May 11, 2021

Sports Legend

Mike Trout’s best career start makes us wonder what’s possible in 2021



It’s May 3rd and Mike Trout is batting .413.

It also has seven circuits, a base percentage of 0.515 and 1290 OPS, with 2.0 bWAR and 259 OPS +.

“What I’m seeing right now is pretty damn good,” Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters on a recent Zoom call before the game.

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Even a sore elbow – he was hit on a pitch by Christian Javier of Houston on April 22 – turned out to be nothing more than a hiccup. He has missed a few games, but has reached 0.458 in six games since returning to the roster.

This is, by most measures, his best start to the season. These numbers we’ve benchmarked are all career best to start a season, with the exception of the home runs. Trout had 11 home runs until May 2, 2018, but “only” a base percentage of 0.433 and 1,084 OPS.

So two questions come to mind.

1. What is different this year?

Trout struggled a bit during the shortened 2020 season; his base percentage fell below 0.400 for the first time since 2014 and he posted the lowest OPS + of his career (164).

Yes, every word in that sentence is ridiculous. His low season still resulted in a fifth place finish in the AL MVP race.

“You’re talking about someone in another galaxy. Even when he’s bad, it’s still really good, ”Maddon said. “The standards for him are so high that it is very difficult to maintain them consistently. Just from the conversation around it that we are all aware of, I think the right word might be “pressure”. He feels that pressure to at least be that, and he’s always tried to do more. He has this high standard to live up to and he does. ”

The key so far this year, Trout told reporters via Zoom, is timing.

“It all starts by getting off this pied-à-terre,” he said. “When it’s not low I don’t recognize the throws, the chase rate increases. Being on time and recognizing the ground is important.”

2. What is possible this year?

A month doesn’t make a season, of course. He played 23 games, which is an extremely small sample. And yet, we have learned to expect greatness from Trout in his career. If he retired tomorrow, he would be a Hall of Fame pick in the first round.

Still, Trout isn’t going to hit .400. Well, it’s almost certainly not going to hit .400. He’s only topped 0.315 twice, and it was good in his rookie year of 2012 (.326) and 2013 (.323). It hasn’t even finished at .300 since 2018. Reaching .400 would be a huge leap.

Trout obviously isn’t the first person to end April with a batting average north of 0.400. Since 1961, when baseball extended its season to 162 games, a total of 72 players have ended April with at least 75 home plate appearances and an average of 0.400 or more.

You already know how many of those 72 finished at .400 or better: zero. No hitter has passed .400 in an entire season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Barry Bonds tops this list of 72; he beat .472 with 10 homers and a .696 – not a typo – percentage on base at the end of April 2004. He finished at .362, 45 and .609.

Some other notables at the end of April …

– Larry Walker was at .456 in 1997, when he finished at .366
– Tony Gwynn averaged north of 0.400 at the end of April on three occasions (1984, 1996 and 1999).
– Bonds, Rod Carew, Paul O’Neill and Pete Rose all finished April with an average of 0.400 or better twice in their careers.
– Pete O’Brien did it twice, two years in a row! He was batting .433 at the end of April 1988, and he finished at .272; he beat .400 in 1989 and finished at .260.

Again, this is a small sample, but Trout crushes baseball so far this year.

Here are some StatCast numbers, from BaseballSavant.com, which traces the numbers from 2015: Its most affected percentage is 58.9%. Its barrel percentage is 19.6. Its average exit speed is 93.8. These three totals are for him the best of the StatCast era. And remember, he won two AL MVP awards and finished second two more times around this time.

Could he top 50 circuits for the first time? Have you set a career high for doubles? Crack the 11-bWAR club? These things are all possible in his 29-year-old season.

“He’s got everything going on right now,” Maddon said.