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Data Dugout: Mike Trout 2015 vs Mike Trout 2014

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Mike Trout is having a good start to his 2015 season, naturally. But how does it compare to his 2014 MVP season?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

(Note: All statistics in this post were through 6/1, so they do not include Pujols’ homerun or Trout’s three strikeouts from last night)


I was approached a couple weeks ago by one of the head honchos of this fine establishment and asked if I’d be interested in contributing.  I eventually said yes, but I’ve since been at a loss for where to begin with my first piece.  In the real world, I am an accountant.  I enjoy writing, but I’m not much of an idea guy.  I like taking an existing idea, thought, or inquiry, and running with it, especially if it involves looking through numerical data.  Oh how I love numerical data.  I make spreadsheets for fun.


So when I saw a question in the comment section of the Halolinks today about Mike Trout’s numbers to date and how they compare to last year, I, as I am wont to do, turned a rather simple answer into a long rabbit trail of baseball statistics.  Now, I admit that I am not an expert analyst.  I like finding numbers and presenting them and drawing basic conclusions about them, but I would like to give the disclaimer that my statistical analytical skills are nowhere near the level of some of the other venerable contributors we have here.  I’ll do the best I can at finding and presenting the relevant numbers, and you can feel free to draw your own conclusions and include them in the comments below.


Morales8 asked where Trout’s and Pujols’ homerun totals were at this time a year ago, in the hopes that this year, they’d be ahead of their prior year pace.  Pujols actually had a great April in the power department a year ago, and was sitting at 14 homeruns after June 1, 2014.  He is at 13 now, so he’s a little behind, but hopefully he’ll keep this pace up instead of falling off dramatically as he did last June.


Trout, on the other hand, had hit 11 homeruns by June 1st last year, which Morales8, with a little winky emoticon, interpreted to mean that Trout, who has hit 13 homeruns thus far in 2015, was on pace for a better season this year.  Now, I am fairly neo-internet illiterate, but I assume the winky face emoticon is an indication that Morales8’s comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  But it got me thinking.  Is Trout on pace for a better season?


If we look at basic slash stats (Batting Avg/OBP/Slg), Trout is basically the same guy he was a year ago (I’m comparing numbers through yesterday’s game to the entire 2014 season). Digging a tad deeper, we see that his walk rate is down a little bit, but his strikeouts are down significantly.  Now, strikeouts for a batter aren’t the worst thing, statistically speaking, but let’s all agree that every time Mike Trout strikes out, a little bit of your soul is lost forever, so I think this is a fantastic development.


Year

Avg

OBP

Slg

BB%

SO%

2014

.287

.377

.561

11.8%

26.1%

2015 (thru 6/1)

.294

.381

.552

11.2%

20.6%


The slugging is down a bit, especially given the increase in homerun rate and batting average, but it’s not anything major.  He hasn’t hit any triples this year yet, which is the big factor there.  But I think we can agree there’s nothing really significant outside of the decrease in strikeouts.

Wait a minute, though.  If Trout’s strikeouts are down, wouldn’t we expect more of an increase in average and OBP, and an increase in slugging percentage?  This is where the rabbit trail began.


The first thing I wanted to look at was BABiP (Batting Avg on Balls in Play*).  His BABiP is .324 this year compared to .349 last year and .358 for his career.  It would be easy to stop right there and conclude that his BABiP will increase to career norms and we’ll see a similar uptick in his 2015 slash stats.  Easy, right?


*Does it bother anyone else that the word ‘on’ gets the shaft there?  ‘In’ gets representation, even if it’s only lower case, but ‘on’ just gets omitted entirely.  No?  Only me?  Okay. Tough life being a preposition, that’s all I’m saying.


But I wanted to see if there was more to it than that.  Was this a change in the way he was hitting batted balls?  He could, for example, be hitting more infield fly balls, which might decrease as the season wears on, but if continued would suppress his BABiP all year.  It could also be a small sample size fluke, where all the underlying data looks just as good as prior years, but the balls simply aren’t finding holes in the defense.


