How Mike Trout's 2020 season will end has at least as much to do with the rest of the Los Angeles Angels as it does with him.
But for now, it's newsworthy that the season hasn't even started yet and he's already dropping jaws.
Granted, Trout's latest feat has nothing to do with baseball. It concerns a golf ball. Or, more accurately, an ex-golf ball. For the ball that met his driver during a charity event at a Phoenix-area Topgolf on Sunday promptly expired and went to meet its maker:
Does this matter? Well, no. But also:
- 1. Holy smokes
- 2. It's spring training, so what the heck
- 3. Seriously, holy smokes
In the meantime, Trout is doing fine at his day job. The 28-year-old center fielder has appeared in four Cactus League games this spring and collected four hits in nine at-bats, with three runs scored.
Come Opening Day on March 26, he will embark on a quest for his fourth American League MVP award. There's little question he'll be the odds-on favorite to win it, on account of him literally being Mike Trout.
Per both Baseball Reference's and FanGraphs' versions of wins above replacement, Trout is the best player in major league history through the age of 27. And though injuries have limited him to 388 games since 2018, he's still racked up more rWAR and fWAR than anyone in that span. It helps that he's transformed into baseball's best hitter via a .303/.447/.634 slash line.
It's at this point that Trout could weep at having no more worlds to conquer. But it would be more his style to spend 2020 turning various weaknesses into strengths. To wit, he might improve his defense by speeding up his jumps and doing a better job of coming in on the ball.
There's also, of course, the postseason.
Though Trout has been an MVP-caliber player annually since he exploded as a rookie in 2012, his playoff track record is notoriously lacking. His one and only trip to October was in 2014, and it consisted of him collecting just one hit (albeit a home run) in three games.
Yet Trout's postseason shortcomings are not a failure specific to him. The Angels have broadly failed to put a good lineup around him—he owns 52.6 more rWAR than the next-best Angels hitter since 2012—and their pitching has been in rough shape in its own right.
In light of all this, Trout's cry for help in November was a long time coming:
MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM @MLBNetworkRadio
Mike Trout: I'm waiting by my phone to hear that we made a big acquisition. "I want to get to the playoffs." Hear the full conversation with @MikeTrout TODAY at 12:35 ET/9:35 PT on @MLBNetworkRadio @Mike_Ferrin | @Jim_Duquette | @Angels | #Angels https://t.co/FGAzT4gKIL
Yet it's notable that this was after the Angels had hired Joe Maddon, whose credentials include three Manager of the Year awards and a World Series championship with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, as their new skipper in October.
Equally notable is that Trout's wish was later granted when the Angels agreed on a seven-year, $245 million contract with star third baseman Anthony Rendon. Throughout the winter, the Angels also added a veteran catcher (Jason Castro), two starting pitchers (Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy) and a few supplementary arms.
At the least, these moves should spare the Angels from a repeat of last year's 90-loss flop. Yet a trip to the postseason has only a 22.9 percent chance of happening, according to Baseball Prospectus. And that might be on the high end, as FanGraphs puts their playoff odds at more like 16.5 percent.
In 2019, the American League's five playoff slots were claimed by three 100-win teams (Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins), a 97-win club (Oakland Athletics) and a 96-game winner (Tampa Bay Rays). All five are still entrenched as the league's superpowers, which leaves only slim paths to October for the Junior Circuit's other contenders.
Even to this end, the Angels figure to be up against the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers. Depending on how their young lineup meshes with their newly veteran-boosted pitching staff, the Toronto Blue Jays could also join the mix.
If the Angels have any hope of beating the odds in 2020, it springs from their offense.
Trout and Rendon, who posted a 1.010 OPS with 34 home runs in 2019, might be the best offensive duo in MLB. The Angels also have Shohei Ohtani, who has an .883 OPS and 40 homers in 210 career games.
Throw in Castro, Andrelton Simmons, healthy versions of Justin Upton and Tommy La Stella and fast-rising prospect Jo Adell, and there's a very real possibility that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols will be the Angels' only below-average regular in 2020.
It should be some comfort to the Angels that seven of the top eight run-scoring teams from last season qualified for the postseason. But the one exception is also a cautionary tale of sorts.
Though only the Yankees, Astros and Twins scored more often than the Red Sox in 2019, too much of their offensive output was rendered moot by a pitching staff that simply allowed too many runs. Eduardo Rodriguez and Brandon Workman did yeoman's work for Boston's rotation and bullpen, respectively, but they were basically all alone in being healthy and productive all season.
The scary part for the Angels here is that, as bad as the Red Sox's pitching was in 2019, theirs was even worse. Indeed, the staff's 5.0 total rWAR was the lowest in the American League. And included within was an MLB-low 0.8 rWAR from their starters.
Sometime in the middle of May, the Angels will finally welcome Ohtani back to the mound after the two-way star gave his pitching arm a rest during his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2019. In the meantime, they can take solace in how Bundy, Teheran, Andrew Heaney, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez and Jaime Barria have yet to give up even a single earned run this spring.
Spring results must be taken with a boulder of salt, however, and even results these good can't overshadow the trouble that talented right-hander Griffin Canning is having with his elbow. Factor in how Ohtani's delayed schedule and hitting duties will preclude him from a sizable workload, and the Angels pitching staff is still a major question mark.
The Angels are to be credited for at least trying to put a winner around Trout, but their efforts have merely graduated them from a "definitely not" to a "maybe" for October 2020. That's to say that the best player in baseball is still something of an underdog.
Depending on his preferred methods for blowing off steam, that could be bad news for golf balls come the winter.