A World Without Mike Trout

It was just last week that we were extolling the virtues of Mike Trout. How quickly things can change. How quickly the hammer of fate can smite those who dare tempt it. How quickly things can go so very wrong.

When Trout stole second base in the fifth inning on Sunday, he came up wagging his hand and in pain. He eventually left the game, and we now know that he tore a ligament in his thumb when he accidentally jammed his hand into the bag while sliding. Trout’s elected to have surgery to repair the ligament and has a six- to eight-week timetable to return.

First and foremost, this sucks. Trout was well on his way to the best season of his career and possibly one of the best campaigns ever. He was staring his third MVP award in the face. Trout makes the game better. He’s already got the credentials of a Hall of Famer, minus that whole 10-year thing, and he single-handedly makes the Angels watchable. The game is going to be without its brightest star for a couple of months, and that’s awful.

This likely also officially puts the Angels to bed for the year. They’re currently in second place, while being two games under .500, which speaks to just how unsightly the non-Houston teams in the AL West are. Trout was basically doing as good of a LeBron James impression as a baseball player can possibly do to keep the Angels out of the basement. Without him, their roster more closely resembles the likes of the Padres. They’re without any notable starting pitching, and Kole Calhoun is probably their best player. We may be living in a world in which Bud Norris is the Angels’ representative at the All-Star Game. There was some interest in this team over the winter due to their establishment of a baseline of competency with which to surround Trout, and how that could punch their tickets to a Wild Card berth. That’s all meaningless without Trout being there pretty much every day.

There’s also the matter of what this means for Trout himself. Hand injuries can be a bit worrisome for hitters. The damage being in Trout’s left thumb could be particularly troubling. Take a second to pantomime being a right-handed hitter. Notice where your left thumb is? It’s wrapped around the back of the handle of the bat, and when you swing, it’s part of what’s driving your hands forward. Now imagine that your imaginary bat just made contact with a fastball. If you’ve ever played ball or been to the batting cages, you know that you’re going to feel that contact in your hands. Trout’s surgically repaired thumb is going to be feeling a lot of that.

That could have an effect on his hitting, and his ability to hit for power. Or, he could be fine. Here’s a handy-dandy table of everyone who’s had the same procedure as Trout since 2010 and how it impacted their offensive output.

Thumb UCL Surgery Recipients Since 2010
Name Length (Weeks) Year Note Pre wRC+ Post wRC+
Andrelton Simmons 5.0 2016 43 107
Juan Lagares 7.0 2016 86 3 (5 PA)
Trevor Story 9.5+ 2016 Season-ending 120 77 (next season)
Jed Lowrie 13.5 2015 169 66
Josh Harrison 7.0 2015 93 118
Bryce Harper 9.5 2014 115 115
Josh Hamilton 8.0 2014 Also torn capsule 266 98
Brandon Phillips 5.5 2014 93 74
Yadier Molina 7.0 2014 110 77
Hanley Ramirez 5.5 2013 107 (prev. season) 191
Marcell Ozuna 10.0+ 2013 Season-ending 92 116 (next season)
Vernon Wells 9.5 2012 96 82
Dee Gordon 10.0 2012 58 43 (3 PA)
Brennan Boesch 4.0+ 2011 Season-ending 116 77 (next season)
David DeJesus 10.0+ 2010 Season-ending 127 96 (next season)

It’s hard to draw a lot of conclusions from this, given the size of the data set and that some of these injuries lasted into the offseason. There’s definitely a chance that Trout is going to be rusty when he comes back, though, and that he may not be the same until next season once he’s had the winter to hit the reset button. Or he could pull a Harper and not miss a beat.

And if he does the latter, Trout might pull off his best trick yet, missing two months of the season and still leading the AL in WAR once again. His presence at the top of the leaderboards has become an annual tradition, and the gaps have generally been large enough that he didn’t just squeak by. He was set to enter June up by +1 WAR over Miguel Sano and Aaron Judge, both of whom are unlikely to keep hitting this well and, as bat-first sluggers, don’t have an easy path to a 7-plus WAR season. Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have the all-around games to make a run to that kind of level, but at just +2 WAR through the first two months, both will have to play better than they have in order to get up to that level.

Trout racked up +3.6 WAR in two months. If he comes back at 100%, and his early-season improvements carry over, +7 WAR isn’t out of the question for him this season. And it’s not out of the question he runs another +3.5 WAR over the final two months of the season. Mike Trout might take the summer off and still have a better 2017 than anyone else.

But, of course, the human body is a funky thing. Every injury is unique in its own way, as well. We’re not going to know how Trout’s thumb is going to respond to the surgery until he comes back and starts swinging at big-league pitching again. That day can’t come soon enough, because Trout is one of the best shows in the game. The game is worse off because of this, and the Angels have just had what little hope was left blow up in their faces.

Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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4 years ago

I wonder at what point every player will start wearing the oven mitts on their hand. Well worth it if it can avoid serious injury. I’m sure we’ll see Trout sporting one when he’s back in July or August.

4 years ago
Reply to  ceddy

Or not slide headfirst to begin with

4 years ago
Reply to  GTOBalance

Yes, please stop sliding head first. Regular slides are so much safer in many ways. Plus, just from an aesthetic point of view, there’s no artistry in a head first slide.

4 years ago
Reply to  scooter262

Rickey Henderson would disagree

4 years ago
Reply to  scooter262

Sounds like a guy who has never witnessed a perfect “swim-move” to avoid the tag. It’s a work of art.

4 years ago
Reply to  GTOBalance

So make more outs on the bases?

4 years ago
Reply to  ceddy

Unfortunately not even oven mitts could have prevented this injury as they usually have an individual thumb slot for gripping. Sliding feet first works or holding batting gloves in your hands to keep your fingers from going astray…