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Will Mike Trout Ride White-Hot Spring to MLB's Fifth-Ever 40-40 Season in 2014?

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Will Mike Trout Ride White-Hot Spring to MLB's Fifth-Ever 40-40 Season in 2014?
Kirby Lee/USA Today

When Mike Trout exploded onto the scene with 30 homers and 49 stolen bases in only 139 games in 2012, him joining the 40-40 Club in 2013 looked like a likelihood. Maybe even a foregone conclusion.

It didn't happen, of course. With 27 homers and 33 steals, the young Los Angeles Angels star didn't even make it to 30-30. I blame Sports Illustrated, because that's what people do, right?

Anyway, that Trout didn't make it to the 40-40 Club in 2013 might be why there hasn't been much buzz about him making another run in 2014. It seems people have accepted that he has limits after all.

But with Trout raking in spring training, well...Shoot, how 'bout now? Already the game's best power/speed threat, maybe this year will see him ride a hot spring straight to the company of Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano in the 40-40 Club.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Trout played in his eighth spring exhibition Wednesday. He collected only one hit in four trips to the plate against the Milwaukee Brewers, but in doing so, he only lowered his spring slash line to .375/.400/.625. He's not far off from the .350/.466/.617 slash line he posted last spring, which preceded another Trout-ian season.

Maybe the slash line Trout is putting up now will do the same. But if he wants to join the 40-40 Club in 2014, one thing will have to happen this year that didn't happen last year: Trout's spring power must be predictive of his regular-season power.

Trout's isolated power last spring came out to .267, which teased an improvement over the .238 ISO he posted in 2012. But that didn't pan out, as he finished in the same neighborhood in 2013 with a .234 ISO.

Trout's spring ISO now stands at .250. That's the same ISO A-Rod had when he joined the 40-40 Club in 1998. So if Trout carries his spring power over to the regular season, it might actually be enough.

We obviously can't take it for granted that it will based on what happened last year. Beyond that, we are indeed looking at a spring training stat. It behooves us to not take Trout's .250 ISO at face value and instead look more closely for encouraging clues.

And therein lies another, much more significant stumbling block: There are none.

Trout has three extra-base hits this spring: a double, a triple and a homer. Complicating things for us is that neither the double nor the triple were booming hits.

The triple was a soft liner to center against the Los Angeles Dodgers that Yasiel Puig almost misplayed into an inside-the-park homer. Had it been a true center fielder out there, it would have been a single.

As for the double, that was a bullet up the middle against the Seattle Mariners that found its way into no man's land in left-center. It was hustle that got Trout to second. Not power.

Two of the three extra-base hits he has this spring thus don't really tell us whether he's packing any extra power heading into 2014. That leaves it up to the home run to tell us that.

The home run was a grand slam off Chicago Cubs right-hander James McDonald in late February that looked like this:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

What we saw was Trout hitting a pitch from a right-hander. Specifically, he hit a fastball. Knowing McDonald's typical pitch selection (via Brooks Baseball), it was very likely a four-seamer.

Its location, meanwhile, was basically knee-high down the middle of the plate:

Image courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

So here we have Trout hitting a home run off a middle-low four-seam fastball thrown by a right-hander, leading us to the big question: Does this count as progress?

Answer: No, not really.

First, we know Trout can hit righties. He's actually a reverse-splits weirdo with better numbers against righties than against lefties. You can see a few good ones over at FanGraphs.

Second, we know Trout can hit fastballs. Per FanGraphs, he generated more runs above average against fastballs than any other righty last season. More specifically, Brooks Baseball says he hit .299 with a .277 ISO against righty four-seamers.

Third, we know Trout can crush righty four-seamers when they're thrown in the same general location as the one that he hit for the grand slam. Here's a helpful graphic from Brooks Baseball:

Image courtesy of Brooks Baseball (with a h/t to Baseball Prospectus)

Here's the long and short of it: Trout has one legitimate extra-base hit this spring, and it came on precisely the kind of pitch we know he can crush. We haven't seen much yet, but so far, his power basically appears to be, well, his power.

