What If Mike Trout Had Average Speed?

Mike Trout is a dude. The total package. He combines the abilities to hit for average and power and play impact defense at a premium position, with top of the charts speed that he uses both prolifically and efficiently. While metrics now exist to measure the effect of speed on player defense and baserunning, it is less simple to measure how speed contributes to one’s batting line. Let’s attempt to separate the impact of Trout’s speed on his slash line, and then do the same with a very different player with whom Trout is often compared, for MVP reasons.

Here is Trout’s 2013 performance by major batted ball types. (Popups are included in overall totals, but are not listed separately for purposes of this exercise.)

TYPE # % AVG SLG FREQ PROD
Trout Mike FLY 138 31.29% 0.362 1.080 111 191
LD 107 24.26% 0.645 0.944 114 106
GB 174 39.46% 0.356 0.391 93 228
ALL BIP 0.410 0.711 178

The 3rd and 4th columns list AVG and SLG by BIP type, the 5th lists the frequency of each type relative to the MLB average, scaled to 100, and the 6th lists run value production by batted ball type, also relative to the MLB average, again scaled to 100. Trout’s strengths are numerous and obvious – he hits plenty of fly balls, many of them hit very hard, and lots of line drives too. His production on fly balls and ground balls are both about double the MLB average, thanks to his exceptional power/speed combination.

To determine how much his speed contributes to these figures, we must do both of the following:

1) Approximate how many extra hits his speed provided, and
2) Approximate how many additional total bases on existing hits his speed provided

The answer to the first point lies entirely within his population of ground balls. MLB hitters batted .237 and slugged .257 on ground balls in 2013. Trout, because of his speed, should be expected to exceed those marks, but based on his hard and soft ground ball rates, not nearly to the extent of the .356 AVG and .391 SLG he actually posted. Based solely upon the authority with which he hit the ball on the ground, Trout’s projected AVG-SLG line on grounders in 2013 would have been .267-.287. That means that Trout got approximately 16 more hits and 20 more total bases than he would have if he had league average speed.

Now let’s move on to the line drives and fly balls. Here we are not talking about adding to or subtracting from the hit total. Instead we are looking for the difference between the actual and projected spread of singles-doubles-triples within that batted ball population, based upon the relative authority with which the player being evaluated hits the ball. Trout’s isolated power on line drives is pretty much in line with what it should be, but the average hitter with this level of isolated power hit more than the single line drive homer that Trout hit in 2013. What the average player is accomplishing by hitting the ball out of the park, Trout is doing while keeping the ball inside it. Trout’s actual 1B-2B-3B line on liners was 43-21-4, the typical spread by a hitter with similar power would be 43-24-1 – that’s a difference of three total bases attributable to Trout’s speed. Essentially, three doubles turned into triples. Let’s do the same with fly balls. Trout’s actual 1B-2B-3B split on flyballs was 8-11-5. The typical split for an MLB hitter with similar projected isolated power on fly balls would be 9-14-1, resulting in a net difference of five total bases attributable to Trout’s speed.

Overall, we’ve come up with 16 additional hits and 28 additional total bases attributable to Mike Trout’s speed. Let’s look at what this does to his overall BIP batting statistics by category below.

TYPE # % AVG SLG FREQ PROD
Trout Mike FLY 138 31.29% 0.362 1.043 111 183
LD 107 24.26% 0.645 0.916 114 103
GB 174 39.46% 0.267 0.287 93 126
ALL BIP 0.376 0.650 150

Trout’s overall slash line goes from .323-.432-.557 to .295-.409-.509 – still pretty darned good. It’s pretty handy, however, to be able to isolate the impact of his speed upon his raw numbers. This enables to separately age his pure batting ability and the speed component as the years go by. Trout is obviously a great hitter with or without his speed, but there are other speed-oriented players whose offensive value essentially disappears once you peel away the speed. Past and present BABIP overachievers like Ichiro Suzuki or Michael Bourn, among others, could be more accurately evaluated using such an approach.

As a point of reference, let’s do the same exercise for another great hitter, who just happens to be a slow baserunner. He also just happens to be Trout’s immediate neighbor in the MVP voting the last two years, Miguel Cabrera.

TYPE # % AVG SLG FREQ PROD
Cabrera Miguel FLY 141 31.06% 0.475 1.475 110 347
LD 107 23.57% 0.672 0.836 111 100
GB 174 38.33% 0.283 0.289 90 136
ALL BIP 0.415 0.762 194

The fundamentals are actually quite comparable to Trout’s. Their fly ball and line drive frequency are almost identical, while Cabrera’s fly ball production is far superior, mainly because his ability to pull the ball in the air is far advanced compared to his younger counterpart. (Pulling the baseball in general will be examined in greater detail in an upcoming post.) Cabrera’s actual ground ball production is much lower than Trout’s, at least before we adjust for speed.

