Has Mike Trout Gotten Slower?

Let’s talk about the narrative. Are we over the use of the word “narrative”? Let’s talk about the narrative. We can worry about our term usage later. Mike Trout remains, to this day, an amazing baseball player. But he seems to be something of a changing baseball player. And the theory that I’ve heard seems to be that Trout has focused on trying to develop his power, and he’s lost some of his athleticism. Basically, he’s gotten bigger, and we can see some supporting evidence. He’s dramatically increased his rate of fly balls, and he’s pulling the ball more than ever. He isn’t stealing very many bases anymore, and his baserunning value is down, and his defensive value is way down. That last bit troubles some people. In Trout’s first full season, batting runs were responsible for 52% of his runs above replacement. This year, that’s shot up to 77%. The numbers indicate that Trout is morphing into someone who’s bat-first, and this seems early for a guy who just turned 23 a couple weeks ago.

But what’s really happened to Trout’s foot speed? To what extent can we blame reduced baserunning and allegedly worse defense on just no longer running as fast? We have a lot of information here, but when it comes to speed, the information serves as a set of proxies. Best to go into the games themselves and try to figure out how quickly Trout still moves around.

I’ll warn you right away that the information that’s going to follow is imperfect and incomplete. I don’t know Trout’s top speed, I don’t know Trout’s old top speed, and my estimates that you’re going to see are based on my own judgment, which comes with certain errors. As far as being incomplete is concerned, I couldn’t reasonably watch every play in which Trout’s ever been involved, so I had to narrow things down. Let’s just look at what fell out of the study.

I first looked at infield singles. I decided to watch five of them from 2012, 2013, and 2014. Five isn’t very many, but speed also shouldn’t fluctuate very much, so we don’t need a massive sample size. All 15 of the infield singles were hit on the ground to the left side, and they all generated throws to first that allowed me to time Trout from contact to the base. You should know that I prepared .gifs. You should also know that I decided against including the .gifs because we all know what an infield single looks like, and in full speed there’s no way to visually see a meaningful difference.

Average times from contact to the bag:

2012: 3.95 seconds
2013: 4.05
2014: 4.11

It’s also of some interest — maybe more interest — to look at the best times from contact to the bag:

2012: 3.83 seconds
2013: 3.77
2014: 4.00

Based just on that, Trout’s fastest observed sprint last year wasn’t any slower than his fastest observed sprint in 2012. This year, though, none of the five infield singles I watched eclipsed four seconds, so maybe there’s a hint of something there. A fraction of a second seems somewhat insignificant, but then again the difference between the fastest and the slowest players in baseball is something like one second to first base, so everything is about fractions. This doesn’t not support the theory.

On a whim, I also decided to watch some Trout groundball double plays, although this time I only compared 2012 and 2014. Again, I watched five each; this season, there have only been five. Average times from contact to the bag:

2012: 4.00 seconds
2014: 4.15

Best times from contact to the bag:

2012: 3.97 seconds
2014: 4.07

I don’t know what this means. The problem with looking at one guy in this way is that you have no idea of the greater context or significance. It would appear that Trout might no longer possess his old top sprinting speed, but he’s definitely still quick, and he’s still getting hits on infield groundballs. He’s still forcing opponents to rush. But, I am willing to buy that Trout is a touch slower. And to be honest, you’d expect as much, because the average player starts losing his athleticism early, and because Trout probably reached his athletic peak sooner than most. I don’t know the particulars of his individual physiology, but he looked decently bulky when he first came up.

It was a bit of a thing when, prior to spring training 2013, Trout said he added weight. The Angels, however, downplayed the significance, and Trout explained that he wanted to show up a little heavier because he tends to lose some pounds in February and March. This year, Trout showed up a little down from where he was at the end of the 2013 season. Yet his baserunning value has further declined, and his defense, statistically, has further declined.

