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Random thoughts: Has Mike Trout peaked?

11/21/2012

It's time for the old columnist staple: Random thoughts!

1. Mike Trout turned 21 years old in August, so the common axiom about young players as applied to Trout: He'll get better. But is that even possible? His 10.7 WAR was one of just 20 such seasons by a position player since 1950. If he repeats this season 10 more times he'd be over 100 career WAR -- a valuation just 19 position players have achieved. Now, unless he's the second coming of Willie Mays, Trout isn't going to be a 10-WAR player every season. His baserunning and fielding ability may have already crested, but is there room for development as a hitter? I think it's possible. He has a walk rate of 10.5 percent -- while above the AL average of 8.0 percent -- could improve, boosting his on-base percentages over .400, even if he's more .300 hitter than .330. Of course, maybe he is more Mays than Rickey Henderson. Mays had a .384 career OBP and walk rate of 11.7 percent that didn't grow much from a 10.9 percent rate as a rookie.

What about power? Trout wasn't projected as more of 20-homer guy coming up, so the 30 home runs was a big surprise, especially in a tough home run park. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, eight of Trout's 30 home runs were "just enough" -- a figure that wasn't near the league-leading figures of Miguel Cabrera (16) and Adrian Beltre (15). Trout's home run percentage on fly balls was 21.6 percent, which ranked 15th in the majors among those hitters with 300 plate appearances. Remember, as fast as is he, Trout isn't a small guy, at 6-1 and over 200 pounds. He's bigger than Mays or Hank Aaron. I believe the power is legit; that doesn't mean he's going to turn into a 40- or 45-homer guy. Eddie Mathews hit 47 as a 21-year-old and that was his career high. A friend of mine who plays in a simulation league owns Trout and was offered Bryce Harper for him. He asked my thoughts, wondering if it's possible Trout will never do this again. I suppose that's possible, but answered: He doesn't have to get better. He's already the best all-around player in the game.

2. Does anybody sign Delmon Young?

3. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs broke down the Jeremy Guthrie signing here. Buster Olney also wrote about the Royals. I like the move a little more than Dave does. I understand the readers who said the Royals could have spent the money more wisely, but that ignores that in all likelihood none of the really good pitchers want to come to Kansas City. Guthrie has thrown 175-plus innings six straight years; yes, he'll be 34 in April, so that's not a guarantee to continue, but durability is no sure thing with any pitcher. But to a club like the Royals, getting an innings eater is a pretty valuable addition. Over those six seasons, the Royals have had just 11 seasons where a starter reached 175 innings -- and only five with 200 (three by Zack Greinke, two by Gil Meche). For the Royals, half the problem has been not having good starters, but half the problem has been not having durable ones, which leads to the necessity of using even more bad ones, and the deeper you go, the worse they get.

4. Some days I like B.J. Upton and some days I don't. For what it's worth, his Defensive Runs Saved figures the past three years are NOT very good: minus-19, minus-7, minus-4.

5. Are the Rockies really counting on Todd Helton to play first base again?

6. Excellent column from Jeff MacGregor on stats guru Nate Silver and how the quantification of sports impacts some of our enjoyment of the games. Jeff isn't saying the numbers and analysis are bad or evil; this isn't a terrible Mitch Albom column here (you can find it easily enough). Jeff is raising a fair and honest question: "The game exists to produce joy or sadness or distraction or love or hate or a thousand sensations unrelated to common sense or business or efficiency. Not even money. So to what end do we go to WAR over VORP?"

7. Joe Posnanski with a blog entry comparing MVP winners -- which he equates to the best narrative -- to the HOW winners (Heroes of WAR). Fun piece. As Joe points out, there are many seasons where a pitcher could have been in the MVP discussion, but the only one to win in the past two decades was Justin Verlander. If anything, Verlander's MVP stands out as the biggest outlier in recent MVP voting. Not that he wasn't deserving, but there have been many starters just as deserving -- Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux -- but only Pedro came close to winning. This is certainly an inconsistency to the MVP voting, which is really the reason it's so fun to argue over.

8. Rumors out there the Tigers are interested in Stephen Drew and would then trade Jhonny Peralta to Arizona. I agree with the Tigers' desire to upgrade defense at shortstop, but is Drew the answer? He'll be turning 30, an age when many shortstops start to lose range. His Defensive Runs Saved was not good last year -- minus-7 runs. There is some upside here -- Drew was a 4-win player in 2010, but there is the possibility he's not really an improvement over Peralta and more of an injury risk (Peralta has never been on the DL). The Tigers defense wasn't great in 2012, but I don't think Peralta was the main reason why. His DRS the past two seasons has been +2 and minus-1. Sometimes steady and reliable is OK.

9. Anibal Sanchez: $100 million? I can't see it. I mean .. it's Anibal Sanchez. Nice No. 3.

10. Chase Headley's road numbers, doubled: .300, 36 home runs, 128 RBIs. Miguel Cabrera's road numbers, doubled: .327, 32 home runs, 128 RBIs.

11. Joey Matschulat looks at the Rangers' 2013 payroll situation, which he estimates at $110 million and counting. Assuming an estimated $120-$130 million payroll that has been reported in the Dallas media, Joey points out why the team didn't make a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli (he may have accepted it) and writes:

    I think this should also serve to temper some of the expectations being bandied about as far as the Rangers making a serious run at a marquee free agent such as Zack Greinke -- sure, they could backload the hell out of such a deal in anticipation of another $30-plus million in expiring contracts coming off the books next winter (and, for that matter, in anticipation of their coffer-filling TV deal with FOX Sports Southwest that begins in 2015), but they would still end up around $125-130 million for 2013 just by adding Greinke alone, and before addressing any of their other roster holes. To make that work, ownership would need to be prepared to move above and beyond the $140 million mark for next season, or they would need to shed some of their existing payroll obligations.

Based on this analysis and assuming the Rangers aren't going to break that $130 payroll mark, it does seem unlikely the team will sign Greinke and one of the big free agent outfielders (whether Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton or somebody else). A Craig Gentry/Leonys Martin platoon would probably be adequate for center field and David Murphy can hold down left field or Ian Kinsler could move to the outfield. Remember, the team still has a big hole at catcher, especially if Geovany Soto is non-tendered.

12. Jason Linden looks at Jay Bruce, who said he'd like to play his whole career with the Reds. Of course he would. Bruce is a career .280 hitter at home with 82 home runs versus .231 on the road with 52 home runs (same number of PAs). Bruce is already signed through 2016 with a 2017 club option. There's no reason to extend him for seasons beginning with his age-31 season. My personal take is that Bruce is one of the more overrated players in the majors (which isn't the same thing as saying as he's a bad player; he's not). But it does seem that Bruce benefits from the cozy confines at GAB more than most hitters (certainly more than Joey Votto, whose splits are pretty even). Look at how Ryan Ludwick fared in 2012. Anyway, Jason looks at some comparable to players to Bruce to see how they fared from ages 31 to 35. Check it out.

13. I think the Dodgers end up with Greinke.

14. Finally, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Thanks for reading and enjoy the long weekend.