There is no doubt that over the last two seasons, Mike Trout has been the best overall baseball player in Major League Baseball. With his ability to hit for average, power, steal bases, and play above average defense, Trout has had arguable the best start to a career in the history of baseball. This season hasn’t been dreadful but Trout is not having the typical season we would expect from the 22 year-old who signed a 6 yr / 144.5 M dollar contract in the off-season. So far this season, Trout is second in all of baseball with 56 strikeouts in just 44 games and is on pace to strikeout over 200 times, and he would become just the 7th player in the history of the game to strikeout over 200 times in a season. My question is, “Can Mike Trout be considered the best player in baseball if he strikes out over 200 times?”
So what has gone wrong for Trout so far through the first 44 games of the season? If you have been watching Trout’s plate appearances, you can see that Trout has been susceptible to splitters in the dirt. His O-Swing % is 24.6, just slightly higher than last season. His Z-Contact % is 83.6, which is down almost 6% from last year. Trout is not chasing more pitches than last season but he missing a lot more pitches in the zone from last year and that has lead to his 56 strikeouts.
When looking at some of the game’s great players, they did not strike out nearly as high a rate as Trout is. Hank Aaron never struck out more than 97 times in a season. Barry Bonds never struck out more than 102 times, and that was his rookie season. Miguel Cabrera’s highest strikeout total was 148 in his first full season in the big leagues in 2004. There is no doubt that strikeouts are up around all of major league baseball. In 1995, there were a total of 25,425 strikeouts and last season there 36,710 strikeouts. More players are throwing in the mid to upper 90’s and there are more specialists that come out of the bullpen than ever before. Most hitters have changed their approach as the “2 strike approach” seems to have disappeared as hitters are swinging for the downs on every pitch.
I feel that if Trout were to strike out 200 times this season, he cannot be considered the best player in the game. A 200 strikeout season means that a player is striking out one out of every four at-bats. With Trout’s ability to run as well as he does, he cannot be striking out at that rate.
A quick fix for the Angels and Mike Trout is to put him back in the leadoff spot. This season, Mike Scioscia has opted to move Trout from the leadoff spot to batting second and he seems to have changed his style of play. A big part of Trout’s game is when he gets on base, he steals. In 2012, Trout had 49 stolen bases and in 2013 he had 33 stolen bases. This season, Trout only has 5 stolen bases and many believe that the Angels do not want him running with Albert Pujols hitting. The season is still fairly young and there is plenty of time for Trout to get hot and put the strikeout conversation to bed. He is a two-time runner up to the American League MVP award and it is time for Trout to return to being the best leadoff hitter in the game.