The Angels of Anaheim

Over six days, I saw five games in four ballparks on a trip through Southern California and Monterrey, Mexico. My first stop was Angels Stadium in Anaheim. As interested as I was in the Angels of Anaheim, I was most interested in finally seeing Mike Trout. Trout is considered the best player on the planet and I have barely seen him play.

Marketing Mike Trout

How could a devoted baseball fan, not see the game’s greatest player? Baseball has a series of problems marketing stars like Trout:

Tim Clayton/ Sports Illustrated

Timing

He plays on the west coast, so many on the east coast are asleep when he is playing.

Availability

MLB relies on local television to broadcast each team’s games. Fans can subscribe to see any game, and there is also the MLB Network. However, there still is the timing issue. Moreover, the casual fan is not a subscriber, so they will not be exposed to his greatness. Of course, post season play would increase the player’s exposure. Unfortunately, the Angels have not been in the playoffs in a while.

Opportunity

It’s not a sure thing that a specific player will have the chance to do something memorable. Other sports benefit because their stars have constant chances to display their skills. In comparison, a baseball player comes to the plate only four or five times per game and at specified intervals. Exhibiting his defensive prowess is limited because it requires a ball hit in his vicinity.

Baseball is Difficult

You expect failure in baseball. Consider that a measure of excellence is to bat 300. The “300 batting average” sounds much better than “30% hitter,” however, the terms are synonymous. The sad fact is that fans can turn in to watch a celebrated player and he will fail. In Trout’s case, if you watched all his 4,822 plate appearances 1; you would have seen him make 2,761 outs2 That is not what the uninitiated would consider exciting.

With that said, Trout does so many things well. If you keep your eyes on him, you will be amazed by the way he attacks the game. He brings everything to his hitting, running and fielding. If you focus on Trout, you’ll see something you’ll remember for years to come.

Needless to say, one of my goals on this journey is to see as much of Mr. Trout as possible.

Mike Trout – a Primer

The 25th Pick

My take on Mike Trout is that he snuck up on the casual fan. He was the 25th draft pick in 2009. Not first, not second – 25th! Why so low? One theory is that he’s from New Jersey and as such considered a risky choice. Northern players don’t play as much winter ball, and thus they are lesser known3

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Many teams missed him. A quick review of the list of players drafted before Trout shows a few all-stars. Stephen Strasburg was 1st, Aaron Crow 12th, A.J. Pollock 17th, and Shelby Miller was 19th. Strasburg has been better than many think, Pollack is a solid star, but neither has reached Trout’s heights. No one has. Then there are the others on the list: Donovan Tate, Dustin Ackley, Jacob Turner, etc. Their only baseball achievement to tell their grandkids may be that they were drafted ahead of Mike Trout.

His progress was quick. Before 2010, baseball ranked him the 3rd best prospect in the Angels system and 85th in baseball. By July they increased his ranking to number two. At the end of the year, he was the youngest ever to win the Topps Minor League Player of The Year. Before the following season, ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB’s Jonathan Mayo ranked him the number one prospect in baseball.

Trout’s Major League Career

Trout’s first seven years in the major leagues could be the best in history. A summary:

  • 2012: In his first year, he posted one of the “best statistical seasons ever. His 10.9 “Wins Above Replacement (WAR)” 4 that year is tied with Ted Williams for 21st all-time in a single season. The only other outfielders who have posted a better WAR in at least one season are Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Carl Yastrzemski, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays. Not surprisingly, he was the youngest and 18th unanimous Rookie of the Year Award winner. Trout finished second in the MVP balloting. Miguel Cabrera, the first player to win the triple crown award in 45 years, won the award.
  • 2014: He was the second youngest and 17th unanimous winner of the MVP award.
  • 2015: Became the youngest to reach 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases. He is also the second to win four Silver Slugger Awards 5 in the first four years of his career. For the third time in four years, he finished second in the MVP balloting. He was the first player since Barry Bonds to finish in the top three places for four consecutive years.
  • 2016: He won his second MVP Award.
  • 2017: Trout became the seventh player to hit his 200th career home run before the end of his age 25 season. He also recorded his 1,000th career hit.
  • 2018: He finished fourth in batting average (.312), first in on base percentage (.460) and third in slugging (.628) 6.

