After bringing home the American League Most Valuable Player award for the second time in his young career, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is in elite company. But is there reason to believe the best is yet to come for the 25-year-old?
It doesn’t seem like he could actually get any better at this point, but some advanced statistics show that’s not an entirely crazy statement. Which is pretty crazy in itself.
With five full years in the big leagues under Trout’s belt, he’s already accomplished plenty:
The years he didn’t win the AL MVP? He placed second in the voting, which is the first time any player has done that to start their career. He also joins Barry Bonds as the only players to finish in the top two of voting for five consecutive years…ever.
Trout has played at an elite level since 2012 – the lowest fWAR he’s produced in a full season of play was 7.9 back in 2014. Him getting better sounds preposterous, but that’s exactly what Buster Olney said he’s doing last week on the Baseball Tonight podcast.
After looking at his year-by-year progression in the following five areas, it’s not hard to believe the best is yet to come for Trout.
In Trout’s 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign, he showed off every tool in the book, and one was his ability to run the bases. He immediately became a member of the 30-30 club and his BsR, which is tracked by FanGraphs, was among the best.
As his stolen bases took a nosedive over the next three seasons, so did his BsR. He re-committed himself to being better on the bases in 2016, and it paid off in a big way. Here’s how those stats regressed (and then progressed) since his debut:
Even when the stolen bases eventually tail off in his 30s, it doesn’t mean he’ll get worse as a baserunner.
With a career triple slash of .306/.405/.557 and a wRC+ of 168, Trout makes a ton of hard contact on a consistent basis. Despite that, he’s somehow found a way to increase his hard-hit rate each season:
Trout’s pull% has also increased from 32.3 percent as a rookie to 40.5 percent in 2016. He’s still shown an ability to hit the ball to all fields by going the opposite way no less than 26.6 percent of the time in a single year, though.
As a hitter gains more big-league experience, it’s not outrageous to see their plate discipline improve, which is exactly what has happened with Trout between his age-20 to age-24 seasons. The only people unhappy about it are opposing pitchers because facing him every night keeps getting harder.
The 2014 season was a turning point for the young center fielder, because after improving his walk rate and strikeout rate from 2012-13, he led the league with 184 strikeouts. He’s since progressed just as fast as he regressed in these two categories since then:
I know what you’re thinking… “That’s great, but that’s not really an advanced stat.” You’re right, so here’s his yearly progression in O-Swing% and Z-Swing% that can viewed side-by-side with the above table.
Yup, that’ll do it.
While Trout’s swing percentage has constantly been below league average over the last five years, his contact rate has steadily improved.
Keep note of the most recent table above displaying his discipline while also looking at his contact rate:
This progression isn’t as steady as the others, but there’s a noticeable difference across the board this year — it’s his best overall performance since 2013. His discipline has made significant strides while maintaining at least league-average or better contact rates. Not too shabby.
Defensive Runs Saved
Some of our most vibrant memories of Trout aren’t at the plate or on the basepaths, but of him making incredible plays in center field. This is why it’s worth noting that after saving 19 runs on defense as a rookie, he posted a combined -23 DRS between 2013 and 2014.
He’s drastically improved in this area over the last couple seasons and is back on the upswing:
What conclusions can we draw from all this? Mike Trout is really good at baseball and should be considered the best player on the planet right now. That’s in itself isn’t breaking new, but it’s crazy that he’s only 25 and is already being mentioned with some of the most iconic Hall of Famers in the game.
As good as he’s been over the last five years, these advanced stats show he’s far from slowing down. If anything, he’s getting better. With his physical prime approaching, that’s bad news for his competition, but good news for us because we get to witness it.
Now, let’s just hope the Angels can build a competitive team around him in order to truly reap the benefits of his 9.0- and 10.0-fWAR seasons before it’s too late.