Angels star finding new ways to rise to baseball's challenges
By Richard Justice
Mike Trout now looks like he's interested in joining the 50-homer club, which is about the only elite one he's not already in. If you're in need of a reminder that we're watching one of the greatest players of all time, this is the latest.
Trout has hit 12 already this season, which puts him on track for 47. His career high is 41, in 2015.
But Trout has picked up the pace lately, homering in four straight games. He'll go for five in a row Tuesday night against a pitcher he knows well: White Sox left-hander Derek Holland. Trout homered three times in 43 at-bats against Holland when the southpaw was with the Texas Rangers.
Here are the rest of Trout's numbers vs. Holland: .326 batting average, three doubles, one triple, 1.043 OPS.
On the other hand, does it matter who Trout is up against?
Trout is 25 years old and is about to make the American League All-Star team for the sixth consecutive summer. He has never finished lower than second in AL MVP Award balloting.
Here's some perspective: In 846 games, Trout's career WAR of 51.1 is already higher than a few Hall of Famers -- Kirby Puckett, Larry Doby and Tony Lazzeri. If Trout's next 846 games are as good as his first 846, he'll become just the 33rd player to crack the 100 WAR threshold. And he'll be just 30 years old.
Babe Ruth is the all-time WAR leader at 183.5, and while Trout may not touch that number, it speaks volumes that we're even mentioning the two players in the same sentence. In terms of some of the other all-time greats -- Willie Mays (156.3), Hank Aaron (142.8), Ted Williams (123.1) -- Trout is tracking toward that conversation.
This is the thing some people have used to criticize him: Trout is not colorful enough. There are no great quotes from him. There are no signature gestures. Trout's game is entirely centered on winning.
Derek Jeter had some of the same things said about him. Isn't that about the highest compliment one can give a baseball player?
Trout simply is what he is. He is a baseball player. His joy is in the playing of the game, not in the fame or the spotlight. In that way, Trout is a lot like his teammate Albert Pujols, whose career is defined by greatness and a relentless work ethic.
Teams thought they'd unlocked the door to getting Trout out a couple of years ago, when they fed him a steady diet of pitches up in the strike zone. Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell can pick up the story from there.
"You watched what teams did to him," said Bagwell, "and the first thing you wonder is, 'Will he adjust? Will he be able to adjust?'
"That's the thing you never know. Teams will find your weakness, and they're going to challenge you until you show you can adjust. Now Mike Trout is a great high-ball hitter, and that takes one more option away from a pitcher."
To players like Bagwell, this is the kind of thing that separates really good players from the really great ones. But the thing that is so great about Trout is that he impacts winning even when he's not hitting. He helps win games with his defense in center. He wins the games running the bases.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Trout's teammates have just about run out of superlatives. They admire not just his talent, but the way he leaves no stone unturned in maximizing that talent. Trout is the blueprint for the perfect player.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.