WAR

The best way to codify a baseball player’s comprehensive skill set and compare him to others is to examine his “WAR.” “WAR” (“Wins Above Replacement”) scores players based on their calculated value compared to a minimally viable player 7. What’s nice is that the score can be used to rank current players and historical ones.

Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

As I mentioned above, Trout’s first-year WAR was one of the best in history. He’s continued to post high scores since then.

Trout’s career WAR shows him on a trajectory to be an inner circle Hall of Fame inductee. In 2016, Trout achieved the highest career WAR in an age 24 season since 1913. The next four highest at that age are Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams. Good company.

His 67.3 career WAR ranks 126th on the all-time list. His only behind four active players. All of them – Zach Greinke, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols – have played at least eight years longer than Trout. In only his seventh season he already has had a better career than almost every other current player8.

Watching Mike Trout Play

Trout is on a historic run, one that fans need to experience. If the Angels are on television, watch it. If they’re not, stream the game. Most of all, if you are in a city where the Angels are playing, go. Don’t ask questions, go. If you live in L.A., go a lot!

It’s best to see him live. The problem with television is that the director decides where the viewer should focus their attention. Just focusing a camera on a single player is not an option. And you can’t just watch a game that Trout plays in as if it was a typical game. In those games, you focus on the interplay with the pitcher, catcher, and hitter. You then turn your attention to the lead runner or where the ball is hit. However, when the Angels play, you must keep your eyes on Trout.

Trout is a guy who is focused and always in the game. He hustles. Watching him ground out is a revelation. He sprints down the line as fast as possible, no matter how sure an out the ground ball is. In comparison, most players including the $300 million men, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado trot. If there is an error, they will be safe at first. If the ball goes past the first baseman, they will make it to second. Not Trout, he sprints and makes the easy play close.

Making Things Happen

I saw him sprint through two ground outs when I saw him for the first time on Thursday. Later, he doubled and hit a home run and had a pretty good day. However, it was Sunday in Mexico, where he really impressed. In the third inning, the leadoff hitter, David Fletcher singled. Trout walked, creating a situation where men were on first and second with no one out. The next hitter, Brian Goodwin, flew out to center. That’s when the fun started.

https://the comeback.com

As expected, Fletcher advanced to third. The centerfielder – George Springer’s – play was to throw to second. The theory is that a good throw will keep the runner on first in so doing, avoiding a second player in scoring position. Most runners understand the theory and assume that they won’t get to second safely. Instead, they proceed halfway and then go back to the safety of first when the throw is made. Not Trout. He sprinted and slid headfirst into second, beating the throw.

Did it mean anything? Not really. The Astros retired the next couple of hitters, no runs scored, and they came from behind to win 10 to 4. But it happened, and it’s why we watch. It’s why everyone should watch.

There are the players we wish we saw or at least wish we remembered seeing. I barely remember Clemente, Mays or Mantle, even though I saw them and I never saw Joe DiMaggio or Jackie Robinson. I am just a little too young to have experienced their greatness and I regret it. In the future, people will wish they saw Mike Trout. You don’t want to be one of them.

Along Came Andrelton Simmons

On Thursday, it was Andrelton Simmons’ play that I will always remember. Simmons also seems to fly under the radar. Only devoted fans know of his prowess. I assume that he might be more popular if he still played in Atlanta. The issues with his popularity are the same as Trout’s.

However, Simmons is one of the best shortstops in the game. MLB The Show ranks him the 4th best shortstop in baseball 9. He’s astute and very talented. He displayed both facets in one play on Thursday night.

AP Photo/Steve Nesius

In the top of the sixth, the Angels were ahead by a seemingly comfortable margin of four runs, 5 -1. However, Eric Sogard led off the inning with a walk and scored when Randall Grichuk doubled. Then Justin Smoak walked.

So, there was one out, and Brandon Drury representing the tying run was at bat. Moreover, pitcher Tyler Skaggs was faltering and the team needs someone to “step up.” Drury lofted a short fly toward second base. It wasn’t high enough to be considered an out under the infield fly rule. The expectation was that Simmons would catch the ball and record the second out with no runners advancing.

Instead, Simmons let the ball hit the ground and then pop into his glove. He quickly stepped on second to force the runner on first out. He then chased the man on second into a rundown for a fantastic double play.

Some shortstops would have thought to let the ball drop, but don’t have the skill to turn that double play. Others have the talent but wouldn’t have thought to do it. Simmons is unique, he did both.