Maybe we can blame the hamstring that has given Trout some issues. That would be an easy answer. I don’t know if it’s still a problem, and I don’t know if it ever was a big problem, but it could help explain taking fewer chances on the bases, and maybe taking fewer chances in the field. It would also, in a way, be encouraging, because hamstrings recover, and if Trout’s performing worse because of a lingering injury, then health could bring improvement. That still wouldn’t explain why Trout’s defense was so much worse last year compared to the year before, but maybe it’s a lot of noise. In 2012, Trout robbed something like four home runs. That’s super valuable, but those are also rare opportunities that you can’t count on repeating.

Here’s the theory: Trout is focusing on becoming more bat-first. With added bulk, he’s losing some ground in the field and on the bases, but he ought to blossom into an even better sort of slugger. I can see changes he’s making at the plate, but they seem largely independent of changes elsewhere. He’s a little bigger than he was in 2012, and he might indeed run a little slower than he did in 2012, but it doesn’t seem like that should cause such a swing in baserunning and defensive valuation. His speed is still well above-average, so that can’t fully explain a below-average DRS and UZR. It seems like Trout should still qualify as an all-around player. One shouldn’t exaggerate the physical changes that are taking place, and one shouldn’t exaggerate their effects. Is Trout really just not a good defensive center field anymore? I mean, maybe, but the reasons are likely to be complicated.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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RetireNutting
Guest
2 years 6 days ago

Has Mike Trout put catsup/ketchup on a hotdog?

Has Mike Trout flossed his teeth in the month of August?

Has Mike Trout ever snaked a drain?

Mr. Burns
Guest
Mr. Burns
2 years 6 days ago

Is Mike Trout here to solve my ketchup problem?

JS7
Guest
JS7
2 years 6 days ago

Would Mike Trout spitting into his teammates’ mouths merit a 50 game PED suspension?

H.villanueva
Guest
2 years 6 days ago

JS7 That’s way gross but I laughed.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
2 years 6 days ago

Hey, I hit the trifecta. Done all 3 this month. But I would never eat such a dog. But I made one for my daughter. And a coat hanger worked better for the tub. I had several drain issues this month. Pretty sure I’m fast as ever, too.

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
2 years 6 days ago

As I understand it, Mike Trout only eats Subway sandwiches.

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
2 years 6 days ago

Simple, chicks dig the long ball.

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
2 years 6 days ago

Maybe the Angels know that Trout’s value is crushing the ball and not stealing bases and beating out infield hits? If I was his manager I would tell him it’s not worth one single to blow out a hamstring. The Angels need him to hit.

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
2 years 5 days ago

The Angels, more than anyone, should know that injuries can occur at any time. Even after hitting a home run and slowly trotting around the bases.

Kendry
Guest
Kendry
2 years 5 days ago

Too soon.

Kiel
Member
Kiel
2 years 6 days ago

What about a change in swing? Rather than just a loss of pure speed he could be taking bigger hacks, making him slower out of the box. Although it doesn’t support the decreased fielding production.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
2 years 6 days ago

We need to compare his triples. If it’s the bigger swing, his time from first to third ought to be more consistent from 2012 to 2014.

anon
Guest
anon
2 years 5 days ago

In theory, yes, because it is a longer distance and it should decrease some of the noise if the run effort and path is consistent, but in practice there is likely greater problems with using more than one base to calculate speed. The decision to take another base is made at various points during the run and usually based both on how long the play is taking in the field, what field the ball is in, how cleanly the fielder plays it, and when the coach starts waving, all of which should increase variation unrelated to his constant speed in the run time.

Matt
Member
Matt
2 years 6 days ago

It’s pretty amazing that he can ‘lose a step’ and still basically be an 80 runner, since anything under 4 seconds to first for a RH hitter is generally considered 80 speed.

The Party Bird
Guest
The Party Bird
2 years 6 days ago

But he’s at 4.15 now, which is still fast for a RHH but not really 80 grade.

The Party Bird
Guest
The Party Bird
2 years 6 days ago

Or 4.11, which is almost always graded 70.

Matt
Member
Matt
2 years 6 days ago

Ah yeah I was looking at his best time of ’14 – still pretty impressive.

Johnny
Guest
Johnny
2 years 6 days ago

All I know he’s a 7-10 win player and he better not get robbed of the MVP this year.

felix hernadez
Guest
felix hernadez
2 years 5 days ago

that’s racist!

