Appreciating Mike Trout

I apologize up front for beating a dead horse with a stick, but Mike Trout is incredible.

As of July 11, he’s sporting the following line:

  • 320/399/560 164 wRC+, with 21 SB (87.5% success) for good measure

Last year, Mike Trout’s amazingness was well documented, especially on this site. His 2012 (should be MVP) season line:

  • 326/399/564 166wRC+, with 49 SB (89.1% success)

Notice anything about those two lines? They’re basically identical.

At first glance, that’s not particularly interesting. He’s really really good, as we all knew. But what makes it interesting is that he’s actually shown significant signs of improvement in seemingly getting to the same place as last year. He’s walking slightly more (11.1% rate vs. 10.5%), but more importantly, he’s cut down on his K% by over 5%, from a slightly worse than league average 21.8% to a better than average 16.7%. Hence, despite his BABIP dropping by a meaningful 26 points from .383 to .357, he has maintained the exact same AVG and OBP.

Basically, he’s replaced some BABIP luck from last year with actual improvement. His BABIP is still well above league average (currently ranking #15 among qualified), but given his unique combination of speed, power and nearly 23% line drive rate (league average 20.9%), I’m inclined to believe a .350 BABIP is a reasonable true talent level.

I’ve focused on his BABIP and K%, so let’s dig a little deeper into those two rates. In terms of BABIP, his LD/FB/GB rates are essentially the same as last year. Directionally, he’s also hitting about the same percentage of balls in play towards the left, center and right as last year. This could serve as evidence that the decline in BABIP has been nothing more than luck, and that there is no change in the controllable inputs. In terms of his improved K%, what jumps out is that his zone contact rate has improved by 5% so far this year from last year, contributing to a 2% improvement in overall contact rate. He’s seeing 4% fewer fastballs and 1-2% increases in offspeed stuff (sliders, curveballs and changeups). Additionally, he has seen 3% fewer pitches in the zone but been swinging overall at an identical rate. That data can probably be taken multiple ways, but I’d read it that he’s making better contact, despite swinging the same amount at an overall blend of seemingly tougher pitches to hit.

It seems clear that he’s showing improvement, which is to be expected for a 21 year old in his second full major league season. And simple aging curves foretell that there’s much more improvement to come. Using Tango aging curves (1919-1999 data) to get a sense of what Trout’s profile might look like at his peak, the signs are again very encouraging. I’ll use age 27 for a peak year (arbitrarily):

Where a 1.00 is peak for the category

  • Age 21: BB: 0.66, K: 1.32, HR: 0.68 and SB: 0.87
  • Age 27: BB: 0.88, K: 1.01, HR: 0.95 and SB: 0.88

I won’t actually project his numbers forward using these rates, as this is meant to be purely representative and I don’t care to get into debates about calculating correctly, but basically:

  • His walk rate should improve
  • His K rate should decline
  • His HR rate / power should increase
  • And his SB rate / speed should still be more or less the same

Mike Trout is already incredible, so maybe it’s not fair to compare him to the average player’s aging profile. And maybe it’s just not in our best interests to – I’m not sure my mind can handle the concept of a player as amazing as Trout getting that much better.

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Landon Jones

solid piece man. It really is amazing to think about him getting better. Hopefully he stays healthy for a very long time.


little nitpick:

it is wrong to say … cut his K% by 5% when you really wanted to say he cut his k% by 5%-POINTS.

going from 21.8% to 16.7% is actually a cut of 23% !


Another nitpick. Trout’s xBABIP has been in the 370’s for all three of his season. With his speed, it’s not unrealistic to assume he’s a true .370 BABIP hitter.