Kansas City, MO, USA; American League outfielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels hits a single in the sixth inning of the 2012 MLB All Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports via US PRESSWIRE
In his first full season in the major leagues, 20-year-old Mike Trout is doing everything. Thanks to him, we're going to be less patient baseball fans.
From one perspective, the last thing you need is another article about Mike Trout. It seems like a third of the articles these days are about Bryce Harper, a third of the articles are about Mike Trout, and a third of the articles are about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. They're impossible subjects to escape. From another perspective, the last thing you need is an article not about Mike Trout. Why would you want to escape this subject? Do you dislike what's extraordinary?
I'm going to lean on FanGraphs for a minute -- not because these numbers are flawless, but just to help illustrate a point. Among American League rookies, Jose Quintana and Jarrod Parker are tied for third in Wins Above Replacement, at 1.5. Yu Darvish is solidly in second, at 2.2. Leading the way is Mike Trout, at 4.8. FanGraphs' WAR claims that Trout has been worth more than twice as many wins above replacement as the second-most valuable rookie. Trout didn't come up until April 28. Mike Trout is probably going to be the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year.
Now let's look at things more broadly. Among all American Leaguers, Austin Jackson ranks third in Wins Above Replacement, at 4.0. Robinson Cano shows up in second, at 4.3. If you're wondering, Josh Hamilton is fourth. Mike Trout, clearly, leads the way, still at 4.8. FanGraphs' WAR claims that Trout has been the best player in the league. The Angels have gotten going since Trout arrived. Mike Trout could conceivably win the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player award.
It isn't the awards that matter. Hell, a special exception had to be made for Trout to be RoY-eligible, and on top of that, one of the rookie cutoffs is 130 at-bats. Last year, Trout had 123 at-bats, but 135 plate appearances. Plate appearances, and not at-bats, should always be the denominator, and I don't know why the cutoff is set as it is. But even if Trout might not be the most technically deserving of the Rookie of the Year, forget the awards -- it's about the performance. The almost immediate performance.
Just look at Trout in the All-Star Game. He took for a strike maybe the first knuckleball he's ever seen, in the bottom of the sixth against R.A. Dickey. The next pitch was another knuckleball, and Trout lined it into center field for a single. Shortly thereafter, Trout stole second base, and Dickey hasn't yet allowed a meaningful 2012 stolen base. That half-inning was Mike Trout in a nutshell. He got a moment to get settled, and then blammo, Trout's time to shine.
Mike Trout is 20 and already a superstar. One year ago today, he had three games of major-league experience. Three months ago today, he was killing the ball in triple-A. I wouldn't say that Trout hit the ground running -- over those 135 plate appearances last summer, he posted a .672 OPS. But those were 135 plate appearances, and Trout's initial performance is a distant memory. It took Trout next to no time to fully blossom.
Of course, that isn't the norm. Young players, even top prospects, are supposed to need some time to gather experience and make adjustments. Gradually, they grow into their profiles, with bumps along the way. I can tell you as a close observer of the Mariners that Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak were all considered top prospects very recently. At present, Ackley, Montero, and Smoak are considered possibilities for demotion to the PCL. All of them have talent, and all of them are struggling. Trout's having the God-damned time of his life.
The act of observing Mike Trout is a rewarding one, even for fans of the opposing team. There's nothing that he does without skill or enthusiasm, and he's not unlike a perfect Clayton Kershaw curveball -- when he does something amazing, you just have to say "that was amazing." The lessons we might pull from the Trout phenomenon are the wrong ones, though. Wrong, and dangerous.
Trout is a top prospect living entirely up to the billing, and then some. It took him no time to get to this level, and all of his consumption of alcohol is still against the law. Trout doesn't tell us that we need to be patient with prospects, because Angels fans didn't really have to be patient. Trout doesn't tell us to consider failure as a potential outcome for prospects, because Trout isn't failing. Trout doesn't tell us that overrating and over-hyping prospects is a bad idea, because Trout was rated highly and hyped to the heavens, and now he's basically an unstoppable hellbeast.
I don't know when it started, but a common characteristic of baseball fans is that they fall in love with their own teams' prospects. They act over-protective in trade talks, and they expect a success rate that's entirely unreasonable. Prospects fail all the time. Sometimes partially, sometimes spectacularly. Recently, I feel like there's been a little progress made towards staying sane. But Mike Trout isn't helping. In Trout, the Angels had a five-tool prospect who became a five-tool All-Star and MVP candidate in no time at all. Why shouldn't other prospects be able to work out that way? Why shouldn't other prospects have nearly instant success in the majors?
I wouldn't say that Trout encourages impatience and overrating, but he doesn't discourage them. No, of course he's not the first young player to follow this kind of path. As a 19-year-old, Trout posted a .672 OPS in 135 plate appearances. As a 19-year-old, Alex Rodriguez posted a .672 OPS in 149 plate appearances. The next year, Rodriguez's OPS bloomed to four digits. But here we're talking about Alex Rodriguez. We've compared Mike Trout to one of the greatest players in baseball history, and coming into 2012, Trout was still listed in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
I don't know if it's at all accurate, but my feeling is that, more recently, we've been more realistic about young players, and more willing to accept the hiccups that almost always present. Mike Trout's like, "I don't know you guys, those prospects are pretty damn talented." Mike Trout's doing a whole lot of statistical good, and dealing just a little bit of psychological harm.