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Mike Trout: The Same As He Ever Was, Which Is Great

At this point, we’ve run out of superlatives to describe the season Mike Trout put together last year. He had the best age-20 season in the history of baseball, and many considered him to be the AL MVP. Reflect on that for a moment. Many people argued Mike Trout was the best player in baseball last season. He was 20 years old. That’s not normal. We all got swept up in Puig-mania this summer and have basked in the glory of Matt Harvey, but we all witnessed something truly special in 2012.

Trout’s supremacy wasn’t limited to the WAR stat, though. In ESPN leagues, he was the number-one fantasy player in all of baseball — and he didn’t even play a big-league game until April 28. The young man essentially gave the entire league a month’s head start and still finished the season in the number-one slot.

Naturally, fantasy owners were left wondering if lightning could strike twice. Considering his price tag on draft day, would it be wise for owners to invest so heavily into a 21-year-old outfielder who may suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump? Opposing teams had ample time to make adjustments this offseason. Would he make the counter-adjustments and replicate his magical rookie season, or would he experience a dramatic year-two decline like Jason Heyward in 2011?

Through the first 99 games of the season, Mike Trout is hitting .321/.398/.556 and once again sits atop Major League Baseball with +6.1 WAR — tied with Miguel Cabrera. He may not be the top-producing fantasy option this year, but he still ranks number four in all of baseball and remains crazy valuable in all formats.

So yeah, about that sophomore slump. That’s not happening.

The most intriguing aspect of Trout’s season, though, has been how eerily similar it is to his spectacular ’12 campaign. And it’s not just because the batting average and on-base percentage numbers are almost identical. Many of his peripheral numbers are essentially mirror images of each other. Compare his statistics:

Year AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ ISO BB% K% O-Swing% SwStr%
2012 .326 .399 .564 .409 166 .238 10.5% 21.8% 26.5% 7.1%
2013 .321 .398 .556 .407 165 .235 10.7% 17.3% 26.8% 6.4%

At the risk of sounding simplistic, Mike Trout has been exactly the same player he was a year ago, except he’s decreased his strikeout rate through making more contact. And if we look at the contact numbers, we see his contact rate hasn’t improved on balls out of the strike zone, which isn’t always desirable because it can lead to weak contact. Instead, his 87.6% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone has jumped to 92.3% this season.

Thus, if forced to say whether Trout has improved or declined from his historic 2012 season, one could easily make the argument he’s actually taken a small step forward. He’s producing at the same level across the board, except his plate discipline has become even more of a strength. One could point to his base running numbers as a place where he’s regressed, but even that isn’t a dramatic drop. He’s still elite on the base paths.

The guy who compiled the greatest age-20 season in baseball is getting better. That’s a ridiculous concept to even try and wrap one’s brain around.

To those owners who were fortunate enough to draft him in keeper leagues, you arguably own the rights to the best asset in all of fantasy baseball going forward. Congratulations. And to those participating in non-keeper leagues, when deciding whether to pony up the cash in your auction next season, your default answer should always (except in very rare circumstances) be to click the button to increase the bid. You almost assuredly be kicking yourself if you don’t.