Trout in June: 23 G, 102 PA, 30 H, 7 HR, 20 R, 21 RBI, 18 BB, 17 K, .361/.471/.759
So Mike Trout finally wins one of these meaningless honors, and he receives it a month late at that. And while Trout’s July was by his standards underwhelming, his June was special enough to merit discussion long after the fact. For kicks, we’ll frame this discussion as a study of all three months of June in Mike Trouts nascent career. It has been his favorite month, offensively.
Here you see every month of Trout’s career since his April 2012 call-up, with vertical bars representing the number of plate appearances he had that month and the line tracking his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). You can see for yourself that Trout comes to about 120 plate appearances in a typical month, and his OPS hovers around 1.000, fluctuating, as stats are wont to do, by approximately .200 from that baseline. Twice Trout has exceeded an OPS of 1.200: June 2012 and June of this year.
I like looking at OPS by month because it’s a useful fantasy tool, once a player has enough months to constitute a suitable sample. This way we can visualize good months and bad months, hot streaks and slumps, all very concretely. Some players will maintain consistent production and some won’t; here’s a way to tell who is who. I present in contrast Pablo Sandoval since 2010.
Not only does Pablo tend toward more monthly variation (standard deviation of .254 compared to .210 for Trout), but most months he sits below his monthly average OPS of .801. It is only by the superstrength of a handful of months that he comes out to above-average production; plagued by frequent injury, he is a poor hitter surprisingly often. Trout, on the other hand, is usually chilling above his monthly average OPS of .947, and a month below .900 is rare, and almost surely not to be followed by another.
So Trout is consistently good, but he is in the process of changing his game around. A glimpse at his three Junes will clarify. Here are your basic box score stats from each month. Click to engorge.
First, a note on the extrapolated data (extrapolated to 700 plate appearances, which Trout should reach or exceed for the next 10 years). The counting stats are in line with Trout’s real season statistics, but the rate stats are something else. There have only been 30 player-seasons in the last 55 years in which a batter slashed at least .350/.400/.550, with a walk rate better than 10 percent: a combination of supreme contact skills, a strong batting eye, and slugging galore. Most of the guys who put up those numbers did it in the steroid era, and Trout plays in a much depressed offensive environment in comparison.
This June, Trout smacked more homers than he did in the previous two Junes combined. Power is becoming a bigger part of his game, as speed declines in turn (13 steals one June, down to 8 down to 5; reverse Fibonacci suggests he’ll have 3 steals in June 2015). Between 2012 and 2013, Trout bulked up considerably, and while that hasn’t affected his agility in the outfield, it does reflect an increased commitment to strength. He’s playing for power now whereas most ballplayers don’t grow into home-run power until they are 26 and 27. Trout is 22 years old and will only get slower. These are the years he should be going for 50 steals, but it’s hard to tell a guy with otherworldly talent what to do with all the talent he has. Perhaps one year soon he will find the delicate balance necessary for a 40 home run, 40 steal season. He is the only player today who could realistically do it, unless Andrew McCutchen is suddenly traded to Houston.
Perhaps you remain unconvinced that Trout is “playing for” power, perhaps he just lucked into a few more homers this time around. That might be so, but there are changes to Trout’s game beyond simple home runs. Thanks to Brooks Baseball, I was able to find a spray chart of Trout’s batted balls for each of the last three Junes. Then I used some ad-hoc geometry to separate the field into three segments and counted all the batted balls in each segment. Below you’ll see Brooks Baseball’s June 2013 data as an example.
The blue lines separate the field into left, center and right–since Trout is a righty, such batted balls would thus be classified as pulled, up the middle, or opposite field. I’ve included two tables: one reflecting those three segments and another reflecting a field that is simply split in half. The trend is clear in both.
More pulled balls after an almost perfect distribution suggests a play for more power. Baseball Fact #1: Home runs are easier to come by in the pull section of the field, unless you’re some lunatic strongman like Vladimir Guerrero. Baseball Fact #2: Home runs cannot result from ground balls.
A sharp reduction in ground balls is further evidence of a more power-oriented approach. Trout is on pace for more home runs than he has hit before but his increase in slugging is paired with a slight decrease in OBP and a sharp decrease in batting average. Trout is a different kind of great now, and he might not ever again be the way he was before.