It’s 2017 and Mike Trout still remains very good at playing baseball. This is not a surprise. He has been great in every single full season he has had in the big leagues dating back to 2012. So far in 2017, Mike Trout is hitting .352/.450/.752 along with a 225 wRC+ that ranks 1st in baseball. Trout just homered in his 4th straight game and has the chance to homer in 5 straight games Tuesday, which would tie an Angels record(Bobby Bonds in 1977). He also led baseball with a 171 wRC+ last year. Trout ranked 3rd in wRC+ in 2015 and 2014, 2nd in 2013 and 1st in 2012. Mike Trout is not only the best all around player in baseball; he’s the best hitter in baseball. Through today, Trout is neck and neck with Bryce Harper for the WAR(Wins Above Replacement) lead, coming in at 2.7 fWAR compared to Harper’s 2.8 mark. In his career, Trout has ranged between 7.9-10.5 WAR, leading baseball in that category ever year outside of 2015(Harper was 1st).
None of this should be surprising to people. What is perhaps surprising is the manner in which Mike Trout is always great at baseball. Trout has been great every year by any measure you look at but if you break down each year, Trout has reached his all time greatness in different ways.
-In 2012, Trout was an all around monster, leading baseball in wRC+, WAR(10.3), BsR(Base Running Runs) and was the 17th best defender according to Fangraphs defensive rating. He finished 2nd in a highly controversial AL MVP race to Miguel Cabrera but took home the Rookie of the Year award . Trout was the better hitter, runner and defender than Cabrera but thats none of my business. *insert Kermit the Frog sipping coffee meme*
-In 2013, Trout was a less effective base runner and defender but he cut back his strikeouts by 2.9%, cranked his walk rate up by 4.9% and was again baseball’s best player by WAR(10.5). Trout again lost to Miguel Cabrera, thanks to Cabrera winning the 1st AL Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Still, Cabrera wasn’t even the 2nd best AL player that year, ranking 3rd in WAR behind Josh Donaldson(7.6) and Trout.
-2014 was Mike Trout’s “down year” where he only racked up 7.9 WAR due to a ballooned strikeout rate(26.1%), lower walk rate and poor defense and he had the worst 2nd half of his career(.257/.347/.502). Yet, Trout was an integral part of a 98 win Angels team, the only Angels team that has made it to the playoffs with Trout on it. He took home his 1st AL MVP.
-Mike Trout continued to slip on the bases in 2015, only stealing 11 bags and posting his worst BsR but he cranked out a career high 41 home runs and saw his WAR bounce up to 9, showing 2014 was just a minor blip on the radar and not a sign of a declining Mike Trout.
-Just when you thought you figured Mike Trout out going into 2016, he decided to go crazy and slash .315/.441/.550 and steal 30 bags, the most since 2013. He took home AL MVP honors while playing for an extremely poor Angels club.
So far in 2017, Mike Trout is his usual great self but once again, he’s doing things differently and is even getting some luck on his side, according to a new recent stat that surfaced. Statcast rolled out a new statistic called xwOBA(Expected Weighted On Base Average), which looks at your exit velocity and launch angle to calculate what your expected wOBA should be. Mike Trout is currently running a .487 wOBA, while his xwOBA is .430. This is due to the fact that Trout’s average exit velocity is down from 90.8 mph in 2016 to 87.9 mph this year. Trout is also running a lower walk rate.
However, a lot of this performance has to due with Trout’s new approach at the plate in 2017. Mike Trout is swinging more than ever(42.7 swing%) and is making contact just below his career best mark(82% this year, 82.1% in 2011 and 2013). More baseballs put in play means less overall damage will be done on baseballs but this approach is certainly working for him. He’s currently posting career best marks in average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and wRC+ and he has a career low strikeout rate(17.9%). He’s even running a lower BABIP than he did in 2016(.364 this year, .371 last year), which signals Trout could be getting unlucky in some regard. With his speed and his contact oriented approach this year, it’s very possible he could post a .370-.390 BABIP and end up with a batting average around .330-.340 this season.
Once again, Michael Nelson Trout is having a phenomenal year but he’s doing it in a different way, just like he’s done in each individual year in his career. There was always a thought that Trout could decide to put every ball in play one year and not only is he doing that this year, he’s still doing damage on baseballs. Depending on what measurement you look at, Trout could either regress or he could possibly get even better, which doesn’t seem physically possible. Trout is averaging .077 WAR/game, which puts him on pace to rack up 11-12 WAR in 2017 if he reached 150+ games.
It feels like Trout is still underrated in a sense. Playing for a mediocre ball club will do that to you but Trout is on a path to becoming one of the best players to ever play the game and he’s still not talked about with the likes of the sports greats today like LeBron James, Tom Brady and others. The combination of Trout’s laid back personality, lack off off the field drama and his team performance are main culprits but as an individual, Mike Trout deserves more attention. If you’re a baseball fan whose not appreciating what Trout is doing on a daily basis, start appreciating. If you’re an Angels fan whose discouraged with the team performance and don’t want to attend games, go to Angel Stadium to watch Mike Trout play. He is our modern day Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. Mike Trout is on his way to an all time great career and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.