Mike Trout’s Other Slump

Several unusual things happened in Sunday afternoon’s game in Arlington between the Rangers and Angels. Firstly, Huston Street blew a save, his first as an Angel. Second, Mike Trout got a hit, his first in 18 at bats as he suffers through the second prolonged slump of his otherwise Troutishly MVP-calibre season. Thirdly, Trout was caught stealing for the first time in 2014.

Given Trout’s recent inexperience in reaching base safely, one might understand his urgency to make something happen for the first time in a week. Which also explains why Rangers starter Nick Tepesch had an eye on the Angels’ centerfielder, promptly picking him off first base.

Though it wasn’t a straight steal of second base, it counts as just his 13th stolen base attempt and first unsuccessful try – that’s ten fewer than noted speedster and fellow New Jersey native Todd Frazier. A number difficult to believe for a player who gets on base 40% of the time and also successfully swiped 82 bases over the two previous seasons.

The lack of stolen bases highlights a soft spot in Trout’s game this year – he hasn’t been a particularly valuable base runner. One of the fastest players (and hardest runners) in the league, Trout’s work with his feet rates as a single run above average this season, a far cry from the two Wins he added on the base paths between 2012 and 2013. In each of those years, Trout added five runs by advancing extra bases when the ball was in play while the weighted stolen base metric values and reflects his efficient theft accordingly. This season, his UBR is essentially zero.

Given his speed, reputation, and the sheer volume of his opportunities (only four players reached base safely more than Trout this season), this result is somewhat shocking. Why is Trout suddenly less effective on the bases? Or, is Trout actually less effective on the bases, or is this just expected and normal variance?

As far as the stolen bases go, there are countless theories. Both Albert Pujols, who slots behind Trout in the Angels’ order most nights, and manager Mike Scioscia swear up and down it has nothing to do with the lumbering power hitter. One theory suggests he forced pitchers throughout the league to improve their times to the plate to keep him in check. Additionally, Trout’s been on the front end of 18 different Pujols GIDP. At the very least, it puts a significant damper on his chances to get out and run.

Explaining away a lack of stolen base urgency/opportunity is one thing, trying to understand a lack of aggressiveness when moving around on the bases on batted balls is another. Searching for answers is difficult as only the runner himself knows what kind of read he got on the ball and when or where he might have hesitated. Just as pitchers can take steps to slow his progress, outside forces beyond just his own speed can slow Trout’s progress towards the plate.

Baseball Reference tracks extra bases taken and it has Trout grabbing an extra 90 feet 56% of the time this year, down from 59% in 2013 and 65% in 2012. He’s already made five outs on the bases, the same total as 2013 but in fewer games and times on base. He scored from second base on a single 60% of the time this year, down from 75% in 2013 and 69% in 2012.

The most telling number might be his rate of scoring from first on doubles. League average in this situation sits at 41% in 2014, yet Trout has scored just twice in six tries. In his rookie campaign, Trout scored from first on doubles an amazing seven times out of eleven chances. All six opportunities came with Pujols supplying the extra base power, but they are not all created equally.

Via the magic of MLB.tv and Baseball Savant, looking back at these individual plays is simple enough. On July 29th, Pujols hit a ground rule double, keeping Trout at third against his will. A hometown scorer’s double on August 7th clouds our view, as Pujols lined the ball to left field and Dodgers’ left fielder Scott Van Slyke dropped it and threw to third base, allowing Albert to move up to second. It could easily go down as a single and error on Van Slyke, allowing Trout off the hook.

Against Cleveland in April, Pujols hit a high double off the wall with one out that might have been caught, forcing Trout to bide his time between first and second before motoring into third.

troutwatch

Credit Michael Bourn for planting the seed of doubt in the mind of the base runner or admonish Trout for failing to read Pujols’ liner as a sure hit, it’s up to you. The fourth instance of Trout failing to score on a double came Sunday afternoon against the Rangers.

The strangest part of yesterday’s first-to-third on a double was Trout took off running on the pitch. We know Trout picks his spots to run. Late in a one-run ballgame against a weaker opponent, Trout saw an opportunity to grab his team an extra bag so he took off on an 0-1 pitch from recently inserted-reliever Shawn Tolleson.

Trout broke for second and Pujols smashed Tolleson’s pitch off the wall in left field. Trout has to score, right? Enter Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus.

odorandrustrick

The Rangers infield tandem went to work on Trout, turning a phantom double play that reached into the deepest recesses of the superstar’s mind. Pay special attention to the upper left corner of this GIF and notice Andrus, a seasoned practitioner of “goofy on-field antics,” gets in on the action by feigning a throw to start the imaginary double play Trout so eagerly attempts breaking up.

This is the 8th inning of a tight game and it cost the Angels a run – a key run as they went on to lose 3-2 when Street lost the ability to get anybody out for the day. It was a huge play in the game, one for which Odor and Andrus deserve a lot of credit.

