Center fielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has already established himself as one of the top five, if not the overall best, player in Major League Baseball today. He is still developing, however. This season, we are seeing what Trout is capable of when with a certain twist is applied to his game: aggression.
Trout is on pace to post a higher swing percentage (number of pitches swung at divided by total number of pitches seen) in 2015 than he has in any of his previous major-league seasons. So far, the results suggest that there is still room for Trout to grow.
His batting average through 112 games this season is .023 lower than his single-season career high of .326 in 2012. He could also establish new single-season career lows (other than 2011, in which he played in only 40 major-league games) in total hits, singles, doubles and triples.
It’s not like those numbers are bad. He is still hitting over .300 and a hot remainder of August, month of September and beginning of October could put him right back on par with his 162-game averages in all those categories. His on-base percentage is right on par with his career numbers.
What has correlated positively with Trout’s aggression at the plate is an uptick in power. All the measurements show that Trout is starting to discover the ceiling on the power element of his game. His isolated power is currently a career-high, as is his hard-hit ball rate and line-drive rate.
Fortunately for the Angels, that power is translating into production. While Trout isn’t on pace to set a career-high in runs batted in, he could still top the century mark in that category this season on his current pace. His slugging percentage (and naturally on-base plus slugging percentage) is currently a career-high, as are his weighted runs created statistic and home run per fly ball rate. His weighted grounded into double plays statistic is on pace to be a career-low this season, along with his infield fly ball rate. If he continues at his current pace, he will hit 46 home runs by the end of this season.
Because of Trout’s production, we can see the league has begun to adjust to his newfound aggression and power. Trout has already been intentionally walked more times in 2015 than in any of his other seasons, and is currently seeing fewer pitches in the zone than he has at any time before as well. Simply put, he has gone from dangerous to feared.
As teams have adjusted to Trout, fans should expect to see Trout adjust back in the future. As he continues to establish a feel for driving the ball and using his power, he can integrate that with the selectivity we have seen from him in the past. A version of Trout that is confident in his ability to send any given pitch screaming out of the park while simultaneously being a hitter that forces pitchers to come into the zone to get him out would be highly intimidating for the opposition.
Defensively, it’s been a great year for Trout as well. He has yet to commit an error in 2015 and has already established a new single-season high in assists.
We have seen five-tool players in MLB before. Few of them have reached the level of success that Trout has and still have room to grow, however. When Trout finds this new balance between aggression and selection that he is looking for, it’s scary how good he could be. We could be witnessing a legend in the making.