The Mike Trout Conundrum

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim steals second base in the fifth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 25, 2012 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Mariners 5-4. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim steals second base in the fifth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 25, 2012 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Mariners 5-4. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the phenomenal Mike Trout hitting back-to-back homers with Ohtani-son again! I know, Mike Trout doesn’t actually wear a cape. 

When Mike Trout steals a base we just imagine a creased up cape being dragged through space and time right behind. When his even keeled bat rips through the zone launching baseballs like golf balls laser beams sure appear to boil from his eyes eviscerating it in mid-air. There’s also leaping outfield walls in a single bound, we unconsciously transport back to Angels in the Outfield as if sprawling white wings lift him up with grace to the perfect glove trajectory.  Most of us are just left to visualize a blend of our Marvel mind snippets with his well-paced super sly game.

After the game ends when your momentary glimpses are over, the highlights get put up everywhere highlights live. You watch the playback seeing none of the things your eyes wanted to piece in like a collage of your minds most angelic knowledge all curled up into one form… batting second in center. No cape when he steals, or laser beams when he hits, or even wings when he flies. Your mind refuses to accept it because the answer only leaves the conundrum of an even greater question… isn’t it more super to do it without them? But, how? Like, seriously… how?

Fans are so used to this conundrum that we often take the factors that form the questions and answers for granted. Performance, talent, skill, agility, athleticism, intelligence, desire, and experience make up the substance of what our eyes keep trying to recreate. It’s a new year, have the previous seven lulled us into what we think it looks like to be phenomenal? Is Mike Trout in a slump? Would we even know it if he was?

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The very word conjures a smirk when it comes to No.27. Though he signed the largest financial deal in North American sports history over the winter, his production often makes you wonder- is it even enough? How do you quantify the value of someone who is virtually slump-less?

Since the new 2019 season started we have seen streaks of the normal Trout-standing feats, continued outfield improvements in jumps and arm accuracy, oh, and more milestones in All-Time WAR ranking and career home run sums. BUT- something feels different, doesn’t it?

Over the last few years teams have tried varied approaches pitching to Trout without a lot of success to show for it. First, it seemed to be away- he started hitting opposite field shots on a regular basis. After that, the choice became getting ahead then making him chase as he rarely swung at first pitches. Then, high was the choice they tried which worked for a few months and gave pitchers hope that finally kryptonite could weaken Ana-troplis’s favorite crusader.

Trout laid off after those months past, and his walk number began to skyrocket. His on-base-percentage which was already far above pedestrian, and a level above All-Star, began to do something new… something almost… heroic.

Teams adapted, trying the hard inside approach to test the speed of his hands while often doing what aficionados refer to as “pitching him backwards”. Simply meaning they would throw fastballs in off speed counts and vice versa. So, to compensate he started hitting first pitch balls more often. He started refusing to swing at pitches that are not where he wants to hit them, middle-low- to -middle outside, to an occasional inside pitch.

"What is a slump? [ In baseball, a batter can be defined as “slumping” when he has gotten few or no hits over a period, and his batting average during that time is far below that of his expectations. Even stars frequently experience hitting slumps. ]"

In baseball there is a term which many other professional sports share… “sophomore slump.” Often coined because a rookie will burst onto the scene in a professional league that the opposing team has never seen and has not dealt with before. Causing them to make mistakes based on a lack of knowledge rather than a mistake in strategic might. Their second year the tape is watched, the sample size expanded, and the numbers tend to come back to the career mean of the player concerned. Many argue, that in his 8th professional season, pitchers have finally gotten to Trout’s “sophomore slump.” That his average and overall contribution in numbers have suffered because of either a lack of production around him causing worse pitches to be seen, or that perhaps his new limited zone approach is causing more guessing resulting in less hits and home runs. They wish. Watch all the tape, examine any sample size, Trout is changing, not slumping, but adapting before your very disbelieving eyes.

He has just adjusted… again. This time taking what the game gives him in bases, runs, exhausting pitch counts, and building his own elite road maps over style or dramatic flare. See, Trout doesn’t need to be the headline. He wants to win. Whether the team does or not, his approach remains balanced based on the sample sizes HE CAN SEE. He doesn’t need to put up the best night, because he knows where he is going to be and whose opinions he cares about after the game. Do me a favor, go back and read what a slump is again, as is the definition of the term.

