You won’t get Mike Trout to say he should win the Most Valuable Player award this year because his Wins Above Replacement total is higher than another player’s. But if you listen closely to him describing his game, you will hear the basic constructs for the argument that can be made in his favor. It’s a simple one.
Ask Mike Trout about the MVP award, as I did before Tuesday night’s game against the Athletics, and he shrugs: “It would be nice to have an MVP, but it’s just the way people look at it. For me, I take pride in my defense and baserunning, just trying to put pressure on their defense, either running that extra base or trying to cut down that ball in the gap.” By baserunning runs above average — a stat that includes stolen bases but also measures a player’s ability to take the extra base — Trout is fourth in the league this season. He’s one of four players in the top thirty in BsR that pairs that speed with real power, too.
It becomes a refrain. Offense is great, baserunning is big for the Angels’ outfielder, “but defense is even bigger.” Mike Trout is the fourth-best left fielder by UZR/150. Even with the numbers not liking his defense in as much this season, he adds value with his glove.
For a player that keeps the balls from the home runs he’s stolen, outfield defense is obviously important to him. Maybe the bad numbers in center are just a one-year blip — he doesn’t prepare any differently (“Just take some reps in left, some reps in center”) and it’s the position that he plays in his heart. “You get to run the outfield, you get priority over everybody,” he says, “center field is different… I like it more.” His work there last season was so superlative that he’s still the fifth-best qualified defensive center fielder in baseball since the start of 2012.
When Mike Trout gets in trouble, he gets a little pull happy. But even though pulling the ball can lead to more power, he’s not going to bite. “No, I’m not trying to change my approach, I’m going to stay up the middle.” Trout is fourth in baseball in combined pull plus opposite field percentage. Only Chris Davis has hit more home runs to center field (15 to his 14), which may not be surprising given Trout’s home runs the last two nights. Trout’s power doesn’t suffer much overall anyway — he’s got the 11th-best isolated power in the game this season — but going to all fields is how he does business.
That sort of approach (“Just trying to get line drives”) leads to a great batting average on balls in play if you follow the Joey Votto Theory of Baseball. So Mike Trout leads baseball, and second place Votto, with a .384 BABIP since the beginning of last season. He’s second in baseball in BABIP this year. That, along with the third-best walk rate in baseball this season, gives Trout the second-best on-base percentage in the game.
If you ask the player about the WAR or the MVP, you won’t get too far. But his philosophy about the game is clear: “I just go out there and take pride in my game and have some fun, do everything I can to help the team win.” It just so happens that when you take the sum of all those different parts, that sum looks like the most impressive in the game.
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