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Mike Trout's About to Get Even More Unstoppable After Solving Only Kryptonite

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 23, 2018

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels in action during the game between Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels on February 28, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)
Masterpress/Getty Images

The last baseball player in the world who needs to get better is Mike Trout.

But wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what Trout is threatening to do.

By his standards, the Los Angeles Angels superstar's spring training stats aren't that impressive at first glance. He's played in 16 games and has racked up a .300 batting average and a .917 OPS.

Not bad, but this is a guy with a .309 average and .987 OPS since 2012. Not to mention 16.2 more wins above replacement (Baseball Reference's version) than any other position player in that time.

Well, you have to look a little closer. Specifically at the strikeout column. Until a first-inning strikeout against Hyun-Jin Ryu on Thursday, that number read zero. As in zilch. Zip. Nada.

It's the latest Trout factoid that's making the rounds. Matt Monagan of MLB.com has a story on it. So does Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, who asked the two-time American League MVP about it. 

In true Trout fashion, he basically shrugged.

"Nothing new," the 26-year-old told Fletcher. "Just with two strikes, I'm trying to battle and get a pitch and put it in play...just getting better at it."

This seems like a warning not to read too much into it. Perhaps it's a warning to write it off as one of those interesting yet meaningless things that happens during spring training.

If only that were so easy.

Because rather than some random occurrence, this looks like the continuation of a trend of Trout's increased opposition to granting pitchers easy outs. Behold a telling graph:

Remember when Trout was striking out a lot in 2014? It was sort of a big controversy at the time. Although it didn't stop him from winning his first MVP, it was proof this supposed superhuman had a flaw.

But then that imperfection became less fatal in 2015 and even less fatal in 2016. Then in 2017, Trout's strikeout rate ceased to be a weakness at all. 

To be sure, this isn't the most thrilling thing Trout has done. He is, after all, an extraordinary talent who can hit balls like this, run like this, make catches like this and even make throws like this. He's the embodiment of everyone's baseball wish fulfillment fantasy.

Still, Trout's strikeouts are a window into how he's becoming more than just a superhuman. He's now also something of a supercomputer.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Trout had a conspicuous weakness when he was striking out a ton in 2014; he couldn't hit the high fastball.

That weakness promptly vanished in 2015. That's freed Trout to work on an overall approach that, not so coincidentally, is getting better every year.

Over time, Trout has gotten more disciplined with swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and more aggressive with swinging at pitches inside the strike zone. And he's doing it the best way possible: by spitting on offspeed junk and letting it fly on hittable fastballs.

This is where something Paul Sorrento, the Angels' assistant hitting coach, said to Fletcher about Trout rings true: "He's getting older. He's getting smarter at the plate. He's got a better concept of the pitches he can and can't handle, which is really very few."

This ongoing transformation has helped turn Trout into one of the best fastball sluggers in baseball. Beyond also helping his strikeout rate, it's had the added bonus of helping to push a walk habit that was high to begin with northward.

Last year was when Trout's strikeout and walk rates finally crossed paths. Thus he joined what is an extremely exclusive club, as only four other qualified hitters racked up more walks than strikeouts last season.

While you might think his approach would have been rusty after he returned from his six-week absence because of a thumb injury, the opposite is true. He had a 0.9 walk-to-strikeout ratio beforehand. Following his return after the All-Star break, the top of the BB/K leaderboard looked like this:

  • Joey Votto: 1.8 BB/K
  • Mike Trout: 1.2 BB/K

Trout wasn't quite racking up free passes and avoiding easy outs at Joey Votto's rate, yet it speaks volumes he came closer than anyone else to doing so.

Meanwhile, Trout's other talents were alive and well. Votto slugged .510 with 10 homers and two stolen bases after the break. Trout slugged .552 with 17 homers and 12 steals.

This spring, Trout has picked up where he left off. Beyond the goose egg in his strikeout column, he also boasts seven walks and a pair each of homers and steals.

The implication is fascinating. What Trout is teasing for 2018 is a season in which he will have his usual Trout-ian power and Trout-ian speed, but with a Votto-ian plate approach.

In other words, a perfect offensive threat.

                

Spring stats courtesy of MLB.com. Other stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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