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2012 Fantasy Baseball Projections: How Good Is Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Trout?

Thu, Aug 9, 2012

Player Projections

How good is Mike Trout? Consider the following:

  • Trout leads the majors in runs scored (87)
  • Trout leads the majors in stolen bases (36)
  • Trout leads the majors in stolen base efficiency, min. 20 attempts (92.3 percent)
  • Trout is third in the majors in batting average (.345)
  • Trout is sixth in the majors in on-base percentage (.409)

And that’s just scratching the surface. Buckle up, folks.

Trout has more home runs (20) in less plate appearances (411) than Adrian Gonzalez (12 HRs in 474 PAs), Justin Upton (9 HRs in 434 PAs), Dan Uggla (12 HRs in 450 PAs), Ryan Zimmerman (15 HRs in 433 PAs), Paul Konerko (18 HRs in 423 PAs), Prince Fielder (19 HRs in 482 PAs) and Adrian Beltre (19 HRs in 449 PAs).

Following games played Thursday, Aug. 9, Trout led the majors in WAR (+6.9), and it’s not even close. Andrew McCutchen — who has played in 18 more games that Trout — is second with a WAR of +6.0.

Trout’s +6.9 WAR in 89 games this season is better than the best single-season WAR of Prince Fielder (+6.4), Carlos Gonzalez (+6.5) and Robinson Cano (+6.5). It’s also better than career WAR of seven-year veteran, Delmon Young (+0.9).

Only seven 20-year-olds have posted a full-season WAR better than the +6.9 clip Trout has put up in three months. Maybe you’ve heard of them:

  • Alex Rodriguez, 1996: +9.8 WAR
  • Dwight Gooden, 1985: +9.0 WAR
  • Mel Ott, 1929: +8.9 WAR
  • Ted Williams, 1939: +7.9 WAR
  • Al Kaline, 1955: +7.7 WAR
  • Ty Cobb, 1907: +7.6 WAR
  • Mickey Mantle, 1952: +7.3 WAR

At his current 162-game pace, Trout’s WAR would be +12.6, which would qualify as the 11th-best single-season WAR posted by a position player. Only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb topped +12.6.

I’ll be the first to admit that WAR (which is explained here at great length) isn’t a perfect, tell-all stat. But it’s pretty close. At the very least, it’s the best we have.

But is Mike Trout really this good?

Plain and simply put: No. A regression is certainly coming. We don’t know when, but his pace will eventually slow. The real question then becomes — when he does cool off — how good will he be?

Like most hitting categories this season, Trout is among the league leaders in BABIP (.399). That mark is undoubtedly unsustainable. The best single-season BABIP since the turn of the century was Jose Hernandez’s clip of .404 in 2002. His BABIP promptly dropped to .311 the following season, and his batting average from .288 to .225.

A high line-drive rate can certainly explain a high BABIP, and Trout’s case is no exception. He ranks 16th among qualified batters, hitting liners at a 24.6 percent rate. That mark — while above average — certainly is sustainable. In fact, there have been 113 instances of a single-season line-drive rate of 24.6 or better since the stat was first recorded in 2003.

Last season, Baseball America graded Trout’s hit tool potential as a 70, meaning well-above average. Thus, to think he can compete for a batting title every year isn’t out of the question. But to think he can hit .345 every year might be a stretch.

BA also graded Trout’s present and future speed as an 80 (outstanding), his defense a 70 and his arm a 50 (average). Perhaps the most surprising part of Trout’s game this season has been his power, which BA graded as a future 55 (slightly above-average). But nothing about Trout’s .251 ISO power (17th among qualified batters) or his 20.8 percent HR/FB ratio (17th) is just slightly above-average.

There lies an oddity in Trout’s power numbers, however, and it leads to this question: We know his bat, speed and defense are legit, but is his power?

Trout’s HR/FB ratio (20.8 percent) is fairly high given that he hits a below-average amount of fly balls (34.4 percent). Since 2000 (admittedly, an arbitrary starting point), there have been only 26 instances (including Trout’s) of a player recording a HR/FB ratio of 20.8 percent or higher and a fly-ball rate of 34.3 percent or lower (seven of those 26 are happening this season). While that number is much higher than I thought it’d be, it’s still fairly low. The point is that these ratios are difficult to maintain in conjunction with each other. In fact, only two players recorded such seasons twice, suggesting fluke and not skill.

If you’re still with me, here’s the point: If Trout is to sustain his above-average line-drive rate (and thus, low fly-ball rate), it’s unlikely his few fly balls will keep sailing over the walls at their current rate.

It’d be foolish, however, to write-off his power potential completely. Since 2010, Trout has posted single-season extra-base hit totals of 47 (’10), 53 (’11) and 56 (’12).

Only 13 players have hit more than 20 home runs at age 20 or younger. Mel Ott (42), Frank Robinson (38), Alex Rodriguez (36), Tony Conigliaro (32) and Ted Williams (31) are the only ones to hit 30 or more. At his current 162-game pace, Trout would rank tied for third on that list with 36. None of those players, however, stole half the bases Trout already has in his age-20 season. A-Rod did hit .358 as a 20-year-old, though.

Eighteen months ago, I was asked to project the future fantasy value of Mike Trout versus that of Bryce Harper (you can read that article here). I listed Trout’s ceiling at 20 home runs, 50 stolen bases and a .320 average. He’ll likely reach that this season. To say his best is yet to come is a scary thought, but it might be true. While his current 36/66 pace would qualify as perhaps the greatest single-season home run/stolen base combo ever (Hanley Ramirez put up 29/51 in ’07), it’s unlikely to be repeated ever again.

In my preliminary 2013 rankings, Trout fits in the top-10 — and that’s probably a conservative ranking (he’s currently the No. 1 player in the Yahoo! game). Will he finish next season with a top-10 line? Probably not. Like we already know, a regression is coming. Thus, don’t be surprised if he’s hitting .270 with six homers next June.

Projecting him for next season, 20/50/.320 is no longer the ceiling. To expect that, however, will likely lead to disappointment. I would peg him with a much more realistic 15/45/.290 line, but even that might be worthy of a top-30 selection. Either way, Trout is the most dynamic/exciting/explosive player in the game.

And he just turned 21.

 Image courtesy of: Keith Allison via flickr

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