Cabrera’s hard and soft grounder marks are both far superior to Trout’s, and just about anyone else’s for that matter. So much so that Cabrera’s projected AVG-SLG on grounders would be .337-.368, meaning that his lack of speed cost him nine hits and 13 total bases on ground balls alone in 2013. Cabrera’s actual isolated power on line drives is a relatively meager .164, a little more than half of Trout’s actual mark. This makes little sense, as Cabrera impacts the baseball even more than Trout does. Cabrera’s actual 1B-2B-3B split on liners was 63-13-0; the typical spread for a hitter with similar power would be 48-27-1, for a whopping loss of 16 total bases attributable to Cabrera’s lack of speed. As for fly balls, Cabrera had an actual 1B-2B-3B split of 11-13-1, while a hitter with similar projected isolated power would have a 6-18-1 spread, a loss of five total bases attributable to his lack of speed. As great as he was and is, upward adjustment for those bases lost turns him into an even greater hitter – from a .348-.442-.636 line into a .364-.456-.697 Hornsby-esque monster. His adjusted BIP numbers appear below.

TYPE # % AVG SLG FREQ PROD
Cabrera Miguel FLY 141 31.06% 0.475 1.511 110 358
LD 107 23.57% 0.672 0.974 111 114
GB 174 38.33% 0.337 0.368 90 203
ALL BIP 0.434 0.836 223

This is an imperfect but advantageous method to approximate the effects of player speed on their slash lines. My gut, and the scout in me surmises that it might be overstating the ground ball impact, and understating the line drive/fly ball impact, while coming pretty close overall. The essence of player evaluation is peeling back as many layers as possible to identify the true player within, and this is just another small step toward that end.



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Teddy Westside
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Teddy Westside
2 years 7 months ago

You could’ve started and ended this article by saying “He’d still be better than everyone else.”

Matt
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Matt
2 years 7 months ago

No, no he couldn’t. Read much?

In any event, it’s just a what if exercise. What if Miggy had average power? You can’t seriously think youtake away one of a players foremost strengths and wonder what if. Of course they won’t be as good.

JeffMathisCera
Member
JeffMathisCera
2 years 7 months ago

Except that statement would have been incorrect and he’d have written a whole article which proves that point wrong.

What this article does show, I think, is that Trout is a very good baseball player without his speed advantage. And although his speed has a very large quantifiable impact on offensive numbers alone, Trout still has very strong contact and power skills that should allow him to be elite into his 30’s as he loses speed and potentially improves his power. He’ll be worth watching for a long time.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 7 months ago

Very good players with or without speed are still very good players. There are really fast guys that suck and really slow guys that are good.

HAL9100
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HAL9100
2 years 7 months ago

Riveting analysis, that.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 7 months ago

I find it interesting that throwing a few stats into a hypothetical situation makes it acceptable to the stat heads. When no stats are offered, the opinion has no value.

tz
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tz
2 years 7 months ago

Your comment is true about 9 times out of 10.

Frank
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2 years 7 months ago

Understanding empirical analysis is hard. Pretending to understand empirical analysis is easy. Hence no numbers in your argument for them to skim over, no value to your analysis.

Bip
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Member
Bip
2 years 7 months ago

I don’t think the point of this article is “Mike Trout would be a different player without his speed.” That’s obvious. What is interesting to me is exactly what kind of player Trout would be without his speed, or what Cabrera would be with average speed.

NS
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NS
2 years 6 months ago

You confuse hypotheticals with tautologies.

Eric Lutz
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Eric Lutz
2 years 7 months ago