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 6 days ago

Is it time to start talking about the elephant in the room?

Jonathan Broxton
Guest
Jonathan Broxton
2 years 6 days ago

Hey! What did I do?

LG
Guest
LG
2 years 6 days ago

Definitely.

by which you mean….

what?

thebamoor
Member
thebamoor
2 years 6 days ago

I think he meant the s-word.

Ted Brogan
Guest
Ted Brogan
2 years 6 days ago

I’ll take Swords for $500, Alex.

Matt
Guest
2 years 6 days ago

@ Ted. Hilarious. I really laughed.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 4 days ago

Complacency, of course. He might have gotten a bit complacent and possibly allowed his conditioning to go just a bit downhill. It can happen.

Kirk
Guest
Kirk
2 years 5 days ago

I have it on good authority that we should be talking about it

B N
Guest
B N
2 years 5 days ago

Dumbo?! Is that you?

Slats
Guest
Slats
2 years 6 days ago

I love Angel’s scout Greg Morhart’s initial report on Trout, when he was 17: “Best athlete. Best player in the world—period. Best player on the planet.”

Warriors
Guest
Warriors
2 years 6 days ago

The thing about the SABR-style analytical “movement” in baseball is that it doesn’t care so much how you provide value, only that you provide it. There are lots of ways to do this, and we have decent-to-great ways of quantifying this, depending on what specific kind of value we’re talking about.

Barry Bonds was a roided-up freak and was old and slow, but he had turned himself into a Super Saiyan Batter. He would crush anything and that’s all there is to it. But his earlier self was a fantastic all-around player, and that’s what Mike Trout is. Similar to Mays and Mantle too.

So the great irony is that Mike Trout is exactly the kind of player old school types love to talk about. Sure, Willie Mays was a hell of a hitter (that’s an understatement) but the defense! The speed! The arm! Well, that’s Mike Trout, and the nerdy “new age” analytic types love him. So naturally he is compared to Miguel Cabrera, who is basically just an offensive juggernaut who is not particularly good at running and is a terrible defender. I’m not saying Miguel Cabrera is roided-up, I just think it’s pretty strange when you step back and realize that the new school tends to advocate for a stereotypical “old school baseball player” in Mike Trout, and the old school seems to advocate for pure offense in Cabrera.

Richard
Guest
2 years 6 days ago

This is correct. True old school types would have known Trout was 2012 MVP despite Cabrera’s Triple Crown.

bATrUP
Guest
bATrUP
2 years 6 days ago

This should really stop. Since Bonds and Trout have both tested similarly on PED tests, your presumptions of usage aren’t a qualification of true talent. You don’t know which, if either, used, nor do I. But Barry bonds was hands down the best player of my generation. It stops there.

bstar
Guest
bstar
2 years 6 days ago

Uhhh, what?

Bonds testified to taking The Cream and The Clear in court. Not making a judgment about his decision to use, just pointing out here that Bonds’ usage is a known fact admitted by him under oath. You can’t argue against that.

george
Guest
george
2 years 5 days ago

any other players you’re aware of whose peak years were ages 37-40?

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 5 days ago

Those that came over from Japan Admittedly, but Koji Uehara and Hiroki Kuroda.

Joof
Guest
Joof
2 years 5 days ago

Jaime Moyer’s peak was 35-40.

Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling
Guest
Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling
2 years 5 days ago

STRIKE OUTS!

george
Guest
george
2 years 5 days ago

oh, pitchers, great comparisons

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
2 years 5 days ago

Trout is not equal to Mays or Mantle yet, talent doesn’t equal career success. Look at Mays WAR, he should have won 10 MVP’s.
Just amazing.

Kody
Member
Kody
2 years 5 days ago

I just did this and OH MY GOD WILLIE MAYS!!!

Rubén Amaro, Jr.
Guest
Rubén Amaro, Jr.
2 years 6 days ago

There are several counter-arguments that point out pretty clearly how silly it is to say a player isn’t really valuable because his team isn’t making the playoffs anyways.

