PART ONE: Angelic Offense & the Dynamic Duo
As of today, May 2, the Angels have had one of the best offenses in baseball, leading the majors in both runs scored (110) and wRC+ (126), and ranking highly in other categories like home runs (28, 3rd), stolen bases (16, 2nd), and walk rate (10.0%, 6th). To put that in context, the most recent player with a season similar to the Angels' overall offense was Jared Walsh last year, when his .277/.340/.509 and 29 HR yielded a 127 wRC+. Meaning, the overall Angels offense is roughly equivalent to having a lineup of nine Jared Walshes.
Or put it another way, that 126 team wRC+ is the same as the best hitting team since 1901, the 1927 Yankees. Ignoring 2020, only eight teams have reached 120 wRC+: three times by the Yankees in '27 and 1930-31, twice by the Astros in 2017 and '19, and once each by the Big Red Machine in 1976, the 1982 Brewers, and the 2003 Red Sox.
A lot of this is driven by the performance of two players, Mike Trout and Taylor Ward:
Trout: .344/.481/.766, 255 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
Ward: .400/.507/.764, 267 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR
Trout is edging closer to the major league WAR lead, currently tied for 3rd behind leader Manny Machado (2.1). Ward is 4 PA short of qualifying, but would be 6th if qualified. More to the point of offense, they are 1st and 2nd in wRC+, with a 29 point gap to #3, Nolan Arenado (226).
After the Dynamic Duo, there is a big drop-off, although Brandon Marsh--despite going 0-9 in his last two games with 7 strikeouts--has a 135 wRC+, and four other players--Max Stassi (107), Tyler Wade (109), Anthony Rendon (118), and Jo Adell (104)--have all been above average offensive contributors.
Now obviously, Trout and Ward won't continue hitting like this. But for Trout, at least, there's the possibility of surpassing his career best (188), or at least the 180 benchmark for a historically great hitting season. It seems clear that any predictions of his decline are premature, at least in terms of his hitting. And Ward seems to be having a legitimate breakthrough season, although where he'll finish is anyone's guess, be it a Walshian performance (127 wRC+ in 2021) or something more.
As far as the overall offense is concerned, a pessimistic view would say that once Trout and Ward eventually slump, or at least settle down, the offense will decline. But consider that the three players who were considered the Angels' 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best hitters coming into the season, have all started slowly: Ohtani (99), Rendon (118), Walsh (87). Meaning, as Trout and Ward regress, those three should at least pick up some of the slack. Rendon, for instance, after going 1-15 in his first four games, has hit a more solid .259/.375/.448, or a 143 wRC+ which is closer to his peak norms. That triple-slash might not look sexy, but considering that overall deflated offense in baseball, it isn't far from what we should expect going forward.
And, of course, there's no reason that Ohtani shouldn't figure things out, and Walsh improve. So, barring disaster, the Angels offense should continue to be--at least--one of the best in baseball, even if a 126 team wRC+ is probably not sustainable.
PART TWO: Trout and the Quest for 200 wRC+
Let's take a look at wRC+, historically speaking. The highest wRC+ among all players with 500 PA is 244 from Barry Bonds in 2002, when he hit .370/.582/.799. Only four players--Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Rogers Hornsby--have ever had 220 wRC+ seasons, and there have only been 30 seasons in which a player has had a 200 wRC+.
200 wRC+ Seasons (500 PA)
- 10 Babe Ruth
- 6 Ted Williams
- 4 Barry Bonds
- 2 Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle
- 1 Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas
Among active players, only five players have surpassed 180 wRC+; here are the active leaders:
Best wRC+ Seasons (Active Players)
- 197 Bryce Harper, 2015
- 193 Miguel Cabrera, 2013
- 188 Mike Trout, 2018
- 185 Mookie Betts, 2018
- 184 Albert Pujols, 2003
- 184 Albert Pujols, 2008
- 180 Mike Trout, 2017
- 180 Albert Pujols, 2009
So as we enjoy one of Trout's best starts, dare we ask: Is there a chance that he reaches the hallowed 200 wRC+? Well, as mentioned, no active player has done it, and only Bonds, Thomas and McGwire have reached it since Ted Williams in 1957--and those three during the height of the
Roids high-offense era. So the answer is, probably not.
As a brief aside, you'll note that of the 30 200 wRC+ seasons, 24 are 1957 or before, and the six after were all in the 1994-2004 range, meaning the heart of the high-offense era. Are hitters just worse these days? Obviously not. Over the course of baseball history, there is a general trend that we could call the "equalization of statistics" - we tend to see fewer outliers. For example, no player has hit .350 since Josh Hamilton hit .359 in 2010. Part of this is the takeover of Three True Outcomes baseball, which sees a rise in walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and a corresponding reduction in batting average and stolen bases. But part of this is equalization of stats, as we haven't see a .400 BA since Ted Williams in 1941.
In a way we could say that ".330 is the new .350" - what a .330 batting average is today, is what .350 used to be up until about a decade ago. Similarly with wRC+, although over a longer span of time: What a 180 is today is what a 200 used to be up through the 1950s. Or let's look at a chart, with the percentage of players with 500 PA in different wRC+ ranges, by decade:
As you can see, the vast majority of 200+ wRC+ seasons were in the 1910s-50s, with the 1920s having by far the most. This was the decade that Babe Ruth revolutionized power-hitting in the AL (and, to a lesser but still substantial extent, Rogers Hornsby in the NL). And it wasn't just power: from 1901-21, there have been 13 player seasons (500+ PA) of a .400 BA or higher, 7 of which were in the 1920s (1 in the 1900s, 3 in the 1910s, and 1 each in the 1930s and '40s). And most of those were just by a few players: three each by Cobb and Hornsby, two by George Sisler, and one each by Nap Lajoie, Joe Jackson, Harry Heilmann, and Bill Terry.
In the chart, you can also see the decline of high wRC+ seasons in the 1970s and 80s, and then a resurgence in the high-offense 1990s and 2000s, with 2010s returning to be exactly the same as the 1970s. Given that we've only had one full season in the current decade, it remains to be seen how it will compare.
So to return to Trout, what are his chances of reaching 200 wRC+? Very unlikely. That said, he's one of probably only four active players who are serious candidates - the other three being Bryce Harper (he is the closest among active players, with 197 in 2015), Juan Soto, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
That said, if I was asked who I think is the most likely active player to have a 200 wRC+ season, it would be Juan Soto, followed by Vlad Jr, and then Trout. The main factor is age: Soto and Vlad--both 23-years old--just have more time. But in the next year or two? Trout would be number one.
But again, 200 is probably out of reach - and we should be very happy if he manages another 180 wRC+, which he's done only twice (2017-18). He'd also join Albert Pujols as the only active player with three such seasons.
The Angels strong offense is driven by Ruthian starts by Trout and Ward, with a solid supporting cast. As the season wears on, and the performances of Trout and Ward equalize, players like Ohtani, Rendon and Walsh will at least partially make up for it - and thus it seems likely that 2022 Angels should remain one of the top offenses in baseball, even if they likely won't challenge for the wRC+ team record of the 1927 Yankees.
As for individual performances, while it is very unlikely that Trout or Ward continue at even close to their current pace, it does seem that two things are true: One, Trout's bat hasn't declined at all, and Ward is having a legitimate breakthrough.
Trout's chances of surpassing 200 wRC+ (let alone Ward's) are very slim, but he does have a chance at his third 180 wRC+ season.
Oh, and by way of a bonus, if I were to put myself on the line and guess what their year-end wRC+ will be, I'm going with 182 for Trout and 141 for Ward.