On July 26th, Mike Trout hurt his left wrist attempting a diving catch. He stayed in the game after the apparent injury, hit a grand slam, and an MRI a few days later came back negative. Initially, there was no major cause for concern. Yet Trout has scuffled mightily in August, managing just a .555 OPS entering Wednesday's game, and his .297 OBP is decidedly not Trout-like.
It should be recognized that Trout has had lapses in production quality for extended periods before. For example, there was a period of time last year when Trout's weakness for the up-and-in fastball became public knowledge and he suddenly stopped producing at an MVP level. Of course it is worth noting that the lowest wRC+ Trout posted in a single month last year was 130. But he's at 64 wRC+ this month. Trout isn't just reaching a lull in his production, he's cratering. Let's take a look at what happened to him.
As you can see in the image above, Trout's left wrist never actually touches the ground. Instead, it looks like the impact of his glove forced his wrist to turn suddenly and awkwardly, clearly causing a great deal of pain. There's no structural damage according to the MRI, but if moving his wrist still hurts him, it might explain why his results have been so poor this month.
Trout's reduction in performance this month is not limited to one particular issue (e.g., power), he's simply not hitting well. His triple slash of .161/.297/.258 is ghastly for him, and it's fueled in part by a 31 percent hard-hit rate that's easily his lowest of the year. His distribution of batted balls has changed along with that lower hard-hit rate. Fifty percent of the balls he's putting in play this month are grounders. He's never been above 40 percent in ground ball percentage this season. The Angels' offense has become incredibly mediocre without the best player in baseball raking like he usually does. To make matters worse, Albert Pujols is in a slump of his own. The hulking first baseman has just an 88 wRC+ this month.
While Trout's performance has dropped across the board, the power numbers are something to keep an eye on. Wrist injuries can sap power in terrible ways. Mark Teixeira strained his right wrist in early 2013 and his ISO stayed below .200 for two seasons. Only recently has he resumed being a major slugging threat. Teixeira's issue was structural, and again the Angels say that the MRI on Trout's wrist came back clean. Yet it would not be out of the realm of possibility for the team to try to get Trout to play through an injury during this crucial stretch in which the Angels chase the Astros for the division lead and many other teams for a Wild Card spot.
Wrists are monumentally important in the perpetuation of power. This is especially the case for someone like Trout, who has a ridiculously compact swing. Here he is practically flicking away a ball for an opposite field homer.
That's all bat speed and strength. That kind of swing will not come easily if there is chronic pain in Trout's left wrist, and especially not if his wrist is at lower strength. Given his mountain of talent it's not outlandish to say that the Angels can't win without Mike Trout. They're simply not built for it and lack the depth to insert anything resembling his level of prowess into the lineup. The Angels without a healthy Mike Trout are a hollow shell of themselves, and they might have a very serious problem on their hands.
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Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and desperately needs a healthy Mike Trout in his life. He also covers the Yankees and their Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, at Pinstripe Alley. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.