoun is good defensively but looks to take a step back from a great 2015. Escobar and Soto are old. Even a spectacular defensive first baseman is a small boon in the long run, and C.J. Cron is not that. The other starters don’t move the needle much in either direction.
Look, you say, the Mets made it to the World Series last year with a fairly punchless lineup and below average talent in the field. You would be correct. The Mets also had the best 1-2-3 starter combination in the MLB last year. The Angels have… not that. Here’s their projected (read: educated guess) opening day rotation.
- Garret Richards
- Jered Weaver
- C.J. Wilson
- Andrew Heaney
- Matt Shoemaker
Garret Richards took a step backwards last year but still looks like he could be a solid number two this year. The problem is that he projects to be the Angels’ best starter by a mile. Andrew Heaney could be decent this year and there’s a chance Matt Shoemaker or likely sixth man Hector Santiago is a passable starter. C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver will likely struggle once again.
The next question a responsible reader might ask is a bit tougher: how can the Angels get Trout the help he needs? The Angels don’t have any real trade pieces on their major league roster, or at least none that would bring the kind of game changing pieces they need. To add insult to injury, their farm system is beyond bare. What is a poor general manager to do? What the Angels do have is one of the richest television deals in Major League Baseball. They’ve done a poor job spending it thus far, Trout’s deal withstanding, and spending big on free agents is always a big risk. “Throw money at it” usually isn’t the best solution to save your burning house, but if the Angels want to compete during the Trout era they will have to hit a few homers in the free agent market.
The last option is almost heretical, but maybe the best move for the organization’s is to trade the best player in the world. I’m not saying the Angels should go this route, but they aren’t winning with the team they have right now. They currently have Trout locked up through 2020 on maybe the most team-friendly contract in baseball. You would need the godfather offer of all godfather offers to pry Trout away from the Angels, and you would have fans demanding the GM’s head no matter who you got in return. The only teams that could realistically make a Trout offer are clubs on the verge of contention with both great young starter-ready talent and great prospects at the minor league level. The Cubs and the Astros come to mind. Again, the offer would have to be mind blowing, but the Angels need to rejuvenate their farm system, and trading a superstar is one way to do it.
I want to see Mike Trout in the World Series. You want to see Mike Trout in the World Series. What if the best player of this generation never even makes a deep playoff run? In fact, let’s rewind that. What if the greatest player of all time – yes, if Trout comes close to maintaining his current pace, that title is within the realm of possibility – never gets to play on the game’s biggest stage? That seems like a depressing future to me. Here’s to hoping we won’t have to live in it.