Okay… got it? (Stats as of 6/1/2019)

  • 2019: .284AV / 13HR / 34RBI (53GM)2018: .312AV / 39HR / 79RBI (140GM)2017: .306AV / 33HR / 73RBI (114GM)2016: .315AV / 29HR / 100RBI (159GM)2015: .299AV / 41HR / 90RBI (159GM)

On the surface we see, lower batting average in about a third as many games so far in 2019, right? Home run numbers are close to on par with his career averages through a third or so of the season. His RBI totals is actually pretty high for this point in a typical Trout tour. Can we call this a slump by definition? I mean… can we? Okay, maybe we need more information… what was the term, ah yes, sample size! Okay, these are the last 5 seasons… let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? After all, even stars can frequently experience slumps, right? No, no, don’t look away…

  • 2019: 39R / 50HT / 52BB (53GM)2018: 101R / 147HT / 122BB (140GM)2017: 92R / 123HT / 94BB (114GM)2016: 123R / 173HT / 116BB (159GM)2015: 104R / 172HT / 92BB (159GM)

By now, we all know that an MLB season is 162 regular season games for a club. Trout’s career average is in the 150-155 range if you take out his first year of just 40 games due to a late year call up. So we can almost exactly project that his 53 games this year multiplied by three is a pretty fair assessment given that he has played 159 game 2 of the previous 4 years, right? It’s close enough to be a valuable take by any measurable means, right?

Okay… then to even these numbers out, let’s do some multiplication. Where is that calculator… OH, YES; 39 times 3 is 117 runs, 50 times 3 is 150 hits, and 52 times 3 is… you guessed it, 156 walks. What stands out here? Base on balls, or BB, the natural term for walks, also referred to for getting on base because a pitcher has little control, is having a bad day, or of course that they are just plain afraid to throw you quality strikes. Hmm… I’m going to go out on a limb here… and by the way, he has also been HIT BY A PITCH six times this year. Times 3 and that is 18, in his career his highest was 11 in 2016, also one of his two MVP campaigns(14′ the other). So the question evolves into an answers that causes yet ANOTHER CONUNDRUM! Can you get on base MORE OFTEN and be IN A SLUMP!? Wait, WHAT?

  • 2019: .458OBP / .585SLG / 1.043OPS / 179OPS+ (53GM)2018: .460OBP / .628SLG / 1.088OPS / 198OPS+ (140GM)2017: .442OBP / .629SLG / 1.017OPS / 186OPS+ (114GM)2016: .441OBP / .550SLG / .991OPS / 172OPS+ (159GM)2015: .402OBP / .590SLG / .939OPS / 176OPS+ (159GM)

On-base-percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, and on-base plus slugging plus adjustment to the player’s ballpark. There may be a lot to unravel on the surface of what each acronym means, but let’s look at it in a simply… Mike Trout’s hitting numbers have dipped and he has compensated by getting on base in other ways. Meaning that when a pitcher says “oookay, I got’em!” That he actually still has them. What do you do with a batter who you reduce their batting average and they somehow counter by getting more RBIs, Walks, and HBPs? Here is one last statistics before your head explodes from the amount of questions beings answered causing other questions that end in more conundrums…

  • 2019: 103TB (Total bases in 53 games)2018: 196TB (Total bases in 140 games)2017: 253TB (Total bases in 114 games)2016: 302TB (Total bases in 159 games)2015: 339TB (Total bases in 159 games)

Again, lower average by about 22 points for his career right now in 2019(.306 career /.284 in 2019), and he is on pace to play the same amount of games as his last MVP season with MORE total bases(103×3=309). He is on pace to have 150 hits, despite a lower average, 3 more than in 2016. Your eyes see less in flare… but the substantive parts of his game are still on the rise. The questions and answers don’t matter anymore. What you’re used to from a star player is being rewritten by a guy that continues to redefine definitions.

Next. What show Brad Ausmus do with first base playing time?

Trout is a walking conundrum, because there is no way to put into perspective what you are witnessing. Which means if his “slump” in average goes back up… your eyes will again look for comparable other worldly comparisons. His cape, laser beams, and wings will all return in the visual spectrum in that singular moment. Just remember, he doesn’t actually need them. Wait, WHAT?