Mike Trout made me an Angels fan.
Being 25, I was a mere kid during the golden era of Angels baseball. I was a “fan,” but merely because my grandmother was too. Being born in Anaheim and raised most of my childhood to that point in California, it was an obvious fit. Growing up in the formative years of baseball love in Texas, however, stunted my Angels fandom. It was usually difficult to watch Angels games with blackout restrictions, so my love for baseball slowly diminished as things like video games were more readily available.
It wasn’t until college in 2012 when I’d start to force myself to watch a few games. I don’t really remember the exact reason, but it didn’t take many that May to get me hooked. Mike Trout had just been recalled from AAA, and he was sensational. His speed, defense, and hit tool were just so much fun to watch, that I couldn’t wait to log on to the crappy Dell in the computer lab and see what he was doing this time. His battle with Miguel Cabrera developed my love for the statistical side of the game and his attempt at 50 steals had me on the edge of my seat. I read every last article I could find about Trout and the Angels in those days. I went from reluctant bandwagoner to insatiable baseball-hungry freak because of this one kid.
These days, Trout is still a sensation, but I had a moment of weakness. I am a fan of Mike Trout, just as much as I am a fan of the Angels. Wherever he goes, I am positive that I will follow that team, no matter who it is outside of the division. And so I made a mistake.
When I found out that Shohei Ohtani was in need of Tommy John surgery, it was the final straw. I had become a “Trade Mike Trout” convert. I became everything that I had so detested about Angels fandom. I had several opinions that just a few years ago, I would have slammed myself for.
For one, I believed it would be mutually beneficial to both parties. Mike Trout would go off and get some rings with a contender, and the Angels would acquire so many awesome prospects, they couldn’t help but contend for the next few years and possibly longer.
I believed that the reason that we needed to do this was because we had too many holes and Ohtani’s surgery would be detrimental to the franchise as we would be unable to re-sign Mike Trout to an extension. The Show would instead show us that the opposite is true.
Ohtani received the news about his surgery, and decided to focus all of his skill points into Hitting for the time being. Since the news broke, he’s 7-12 with 3 walks, 3 homers, and a triple. Since he actually had his start, it’s 8-16, but with a 4th homer. He is putting up unreal numbers (even against lefties) to prove that we don’t need him as a pitcher to be successful. But last night’s game was hard proof of something else that we have been waiting years to have proven to us.
On paper, protection for a hitter is not real. They will hit equally as well or as poorly as they would have, regardless of the lineup behind them. But in reality, Ohtani made it abundantly clear that protection is a real, albeit immeasurable, concept, and it is likely the fundamental principle that has held the Angels back for the past few years. How do we know this?
When Justin Upton —I do like this guy by the way— or Albert Pujols are batting behind Trout, Trout gets pitched around. It is all too easy to just throw near the borders of the strike zone and hope for either some lucky and unfair strike calls or for him to just take ball 4 and erase the threat by getting out the next guy or two. This was the case in the first game against Rodon. Upton was attacked in the zone after multiple intentional walks to Trout and a HBP, and the jam was erased multiple times.
Fast forward to last night’s game, and Ohtani was suddenly batting behind Mike Trout. With Ohtani hot as hellfire, Mike Trout would receive pitches to hit, even in obvious intentional walk scenarios. Here is the damning evidence from last night:
At one point, Kole Calhoun and David Fletcher were on first and second with no outs and Mike Trout up. Then a wild pitch by James Shields advanced both baserunners to second and third. Mike Trout then hit a 3-run home run.
We have seen this situation countless times this season, and I am willing to venture a guess that every single Angels fan bet right after that wild pitch that he would be intentionally walked. Not wanting to see Ohtani in a bases-loaded situation, however, kept the full count pitch to Mike in the strike zone where he crushed it deep to left field against the wind.
Mike Trout ended up with a 5-5 night, not once getting base via anything but hit. The White Sox, who were notorious Trout-walkers, couldn’t afford to pitch around the GOAT.
So what does this tell us, and how does this relate to the earlier point about how I was wrong for thinking he should leave?
The point is that Ohtani is the lefty slugger we have needed directly behind Mike Trout all this time. His presence, as traditionally-minded thinkers would say, keeps Mike Trout’s bat relevant. If you pitch to Ohtani with Trout on base, you are asking for it. If you pitch to Trout, you are still asking for it. It’s a catch-22 for every single manager and every single pitcher in baseball, and it creates W’s for the Angels. It doesn’t really matter what the numbers say about protection as it is verifiably and visibly important for Mike Trout.
And this is why we cannot trade Mike Trout. We have the support piece to prop him up now. I would actually argue that if his hit tool’s true talent level is anywhere remotely close to the way he’s been hitting since the beginning of August, he might actually be more valuable to the team in that capacity, no matter how good he is as a pitcher. If he makes Trout better by batting behind him, we can’t afford to lose him for 3 games at a time when he goes to make a start.
I denounce myself a week ago, as we do have the ability to make the playoffs with Trout so long as Ohtani continues to be his protection. He is the missing link to our team’s success and will get us to the playoffs in 2019. The pitcher injuries will mean very little when we have the two best hitters in baseball back-to-back.