1. Flip it. If a team wins their division by 10+ games, then they couldn’t possibly have an MVP winner, because they’d have won their division anyways. How valuable is their best player, really? They’d likely be in the same position either way.

2. Play it out further. If a team wins their division by 1 game, then literally every player who helped them win a single game is more valuable than Mike Trout. Because each of them made the difference between making the playoffs and not, whereas Trout did not. Ergo, using this logic, Brandon Inge was more valuable than Mike Trout last season.

Here’s an analogy to consider. We each want to buy something that costs $1. I’ve got a quarter, 8 nickels, and 10 pennies. My “team” of coins is worth 75 cents and falls short of being able to buy the item. You have one dime and 18 nickels. Your “team” is worth $1, and you successfully buy the item.

If your dime more valuable than my quarter simply because it led to a successful item purchase?

Ryan Howard
Guest
Ryan Howard
2 years 6 days ago

That’s right Ruben. So my being 4th in RBIs means I still have a shot at another MVP, even though we’re out of the race!

Sam Fuld
Guest
Sam Fuld
2 years 6 days ago

I’m true talent. Everything else, PEDs.

P.S. Stats ARE sexy, meow

highrent
Guest
highrent
2 years 6 days ago

Its pretty clear while he’s probably slowing down the more likely answer is that he’s probably not going all out. All out hustle while great and is the kind of thing you see in a great ball player tends to wear you down. I’d like trout to show his five tool abilities but I’m thinking he’s trying to stay healthy as long as possible and he’s probably figured just being a bat first player is enough. Now may be he’s adjusted too much where instead of just being average he’s below average but I think he might adjust that. At this point the Angels don’t care if he steals bases they want him to hit and continue to become a better hitter.

hint from somebody who know about track
Guest
hint from somebody who know about track
2 years 6 days ago

Sprinters reach their peak at about 25 but keep being elite until about 30, milers peak at about 27, marathon runners at about 35.

Trout just turned 23. Don’t worry about his top end speed. Absent injury, he’s got a long time for best sprint speed.

DeQuarium Lumpkin
Guest
DeQuarium Lumpkin
2 years 6 days ago

Sprinters also take oceans of steroids, so a five-year athletic peak is stretching it.

not really
Guest
not really
2 years 6 days ago

Valid point but Trout is only 23; he’ll be fine for a few years at least. Thankfully instincts>speed in baseball.

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
2 years 5 days ago

How do they circumvent Olympic drug testing program? I would hope that WADA is able to detect “oceans of steroids” that sprinters allegedly take.

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 5 days ago

Drug testing is always behind the newest substances. Even when it isn’t, there’s often a very small window for drug testers to actually catch users after they’ve taken certain types of steroids.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
2 years 5 days ago

On average, they might hit their peak at about 25. I’ll take your word for it. But that doesn’t mean that every sprinter will hit their peak then. Everybody’s different, and extraordinary players don’t necessarily peak the same way that everybody else does.

When do pitchers peak? 27? If you look at Dwight Gooden’s numbers through his age 20 season, you’d think he’d be putting up video game numbers by the time he was 27, instead of being on the downside of his career already.

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
2 years 5 days ago

I’m sure that drug use is completely irrelevant to his early demise.

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 5 days ago

As is overuse and the Mets alteration of his repertoire.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
2 years 5 days ago

I suspect it was the innings.

Age 17 minors 157 2/3rd
Age 18 minors 191
Age 19 majors 218
Age 20 majors 276 2/3rds in 1985 (and 16 complete games).

If my quick research is correct, only 3 other pitchers since and including 1985 have thrown that many innings or more in a regular season. Bert Blyleven, also in 1985, and Charlie Hough and Roger Clemens in 1987.

I’m sure the drugs are like chicken soup in reverse; they can’t have helped. But that kind of mileage at that age had to have taken a toll. He was probably better in 1984 as a rookie than in ’85 and he never again approached the k/9 of his rookie year.

Jonathan Sher
Guest
Jonathan Sher
2 years 5 days ago

@Wobatus

Your quick research is inadequate because you only looked at the 29 years since 1985. If you also look at the 29 years before 1985, you will find that 189 times pitchers threw more innings than Gooden’s 1985 and virtually none of them saw the drop-off in performance that Gooden showed after 1985.

