Of Course Mike Trout Is Stealing Bases at an Elite Rate, Again

Yesterday afternoon, Dylan Floro made his major-league debut. Anyone who has ever pitched has pictured what it would be like to stand on a major-league mound for the first time. The dream of striking out the first batter you face. The fear of giving up a home run on your first pitch. There are countless different ways to envision that first trip to the mound playing out, but I somehow doubt Floro ever pictured this happening on the ninth pitch of his major-league career:

That’s a lead-footed future Hall of Famer attempting a steal of second to draw a throw and set up the current greatest position player for a steal of home. That really happened. Albert Pujols stole second and Mike Trout stole home, because in baseball anything is possible. But part of what stood out about this play, beyond the fact that Mike Freaking Trout stole home, is that it served as a reminder that Trout has re-emerged as one of the best base-stealers in the game.

Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan outlined adjustments Trout is making at the plate which have enabled him to sustain his mind-boggling consistent run of greatness — a run which is now in its fifth (!) season. The fact that he’s continually evolving, adjusting, and growing as a player is just one part of what has made Trout such a joy to watch. One of those well-documented changes for Trout came when he lost a bit of speed after swiping 82 bags across his first two full seasons, 2012 and 2013. During the next two years, he didn’t steal nearly as many bases, but the loss in base-running value was offset by the fact that he simultaneously grew into a significant increase in power. 

Slowing down while adding power in his 20s — even his early 20s — was a logical enough progression that we came to accept Trout’s new norm. But now something strange is happening.

Mike Trout Since 2012
G SB CS ISO
2012 139 49 5 .238
2013 157 33 7 .240
2014 157 16 2 .274
2015 159 11 7 .290
2016 86 15 1 .252

Base-stealing Mike Trout is back? Fifteen stolen bases through 86 games puts him on pace for a 28-stolen-base season — more stolen bases than he’s recorded in the past two seasons combined. That’s still not quite the rapid pace of his early seasons, but it’s a remarkably surprising development, nonetheless.

One of the most exceptional components of Trout’s base-stealing prowess was his tremendous success rate. Entering last season he possessed an 87.5% success rate that placed him near the top of the all-time leaderboard — before proceeding to post an uncharacteristically low 61.1% success rate during the summer. Trout’s speed is in decline, making it logical to conclude that his days as a dangerous stolen-base threat were at or near an end… and now he’s stolen 15 bags in 16 attempts before the All-Star Break. Crunch the numbers and you’ll find that gives him a 93.8% success rate on the season which leads all players this season with 10 or more steals. It’s also served to further establish Trout’s place on the all-time leaderboard:

Career SB% Leaders
Player SB% SB CS
Chase Utley 87.81% 144 20
Carlos Beltran 86.39% 311 49
Jayson Werth 86.21% 125 20
Jarrod Dyson 85.87% 158 26
Mike Trout 85.33% 128 22
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
(min. 100 stolen base attempts)

You’ll notice two of the names on that list — Utley and Werth — were never on anyone’s list of the fastest players in baseball. Great base-running has as much, if not more, to do with instincts and smart decision-making as it does pure foot speed. Mike Trout is slower now than he was as a 20-year-old — that’s not something that’s changed — but he’s finding ways to maximize the value of what (still above-average) speed that he does have.

Let’s take a look at his first stolen base of the season. On April 13th against the A’s, Mike Trout led off the third inning of a 0-0 game with a single. Here he is on the very next pitch:

He’s actively studying Eric Surkamp whose move to home is good enough to keep Trout unsteady the first time. But on the very next pitch:

Trout watched, learned, and swiped the base with ease. A combination of calculated risk and good decision-making have defined most of Trout’s steals this season, but not all. Here’s a full chart of all of his 15 stolen bases:

Mike Trout’s Stolen Bases in 2016
SB # Date Bag Pitcher Catcher Inning Outs Runners Count Score
1 4/13 2 E. Surkamp S. Vogt 3 0 1– 0-1 0-0
2 5/2 2 J. Nelson J. Lucroy 1 1 1– 1-1 1-0
3 5/13 2 N. Karns C. Iannetta 4 1 1– 1-0 0-0
4 5/19 2 R. Stripling Y. Grandal 1 1 1– 0-0 1-1
5 5/22 2 D. Bundy C. Joseph 7 0 1– 0-0 6-2
6 5/29 3 W. Harris E. Gattis 9 1 12- 3-2 5-5
7 6/1 2 F. Rodriguez J. Saltalamacchia 9 1 1– 0-1 0-3
8 6/6 2 M. Tanaka B. McCann 3 2 1– 1-1 2-0
9 6/9 3 I. Nova B. McCann 4 1 -2- 0-0 0-0
10 6/21 2 C. McHugh E. Gattis 1 0 1-3 2-2 1-0
11 6/28 2 S. Feldman J. Castro 1 1 1– 0-0 0-3
12 7/1 2 J. Tazawa C. Vazquez 7 2 1– 0-1 4-5
13 7/3 2 S. O’Sullivan S. Leon 1 2 1– 1-1 0-0
14 7/6 3 D. Smyly C. Casali 3 1 -2- 0-0 3-0
15 7/7 H D. Floro H. Conger 8 2 1-3 1-1 3-0

Stolen base #5 is Trout’s most puzzling decision. Up four runs in the top of the seventh, Trout took off on the first pitch after reaching base on a single. The throw beat him, but Jonathan Schoop couldn’t hang on to the ball:

It was a lucky break on a play where Trout had no compelling reason even to attempt to steal. I guess we’ll have to accept that we live in a world where even Mike Trout makes mistakes.

He was also the beneficiary of a fielder being unable to apply the tag on steal #12. Vazquez’s throw beat him easily, but it was off line Pedroia couldn’t quite find Trout:

The rest of his steals, though? They largely resemble his first of the season, Trout reading the situation and making smart decisions.

Steal #6 was another double steal with Pujols, but this time they stole second and third with one out in the ninth inning of a tie game. The pitcher stopped paying attention to Trout, the lead runner, when the count went full and so they took the bases without a throw.

Steal #3 provided another good look at Trout watching, learning, and pouncing. Here he is on the pitch before the steal:

And here’s the next pitch:

Mike Trout keeps getting better. We know this. We see it year after year. Of course, he could go back to swiping bases at an elite clip when no one expected he would. He’s Mike Trout and this is what he does. Still, as much as we try to understand and appreciate him, it never stops being incredible to see him constantly finding new ways to not just succeed, but to be the best.





Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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Poor Mans Rick Reed
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Poor Mans Rick Reed

Mike Trout is just wonderful. In that chart you provide, if you distilled the score, inning, etc down and included the leverage, I think that would be useful to see. I don’t think stealing a base is very puzzling while up four in the 7th inning. That’s not near blowout territory yet. Unless it was puzzling because it was the first pitch, and he has a pattern of going on the second?

Mike Trout is wonderful, thanks for highlighting another way that is true!

tz
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How wonderful IS Mike Trout? Even if he ran the bases like Billy Butler last season (-11.1 total baserunning runs), he would have had a 7.5 WAR. That still would have been 3rd best in the majors.