2017 was wildly different from the half-decade preceding it. It was the first time since 2012 that Mike Trout would not play a full season. A painful slide into second base took him out of the game for what was expected to be 6-8 weeks, and that was it for the Halos—every fan thought, anyway. The Angels would play some pretty poor baseball down the stretch, but were in the running for the Wild Card most of the season.
This unexpected success left many of us with an expectation for a better season in 2018. “If we did that well without Trout, just imagine how well we’ll do with him!” was the prevailing idea. And so 2018 came along and was more of the same.
The Angels had a better Mike Trout the whole season, around a month’s worth more games with him playing, a superior offense to last year’s, and a superior rotation, even after the injuries. And they ended with the exact same record.
While the scapegoats may be easy to list off (Worse bullpen, better division, and bad luck), none of these can easily explain away the Angels’ record during Trout’s DL stints. Combining May 29th through July 9th of 2017 and August 6th through August 22nd of 2018 (the extended periods that Trout was out for injury/leave of absence over the past two seasons) puts the Angels at 54 games. In those time frames, the team went 27-27. It might seem to be a coincidence, but 2017’s span saw the Angels go 19-20 while 2018 had the Angels at 8-7.
What that tells us is that the Angels are roughly as good without Trout as they are with him. Maybe it’s just two months’ worth of weird happenstance or lucky sequencing, but it seems far more likely that it is gross mismanagement of the best player in baseball. There is no reason whatsoever that Eric Young Jr. should provide roughly the same final product as modern day Mickey Mantle.
Why? WHY? Why is a team able to substitute a replacement level player with a 10-win crutch and still be the exact same?
It’s just unacceptable. It will forever be the greatest stain upon Mike Scioscia’s legacy. For every excited memory of the World Series, I will have an equal and opposite moment of frustration on which to reflect, likely centering around Mike Trout batting 3rd behind two players who absolutely positively cannot get on base.
Brad Ausmus has one job as the manager: it is to leverage Mike Trout’s position in the lineup. It doesn’t matter if he’s batting leadoff, 2nd, 3rd, wherever. Utilize your common sense when constructing a lineup and when considering where other hitters should be in relation to said Godfish. Even if protection doesn’t technically exist according to the modern baseball meta, players believe it’s real and that affects the game.
Billy Eppler has one job as the GM, and it is not as simple as replacing low value pieces with high value pieces. His job is to supply Trout with complementary pieces, which is an entirely different concept. If that means a Bryce Harper to lead off or bat immediately behind him, then that’s what you do, no matter the cost. If it means a less expensive, but nearly-as-awesome on-base percentage fiend, then do it.
This team can be successful if it learns that Mike Trout is a transcendent talent to be propped up, not built around. The more the team fixes potholes instead of building peaks, the larger the Trout Free Agency looms—and that’s more of a franchise sinkhole than a divot.