Three Angelic Ambivalences this Year
By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
There's a strange feeling of ambivalence about the 2023 season: That the Angels, and a variety of players, could either bring us yet more mediocrity-induced heartache, or finally return to legitimacy. While I could probably write similar segments for almost every player on the team, there are two players that best exemplify this for me, as well as the team as a whole.
Mike Trout in his Early 30s: Accepting Inevitable Decline or a Return to Greatness?
On one hand, Trout hasn't had a full season since 2019 and hasn't played more than 140 games since 2016, with the past six seasons ranging between 36 and 140 games, a total of 596 of 870 games played (68.5%). Furthermore, there are worrying signs in 2023: he had his lowest BB% since 2012, his lowest fullish season BA of his career, and it is clear he no longer steals bases. Furthermore, his 6.0 WAR in 119 games prorates to the lowest total of his career. So on one hand, it looks like Trout is in decline - no longer the dynamic player of his early career, or the best bat in the game like he was in the middle portion. Still very good, but maybe no longer one of the very best players in the game, at least when you take into account his games played.
On the other hand, Trout absolutely killed the ball for the first quarter of last year and his overall numbers were reduced by the two worst slumps of his career, perhaps at least partially due to a team-wide psychological malaise brought on by the losing streak. Meaning, it seems like his offensive skills are still intact, that if he can just avoid epic slumps and revert to garden variety ones, his offensive numbers could return to peak levels. Last year, despite the reduced walks and BA, he still managed a 176 wRC+, which is slightly above his career average of 172.
So the ambivalence is this: A combination of concerns about his health and specific aspects of his profile on one hand, and the feeling that it is possible that he puts together a nice string over the next few years that could be at or close to his best with the bat. I wouldn't be surprised to see Trout struggle with injury and hit .270/.360/.580 in 110-120 games, or be healthy and have his best year with the bat, hitting something like .300/.430/.650 in 140+ games, maybe even finally reaching 50 HR.
Jo Adell: More of the Same or an Impending Breakout?
I've been all but ready to give up on him for the last year or more, as he seems to have made no progress since the 2020 debacle, or at least no more than from "Woodsian horrible to just really bad." On the other hand, I have this sneaking suspicion that now that the pressure is off, and with his focus of the offseason that has transformed him into looking like an Asgardian baseball player, he finally blossoms and forces his way into the lineup, or at least makes good of the inevitable chance he'll get at some point this season. Either way, I think he's going to utterly destroy AAA pitching this year and, hopefully, take a big step forward when he gets his chance in the majors. But I'm still ambivalent: I also see a very possible scenario where he doesn't really catch on for another couple years, and then with another team.
The good news is that with the acquisition of Hunter Renfroe, the Angels don't need Adell to breakout like they did in 2022 (or at least one of him or Brandon Marsh). He can focus on his plate approach and defense in AAA and wait for his chance.
The Team Overall: More Mediocrity or Will Things Finally Come Together?
Over the last few years--half decade plus, really--the Angels have left fans and non-fans alike scratching their heads; the former in agonized frustration, the latter in bemusement. The confusion comes from the related questions: How can a team with the talents of Trout and Ohtani continue to be this bad? How have the Angels front office managed to not build a quality team around them, with their payroll and big market resources?
As fans with a ground-level perspective, we can list all the things that have gone wrong season to season. But from one angle, they're all excuses. Good quality franchises with smart front offices somehow manage to find a way to win. Someone the Angels always find a way not to win, with their seventh consecutive season below .500 and eighth without even a wildcard berth.
So on one hand, the question for the jaded fan going into the 2023 season: How will they manage to screw things up this year? What will go wrong? It is quite understandable to feel that way; truly, I can't help but wonder myself. On the other hand, the talent is there, and GM Perry Minasian checked off the most important boxes on his offseason priority list: he plugged the biggest holes on the team, namely the bottom half of the lineup. The team isn't perfect, and certain areas of the team are still thin enough to be concerned, but certainly they're in a lot better shape now than they were in October.
While I can't see this club repeating last year's disaster and feel fairly confident that they'll--at least--have their first winning record since 2015, the ambivalence comes from the split feeling that we'll either weather through another mediocre season of 80-85 wins with numerous injuries, or things will finally come together and the team will win 90+ games and charge into the postseason.
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