I couldn’t agree more. The two most overrated stats on offense are SB and 3B. And as much as I would love to see a 2 hour movie clip of every stellar catch Mike Trout has made over these last two years, (it would be artistry to watch), its Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout any day of the week. Why? Because Cabrera has skills that don’t deteriorate rapidly and can last a full career. Speed can go overnight. Miguel has an awesome batting eye, has fantastic plate coverage, he hits some of the most ridiculous HRs and 2Bs on balls that are clearly out of the strike zone for us sheer mortals, and the dude can take a walk, not to mention, even though he is a power hitter, he is also a PURE hitter. He is not the typical power hitter, getting 130-160 hits a year full time, oh no, he gets 180-200 a year guaranteed. He will gladly hit you a single if need be. Not to mention, Trout already has durability issues, Miggy plays 150+ for 11 years straight up till last year, at 138. 138 games is about Mike Trouts high in games played so far, granted its only been 2 glorious years of Trout. Speedsters come and go, power has longevity, look at Raul Ibanez. Jacoby Ellsbury cannot stay on the field, Vince Coleman, Ron Leflore, Juan Samuel, etc, but somebody’s going to tell me Matt Holiday and Carlos Beltran (now that he doesn’t have speed isn’t good anymore?). Durability is key, cannot help your team if you are not playing. Very few speed players keep it their whole career, especially through injuries, lou brock, rickey Henderson, tim raines and Juan Pierre are all that I can think of.

bdhudson
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Member
bdhudson
2 years 7 months ago

In 2013:

Trout: 15.4 BB% (in 157 games, btw)
Miggy: 13.8 BB%

Player pages are fun.

Ross B
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Ross B
2 years 7 months ago

Sigh. Opinions are allowed to be wrong, but facts not so much, especially when a link to the information is included in the story. Trout played in 157 games this year and 159 total last year(can’t forget those AAA games). Going back to his minor league days, he had 156 across three levels in 2011 and 131 in 2010(which is a full season in A ball). Where are these “durability concerns” that you mentioned?

FOH
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FOH
2 years 7 months ago

His point still stands though. Chances is good that Trout flailing around in the OF is going to lead to Kemp comparisons in *due time.

*due time: when the trout circlejerk ends to a chorus of “I can’t believe that moron GM signed him to such a bad contract!”. See: every MVP talent ever.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 7 months ago

The chances are not good that Trout will suffer a career-threatening injury. He will probably miss a chunk of time at some point, but there really isn’t any reason to think Trout is significantly more likely to suffer a major injury than Cabrera is.

Plus, his comment is already penalizing Trout for his future aging without considering the ways he can improve. Power doesn’t generally peak at 21. Plate discipline certainly doesn’t peak then, and probably not even in the 20’s.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 7 months ago

Thought you were serious until you said that Trout has durability issues. Then I wasn’t sure.

Then I got to the part about Ibanez. Congrats on the joke, sir.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 6 months ago

You forgot the Grit analysis. Cabrera has a 9% more Grit than Trout.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

“He will gladly hit you a single if need be.”

Ok, Miguel. We really need a base hit here, got it? I’m serious. None of that doubles and home runs stuff, ok? Just give me a weak ground ball in the hole and we’ll really have these guys where we want ’em.

tz
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tz
2 years 7 months ago

How exactly did you come up with Trout’s performance on grounders (assuming he had average speed)? It wasn’t clear in the article, and I’m curious because this is really fascinating stuff.

Teddy Westside
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Teddy Westside
2 years 7 months ago

he made it up

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 7 months ago

Is that you, Mr. Zduriencik?

JD
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JD
2 years 7 months ago

I think it’s important to explain the basis for statements like that and “the typical spread for a hitter with similar power would be 48-27-1.”

tz
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tz
2 years 7 months ago

Agreed. No need for a detailed breakdown, just something generic that helps the explanation. I wouldn’t want to detract from the key conclusion of the article, which JeffMathisCera summarized nicely.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 7 months ago

Baseball Heat maps, with some sort of park factor?

cass
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cass
2 years 7 months ago

I’m wondering if he has access to proprietary HIT F/X information that he cannot share with us. I’ve been wondering about this while reading his last few articles as well.

Rogers Hornsby
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Rogers Hornsby
2 years 7 months ago

Fuck Yeah I’m the best.

Babe Ruth
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Babe Ruth
2 years 7 months ago

Meh.

John C
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John C
2 years 7 months ago

My flippant answer would be that we’d call him Bryce Harper if he only had average speed.

Of course, that only works if we assume Trout only had average speed and a propensity for running into walls.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 7 months ago

Harper has substantially more power.

Jim Price
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Jim Price
2 years 7 months ago

The numbers don’t say so.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 7 months ago

Harper’s HR + FB distance was ~297, Trout’s was in the low 290s or 280s I believe.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 7 months ago

Harper’s HR/FB rate isn’t appreciably better than Trout’s so far, and he has hit fly balls at a lower rate too. Also, I’m not sure if fly ball distance is a good predictor of HR/FB rate. Some players seems to have more potential to absolutely crush a ball, but may square it up less often than other players who hit more homers.