What I found was interesting. Well, to me, at least. The first thing I noted is that his infield hit rate is down.  We’re talking about very small samples here, so take it for what it’s worth.  It could be that this number will climb to its previous rate over the rest of the season.  However, Trout is hitting fewer ground balls than in prior years (GB rate is 34.2% compared to a career of 39.3%) and he looks, to my untrained eye, a tad slower.  This is supported by his lower stolen base rate, and his lack of triples.  Thinking intuitively, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trout has peaked strictly as a speedster as he moves away from his multi-sport youth and is training full-time as a baseball player.  The upshot is that if Trout had hit 2 more infield singles, putting him on roughly the same pace as the prior year, he’d jump up to a .338 BABiP, not far off his 2014 pace, but still with some room for improvement.  The downside is that given Trout’s current profile, I don’t think we can bank on the notion that his decrease in infield hit percentage is strictly a small sample size fluke; it might be, but there’s a decent chance he’s not the player who will leg out 25 infield hits a year any more.


Year

GB %

IF Hit % (as % of total GBs)

Career

39.3%

13.9%

2014

33.9%

15.9%

2015

34.2%

11.8%



But wait, there’s more, and if you’ve made it this far through my morass of statistics, we’ve come to the treasure.  I want to highlight line drive rate, which is a piece of the underlying batted ball data that I like to examine any time BABiP is part of the discussion.  Hitting line drives, in case you were unaware, is good.  Yep, this is the insightful analysis they’re paying me the big bucks for.  In another piece of breaking news, hitting line drives is good because line drives go fast and they are hard to catch.  Those are industry terms, by the way.


Trout's line drive percentage, at least according to one data source, is through the roof.  His career average is 25%, he was at 28% in 2014, and this year he's at 38%.  That’s a big number.  In full disclosure, there is some speculation that the batted ball data BBRef uses has changed its definition of what constitutes a line drive over the last few years.  The league average line drive rate has increased 3% this year when compared to the last three years.  So some of Trout’s improvement in line drives, at least according to BBRef, might be a mirage.  But let’s note that the league line drive percentage is 26%.  Trout is at 38%.  Yeah, he’s a beast.


Other data, while not quite as encouraging, shows improvement has well.  Fangraphs has Trout’s 2015 line drive rate at 23.5%, which is still a marked improvement over his 2014 rate of 18.9% and a modest increase over his career rate of 21.7%.


So Trout’s a steely-eyed missile man, which we knew, and, by any measure, he’s even studlier than he was a year ago.  If that’s the case, though, and Trout’s line drive percentage has increased by THAT MUCH, why is his BABiP so far down?


The answer is that old fickle hag, Lady Luck.  Trout is hitting only .596 on line drives in 2015 (according to BBRef).  This is well below the league average of .646, which is itself well below where the league average has been over the last three years (ranging from .665 to .720).  Trout has never finished a full season where his batting average on line drives was lower than league average.  That might not mean anything, so take it with a grain of salt, but we know from watching the guy on a daily basis that he hits balls HARD.  His career batting average on line drives is .693.  If Trout were hitting .693 on line drives this season, we would add an estimated 3 singles, 2 doubles, and either a triple or a homerun to an already impressive stat line. That would raise his batting average by 30 points and his slugging by 50 points.  He’d be sporting a .325/.410/.602 slash line.


Year

LD% (BBRef)

LD% (FanG)

LD BAvg Trout

LD BAvg League

Career

25%

22%

.693

.682

2014

28%

19%

.713

.665

2015

38%

24%

.596

.646


So what conclusions can we draw?  Mike Trout is good.  Oh, and he’s probably better than he’s shown  I have to offer the disclaimer that the line drive percentage increase could be a total fluke.  In fact, I’d be shocked if it didn’t come down at least a little.  But I would be just as shocked if his BABiP stayed at .324 for the rest of the season and he finished the season with zero triples.  As good as Trout has been in 2015 ( and oh-by-the-way, his defense is rated better this year and he’s on pace for another 10 WAR season), it seems he’s also been pretty damn unlucky.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of those screeching line drives find their way into gaps and our favorite #27 sprinting his way around the bases.