The Los Angeles Angels have one of the best hitters in the history of the game on their side. That would be Albert Pujols, of course, who has put his early-season struggles behind him to hit .325/.402/.651 with 21 homers and 57 RBI since the middle of May (.284, 22, 71 overall).
The Angels figured (see "hoped") they were going to get this kind of production from Pujols when they signed him to a massive 10-year contract this offseason. After looking like fools earlier in the season, they now look like geniuses. Or, at the very least, competently intelligent.
What the Angels probably didn't count on was getting the kind of production they've gotten out of Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, who are best described with the words "awesome" and "awesomer," respectively.
Trout, 20, has been the most lethal force in baseball since he was called up in late April. Trumbo, 26, is showing this year that he's more than just a brutish power hitter in the spirit of Pedro Cerrano.
Throughout the course of the season, it's become apparent that Trout and Trumbo are just as important to the Angels' success as Pujols. It's all well and good that they've been pleasant surprises, but the pressure is on them to keep it up and continue to be key cogs in Mike Scioscia's lineup on a daily basis. Now that they've established themselves as stars, there can be no going back.
It goes without saying that both of them are important. But in situations such as these, we can't help but ask which one of them is more important. That's the kind of question that calls for immediate discussion.
In Trout and Trumbo, we're talking about two completely different kinds of hitters. Comparing the two of them isn't quite comparing apples to oranges, but it's close.
Trout has been driving the ball with authority recently, but it would be a stretch to call him a power hitter. He's more of a line-drive hitter with power. Even when he manages mere singles, odds are, he's going to get to second or third base anyway due to his speed. Trout has plenty of that.
Trumbo is more of a pure power hitter. This was obvious last year, when he managed to post a .768 OPS despite a measly .291 on-base percentage. He's being more selective this season and making more solid contact. And that's translated into a higher batting average and a higher OBP.
So between the two, who's the more dangerous offensive player? Well, in case it isn't already obvious enough, this table, which uses stats pulled from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, should help:
For the record, Trout's .348 average, .441 wOBA and 81 runs scored are all AL highs. He ranks second in the AL in slugging and OPS. He hit 10 home runs in July, second only to Josh Willingham in the AL. And not featured in that table? Trout's 31 stolen bases, which are also an AL high.
He's not the best power hitter baseball has to offer, and I'd say it's way too early to call him the best hitter baseball has to offer (Joey Votto still has my vote). What's clear, though, is that Trout is certainly the most well-rounded offensive player in baseball right now.
None of this is to say that Trumbo is a slouch offensively. Those 27 home runs of his rank fifth in the American League, and his .587 slugging percentage is good for third. Trumbo's .393 wOBA ties him for seventh in the AL with Robinson Cano. Trumbo's wOBA is higher than those of Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder—a reality that confirms the notion held in some camps that Trumbo is the junior circuit's most underrated hitter.
He's just not as dangerous offensively as Trout. That's not an insult by any stretch of the imagination, as nobody is as dangerous offensively as Trout right now. It's just the truth.
The plan heading into the season was to use Trumbo at third base. There was, after all, no more room for him at first thanks to the signing of Prince Albert.
The move to third base didn't pan out, as Trumbo struggled mightily to keep it together defensively at the hot corner earlier in the season. So much so, in fact, that he hasn't been featured at third base since May 3.
He's spent the bulk of his time in left field over the last three months, and he's handled himself well enough. Per FanGraphs, Trumbo has a -1.6 UZR and a DRS (defensive runs saved) of plus-four in 283 innings' worth of action in left field. Not great, but serviceable.
He hasn't been as serviceable in right field, posting a -2.4 UZR and a minus-six DRS in 235.2 innings. Naturally, the Angels are a much better team when Torii Hunter is patrolling right field. As for Trout, well...he's kind of amazing in the outfield.
It matters little whether Trout plays in left field or center field. He's an excellent defensive outfielder no matter where Mike Scioscia pencils him in. But he's at his best when he's patrolling center field. Per FanGraphs, he's posted a 6.1 UZR and a DRS of plus-11 in 425 innings in center field.
This puts him in the same company as standout defensive centerfielders like teammate Peter Bourjos, Craig Gentry, Austin Jackson and Denard Span. And of course, we know Trout can do things like this:
Is he a better defensive player than Trumbo? Um, is the Pope Catholic?
Since Trout is a better offensive and defensive player than Trumbo, he must be the more important player, right?
It's not that cut and dry. Trumbo may not be as skilled as Trout is, but he's quietly making a name for himself as a clutch performer. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Trumbo has hit .317/.361/.653 with a 1.015 OPS in 52 wins that he's been a part of. He's also hit pretty well in Angels losses, as his line checks in at .273/.339/.500 with an .839 OPS in a total of 43 losses.
Compare that to Trout, who is a .282/.362/.450 hitter with an .813 OPS in 33 losses that he's been a part of. The other thing about Trumbo is that he has a knack for coming up with big hits in key situations. In tie games, he's hitting .272/.333/.630 with eight home runs. In late and close situations, he's hitting .275/.356/.700 with five home runs.
Trout hasn't quite mastered late and close situations. In those, he's hitting .257/.317/.486 with a pair of home runs. His production tends to come in early innings, specifically innings two through five. He's had a tendency to punish starting pitchers when he sees them a second or third time.
Still, there's no denying that the Angels are a much different team when Trout plays. They're 49-33 in games in which Trout is featured. Without him, they're 8-15.
The Angels are 52-33 when Trumbo plays. But in this discussion, what really matters is that they went 4-9 in the 13 games Trumbo played in before Trout was called up. Not that those losses were all his fault, of course. I'm just sayin'.
The Grand Conclusion
I don't want to take anything away from Mark Trumbo. He may be a man without a position, but he's been one of the top hitters in the American League all season. The scary part is how much he's improved as a hitter from 2011 to 2012, which naturally makes one wonder about what's to come in 2013 and beyond. It stands to reason that we haven't yet seen Trumbo at his best.
But he's no Mike Trout.
Who's the more important Angels player?
What Trout is doing this season is remarkable. Despite missing the first month of the year, he's a virtual lock to finish with a 30/30 season. He has a legit chance to walk away with a batting title, Gold Glove, the Rookie of the Year and American League MVP award.
He's obviously a better player than Trumbo, but even saying that doesn't do Trout justice. FanGraphs has Trout's WAR calculated at 6.5, the highest mark of any player in the majors. Translation: Never mind the Angels, Trout is the best player in baseball. Period.
Trumbo does a lot of things to help the Angels win games. Trout just happens to do more things to help the Angels win games.
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