Fantasy baseball Stat Focus: Why Mike Trout could win the AL MVP

Thursday August 8th, 2013

Mike Trout's advanced stats this year reveal how his hitting has improved upon his rookie season.
Robert Beck/SI

As recently as the All-Star Break, the AL MVP race looked to be between Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. A second-straight Triple Crown appeared with Cabrera's reach, while Davis was on pace for the single-season AL home run record. In the last month, both have slowed down with the power just a bit. Cabrera has missed eight of Detroit's last 12 games with an abdomen injury, all but ending his Triple Crown chances; he trails Davis by eight homers.

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Given the recent developments, is it possible Mike Trout could leapfrog both of them and take home the MVP trophy? Probably not, because the voters seem to believe team performance is a prerequisite to win the award. However, not only should Trout be a legitimate threat to be the 2013 AL MVP, he might be having an even better year than his superlative rookie season. And since we're getting close to the end of the season and the remaining number of Advanced Stats Focus columns is dwindling, what better way to mark the occasion then by revisiting some of our favorite metrics to show why Trout's 2013 is superior to his 2012.

Let's start with the slash lines, one decidedly non-advanced stat, and two stats that are thankfully becoming less advanced by the day. Trout hit .326/.399/.564 last year. This year, he's up across the board to .329/.423/.568. As is indicative in the numbers, he has shown better plate discipline this season. His walk rate is 13.2 percent, up from 10.5 percent last year, and his strikeout rate is down to 16.7 percent from 21.8 percent.

Back in May, we talked about wOBA and how it best quantifies Cabrera's domination. In case you need a refresher, wOBA applies a weighted value, measured in runs, to every outcome a hitter can produce and spits out a nice, tidy, easily digestible three-digit number. Cabrera still ranks first in wOBA at .469, and Davis is second at .434. Trout's .422 wOBA is good for third in the majors, and outpaces the .409 mark he had last year.

Two weeks ago, we looked at Jason Kipnis' weighted runs created plus to explore whether or not he had passed Robinson Cano as fantasy's best second baseman. The stat is similar to wOBA, though it strives to quantify how many runs a players has created, normalizing for league and park, and compare him to his peers. Last year, Trout's wRC+ was 166, meaning he created 66 percent more runs than the average player. This year, it's 176. He trails Cabrera and Davis in the category, but it's just another area in which he has gained over his record-setting rookie year.

Early in the season, we explained why Yu Darvish was more valuable than he appeared in 2012 by examining wins above replacement. WAR takes everything a baseball player does on a field -- at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths -- and rolls it up into one stat that tells us how many wins a player was worth over a replacement-level (read: Triple-A player). Trout put up a ridiculous 10.0 WAR according to Fangraphs last year. He has a chance to pass that this year, sitting at 7.1 through 110 games.

How about batted-ball stats? We talked a lot in this space about line-drive rate, HR/FB ratio and BABIP, and some about ground-ball rate, fly-ball rate and infield-fly-ball rate. Trout's line-drive percentage is up just a 0.3 percentage points this year. His slash numbers have all increased even though his BABIP is down to .372 from .383. The theme is reinforced here. Trout has been a better hitter in 2013.

His HR/FB ratio has fallen almost six points, but that has something to do with the fact that he's hitting more ground balls. Check out his average true home run distance, just like we did for his teammate Mark Trumbo in July. Trout's true distance is 418.4 feet this year. In 2012, it was 409.6 feet. As he hits more homers this season, it's certainly possible his average true distance falls, but nine feet is a pretty significant difference. The bottom line: Trout might actually be hitting for more power this season.

Trout is going to have monster year after monster year. I could end up writing a similar column next year about how his 2014 was even better than what he did this season. But it's worth pointing out the season he's having and making sure it doesn't get lost in the Cabrera vs. Davis cacophony. He just might be deserving of the 2013 AL MVP Award.

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