Debunking the Mike Trout Effect
Mike Trout is arguably the best prospect in all of Major League Baseball. He projects to be a superstar for many years to come, and is already on his way to achieving that projection. He has been the best rookie in the American League, and probably all of baseball, and he has only played in 40 of his team’s 60 games. Before his call-up, the Los Angeles Angels were 6-14 as a team. Since then, they have gone 27-15. They have gone from trailing the Texas Rangers in the AL West by 9 games to now only being 2.5 games back. In fact, the combination of all of these factors can lead to these kinds of misleading tweets about the “Mike Trout Effect”:
Which were predicted on the day of Trout’s call-up, by others:
Of course, I don’t think anyone expected on April 28 that over his first 40 games Trout would rack up 6 home runs, a .977 OPS, and 2.6 bWAR. For the entire season, Trout trails only 7 position players in bWAR. He has far exceeded expectations. The reason that the “Mike Trout Effect” is misleading is that Trout alone isn’t the sole reason that the Angels record has seen such a dramatic swing since April 28. Before his call-up, there were more things wrong with the Angels than just the hole that Mike Trout has filled. He has certainly been a significant factor in their turnaround, but it would be a mistake to attribute all of the recent Angels success to the 20-year old Trout.
At the center of the Angels 6-14 start was Albert Pujols. Remember when everyone was playing the “so-and-so has more home runs than Albert Pujols game?” That was this year! Oh, the memories. Pujols had the worst month of his career in April, posting a .570 OPS. Since then, wonder of wonders, he has thrown up a .864 OPS, not quite his career average of 1.027, but closer to the .906 OPS he hit in 2011. Pujols was not alone in his April underperformance and May/June resurgence. Here is the total list of Angels regulars who went from underperforming to better since the time that Mike Trout was called up.
You may choose to believe that Mike Trout is William Wallace, or Maximus, or any other great leader depicted in a 3-hour Hollywood production that inspires his fellow warriors to be greater than themselves. Maybe one day there will be a 3-hour epic tale spun about Mike Trout. I would be all for that, and it just may happen. However, despite all his energy and youthful exuberance, I don’t credit Trout for the dramatic change in each of these veteran hitters’ production. It is more likely, though still not the whole story, that the changing of the guard in the Angels’ hitting coach on May 17th had more of an impact than Trout’s call-up. It’s perhaps even more likely that this was a team that got in a funk right out of the gate to start the season, and since then have just progressed to their mean (average) selves. Still, let’s get on that Hollywood movie.
Beyond the pitiful offensive production during their 6-14 start, the Angels had one other glaring issue: their bullpen. During the month of April, the bullpen went 0-6 while posting a 5.08 ERA. It would be difficult to get much worse than that. You’ll probably never guess, but the Angels bullpen has improved since then. If there is an argument to be made that Trout could be credited for the success of the Angels bullpen since his call-up, I would be thrilled to see it. Much of the improvement of the Angels bullpen can be attributed to one man, and it’s not Trout. That would be Ernesto Frieri. If you don’t know about Frieri, you really should know about Frieri. The Angels traded for Frieri from the San Diego Padres on May 3rd. Since that time, Frieri has pitched 17.1 innings, allowed 0 runs, 2 hits, and struck out 33 batters. He pitched 13 innings before he allowed his first hit. Frieri has assumed the previously revolving-door closer position for the Angels, which has had a ripple effect on the rest of the bullpen. In May and June, the Angels’ bullpen has a 5-2 record, and a 2.89 ERA.
We have seen young stars make an immediate impact on their team before. Sam Fuld spun a similar trick. Jay Bruce is another name that comes to mind. In other sports, Jeremy Lin immediately transformed a New York Knicks team. Eventually, all of those fairy tale stories came to an end, reality set in, and order was restored in the world. The story of Mike Trout is slightly different, because he is producing at a level he is expected to reach one day, just not quite this quickly.
Mike Trout has been better than great for the Angels, but relative to their performance in April, almost all of the Angels have been. Trout is still a rookie, and has still only played 40 games this season. It is a bit premature to dub him as the MVP (though he likely will be one someday soon), or the savior of Los Angeles. At some point, Trout won’t be posting a .977 OPS any more, but the Angels could still be winning, because Trout isn’t the only good player on the Angels. The Angels have lots of good players, and it just so happens that now they’re playing like the good players that they are.
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