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.
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.