Almost nobody thought that Mike Trout could replicate the success of his rookie season, but sure enough, he went and did that plus a little bit more in 2013. What could he possibly have in store for us in 2014?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
Coming into 2013, just about everybody predicted that Mike Trout would come back to earth after his amazing rookie season. Many pointed to his .383 BABIP as unsustainable and his .238 ISO as being above his talent level. They were all right, but only barely.
Trout didn't match that .383 BABIP, instead it came in at .376 and his ISO dropped all the way from .238 to .234. Hooray for moral victories!
Aside from those marginal dips in his numbers, Trout somehow found a way to make major strides at the plate. He improved his walk rate from 10.5% to 15.4% and cut his strikeout rate from 21.8% to 19.0%. That netted in his wRC+ improving from 166 to 176 in 2013. So while his old school counting stats might've taken a bit of a hit, it is hard to argue that he didn't become a better overall hitter last season.
Trout did, however, take steps back in the field and on the bases. While Trout was considered an elite defender in 2012, his defense was merely average according to the advanced metrics, or even below average according to some. That was a very curious development that seems to speak more to the inconsistency of those metrics than it does Trout actually playing worse in the field.
Trout also inexplicably was less of a threat on the basepaths. He was still an excellent baserunner in terms of taking extra bases and all of that, but he only attempted 40 stolen bases on the year, despite making 54 attempts in 2012 in which he played 15 fewer games and had a much lower OBP.
Even with the regression in fielding and baserunning, Trout still managed to post a 10.4 fWAR season and re-ignite the same Cabrera vs. Trout AL MVP debate from the year before. Despite his case being stronger than the season before, Trout lost once again because BBWAA.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
The systems all expect Trout to dip in productivity once again. Don't blame them though, these systems are conservative by nature. The mere idea of seeing him repeat his 2013 or even improve would probably cause the data models to pack up their things and quit. Even with that in mind, the projection systems still think Trout will be the best player in baseball by way of 8+ WAR predictions from them all. In fact, Trout's projection is the best ever in the history of ZiPS, and it wasn't even close.
The more negative projections, which are still quite positive, of Trout see his power falling off some. There is just something about Trout that seems to prevent people from buying into his power. They also see his walk rate decreasing. The improvements in whiff rate appear to be perfectly acceptable though.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
I refuse to doubt Trout. He's still crazy young and should only get better, which is actually possible. I don't say that lightly though. I'm not just some Trout fanboy who considered a deity beyond reproach. There is actual real, tangible evidence that he can get better.
What jumped out at me about Trout last year was that he basically turned into Barry Bonds in the final two months of the season, at least in terms of getting on base. In August and September, he saw his walk rate jump all the way to 22.7% and 24.0%, respectively. That resulted in OBPs of .500 and .455 in those months. That's just absurd.
What is more absurd is that he didn't sacrifice anything to make it happen other than seeing his strikeout rate tick back up to 2012 levels. His power was still there and he still hit for average. This wasn't Bonds drawing tons of intentional walks either, Trout was only given an intentional pass six times in those two months. Pitchers just couldn't get him out.
Now, I don't think that he is going walk at 20+% for the whole year, but seeing him consistently walk at 15% rather than having two distinctly different halves to the season. I also think his recent comments about being more aggressive early in counts will serve to suppress the walks somewhat.
I'm also taking Trout at his word that he will be more aggressive on the basepaths, but that is an entirely faith-based projection.
What are the known unknowns?
The big unknown is that we don't know what caused Trout's defensive numbers to get kicked in the teeth. Some have hypothesized that going between left and center messed him up. Others have potined out that he simply didn't have the same opportunities to make high value plays, like robbing homers, played a big role. Others have suggested that it was in some way the fault of the pitchers getting hit so hard. There are also those think it is just a combination of Trout having a defensive slump combined with noise of the defensive metrics systems.
When it comes to baserunning, I believe Trout will try to run more, but I am worried that it may not be his decision to make. The Angels as a whole didn't steal as much last season. While it has never been reported or confirmed, there is a working theory that Scioscia or someone in the front office deliberately put the clamps on stolen base attempts in front of Pujols and Hamilton so that they didn't run themselves out of run scoring opportunities. That seems far-fetched to me, but it was really such a strange trend that any theory could be plausible. It is worth noting though that steals were down leaguewide last season, so it could be part of a more macro phenomenon.
The final unknown is Trout's contract. There is still plenty of time before the season to get it worked out, but one can't help but wonder if those talks might not become a distraction if they linger into the regular season. Or, conversely, if he finalizes a big money deal and then suddenly starts feeling the pressure to live up to his sudden wealth. He's saying all the right things about this issue, but we won't really know how he'll react until we see it for ourselves.