Every year in baseball, certain numbers are looked at differently in the context of personal achievement. For hitters, 40-plus home runs, 100-plus RBI’s, a .300 batting average. For pitchers, 20-plus wins, 200-plus strikeouts, a sub-3 ERA. These are basic stats that everyone knows, and everyone can understand.
But with advanced statistics gaining more traction and prominence in recent years, these numbers – although still an achievement – don’t carry the same weight that they did a decade ago. Now, instead of a sub-3 ERA, some fans want to see a sub-3 FIP. Instead of a .300 batting average, they look to see if a player has a wOBA of .400 or better in the stat box. Is it information overload? At times, yes, it can be. But as human beings, not just sports fans, we reject any information at our own peril. And having the means to an innumerable amount of player analysis in the form of neatly categorized numbers, has made fans smarter about what is a good season, and what is a mirage.
Another one of these neatly categorized numbers, is the all-inclusive stat, WAR. Whether you prefer bWAR or fWAR (Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs) is irrelevant. Especially since the two sites now have a unified replacement level baseline in Alfredo Griffin. This number, also has a scale, and a benchmarks for excellence. If you were to look at Peter Bourjos‘ stat line from 2011 at Baseball-Reference, he produced a 4.9 bWAR, or at an All-Star level. No one questions that his bat has left something to be desired so far in his short career (Except for right now of course, since he was hitting everything in sight at the time of his hamstring injury. Curse you baseball Gods), but it does illustrate just how valuable he is defensively. You don’t sit a player on the bench who is worth nearly five wins. Albert Pujols has had seven seasons where he posted a WAR of 8.0 or better, two of which were above 9.0. And the Holy Grail is still Babe Ruth‘s 1923 season, one in which he posted the only season with a WAR north of 13 at 14.0.
Last season, Mike Trout had one of those seasons. His 10.7 bWAR is the 21st best of all time, and only one of 55 player seasons to eclipse the 10 WAR mark. It was the only rookie season to ever reach that plateau. And his combination of 125-plus runs, 30 home runs, 45-plus steals and a batting average above .325, had also never been seen before. Basically, Trout had a season that was impossible to have.
So naturally, when this season began, expectations for the budding superstar were sky high. And of course, Trout scuffled out of the gate. Mike’s April wasn’t nearly as forgettable as Josh Hamilton‘s was. But his .261/.333/.432 slash line fell well short of what fans were hoping for. He walked in 9.7% of his plate appearances, which was close to the 10.5% walk rate he finished with in 2012, but his strikeout woes carried over from the second half of last season as he struck out in nearly 20% of his plate appearances in April. Trout found himself moved into the two-hole in the lineup and out of his natural position, an adjustment period is probably all that he needed. And no one adjusted to the big leagues – or during a game – than Michael Nelson Trout.
The calendar has now flipped to May, and along with Mark Trumbo, it looks like Trout is heating up as well. So far in the incredibly small sample size of five games played this month, Trout has smoked pitchers to the tune of a .350/.381/.900 slash line. He has only walked once, but he’s also only struck out three times so far this month in those five games. He’s already hit three home runs this month, including this bomb to center field against the Orioles on Sunday. Something seems to be clicking, and we fans are all the benefactors if it has clicked.
It is a small sample size to be sure, and it’s very possible that Trout slumps this week, rendering all of these words useless. But as I wrote about Trumbo last week, a hot Mike Trout, is an incredibly dangerous Mike Trout. And those two practically carried the team back into the race in June, if Trout is joining Trumbo in the “heating up” category, American League pitchers should once again be put on notice. And, who knows, maybe by the end of the month, this whole ship will have been turned around and I wont have to watch games while being curled up in the fetal position in a corner. Now, what to do about this damn pitching staff?