Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons Have Dragged the Angels Into Playoff Contention
In both of the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Angels posted negative run differentials and failed to make the playoffs. This ineptitude came despite having the best player on the planet on their roster.
Mike Trout produced over 18 wins above replacement between 2015 and 2016 and the Angels still finished six games under .500 over this span.
Early this season, it certainly looked like the Angels would continue to waste possibly best talent of his generation. Trout was producing at an insane level even by his standards, posting a 1.203 OPS over the season’s first two months, but Los Angeles was only 26-27 on May 28.
That turned out to be the last day Trout was in the lineup before hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career. The Angels were mediocre with the best player in the game, so at this point, they certainly looked done.
Instead, they stayed afloat, going 19-21 in Trout’s absence. He returned after the All-Star break, and the Angels have gone 20-14 since, playing themselves into the crowded American League wild card field.
Overall, they are 65-62 and just a half-game behind the Minnesota Twins for the final playoff spot in the junior circuit.
Finding a Robin for Batman
Over the past two seasons, Trout alone has accounted for over 32% of the fWAR produced by the Angels, and that includes both position players and pitchers.
He was worth 18.4 WAR over this time, while the second most valuable Angel (Kole Calhoun) was worth 7.7. Trout, Calhoun, and pitcher Matt Shoemaker (4.0) were the only Angels worth four or more wins during that stretch.
While the efficacy of the “stars and scrubs” model has long been a sports debate, the Angels’ “star and scrubs” setup clearly was not working, even when that star burned as brightly as Trout.
This season, the Angels are still the most top-heavy team in the majors, but Trout has had some help. Much of that has come in the form of Andrelton Simmons, who has been worth 4.8 fWAR -- and at Baseball Reference, he has actually been worth more than Trout in terms of their version of WAR, 6.2 to 5.6.
Simmons has combined his usual elite shortstop defense with above-average offense, posting a 115 wRC+ that is 25 points higher than his career average. Conveniently for the Angels, he began to heat up around the time Trout hit the disabled list. On May 28, he had a 101 wRC+, which is still very good for a shortstop. Since, his wRC+ is 126, with a .189 ISO, 7.4% walk rate, 10% strikeout rate, and .305 BABIP.
On the year as a whole, Trout and Simmons have combined to produce 10.4 fWAR. The other Angels position players have been worth 3.5 fWAR together, while the team’s pitchers are at 9.3 fWAR.
Trout alone has been worth 24.1% of the team’s WAR, which is off the pace of the previous two seasons, but this is still the second-highest percentage of any team leader this year, behind just Freddie Freeman's 25.2% of Atlanta's WAR.
The Angels stick out in terms of percentage of production from their two best players, as Simmons and Trout have just under 45% of the team’s total WAR. This leads the majors and makes the Angels the only team that is two standard deviations above the average of 30%.
The Angels do not have another player above the 2 fWAR threshold -- pitcher Yusmeiro Petit is closest at 1.8 -- but do have two players worth less than minus-0.7 (Danny Espinosa was at minus-0.8, while Albert Pujols is at minus-1.4).
There are seven other teams that have 35% or more of their WAR concentrated between two of their players, and all of them except the Colorado Rockies are below .500.
At the other end of the spectrum, five teams have had less than a quarter of their value produced by their top two players: the Cardinals (20.5%), Dodgers (21.1%), Padres (22.9%), Astros (23.5%), and Indians (24.0%). While there are a few exceptions, the best teams in baseball have their talent spread evenly across their roster.
The Angels are outliers here, contending despite having so much production concentrated in two players. It does, of course, help when both have been among the best players in the sport this season. Our model still thinks it’s likely this playoff push comes up short, as we only give them a 14.7% chance to make the postseason, compared to a 31.4% chance for Minnesota, a 21.4% chance for Seattle and a 21.2% chance for Kansas City.
Still, the fact they are in the hunt at all is a huge upgrade from last season, and something most Angels fans would have signed up for the day Trout hit the DL.