Mike Trout is good at playing baseball. He is good at playing baseball in the sense that Usain Bolt is good at running fast, Apple is good at convincing people they need the newest iPhone, and George R.R. Martin is good at procrastinating between book releases. Trout is a master of his craft.
One of the things that is remarkable about the 22-year-old is that his game is so well balanced. There really isn't much that Trout can't do very well. His bat, legs, and glove are all excellent, making him perfectly rounded in a way that we've rarely, if ever, seen before.
However, interestingly, it would be hard to argue that Trout is the best in the MLB at any one particular thing. He currently leads the league in wRC+, but for most of his career Miguel Cabrera has been a better hitter. Giancarlo Stanton probably has more raw power. Guys like Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton can do more damage on the bases. There are a number of fielders who can lay claim to better numbers.
Trout is so admired because he has all the tools, not because he has the best tools. That being said, there is one thing that he has definitely been the best at since entering the league: hitting the ball up the middle.
When we analyze baseball we often discuss "pure puller hitters" and guys who "slap it the other way", but rarely is a batter's ability to put the ball back through the box looked at in depth. Players who "use the whole field" are widely praised, and while that does include hitting the ball up the middle, it doesn't focus on it.
To clarify, Trout does not put the ball up the middle the most, he just does the best when he does. In fact, since he entered the league in 2011, he leads a variety of categories league-wide in up-the-middle hitting. The chart below shows his numbers compared to the next 2nd place finisher in each category.
|2nd Best Player in any Category||.444||.800||236||.528||36|
Trout has absolutely destroyed balls to center field. The fact he's hit more home runs in that direction than anyone else during this time period, despite not playing very much or very well in 2011, shows the kind of raw power he possesses. The kind of raw power that scarily could grow with time.
Hitting the ball with authority to center is far from the be-all and end-all of hitting. However, as indicators of talent with the bat go, it's not a bad one. As we covered earlier, this Trout guy can hit.
The fact that he can pound the ball to the middle of the field probably isn't the root of his success, but rather a demonstration of his superhuman abilities. In one sense it should be no surprise that Mike Trout is the best at something, in another, he's rarely had a single baseball skill that he clearly eclipsed the league in.
If you count "hitting dingers to straight away center field" as a baseball skill, which seems reasonable, now he does.
Long story short, if Mike Trout visits your ballpark, you are going to want to attend the game. When you do, make sure your tickets are in center field. Not only will you get to see the man at work with the glove, but for the Angels superstar that's also home run country.
. . .
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.