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.
7. There are some who argue that Trout could maintain - or, God help us - even improve his numbers because he'll have a full six months of at-bats. But last year's five months of amazing performance wasn't even real - it was an amazing three months. He was other-worldly in May, June and July. But he batted just .284 in August and .257 in September, with a similarly declining power trend. His OPS in September was a mortal .835. So it appears the league was already catching up to him. As baseball analysts, we all know that we would never forecast the future based on one season. So we certainly shouldn't do it based on three months.
2013 won't be all smiles
8. And don't think that opposing teams haven't been spending the off-season reviewing film, scouting reports and trying to uncover a weakness they can exploit. While not nearly at Trout's level, remember how highly we had valued players like Eric Hosmer and Brett Lawrie coming into 2012. They both disappointed as sophomores. Well, this is a game all about adjustments and we have yet to see how Trout adjusts when the league catches up in year #2.
9. Still, most analysts are projecting some regression. The problem is, a season like 2012 - one that is filled with so much noise already - cannot be used as a point of reference. You can't be taken in by the recency bias and project 2013 by regressing Trout 10%, 20% or 30% from last year's numbers. Last year's numbers are faulty. You have to start 2013 as a blank slate and build a projection from the ground up based on better measures of underlying skill. Admittedly, that is tough to do because all we have is 2012 data. But it's bad data. Garbage in, garbage out.
10. And that 2012 season was not only incredible, it was historic. With one additional stolen base, Trout would have become only the third player in the history of Major League Baseball to post a 30-HR, 50-SB season. The only two players to ever accomplish that feat were Barry Bonds and Eric Davis. Projecting a repeat, or near repeat of an historic performance would be unprecedented. Neither Bonds nor Davis were ever able to repeat that 30/50 feat. And what's more, they both did it with several years of experience under their belts, both at age 25.
11. And Trout pulled off his feat at age 21. Nobody has ever put up numbers like he did at that age. One argument is that he can only get better. Is that even physically possible? Is there not some ceiling to statistical performance? Why don't we just project him to post a 50/70 season? If anything, age 21 might be considered more of an obstacle. I don't know about you, but if I had pulled off an historic feat - of any kind - at age 21, I might have gotten a little cocky, a little over-confident. Trout is a young kid thrust into a new season filled with extraordinary expectation. Let's see how he handles that pressure.
12. And yet, given all the above, he is still going off the board at #1 in many drafts. He is still getting bid into the $40s and $50s in auctions. Are there no other players with first round earning potential that are better picks? Players who have more than one year's track record? Trout finished as the #1 player in baseball last year. Over the past decade, only one player has ever repeated at #1 in consecutive seasons - Albert Pujols, in 2008 and 2009, at ages 28 and 29.
When I say not to draft Mike Trout, it's not because he's not talented; he could well have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him. It's because his current market price guarantees that there is no way he will return fair value. Your early round/$40 players are the cornerstones that you build your team around. You cannot afford for them to return less than par value. And there are so many negative variables working against Trout that it is hard to see how he can be a good investment at his current market price.
What do I think he will do? Well, all I have is my subjective opinion because there is not enough valid data to calculate anything more scientific. I think 20 HRs are a reasonable upside, though 15-20 is probably a more likely range. At his current weight, I don't see more than 25 stolen bases. And I'll stick with a .285 batting average. For those who continue to argue that we'll see an extra month of performance this year, I think that point is moot; he'll likely miss at least that much time nursing injuries or on the DL.
Net-net, this is a 2nd or 3rd round performance, a $25 player. If you can get him there, grab him.
If you own Trout in a keeper league, needless to say, you should protect him. These 12 reasons don't mean he's not valuable to own, and it is a no-brainer at the price he's probably being kept at. This is just a huge red flag when it comes to his short-term potential compared to his exorbitant market price in 2013 redraft leagues.
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