Mike Trout: Four tool player?

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Trout has been widely praised for his all-around game, but there is one thing missing.

In the year 2014, it's fair to say that most baseball fans, or really most self-respecting human beings of any description, have heard of a man by the name of Mike Trout. Trout's domination of the major leagues at such a young age has been nothing short of extraordinary. There are tons and tons of numbers one could rattle off to support that point, but the whole "wow this Mike Trout fella is pretty good at baseball" thing has been more or less beaten to death. In order to avoid beating said dead horse, one needs to find flaws in Trout, a challenge that is far more difficult and interesting. Beyond the Boxscore's own Chris Moran touched on this very topic not long ago citing Trout's poor clutch numbers as the chink in his armor. Today I mean to examine another weak spot in Mike Trout's game.

Mike Trout has often been described as the ultimate five-tool player, however it turns out that might be something of a misnomer for the Angels outfielder. When it comes to the most trivial of the tools, the throwing arm, Mr. Trout has shown very little so far in his career. For example, he has been utterly incapable of creating outs via the outfield assist. The chart below shows which outfielders with at least 2,000 innings in the field over the last three years have the fewest assists:

Player Innings Outfield Assists
Mike Trout 2826 3
Carl Crawford 2179.2 4
Nate McLouth 2453 5
Carlos Quentin 2000.2 5
Cameron Maybin 2503.2 6
Juan Pierre 2729 6
Will Venable 2797.2 6
Coco Crisp 3026 7
Desmond Jennings 2821.1 8
Seth Smith 2016.1 9
Ryan Ludwick 2290.2 9
Jose Tabata 2100.2 10
Chris Young 2837.2 10
Jon Jay 3268 10
Peter Bourjos 2186 11

When it comes to gunning out runners Mike Trout is pretty much the worst around. Trout has logged the 4th most innings among these outfielders and still has very little to show for his efforts in terms of assists. However, there is more to an outfielder's arm than simply his assist totals. Two of the major advanced defensive rating systems, DRS and UZR, rate the number of runs outfielders save for their team or cost their team with their arms. Looking at these ratings for the 15 assist-challenged outfielders above gives us a more in-depth look at which outfielders are the most inept when it comes to their fifth tool:

Player rARM (DRS) ARM (UZR) Average
Jon Jay -10 -15.1 -12.6
Carlos Quentin -14 -11 -12.5
Juan Pierre -9 -12.3 -10.7
Coco Crisp -9 -11.3 -10.2
Will Venable -9 -7.5 -8.3
Mike Trout -9 -7.4 -8.2
Cameron Maybin -6 -8.8 -7.4
Seth Smith -8 -4.7 -6.4
Nate McLouth -6 -5.8 -5.9
Jose Tabata -5 -6.9 -5.5
Ryan Ludwick -5 -5.4 -5.2
Chris Young -9 -1.1 -5.1
Carl Crawford -4 -4.6 -4.3
Desmond Jennings -1 -0.1 -0.6
Peter Bourjos 3 3.4 3.2

This chart shows Trout to be in the middle of the pack when it comes to assist laggards. This is because rating an outfielder's arm doesn't exclusively come down to the outs they make. Another important component is their ability to hold runners and prevent them from advancing. When it comes to holding runners Mike Trout is actually solid. The chart below shows his Held% compared to the league average at every position he's played in the outfield. Keep in mind that he has played virtually no right field in his short career so those numbers come from a tiny sample.

Position Held% League Average Held%
Left Field 65.0% 63.7%
Center Field 45.5% 44.2%
Right Field 50% 46.3%

These numbers show a guy with a roughly average arm. That's closer to what one would expect. When Trout was a prospect in 2011 John Sickels described his arm as, "average but accurate." The fact the when Trout went to a corner it was left rather than right is telling. No one expects Mike Trout to have a cannon, but at the same time no one expects him to have a noodle either.

While Trout is probably not as incompetent throwing the ball as a Juan Pierre or Carlos Quentin type, his low arm scores from both the DRS and UZR rating systems as well his low assist totals show that average might be a generous description of his arm. That's OK. Mike Trout is entitled to a blemish or two. In his rookie season that blemish was his strikeouts, but seeing as he dealt with that problem last year it's only fair that he leaves himself another area with some room for improvement. The fact that picking out a very specific small flaw in Mike Trout's game constitutes news or any kind of novel information is just another testament to his excellence. While Trout has long been thought of as the prototypical five-tool player it may be that he's more of a four-tool player after all. Even if he is leaving his home for the ballpark short one tool the Angels aren't exactly going to complain. Considering most major league players are lucky to have one or two functional tools in the old belt, Mike Trout is doing just fine.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Nick Ashbourne is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.

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