Seaver topped that mark five times in his first 9 years; Gibson topped that mark 6 times; Blylevin 6 times, Ryan did it 5 times; Marichel 6 times; Lolich 5 times; Jenkins 7 times; Hunter 4 times; Drysdale 5 times; Carlton 7 times; Blue 5 times.

There is overwhelming evidence the best and hardest throwing pitchers in baseball could and did pitch more innings — often many more — than what Gooden did in 1985.

That leaves us with two possible explanations:

(1) During an era when physical achievement advanced and virtually all athletics, the capacity to throw many innings was lost.

(2) Managers changed how they used pitchers and the bullpen, starting with the use a popularization of 8th-inning set-up men starting with Ron Davis and further developing to include 7th-inning relievers.

My money is on (2), and I am correct, then showing how few pitchers racked up 277 innings post-1985 is rather pointless. It’s not that they couldn’t do it but rather that managers didn’t chose to use them that way.

If you actually watched Gooden’s fall from grace, it was not that his fastball suddenly lost velocity but rather that he could no long command his pitches in the zone, create the same amount of movement or keep his poise under pressure to anywhere close to the degree that he did the latter part of 1984 and in 1985, when he was untouchable on the mound and drug free off it.

Simon
Guest
Simon
2 years 4 days ago

A lot of pitchers peak younger than 27. I’ve seen some research suggesting that, outside developing something new – a new pitch or whatever – pitchers are as good as they’re going to be when they reach the bigs.

fred
Guest
fred
2 years 5 days ago

Sprinters are also focusing their training strictly on their speed. Trout may be compensating speed for power in his training.

Not a Track Coach
Guest
Not a Track Coach
2 years 5 days ago

Remember, though, that in a track context, “sprinter” typically means 100 meters. Assuming you’re right (and I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just entertaining a hypothetical in which we have the data before us) and we saw a very clear aging curve for a population of sprinters running the 100m that peaked at 25 years old, would the curve for the 50m dash look the same? What about a ~27m dash? At these even shorter distances, would the peak occur even earlier?

I’m also not arguing that this is what has caused Trout’s decline, as opposed to, for example, making a conscious choice to focus training effort on muscle groups believed to increase power.

Andy
Guest
Andy
2 years 6 days ago

There was an article comparing Puig and Trout to Mantle recently, and the author mentioned Trout had once been timed at 3.53 seconds to first, some time in 2012 or 2013. Anyway, the article concluded that neither of the young stars had quite as much speed or power (length of HRs) as the Mick.

thebamoor
Member
thebamoor
2 years 6 days ago

Seems like a promising idea for yet another stat: average speed from the plate to 1B on groundballs. If that’s not the best way to measure a player’s pure speed, I don’t know what it is.

Jason Bourne
Guest
Jason Bourne
2 years 5 days ago

Effort would play a huge role here, you wouldn’t really get the best idea of speed.

joshua
Guest
joshua
2 years 6 days ago

Much ado about nothing. Mike is the best player in the game. No worries.

hookstrapped
Guest
hookstrapped
2 years 5 days ago

But what’s special about him has been the speed and defense, the comparisons to Mays and Mantle. If he becomes just another stellar hitter, even with the best WAR in the game, people are going to be a little sad. Being superlative in all aspects of the game is exceedingly rare and the romance attached to that is what Trout has brought.

bookbook
Guest
2 years 5 days ago

Sure. But like Griffey–and Jeter for that matter!–he can maintain the romance of being a Gold Glove up-the-middle player without actually being exceptional at the defensive portion of the game. So long as he plays an acceptable centerfield, his bat will win him defensive accolades.

Atreyu Jones
Guest
Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 days ago

He hit a triple to left the other night, at Fenway. Very rare.

Rod Carew
Guest
Rod Carew
2 years 5 days ago

Why isn’t anyone talking about his decline in batting average? It appears to be another regression for the “best player in the world”.