Not that this is a bad thing. Even if Trout is indeed heading into 2014 with roughly the same power he had in 2012 and 2013, that's still enough power enough for 30 homers easily. It's just that the gap from there to 40 is an awfully big one. Trout's going to need more power than he's shown to bridge it.

And you know what? Even if he was clearly entering 2014 with more power, there'd still be some things standing in his way.

Starting with his home ballpark. Maybe you've heard that Angel Stadium of Anaheim isn't a great park for home run hitters. Trout's home/road splits do a good job of reflecting that:

Mike Trout's Home/Road HR/FB Splits
Year Home FB% Home HR/FB Road FB% Road HR/FB
2012 38.3 20.0 27.8 23.7
2013 35.9 16.5 35.3 16.5

FanGraphs

If the Angels decide to move the fences in sometime in the near future, they'll be helping Trout's chances of joining the 40-40 Club. Until then, their home ballpark is putting him at a disadvantage.

One thing the Angels can't do, however, is control how pitchers approach Trout. And if what happened between 2012 and 2013 is any indication, they might be more cautious with him in 2014. 

Via FanGraphs:

Mike Trout FB% and Zone%
Year FB% Zone%
2012 64.7 47.4
2013 60.5 43.7

FanGraphs

After giving him tons of fastballs and tons of pitches in the zone to hit as a rookie, pitchers gave Trout fewer of both in 2013. Given how he still managed to be a very dangerous hitter, another decline on both fronts may be in order for 2014. If so, pitches for him to drive are going to be even less frequent.

There are two popular projection systems over at FanGraphs: Steamer and ZiPS. Neither sees Trout even topping 30 homers in 2014. After considering what we've considered, that sounds realistic. 

Which, I suppose, renders moot the point of talking about Trout possibly stealing 40 bases this year. All the same, even that could be tough for him.

Trout certainly has the speed to swipe 40 bags. But after swiping 49 in 2012 with a .399 OBP in 139 games, he only made it to 33 steals in 2013, despite a .432 OBP in 157 games. He had many more opportunities to steal, but he didn't steal as much.

Contributing to that was Trout's positioning in Mike Scioscia's batting order. After batting exclusively out of the leadoff spot in 2012, 88 percent of Trout's plate appearances in 2013 came batting No. 2 or No. 3. His job became less about getting on and getting over and more about getting 'em over and getting 'em in.

It's going to be more of the same for Trout in 2014. As Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reported, Scioscia is looking to keep Trout glued to Albert Pujols in his lineup, which more than likely means the two of them batting second and third with Josh Hamilton batting fourth. 

Conventional wisdom says this will mean fewer opportunities for Trout to run. There's no need for him to get into scoring position when Pujols and Hamilton are up, because he's in scoring position when he's standing at first. Also, having an open base could cause a pitch-around. Et cetera, et cetera.

For what it's worth, ZiPS is optimistic with its projection of 43 steals for Trout. Steamer is more skeptical, with a projection of 31 steals. Me? Something in the middle sounds about right. Trout has 40-steal speed, but circumstances could keep him from making the most of it.

The 40-40 discussion is one worth having with Trout. Last year. This year. Next year. Any year. Whatever. It's a tough club to crack, but he's easily the game's best candidate to crack it. 

But I'm not sold on Trout's chances this year. He's going to have a fantastic year one way or another, but 40-40's asking a lot. The power requirement is an especially big hurdle, as we know neither from Trout's past production nor his spring production whether he has enough pop to cross the 40-homer plateau.

I've been accused here and there of being incapable of keeping my inner fanboy under control when I write about Trout. So for the record, yes, I do believe this is a first. Finally, me believing there's something Trout can't do.

...That's probably a jinx, huh?

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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