Diagnostic Testing: Mike Trout

By July 18, 2014MLB

Analysis by Michael Clifford

This is my annual reminder that Mike Trout is pretty good at baseball.

Typically, I save these posts for players that are either under-or-over-performing in fantasy baseball, figuring out why they are, and what fantasy baseball owners can expect moving forward. Every once in a while, though, it’s necessary to kind of beat home the obvious. This week, it’s Mike Trout Is Good At Baseball.

Back on our old website (FantasyTrade411.com) I had a post back in November of 2012 about how Mike Trout deserved the American League MVP over Miguel Cabrera. It was one of many written after that season, but just my take on how the two measured up against each other. About this time last year, and in a post that is more relevant for what I’m going to discuss today, I had a post simply titled “The Best.” It was a look at how Mike Trout stacked up, relatively speaking with considerations to age, to some of the best to ever play this game like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Alex Rodriguez. As that piece shows, he stacked up just fine.

Since the time that last post was written, Trout has been able to add another 564 at bats to his total. That means since the start of his real rookie season in 2012, we have 1763 plate appearances to work with. A pretty good sample size.

So to kick things off, what has Trout done over the last two and a half years and what is his per 700 PA average through those years (which would constitute a full season)?

2012-2014 (1763 PAs): 479 H, 79 HR, 303 R, 253 RBI, 92 SB, slash line of .321/.412/.571
Per 700 PA: 190 H, 31 HR, 120 R, 100 RBI, 37 SB, slash line of .321/.412/.571

In terms of fantasy, Trout, over a full season, has been able to average .321/31/100/120/37. He turns 23-years-old in August.

Now that we have a good idea of what he can do, now it’s a matter of why he can do it.

Be Selective, B-E Selective

For the uninitiated, O-Swing% refers to the rate at which a batter swings at pitches out of the zone. Conversely, Z-Swing% refers to the rate at which a batter swings at pitches in the zone. Since Trout’s rookie season in 2012, he’s 32nd out of 199 qualified hitters in terms of O-Swing% at 25%. In other words, he doesn’t chase too much out of the zone. Since Trout’s rookie season, he’s 10th in Z-Swing% out of these 199 batters at 55.9%.

Just because he doesn’t swing at everything it doesn’t mean there isn’t more than one way to skin a cat. Miguel Cabrera’s O-Swing% over that span is over 34% while his Z-Swing% is well over 70%. I would say that his swinging more often hasn’t hurt his production over the last few years.

The fact that he doesn’t swing often means two things: He walks a lot (his 230 walks is fifth in baseball since 2012) and that he strikes out maybe more than people would like (tied for tenth in strikeouts in baseball since 2012 with 370). Take the good with the bad because everything else is great.

He’s Got The Powah

The fact alone that he doesn’t swing or chase a lot won’t necessarily guarantee success. Martin Prado swings by far the least of anyone in baseball at pitches in the zone, and he’s not quite Mike Trout. There are a lot of other factors at work here.

Isolated power (or ISO) is simply slugging percentage less batting average. It’s a quick way to determine the extra base power of a player. Over his last two and a half seasons, Trout’s ISO is an even .250, good for seventh in baseball. The names ahead of him are Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Moss, Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, and David Ortiz. This has led to him being second in baseball in total bases (852, 61 bases behind Miguel Cabrera).

When Trout swings, there’s a reason. Also, there’s a pretty good amount of power behind him.

Run, Baby, Run

Of course, to say that Trout has about as much natural power as Stanton because of somewhat similar ISO numbers is a bit misleading. Trout’s legs have a lot to do with his extra base production.

Trout is one of six players since the start of the 2012 season with at least 20 triples (he has 22 in fact). The other names on the list – Alex Rios, Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson, Starling Marte, Denard Span – all have a good amount of speed to burn. In fact, Jackson is the only one of the six without at least 50 steals over that time frame. So to say that Trout has an elite amount of power, I’m not sure. When he does hit it in the gaps, though, he can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. That will certainly help his ISO.

One thing to note is that Trout’s steals have declined considerably. His rookie season saw a steal attempt every 11.83 plate appearances. His 2013 season saw an attempt every 17.9 plate appearances. So far this year, that number is once every 40.8 plate appearances. I suppose when a player hits so many extra-base hits, he doesn’t need to steal as much. That’s the good and bad about fantasy baseball.

Say Goodbye To Yesterday

Coming back to the top of the article, remember that over the last two and a half seasons, Trout has averaged a fantasy line of .321/31 HR/100 RBI/120 R/37 SB. For giggles, this is how many players in the history of baseball have even had one season with the above fantasy line:

  • Ken Williams (St Louis Browns – 1922): .332/39 HR/155 RBI/128 R/37 SB

That’s it. One guy. There has been one guy in the history of baseball to post a single season of what Trout has averaged over the last two and a half years. Did I mention Trout hasn’t turned 23-years-old yet? I did? Well it’s worth mentioning again.

Undoubtedly, with the stolen bases slowing down, Trout’s average season will as well. So let’s adjust our line to .320/30/110/110/20. This is how many guys have done that: 12. In the history of baseball, 12 guys have posted a season that I think would be a reasonable expectation for Mike Trout moving forward. Again, in that list, there are some all-time greats like Bonds, Mays, Aaron, Rodriguez. Also some guys who were pretty good that had a fantastic season like Larry Walker and Matt Kemp. Age-wise, just one guy under the age of 25 has done it and that was Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.

Any way that this is cut or sliced, Mike Trout is on pace to be one of the all-time greats in the history of this sport. Not “somewhere in the top-50” great, but “is he better than Mays or Bonds” great. Don’t believe me? List of players with an OPS over .950 through their age-22 seasons (min. 1700 PAs): Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams. If Trout doesn’t crater the rest of this year, he’ll be the fourth.

This is an appreciation of the history that is being made. To this point in his career, he’s one of the greatest players in the history of this game.

And he’s only getting better.

*As always, thanks to Baseball Reference and FanGraphs for their resources. 

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