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How will Mike Trout’s injury affect him?

For the first time in his career, Trout has hit the DL. It is up to him to adjust to his body and overcome his injury.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Trout’s Herculean exploits are in jeopardy. Today, after five years in the majors, he was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The good news is that, despite the diagnosis, the injury is actually to his thumb and not his elbow. The bad news is that he may still need surgery and will be out more than the mandatory 10 days.

But just how severe is his injury? And, more importantly, how will it impact his career? The thumb UCL is responsible for providing stability when gripping an object. In other words, this is what allows players to properly hold a bat when swinging. Without a proper grip, power and contact are both affected. Trout could therefore be sapped of his ability to hit and hit for power.

Before his injury, Trout was hitting .311/.433/.633 with a 194 wRC+. Now, we don’t really know for sure how he will be affected. What we do know, however, is how this injury has affected other players. Thanks to Baseball Heat Maps, I was able to come up with a list of players who suffered the same injury, how long they were out for, and, consequentially, how they fared 150 PAs before and after the injury.

Pre and post wRC+ for torn thumb UCL

Player On DL Off DL Time Lost to Injury pre Injury wRC+ post-Injury wRC+ Diff.
Player On DL Off DL Time Lost to Injury pre Injury wRC+ post-Injury wRC+ Diff.
Hanley Ramirez 3/31/2013 4/29/2013 29 81 220 139
Marcell Ozuna 7/23/2013 9/29/2013 68 52 103 51
Brandon Phillips 7/10/2014 8/18/2014 39 91 74 -17
Yadier Molina 7/10/2014 8/29/2014 50 88 77 -11
Trevor Story 8/2/2016 10/3/2016 62 106 80 -26
Jed Lowrie 4/28/2015 7/30/2015 93 130 83 -47
Avg -- -- 57 91 106 15
Pre and post wRC+ for players who suffered a torn UCL in their thumb - 150 PA. wRC+ provided by Fangraphs.com http://www.baseballheatmaps.com/disabled-list-data/

Based on this (admittedly unscientific) study of how other players have responded to their respective injuries, Trout would be set to miss almost two months of the season while increasing his projected wRC+ by about 15 points. If that seems odd, it’s because Hanley Ramirez’s data point skews the results quite a bit; with him removed, the average player in this sample sees a decrease of 10 points in wRC+.

Despite what you may think, this would not be Trout’s career low — that’s 167 posted in 2014, the first year he won the AL MVP. So, the average prognosis would still not be enough to doom Trout’s prowess at the plate. No matter what happens to his thumb, he should remain one of the most formidable hitters on the planet.

As he’s ever the tinkerer and always looking for ways to up his game, there is a chance that his injury will not affecting his performance as much as we’d think. We have plenty of evidence that when Trout faces adversity, he works on ways to overcome it and succeed once again. However, there are other repercussions to it.

First and foremost, we will be devoid of two months without actively talking about Trout. Second, we will miss out on comparing him to another rookie phenom, and will instead be talking about whether he’ll recover like Bryce Harper did when he came back from this injury. Finally, it will lead to a question bigger than Trout: What does this mean for the Angels?

With Trout set to miss six to eight weeks of the season and the Angels sitting 10.5 games back from the Astros, do they automatically become sellers? Most pundits — and I’d agree — would say yes. Without their best player on the roster, they have no one capable of stepping up to replace his production. The Angels could (and should) use this time to evaluate what they can get for Cameron Maybin, Yunel Escobar, or even Andrelton Simmons. Billy Eppler must then evaluate whether his return package would be enough to call for a (partial) rebuild around Trout, or whether he should do Trout a favor, trade him, and get an even bigger package from which he can restart.

We have seen careers revived after injury; more commonly, we have seen careers derailed by injuries. Though we never truly know how a player will perform once he comes back, there is hope that Trout will not miss a beat. His mental approach to the game is mature enough that it allows him to pinpoint his weaknesses and work on overcoming them. An injury, then, is only another setback; he must now study it and find a way to adjust to it when he comes back.


Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and is contantly geeking out over Baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.