Interestingly enough, one of the instances in which Trout did score from first on a double was very similar to this one. It was the infamous “eight inning arrow” comeback against Fernando Rodney and the Mariners. Trout slid into second base on a steal attempt, only to realize Pujols’ double was rattling around the right-field corner. Trout got on his horse and scored the tying run in a big game for both teams.

These examples aren’t meant to absolve Trout of any guilt in making base running blunders as much to suggest that base running, like fielding, is difficult to measure accurately no matter how granular we get. Chances are not distributed equally and there are obvious factors ignored by our rudimentary measures, which remain subject to the cruel fluctuations of chance and opportunity.

Trout hasn’t taken advantage on the bases as we expect him to, as his opposition adjusts and does whatever it can to neutralize his weapons. Trout’s numbers on the bases “suffer” this year because of a few key plays – some his doing and some not. He’s still a force of nature on the base paths requiring specific game planning by his opponents. But until he starts running as he did in the past and moving around the diamond as we expect, the defense holds the advantage.





Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA

Alex Gordon – 5.7 WAR
Mike Trout – 5.6 WAR

Gordo for MVP?

(puts on rain poncho in preparation for copious snark)

LADaveIn KC
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LADaveIn KC

Mike Trout – 6 bWAR
Alex Gordon – 5 bWAR

Josh Donaldson – 6.3 WAR???

Donaldson for MVP? (puts on armored vest in preparation for barbs of “defensive metrics are unreliable”)

Umpire Weekend
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Umpire Weekend

You mean Trout isn’t leading ANYBODY’S WAR right now?

Should I start stockpiling canned goods, beer and sterno?

Andy
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Andy

Mike Trout 6.67 pWAR
Kyle Seager 5.88
Josh Donaldson 4.90
Alex Gordon 4.60

But Stanton, 7.65.

Jaack
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Jaack

I now really want Gordon not only to lead beat out Trout in WAR, but to blow him away, only for Trout to win the MVP, if only for the sheer glory of the irony.

Alanis M
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Alanis M

I’m not sure that would be ironic.

Kevin Quackenbush's Beard
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Kevin Quackenbush's Beard

It’s more ironic than rain on your wedding day.

Kevin Beardenbush's Quack
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Kevin Beardenbush's Quack

Mayhaps.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman

It’s no rain on your wedding day, that’s for sure.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman

Dangit. That’s what I get for opening these articles and then getting distracted and reading them hours later.

John Elway
Member

It’s like NEIGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! on your wedding day.

https://twitter.com/J0hnElway/status/501331779849297922/photo/1

#KeepNotGraphs
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#KeepNotGraphs
Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth

Well said, Beardenbush.

Mark
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Mark

I’m having a very tough time believing that Gordon has saved 20+ runs in LF, and that he’s on pace to save over 30. His arm is great, his defence is great, but if he is this good defensively he’d be the equivalent of a GG CF.

a eskpert
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a eskpert

And? If you’re superlatively good at one position, your value might be easily be greater than that of a merely great player at a more difficult position.

Mark
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Mark

Maybe you missed the part about him being > 30 UZR by the seasons end. You don’t see that as a bit unrealistic?

Personally, anytime I see a player over 15-20 UZR I get a little suspicious. He’s on pace for 34-35 UZR. Is it theoretically possible that he can achieve that? I guess so, but I’m skeptical and don’t think he’s been that good defensively this year.

a eskpert
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a eskpert

It doesn’t have to happen every year. Do you get suspicious when somebody puts up 60 or 70 batting runs? Yes, it’s extreme, but he’s the only one doing it. Maybe this is his career defensive year, in a career full of good defensive years.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Offensive stats are far more reliable than defensive stats, so no, I don’t get suspicious when that happens with offence.

I recognize that offensive players can slump and defensive players can have career years, I just think that 30+ defensive runs isn’t representative of how the player is doing, given the limited number of opportunities any one player has in the field.

And he’s not the only one doing it. Heyward is on pace for 30. JBJ was on pace for 30+. Gordon has a tremendous arm, but I just don’t think any fielder is truly +30 over a season.

a eskpert
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a eskpert

Each to their own I suppose. I don’t feel it’s that unreasonable. I also think an important variable might be the number of opportunities themselves. Maybe a down year from the Royals first and second baseman (I haven’t checked up on this) means more chances. I am far too lazy to look that up, however.

Jon L.
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Jon L.

He passes the eye test, and other teams’ announcers comment on his defense often. He seems to be saving runs (or partial runs) every day out there.

PackBob
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PackBob

One problem is taking an exact number that is derived from inexact data to be representative of actual events. It doesn’t work very well when the results are finer than the input. But it’s safe to say that Gordon is having a good defensive year.

John C
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John C

Oh, I can believe it. There’s some reason that abjectly mediocre collection of pitchers they have in KC is doing so well, and it’s not because Ned Yost is a genius. The Royals are a tremendous defensive team, and Gordon’s a big part of that. Kauffman Stadium is also a big ballpark, and any outfielder who’s having a great year defensively, even a left fielder, can be plus-20.