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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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.