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 years 7 months ago

Is Ichiro’s decline really because of speed? My impression is that the speed is still there (mostly), it’s the hitting ability that’s declined these few years. So this model won’t really work for his career.

Daven
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2 years 7 months ago

I would also be interested in seeing a similar post to the above on Ichiro. To the naked eye, he still seems quite fast or at least not so much slower that his numbers should have declined as quickly as they have.

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 years 6 months ago

Before the 2012 season I think ESPN had an article on Ichiro’s heat map. His bat and reaction speed have probably slowed down more than his general atheleticism. I mean, he IS 40 years old, after all.

Erik
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Erik
2 years 7 months ago

“This enables to separately age his pure batting ability and the speed component as the years go by.”

… maybe “This enables us to separate his age, his pure batting ability, and the speed component as the years go by”?

HAL9100
Member
HAL9100
2 years 7 months ago

Nope, makes sense as it reads.

You can age his batting ability by projecting him into the future.

TheUncool
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TheUncool
2 years 7 months ago

This assumes that Trout wouldn’t change his approach to yield somewhat more power, walk more, depend less on contact (to make use of his speed), etc. etc., if he started losing his speed.

Most good hitters seem to trend that way as they age until they reach some sort of cliff where the rest of the league seriously catches up w/ them (and expose enough of their weaknesses).

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 7 months ago

Maybe not so much depending less on contact, but more on increasing the FB/GB ratio. The cycle might look like this:

– Begin at peak speed/developing power => high % of infield hits

– More power => lower BA on groundballs, despite speed

– Adjust to more FB => peak SLG on balls in play, since speed translates into extra bases

– Speed declines => attempt to increase power vs. contact to increase HR/FB ratio (aka the Marlon Byrd effect)

This, of course, assumes that each of these transitions is successfully made (definitely not a given)

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 7 months ago

*note FB = flyball not fastball in above…

Brian L
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Brian L
2 years 7 months ago

I suspect there may be an inverse, or maybe some sort of barbell effect, in looking at performance on hard and soft ground balls when comparing slow and fast players. Obviously rockets are more likely to be hits for everyone, but aside from those screamers, faster guys intuitively are better off hitting grounders as softly as possible. I.e. its not just a linear relationship between more hard hit grounders = higher average on ground balls.

In theory, speed really should be an input to “projected AVG-SLG line on grounders”, in addition to number of hard vs. soft hit grounders. But that would probably make the whole analysis circular.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 7 months ago

The type of grounder that you’re thinking of is basically a swinging bunt, which I would think accounts for a somewhat small proportion of the hits a speedster will win from his speed. I think more are from balls hit in the gaps, and in this case, a hard hit grounder definitely has as an advantage. There are a lot of places you can hit a hard grounder where it will go for a hit, but in order for a weak grounder to be a hit, it basically has to be perfectly placed.

Dave
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Dave
2 years 6 months ago

Along those lines I am wondering if there is a similar effect on line drives, whereby players that hit the ball extremely hard actually reduce the chance for extra bases . . . the “single off the wall” type of hit. but those may not be frequent enough to matter.

The Foils
Member
The Foils
2 years 7 months ago

This was a good article. And it was a great Mike Trout article.

Ken
Member
Member
Ken
2 years 7 months ago

Tony,

Interesting article. Once again, where can we find hard/soft contact numbers?

Ken

Sean L.
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Sean L.
2 years 7 months ago

Mike Trout – speed = Matt Holliday

Miguel Cabrera
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Miguel Cabrera
2 years 7 months ago

“What if Miguel Cabrera was the fastest man alive?”
“What if Albert Einstein was retarded?”

Albrt Einstien
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Albrt Einstien
2 years 7 months ago

#6org

Justin Bailey
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Justin Bailey
2 years 7 months ago

“Trout’s overall slash line goes from .323-.432-.557 to .295-.409-.509”. But that’s his overall hyphen line, isn’t it?

jim fetterolf
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jim fetterolf
2 years 7 months ago

An interesting comp would be Trout and the player he reminds me most of, Mickey Mantle.

LaCroix
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LaCroix
2 years 7 months ago

Really liked what you had to say about Trout, but I’m more intrigued by an average-speed Miguel Cabrera hitting .364/.456/.697 in 2013.

Ya, well that's just like.... your opinion man
Guest
Ya, well that's just like.... your opinion man
2 years 6 months ago

“Mike Trout is a dude”

I’M the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Ben Hall
Member
Member
Ben Hall
2 years 6 months ago

Tony,

Are the numbers on how hard balls are hit freely available or is that data that has to be purchased?

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