Thursday Target: Trout Time

New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The 2012 American League MVP debate was fought on contentious ground. It became a case of discredit one guy and build an argument on misinformation. Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter coming off a record-setting performance while Mike Trout was the thinking man’s choice: he did more to help his team win than just hit. Trout’s base running and defense was praised and held up as support for his offensive numbers which, while stellar, don’t match up to those of Miggy Triple Crown.

Somehow, in the whole messy exchange, it feels like Mike Trout’s offense was somehow shoved to the side. Held up as a pillar of holistic baseball, it is easy to overlook one increasingly obvious detail: Mike Trout is one of five best hitters in baseball. He’s quite clearly the best player, but his offense is such that it should take a backseat to no man.

The Los Angeles Angels are in the midst of a long home stand. In the six games since that stretch of home games began, Mike Trout has been on base 17 times. He has only scored five runs in that time (none of his hits have been homers) but he is currently all but impossible to get out.

This hot run of play raises Trout’s season slash line to .308/.386/.550. His wOBA is .399 and his wRC+ is 159. You know who else has a 159 wRC+? Joey Votto and David Ortiz. Mike Trout is hitting as well as the widely-assumed second best hitter in baseball and one of the great DHs of all time.

If we roll back the clock to include last season, Trout’s wOBA is third-best in baseball, behind only Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto. Better than Ryan Braun, better than Carlos Gonzalez, better than almost everyone.

It is easy to overlook Trout’s offense given his penchant for the spectular in the field and the fact that he plays for the godforsaken Angels, but here he is: one of the three or four best hitters in baseball who also happens to be one of the best defenders and one of the best base runners. He is all those things.

Last night, he put it all on display against the Mariners, knocking a hustle double, moving to third on a sac fly then scoring on a wild pitch for the game’s only run in 1-0 Angels win. He also saved a run with a terrific running catch against the wall in the seventh inning, taking extra bases from Mike Zunino.

The worst/best part about Trout is he’s still getting better. As expected, his sky high in-play average has come back down to Earth in 2013, yet Trout’s numbers remain the same. He is putting the ball in play much more, chopping his strikeout rate from 21% to 17% (league average is a hair under 20% this season) by cutting down on his swings-and-misses.

And oh by the way, he’s younger than the player taken first overall in the recent MLB amateur draft.

Courtesy of @CorkGaines

And yet, despite Mike Trout’s greatness, the Angels remain awful. Putrid, really. They’re completely squandering the best player in baseball (not to mention a great season from Howie Kendrick and solid years from Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos). It’s a shame. Hopefully Angels fans and those of us outside the Angels sphere recognize just how good Mike Trout really is. It’s scary but it’s fun.

The whole point of comprehensive stats like WAR is bringing the under-appreciated aspects of the a player’s game in line with the more ‘obvious’ contributions at the plate. For Mike Trout, it works in reverse. As great a player as Mike Trout is, his greatness at the plate — boring old turn-based offense — gets lost thanks to all the noise his other tools make. Let’s correct that, shall me? Mike Trout, elite hitter. The end.