However, I don’t think anyone noticed.

Angels Fans

The reported 40,064 that supposedly attended the game were preoccupied. I’m going to guess that most didn’t realize that Simmons instigated the rundown.

No offense intended. Angels fans don’t seem much different than other fans. They don’t seem to pay attention to the finer points of the game. On Thursday, they drank some beer, ate some food and seemed to have a good time. When the scoreboard said “make noise” they made noise. They did the wave, played with their phones and waved them late in the game to light up the stands. Although they seemed to follow the game and cheered appropriately, I doubt that many realized Simmons’ direct influence on the play.

Angels Stadium

The stadium itself is the fourth oldest in the major leagues, and it feels like it needs a remodel. The ballpark has gone through many renovations. In the late 1970s, the ballpark was enclosed to add 20,000 seats to entice the Los Angeles Rams to play their home games there. At the same time, they moved the iconic Big A from the scoreboard area to the parking lot. After the Rams left in 1994, the stadium was reconfigured to support only baseball, and seating reduced to 45,000.

The “Big A”

While it’s a fine place to see a game, the renovations may have cost it its character. The stadium doesn’t have a unifying theme and is missing some of the amenities of newer stadiums.

For example, there are a few flourishes of Disney’s influence in Anaheim. There are a few statues but not enough to make a difference. I realize that Disney no longer owns the team, but either you need more Disney influence or remove it all. After all, if you think Anaheim, you think Disney. Moreover, I didn’t see play areas as I saw at Citizens Bank, Petco or Marlins Park. Put that concept with Disney, and you have something.

I passed some excellent beer stands that offered a series of craft beers. I liked the Bud Patio, Coors Light Cold Zone and the Picnic Area. If I were in Anaheim, I’d spend too much time out there before a game.

Time For A New Stadium?

However, walking through the stadium made me feel like management keeps trying to add new things where they can to try and stay relevant. It’s like they keep trying to retrofit the stadium to fit a new sensibility. So the food areas are scattered through the stadium with little rhyme or reason. The experience is like walking through an old mall that is trying to stay relevant and compete with the new one up the street.

There is a much different feel at San Diego’s much newer Petco Park. It’s like the new mall.

The team is considering moving to a new stadium, and that seems to be a good idea.

Bad Night for Hot Dogs

I blundered in my quest for the best MLB ballpark hot dog! I went against my stated criteria and should not be surprised that I was disappointed.

At the start of the journey I said, “at some point, you’re eating something someone did to the dog and not just a dog.” My goal was to stay away from hot dogs that had excessive toppings that overwhelmed the basic hot dog. So why did I choose a jumbo dog with bacon, caramelized onions and apple cider sauerkraut from Crafty Dawgs?

Somehow, I understood that the place to go was the Legend Dog stand near the Bud Patio for an excellent grilled Jumbo Dog. It was only open on weekends so I couldn’t get one and a guard suggested Crafty Dawg.

Shame on me, the Angel Dog from one of the other stands was probably the way to go and what I will do next time. Most of all, I’ll do more research.

For the record, the Crafty Dawg had some of the criteria I was looking for:

  • tasty
  • not sausage
  • crunchy, with some char
  • possibly a sturdy bun – it couldn’t handle the weight of all my toppings, but what could?
  • unique toppings

The problem is that I should have bucked the trend and just ordered the dog with the apple cider sauerkraut and some honey mustard. In total, to my taste, it was a below-average dog, but I should have known better. Moreover, others seemed to enjoy the experience.

Next stop is Monterrey for the Mexico Series!

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  1. Data as of May 9, 2019 per Baseball Reference
  2. Of 4,922 Plate Appearances, Trout walked 727 times, was hit by a pitch or got on base via error 116 times. He’s hit successfully 1,218 times in the remaining 3,979 official at bats
  3. Russel Westerholm, Mike Trout and 2009 Draft; How The Best Was Almost A Yankee, 2014
  4. This article provides a good explanation of “Wins Above Replacement
  5. Silver Slugger is awarded to the best offensive player at his position.
  6. This is a good glossary of standard baseball statistics and this provides definitions of advanced baseball statistics
  7. This article provides a good explanation of “Wins Above Replacement
  8. This is a full list of players ranked by their WAR
  9. Tony Durant, MLB The Show 19: Best Shortstops, Real Sport, April 2, 2019

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