I like using basketball analogies to explain baseball. I think it helps casual fans to conceptualize the vast differences between the two sports, which helps them judge players/managers/teams better. Today’s analogy involves the Los Angeles Angels, who have two of the game’s best players on their roster; they still aren’t a good team.
Trout and Ohtani
Mike Trout is out with a calf injury. He’ll probably be back some time in late June or early July. Nevertheless, the Angels weren’t exactly running away with the AL West when he was healthy and having yet another historically good season. They’ve had a healthy Shohei Ohtani for all of 2021, who has dominated as a hitter and pitcher. We haven’t seen a player do something like this in, like, ever. The Babe is the closest comp, but even that falls short, as there wasn’t much overlap between him being a dominant pitcher and hitter. He mostly did one, then the other, unlike Ohtani, who does them at once.
The Angels have two players who are practically peerless. Mike Trout is the best player in the sport and of this generation. We’ll say he’s LeBron. Shohei Ohtani is a unicorn that helps his team in more ways than one. We’ll say he’s AD, who is a force on offense and defense. In basketball, that pretty much gets you to the mountaintop, or at least very close to it. In baseball, if you don’t address other holes in the roster, that gets you to where the Angels are right now. 24-29 and in 4th place in their division.
The Definition of Insanity
Don’t expect much to change, sadly, barring a massive shift in organizational philosophy. The Angels seem to do the same thing every offseason, yet somehow expect a different result. They skimp on their pitching staff and give big contracts to position players past or near the end of their primes. Albert Pujols. Josh Hamilton. Anthony Rendon. Justin Upton. The list goes on. All guys who were given enormous contracts in exchange for some fleeting moments of production (Rendon is having a bad season, but the jury is still out on him). They don’t spend enough on their pitching staff and can’t seem to consistently develop the arms in their system. The Angels simply can’t pitch.
No matter how unbelievable your centerfielder and DH/SP is, you will always have a sucky baseball team if you play your hand like the Angels have. Joe Maddon is probably still a good MLB manager, but he can’t cook up a winner when Alex Cobb is his most effective pitcher. No offense to Cobb.
LeBron and AD can get it done on the hardwood. Trout and Ohtani on the diamond? Not so much. Not without (a lot) more help.