In the first inning of Monday’s Angels-Diamondbacks game, Mike Trout was thrown out stealing. He was originally called safe, but a replay review showed otherwise, and it became a ‘strike ‘em out-throw ‘em out’ double play. Even the greatest player of his generation is occasionally fallible.
‘Occasionally’ is italicized for a reason. That was the only caught stealing of the year for Trout in 14 attempts. In other words, the undisputed Best Player in Baseball is one of the best base stealers. This is noteworthy because he also leads the league in home runs with 23. His spectacular combination of power and speed reaches a new level, especially in an era when teams are taking fewer risks on the base paths.
Have you ever looked at the “Leaderboards, Awards, and Honors” section of a Baseball-Reference page? Choose any inner-circle Hall of Famer (Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, etc.) and take a look at their leaderboards. At the top you see awards voting and WAR, followed by conventional back-of-the-baseball-card stats, such as batting average, hits, and games played.
Scroll down a little further and things get a little strange. South of strikeouts and RBIs, you’ll see acronyms like REW and WPA/LI. Maybe you know what they mean, and maybe you don’t. Or perhaps you just tell your friends you know them, but really have no idea. (I’m not judging!)
One of these unconventional stats is Power-Speed#. Developed by Bill James, it measures how well a player combines home runs and stolen bases. The formula is as follows:
2 x (HR x SB) / (HR + SB)
It’s basically a counting stat, but the more evenly matched a player’s HR and SB are, the more credit they receive. A player with 10 HR and 10 SB will have a higher Power-Speed# than a player with 20 HR and 5 SB.
The career leaderboard for Power-Speed# passes the sniff test. The top two are the all time leaders for HR (Barry Bonds, 613.90) and SB (Rickey Henderson, 490.41). They’re followed Willie Mays (447.05) and Alex Rodriguez (446.80).
Mike Trout is on pace for 50 HR and 28 SB this season—which would be a 36.36 Power-Speed#. That would be the 30th best season ever, wedged between 1963 Hank Aaron and 1992 Barry Bonds. The single season record is 43.91, set by Alex Rodriguez in 1998 when he combined 42 HR with 46 SB (and finished 9th in MVP voting).
If Trout picks up his base stealing pace, he could still make a run at A-Rod’s record. He could also threaten Bonds’ career record someday, though it’s admittedly a stretch. Through the first 999 games of his career, he’s averaged 0.19 Power-Speed# per game. If he can keep up that pace, he will need to play 3155 games. That probably requires at least a 22-year career, which is possible, but odds are he’ll slow down sooner or later and the SB will dwindle.
HR and SB Black Ink
Although ARod set the Power-Speed# record in 1998, he didn’t lead the league in either category. His Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. slugged 56 HR while Oakland’s Rickey Henderson stole 66 bases (at age 39!)
Trout has already accomplished something ARod never did: leading the league in steals. He swiped 49 bases as a rookie in 2012. If he can hold on to the HR lead (J.D. Martinez trails him by just one), he’ll have black ink on his stat page in both HR and SB.
That’s a more rare feat than you might expect. In the last 100 years, the only player to lead the league in both HR and SB at some point in his career was Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid led the NL in SB 4 times and HR thrice. No one else since the end of the Deadball Era has matched this accomplishment.*
However, even Mays never led the league in both categories in the same season.** Trout currently trails six American League players in stolen bases, with the category currently being led by Dee Gordon with 19. Most likely, Trout won’t reach the top of the SB leaderboard this season.
He could break another obscure record, though. The most HR in a season by anyone who ever led the league in SB is 52, set by Willie Mays in 1965. He only stole 9 bases that year at age 34, but qualified by having led the league in steals previously. As stated earlier, Trout is on pace for 50 dingers this year, so Mays’ record is reachable.
In case you were wondering, the most SB in a season by a player who also had black ink in HR is 54 by Ryne Sandberg in 1985.*** Ryno never led the league in steals, but he did pace the NL with 40 HR in 1990.
Neither HR, SB, or Power-Speed# are the best way to measure an individual such as Trout. In fact, we probably haven’t yet invented the best way to capture his brilliance. What these stats really do is confirm that yes, he is among the absolute best ever at nearly every aspect of playing baseball.
*Going back a little further, Ty Cobb led the league in both as well, but it doesn’t feel right to credit him for winning the HR title with just 9 longballs in 1909.
**Cobb did lead the league in both HR and SB in 1909. It’s also worth noting that Ken Williams led the league in both HR and CS in 1922.
***See the Cobb disclaimer again.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983