Mike Trout has been carrying the Angels, but now the team will need someone else to bear the load.
Trout, widely renowned as the best player in baseball, will miss six to eight weeks to recovery from surgery, scheduled for Wednesday, to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout sustained the injury sliding head first while stealing second base in Sunday’s 9-2 loss at Miami.
The reigning American League MVP was putting together perhaps his best season yet before his first career stint on the disabled list, but even with his stellar performance, the Angels sit below .500 (26-28 after Monday’s loss to Atlanta). With Trout missing time, the Angels’ prospects are grim.
Entering Monday’s game Trout led the AL in slugging percentage (.742), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.203), total bases (121) and walks (36), was second in batting average (.337), led the majors in on-base percentage (.461) and WAR (3.5) and was tied for the major league lead with 16 home runs (Aaron Judge hit his 17th Monday).
While Trout was starting what looked to be a historic year, the rest of the Angels’ offense was weighing him down. Entering Monday’s game, the Halos ranked ninth in the AL in on-base percentage, were third-to-last in average and second-to-last in both slugging and OPS.
Without Trout, the team would be last in all four rate stats besides on-base percentage, in which they would lead only Kansas City (.289).
ESPN Stats & Info presented the contrast between Trout’s production and his teammates’.
And all that is to say nothing of the magic Trout can manufacture in center field.
“This team will continue to fight, as it always does, but you’re losing the heart of your order, the middle of your defense and a leader in the dugout,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said after Monday’s loss. “It’s really hard to quantify, but I think you’ll feel the impact.”
Initial X-rays after the injury, which looked for bone fractures, were negative, but an MRI on Monday revealed the UCL was torn. Trout met with team doctor Steven Shin Monday and determined surgery was his best option, according to the Associated Press.
In 2016, Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons also suffered a UCL tear in his left thumb and was out five and a half weeks recovering from surgery. Bryce Harper, Trout’s National League phenom counterpart, also tore his UCL in his left thumb in 2014 and missed nine weeks.
A timetable of six to eight weeks would put Trout’s return mid- to late-July, meaning he may not make a six-straight appearance in the All-Star Game, which will be held in the stadium in which he injured himself — Marlins Park.
Though these types of surgeries have “a very high success rate,” Eppler said (and neither Simmons or Harper have missed a beat since), the Angels’ season is all but doomed with Trout missing the next couple months.
The Angels had a slim chance with Trout. Entering Monday’s game (and before the diagnosis), FanGraphs gave the Angels a 12.4 percent shot at making the playoffs. That number is sure to dip below 10 without the team’s cornerstone.
“Even with everything Mike was doing, we were not firing on all cylinders,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “If guys start doing some of the things they can do, I think we’ll be able to absorb a lot of that. You’re not gonna replace what Mike brings to the lineup, but as a whole, one through nine, we’re gonna have to.”
The Halos were held back by injuries before the latest news. Trout is the 12th Angel to hit the DL this year, including pitchers Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian and third baseman Yunel Escobar.
Trout’s absence is clearly unlike any other. The 25-year-old has won the MVP in two of his five full seasons and been runner-up in the other three. Since Trout was called up in 2012, the Angels are 10-16 in games he’s missed, including a 2-5 record this season.
“Nobody wants this, but Mike’s good at everything. He’ll probably be good at rehab, too,” said Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun.
Eric Young Jr. was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake Monday to fill Trout’s roster spot. Young started in left field in Monday’s 6-3 loss to Atlanta, pushing Cameron Maybin (.242) to center. The two went a combined 1-for-7 in the loss. Ben Revere (.220) is expected to share time in left with Young.
The injury to baseball’s biggest name re-opens the discussion of the future of the headfirst slide — known to be far more dangerous than going in feet first, because it exposes the runner to hand, wrist, shoulder and finger injuries.
Neither Scioscia or Eppler, however, indicate a plan to force their 144.5-million-dollar man to kick the habit.
“I’ve seen many, many players preferring to slide head-first, especially the fast guys,” Eppler told the Times. “I think it’s really hard when something is instinctual. We talk about feet-first sliding in the minor leagues, but at end of the day, a player has to do what’s comfortable.”
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