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
2 years 4 days ago

He’s finding himself in more counts with 2 strikes this year than last year. Many of those counts are early, too. In 558 PA, he’s been in a 1-2 count in 201 PA. In 2013, in 716 PA, he was such a count in 184 PA. That explains the increased K rate, pop up rate, and decline overall in his offensive production.

Anon
Guest
Anon
2 years 5 days ago

You should know that I prepared .gifs. You should also know that I decided against including the .gifs because” …

It doesn’t matter why. A Jeff Sullivan article about Mike Trout that doesn’t have .gifs is a poor choice.

james
Guest
james
2 years 5 days ago

his rookie season he lost 15-30 pounds around spring training when he got rocky mountain fever (something common in the southwest, i think ike davis got it the same season).

Regaining that mass takes time, the reality is that he has just added back the weight loss due to sickness.

maybe, maybe not
Guest
maybe, maybe not
2 years 5 days ago

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/228042-overview

I doubt he had rocky mountain fever since he had no rash originating on his wrists and ankles and spreading centrally. More importantly, it is a very rare diagnosis, like one in a million. (literally) Coccidomycosis is one type of infection seen in the Southwest, in the San Joaquin valley so it’s potentially also on the differential.

Most likely: he had the flu, a bad cold, or bronchitis or some crap like that.

Source: Me, 4th year medical student.

Slugerrr
Guest
Slugerrr
2 years 5 days ago

All hail Alex Gordon!

Ty
Guest
Ty
2 years 5 days ago

Why not simply compare his stolen base times from 2012 and 2014? Sure, his lead might differ by 1 or 2 feet on any given steal, but on average there should be a significant difference between the times.

Phil Smoker
Guest
Phil Smoker
2 years 5 days ago

Great article, Jeff. And spot on about the word, narrative.

Obey the Trout
Guest
Obey the Trout
2 years 5 days ago

I wonder if looking at average times is the right way to evaluate speed. So many factors can screw with the effort that’s shown. As others have pointed out, I don’t want Trout running 100% on a come backer to the pitcher. That play will result in an out 99.9% of the time regardless of the speed of the base runner. Hit something up the middle though and Trout’s speed can make a difference as to whether it is an out or a single.

Same thing is true for measuring time on doubles or triples. A hit to the gap that is a clear double and I want Trout running at 80% of his peak or less. No reason to test his hammy on a play that will almost always have the same result.

Personally, I care much more about peak speed. I’d like to see something that takes a players fastest times and averages them together. That would eliminate the plays where you don’t want a player running 100%. It would also tell you the true ability level much better than an average.

jorgesca
Member
jorgesca
2 years 5 days ago

Move him to LF and his defense would be exceptional. Just another flaw of WAR.

Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling
Guest
Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling
2 years 5 days ago

Except it wasn’t last year, when his massive range didn’t help him as much and his noodle arm was a distinct flaw.

NathanLazarus3
Guest
NathanLazarus3
2 years 5 days ago

Has Trout’s defense declined over the course of the season? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he had a positive defensive value in April and maybe May. To me that suggests that a hamstring injury could be the cause. Trout was going about his season like an elite all-around player, hurt his hamstring and temporarily lost defense and speed, but is still an otherworldly hitter.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 5 days ago

Young players get bigger and heavier up to 25-27 yo.

Also, the market pays more for power than it does defense and baserunning. Wise decision sacrificing speed for power, especially in todays game where power is in short supply.

He should be batting 3rd. Let a power guy like Hamilton get some advantage of better pitches ahead of him batting 2nd. Get Trout even more RBI opportunities.

Honestly, Scioscia is so over rated as a manager

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
2 years 4 days ago

I think a better idea than having Hamilton bat in front of Trout would be to bat Hamilton directly behind him (for the purpose of maximizing Hamilton’s production, at least). Pitchers would be less likely to throw changeups and breaking balls way off the plate or in the dirt, since the threat of Trout ending up on 2nd or 3rd base on every Hamilton at bat would likely be a deterrent to that currently effective strategy.

Simon
Guest
Simon
2 years 4 days ago

Doesn’t research suggest you want your best players to hit 1st, 2nd or 4th, depending on their exact characteristics?

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