The Preposterous Mike Trout

It’s that time again, when we provide your somewhat regularly scheduled update on the exploits of Mike Trout. When we last saw our protagonist, he was rocking a 210 wRC+ on April 24th. That was good enough for sixth best in baseball, but given that it was April 24th, we were sure to see some regression. Right?

Now it’s May 24th, and Mike Trout has a 220 wRC+. That’s the best in baseball. It means he’s been 120% better on offense than the league average. He’s twice the average offensive player and then some. Since he’s often considered to be a reincarnation of Mickey Mantle, it should be noted that Mantle never had a single season wRC+ that high, his best mark being a 217 in 1957. He was worth 11.4 WAR in 144 games.

Speaking of WAR, Trout’s accumulated a 3.3 mark so far this year. That naturally also leads the league by a fair margin and has taken Trout over the 50-win mark for his career. In doing so, he’s passed a number of all-time greats in total career value. Those players include Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Fred Lynn, David Ortiz, and Jimmy Rollins. He’s very close to passing George Sisler and Enos Slaughter. He’s still got a few months until he turns 26.

Of course, it’s not surprising to see Trout playing this well. It’s not surprising that this past Monday’s game was only the seventh 0-for he’s taken over the first 42 games he’s played this year. (He still managed to walk twice.) It’s not shocking to see Trout playing out of his mind like this, or to know that the above homer from yesterday tied him for the big league lead in homers with Aaron Judge.

And that’s because he’s Mike Trout, the guy who’s already punched his ticket as one of the best players to ever play the game. He’s the guy who’s finished first or second in MVP voting in every full season he’s played, and arguably should have won every time. He’s been the most consistently great player in the game since the second he was called up in 2012. He’s among that extremely small percentage of players who shouldn’t be discounted from being able to carry a 200 (or larger) wRC+ for a whole season, because he’s simply that talented. And by typical player aging curves, Trout hasn’t even hit his prime yet.

Trout, as good as he’s been, has never finished a season having outpaced the league by this much. It’s important to note that it is, indeed, just May 24th, but Trout’s hitting profile looks pretty similar to what he’s produced in the past. He’s just simply hitting the ball with even more power. His walk and strikeout rates are generally the same as last year, and he’s basically taken just two percentage points of ground-ball rate and put them into fly-ball rate. The only marked difference is that his soft contact rate is somehow up to 20% from 12%.

Ben Lindbergh recently noted in an excellent piece of work at The Ringer that Trout is swinging more than ever, and that he’s swinging more often at meatballs in the middle. Swinging more often can sometimes be dangerous, but Trout is pulling it off with aplomb, as Ben noted.

In his first, brief exposure to the big leagues, Trout’s selective aggression ranked in the first percentile compared with qualifying hitters. He swung at fewer than half of the pitches he saw in the strike zone and almost a third of likely balls, showing relatively little ability to differentiate between pitches he could punish and pitches even he would have a hard time driving. His ratio improved in 2012 and again in 2013 and 2014 before regressing in 2015, when he was probably playing through a wrist issue. Last year and this year, his strike zone judgment has made further strides, to the point that he’s now in the 94th percentile — one of the game’s smartest swingers

Having a strong feel for the strike zone isn’t the only ingredient of offensive success: Plenty of hitters have the ability to distinguish balls from strikes but lack the coordination and power to make the most of that skill. But when a hitter with Trout’s physical gifts adds elite discipline to the mix, pitchers can’t counter. Thus far, they’ve thrown fewer pitches in the strike zone to Trout than ever before, but he’s not biting on bad pitches. Over the course of his career, Trout has produced a .465 weighted on-base average when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone and a .250 wOBA when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. It makes perfect sense that he’d be even more potent now that he’s swinging at the former pitches more often and the latter less often.

Ben also pointed out that Trout is pouncing on first-pitch curves more than ever, which counters a previously popular method of attack against him. Trout is plugging the few tiny holes in his game, and it’s resulting in some dazzling production.

There’s probably going to be a bit of regression from the phenomenal offensive high he’s currently riding, but there isn’t reason to expect a ton of it. We’ve always wondered about the hypothetical of whether or not Trout has peaked yet, of whether or not there’s still room between his current state and the upper limit of his possible performance. That may be what we’re looking at right now. If Trout is reaching his physical peak, maybe that explains his .411 ISO, which is well above that even of the behemoth Judge.

Nothing should be surprising with Trout, except if perhaps if he took the mound and started striking people out. As I noted over the winter, he’s basically already a Hall of Famer. He’s just gotten even better now. Trout could very well come back down to his heightened version of reality at some point in the near or distant future, because it’s extremely hard to hit this well for an entire season. There have only been 32 instances of a qualified batter carrying a wRC+ of 200 or greater for a season. Many of those campaigns were had by men named Ruth, Bonds, and Williams. That’s how good Trout has been, and what kind of company he would have to keep to do this from now until October.

