The Angels Have Baseball’s Best Outfield

One of the complaints people make about us for some reason is that we spend too much time talking about how awesome Mike Trout is. I could issue the same complaint about those people in reverse: Clearly, they don’t spend enough time talking or thinking about how awesome Mike Trout is. He’s not just some great player, right? It’s not like you talk about Mike Trout in the same breath as Jose Bautista or Robinson Cano. Last year, Trout was better than the next-best position player by a full WAR. Over the past three years, Trout has been better than the next-best position player by more than 3 WAR. Over the past five years, Trout has been better than the next-best position player by 15 WAR. By 15 WAR! Looking at Steamer projections, over a constant denominator, there’s Trout’s projected WAR, at 7.8. And then there’s Manny Machado, at 5.9.

This is another Mike Trout puff piece, in a way. I like it because it serves a purpose, I like it because it’s simple, and I like it because I got to write the same damn article last spring. The offseason isn’t over, and certain teams are still going to make certain additions. But it’s a near guarantee the following will remain true: Mostly thanks to Trout, the Angels look like they should have the best outfield in the game.

The analysis to follow is based on the Steamer projections. When we really get into season mode, we split our projections 50/50 between Steamer and ZiPS, and we’re not there yet. But as it happens, we just ran our ZiPS Angels post. The Angels outfield there is projected for something like 13 WAR. A few days ago, we ran our ZiPS Red Sox post. The Red Sox outfield there is projected for something like 12 WAR. Close! But 12 isn’t 13. And the Red Sox are one of the only challengers. As such, I feel better about this.

Putting this together was simply a matter of examining the positional WAR breakdowns. Here’s how Steamer sees the various outfields right now:


As shown, the Angels have a fairly comfortable lead. This is why I mentioned the Red Sox earlier. We haven’t yet published a ZiPS Marlins post, but I doubt that’s going to make them look better than the Angels. The Marlins aren’t about to add to their outfield. Neither are the Red Sox, and neither are the Pirates. The Pirates, in fact, could still subtract, in the form of an Andrew McCutchen trade. In any case, it’s hard to see the Angels’ projection dethroned, barring a horrible injury or an unforeseen blockbuster trade. The Angels have one spectacular outfielder, one kind of average-y outfielder, and one frustratingly mediocre outfielder. All together, there’s no better outfield around. And they’re still in the market for a half-decent backup.

My sense is that people tend to prefer more even distributions. They’re disinclined to think of the Angels outfield in this way, because it’s so very top-heavy. The Red Sox outfield is enviably even in talent. The Marlins and Pirates have three recognizable names. I just don’t think that has anything to do with actual value. Assuming the WARs are more or less accurate, the Angels don’t care how they get to 12.7. Right now, that’s carried by center field, but it’s no different from getting 4.2 WAR from all three positions. The Angels would be no better swapping their current alignment for an outfield with three Christian Yeliches, or George Springers. One injury to Trout could ruin it all, but no one can pack so much value into the same amount of playing time.

Let’s pretend Cameron Maybin and Kole Calhoun don’t exist. Or, let’s pretend they get upset by how this post is so focused on Trout, so they decide to sit out the next season. And they give their team little warning, so the Angels have to flank their center fielder with replacement-level substitutes. At that point, the Angels would no longer project for baseball’s best outfield. But they’d still project for sixth place, because of Trout alone. They’d slot in between the Dodgers and the Cubs. Mike Trout by himself is not baseball’s best outfield, but he’s one of baseball’s better outfields, which reduces the pressure on the other two positions.

We’ve been over all this before, and it doesn’t mean the Angels are in a good position as a team. Trout has been, to this point, mostly squandered, at least in terms of his team playing meaningful late-summer baseball. As things stand, the Angels project first in outfield WAR, and 19th in non-outfield WAR. And that’s just Steamer, while ZiPS appears to be considerably more bearish. Apart from the outfield, the Angels are probably one of the 10 worst teams in the majors, and so any team in that kind of place would need something like a miracle to think about making the postseason.

It’s just, Mike Trout, annually, performs statistical miracles. It’s the point that can’t ever be forgotten, and it’s the one point that gives the Angels the hope that they have. If the Angels are to hang around this season, they’re going to need their support players, and they’re going to need their pitcher health. No one player can do it alone. But no one player can do more alone than the guy the Angels have in center field, so it does them a disservice to focus too much on the 24 other players. Of course those players matter. But no team is so dependent upon one single superstar. It’s neither a feature nor a bug; it’s just how the Angels are different from everyone else.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Monsignor Martinez
5 years ago

Looking at the WAR chart from this article, it’s crazy how any team that traded for Trout could be the team in this article’s title. Just goes to show how damn good of a player Trout is.

Edit: I realize this is probably not quite true, but it almost is.