We’re drawing ever closer to Spring Training (at long last), meaning we can finally begin looking at the 2013 in earnest. And, like last year, the Angels look to be one of the most interesting teams in the league, thanks in part to one of the game’s most fascinating players.
Mike Trout was kept in the minors for the first month of the season, then absolutely dominated everybody else upon his call-up. In 139 games, he hit 30 home runs, 27 doubles, 8 triples, stole 49 bases, posted a .326/.399/.564 batting line, and played stellar defense. It was a pretty historic season; even with the missing month of time, Trout still managed over 10 Wins Above Replacement, only the 47th such season in baseball history since the start of the AL. Fangraphs rated it similarly, at 10 WAR.
No matter how you look at the season, it was good. Which brings up the question: how good will he be this season? It’s easy to just say as good as he was in 2012, but that’s not a given. Players generally improve as the get closer to 27 or 28, but that isn’t a given. He could very easily be the best player in the league for the second year straight and see his value drop.
Let’s look at WAR again, for example. As mentioned, Baseball-Reference has 47 10-WAR seasons since 1901. The players with those seasons break down like this:
Babe Ruth-8 seasons
Willie Mays-6 seasons
Rogers Hornsby-5 seasons
Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb-3 seasons
Carl Yastrzemski, Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig-2 seasons
10 players-1 season each
So ten players have ever recorded multiple 10-WAR seasons. And that group of ten one-and-dones isn’t exactly shabby; it includes Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Morgan, Lou Boudreau, Trout, Robin Yount, Sammy Sosa, and Stan Musial. Trout could very well go on to be one of the best players in the history of the game without recording another season as good as last year.
Why wouldn’t he be as good next year? Injury is the depressing, easy answer. If Peter Bourjos permanently bumps him to left field, that would hurt his value-it’s much more valuable to find a center fielder that hits like Trout than a left fielder that hits that well. He did have a .383 batting average on balls in play last year; he’ll probably still be above-average in that, but a .383 mark for a second consecutive year is probably overly-optimistic.
Will this absolutely destroy Trout’s value? Not really. Like I said, he could both be the best player in the league and less valuable than last year. It’s just interesting and important to consider when looking at how the AL West race will go this year.
Last year was close as is, with the A’s taking it with 94 wins, the Rangers falling just short at 93 wins, and the Angels in third at 89. It’s easy to say “The Angels are getting an extra month of Mike Trout, so we can estimate them at 90 wins”, but that’s very likely not at all the case.
Just using Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, the team lost a little over nine wins this offseason, between Torii Hunter, Macier Izturis, Dan Haren, and Zack Greinke. The team picked up Ryan Madson, Josh Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton, which, going by their last full seasons since Madson was injured in 2012, amounts to a gain of...nine and a half wins. Just going off incredibly rough guesses, the 2013 Angels’ net gain is less than a full win. That’s assuming that every player does just as good as last year.
Really, the biggest thing in the Angels’ favor might not be their addition of Josh Hamilton, but rather, the Rangers’ loss of him. While Hamilton serves to more or less replace the great production from Torii Hunter last year (which, admittedly, Hunter is unlike to replicate himself), the Rangers have yet to find an equivalent replacement for their departed outfielder. Granted, this is assuming Texas isn’t planning to add, say, Michael Bourn or something in the next week. And this doesn't even bring Oakland into the discussion yet.
The 2013 AL West should be the most exciting to watch. Even with the biggest free agent of the off season and the best player in baseball, the Angels might not be the favorites to win it. I think their pitching is still too shaky to award them that title. They’re very clearly in the discussion, though, and anything can happen.