We shouldn’t put it past him. We shouldn’t expect him to do it, either, but we shouldn’t immediately discount it. Trout is a special player, and possibly the greatest to ever play the game. He’s the one thing keeping the Angels from being basement-dwellers.

He’s absolutely, incredibly, ridiculously great. We’re lucky to be able to watch him perform.

We hoped you liked reading The Preposterous Mike Trout by Nicolas Stellini!

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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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bdhumbert
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bdhumbert

it is criminal that the Angels can’t put a couple of supporting players around Trout to get to the World Series. Maybin is second in wRC+ at 111. Pujols is at 77 and getting paid $26M and has four years remaining on his idiotic deal…

TwinPeaks
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TwinPeaks

My jaw just dropped. Pujols still has four years left!??!?! Crippling.

LHPSU
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LHPSU

I’m surprised he only has four years left – how quickly ten years fly be!

Shauncore
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Shauncore

Miguel Cabrera still has six years left on his deal (and then two option years).

TwinPeaks
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TwinPeaks

Yes, but Cabrera is still good, at least for now.

Anon
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Anon

Cabrera is still good and you would never predict a Pujols-like decline, but the cracks in the armor are there for Cabrera. Comparing 2014-2016 with 2011-2013 his K% is trickling up, ISO and BABIP trickling down, Hard% and HR/FB down, contact % trickling down, SwStr% up. His eye is still good, but he just doesn’t hit as many or do as much with the pitches he does hit as he used to. It’s subtle, but it’s there. PLus, after being a model of durability he’s now missing games with old man injuries. Heck, in 2015 he missed the first significant time he has ever missed and it was with a pulled calf muscle simply running from 1st to 2nd on a ground ball. And of course, he offers no defensive or baserunning value whatsoever which is likely to get worse.

(His numbers are off this year but they’re also kind of wonky. They’ll look a lot different by year’s end.)

I wouldn’t bet on that deal looking very good in a couple years. Star players become simply above average a lot quicker than we tend to notice.

carter
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carter

The underlying metrics say he is getting quite unlucky

roputnts
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roputnts

What are you talking about? They have defensive marvel Danny Espinosa at 2B hitting 0.146. Do you know how hard it is to find a replacement for him? I mean he has accumulated -0.3 WAR . . . oh . . . by definition he is easily replaced. That’s totally on the front office.

frivoflava29
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frivoflava29

You can’t ask for a better leadoff hitter than Yunel Escobar though! Well, except for the 9 guys (min 100 PA) hitting better than him…

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=100&type=1&season=2017&month=48&season1=2017&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=17,d

WHERE ARE THE RBIS TROUT

andrewrhodes77
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andrewrhodes77

Angels have been in the top 10 in wRC+ for 4/5 years Trout’s been there. Without Pujols mentorship of Trout, Trout probably wouldn’t be as consistently great as he has been. As for Pujols production he is one of the best RBI guys in the league, also he is the most clutch hitter in the game this year. Unfortunately they have had a lot of injuries and that will always make your team look bad.

bglick4
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bglick4

The Pujols deal has been a pretty crippling mistake. It turned south on them quicker than they could have thought, but regardless it looked like deal that would be bad 6 years in when Trout was still cheap and awesome. This team is extremely poorly built.

BenZobrist4MVP
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BenZobrist4MVP

Somehow, even without Pujols’ mentorship, I have a feeling Trout would have been OK.

jruby
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jruby

TL;DR: Pujols has TWTW totally srsly guys

Skin Blues
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Skin Blues

Can’t tell if serious…

tramps like us
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tramps like us

RBI? Mentorship? Ditch your 1987 calendar. Methinks you should be writing letters to Baseball Digest while defending Andre Dawson’s MVP selection.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I am never going to forgive them for wasting Hall of Fame seasons like this. They don’t deserve Trout’s greatness.

frivoflava29
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frivoflava29

Nevermind the fact that currently their top 3 pitchers by WAR are all relievers. One of whom has only pitched 6.2 innings.

rasouddress
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rasouddress

Nevermind the fact that those 6.2 innings generated an insane 0.7 WAR due to a 12+ K/9 and 0 BBs.

letmegocheck
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letmegocheck

This narrative has just been beaten to death. Sure, Trout doesn’t play for the Dodgers, Yankees, or Red Sox but the Angels have been a competitive team for the majority of the years they’ve had Trout and it’s far too early in 2017 to already be parroting this cliche seeing as the Angels have a winning record and are just a game out from a wild card spot.