Here's the power guy
I just completed our annual First Pitch Forum conference tour and opened each session with a 15-minute rant about Mike Trout. "Don't draft him!" is what I told the hundreds of attendees. Just don't. Here's the complete list of 12 reasons why:
1. Consider our perception of Mike Trout at this time last year. All the talk was about the two top prospects, Trout and Bryce Harper. According to the scouting reports, Trout was always considered the speed prospect while Harper was the power prospect. Consulting the Trout projections from several respected fantasy sources last year, annualized to 550 AB, the mean expectation was 15 HR, 31 SB and a .275 BA. Heck, he never hit more than 11 HRs in any minor league season.
So at minimum, 2012 starts to look like it could be a power outlier, just like Jacoby Ellsbury's 32 HRs were an outlier. Just like Joe Mauer's 28 HRs were an outlier. These were players who have proven not to be power hitters but each had one anomalous year. Bill James' Plexiglass Principle states that sharp improvements in performance in one year are always followed by a decline in the next.
2. From 2005-2011, there were 187 batters who hit at least 30 home runs in a season. Of those, only one accomplished the feat with a fly ball rate as low as Trout's 33% from last year: Josh Hamilton in 2008. Last year, Trout was one of five players to hit at least 30 HRs with a fly ball rate that low - Robinson Cano, Chase Headley, Prince Fielder and Adam Jones were the others. Given the history, odds are very strong that this is not a repeatable feat.
In fact, in the second half, 27% of Trout's fly balls cleared the fence. That's Giancarlo Stanton territory! Even Jose Bautista didn't match that hr/f rate in his 54-HR season (22%).
3. If Trout's power is a mirage, he has far less value as a first-rounder. Home runs are scarcer in today's game so you need to stockpile them early. There is a ton of cheap speed available later in drafts so you don't have to invest heavily in stolen bases in early rounds. That potentially upgrades the true value of players like Prince Fielder and Stanton, and potentially downgrades the true value of players like Michael Bourn and Trout. And with solid speedsters like Ben Revere and Juan Pierre getting drafted many rounds later, there is no need to pay extra for stolen bases.
4. Trout had a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .383. While batters establish their own BABIP baseline over time, nobody maintains a level that high. .330 maybe, .340 on the high end. More likely closer to .300. So as Trout's BABIP comes down, so will his batting average. A falling batting average doesn't happen in a vacuum. When BA drops, so will all the rest of his counting stats, including his stolen base opportunities.
5. And about those steals... Trout showed up to camp at 240 pounds. While he will probably work some of it off this month, that weight is a huge amount to carry for a speedster. When you look for players that are 6-1, 240, you find names like Chad Billingsley, Billy Butler, and Bob Wickman. Over the past few years, the most bases any player over 230 pounds has stolen in a season was 17. To find even 20-SB output, you have to go down to 225 pounds, and only two players of that weight have amassed those totals recently - Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. To find anyone who consistently steals 30-40 bases, you have to go down to 210-215 pounds.
6. And suppose that 230-pound players could steal 40 bases consistently. If you're strong, get a good jump and build up enough momentum, it's certainly possible to steal bases and track down flies in the outfield. But then momentum becomes the enemy. It's the problem of... stopping. Trout's maximum-effort style of play is just begging to be stopped by an immovable object, like a wall, or an opposing infielder, or a knee giving out. Every player has nearly a 1-in-2 chance of ending up on the disabled list in any year; Trout's odds could well be higher.
Keith Olbermann tweeted from spring training this week: "Deep inhalation here in Tempe as #Angels Mike Trout makes a nice running catch on Choo and bangs hard into LF fence. Unhurt. And all exhale." Expect to be doing that a lot this year.
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