Mike Trout's Philadelphia visit, and the most frustrating thing about being a baseball fan

Mike Trout's Philadelphia visit, and the most frustrating thing about being a baseball fan
May 14, 2014, 5:31 pm
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In two games for the Los Angeles Angels in his first visit to Philadelphia, Mike Trout went a combined 2-9 with a triple, no runs and no RBIs. He walked twice, struck out three times, and stole a base. He wasn't one of the primary reasons the Angels won both games, though he contributed in each of the two.

This is what drives me absolutely nuts about baseball.

First off, it feels ridiculous to me that Mike Trout is only now making his first appearance against the Phillies. Trout's been in baseball since 2011, but if you're a baseball fan that mostly just watches the Phillies and the playoffs (in which, through no fault of his own, Trout has yet to participate), this could very well be the first you're ever seeing of the guy who's been roundly deemed the best player in the game for years already, like if you could've somehow made it until now as a basketball fan without seeing Blake Griffin. I can only imagine how annoying this must have been for fans in the pre-interleague era.

But really, this is frustrating to me because across the two games, Mike Trout has not been all that much more productive for the Angels than any of their other regulars. If you didn't know about his reputation--and you ignored the personal cheering section at CBP he had imported from Millville--you might not know he was all that much better than Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or even Grant Green.

Yeah, there were flashes. Trout's speed was certainly on display, and it was impressive watching him careen around the bases on that triple, or flag down that Dom Brown fly to deep center. He worked those two walks well, and got into deep pitch counts on other at bats. His steal was authoritative enough that it basically made Chooch's toss to second a moot point. Dude seems like he's probably a pretty good player.

But is he the best player in the game? If you say so. Fact is, in baseball, unless you're dealing with a player whose supremacy is as obvious and all-consuming as turn-of-the-century Barry Bonds or Pedro Martinez, two games just isn't enough--nor is three, or four, or even ten or maybe 20--to tell who the really, really good players are. The numbers say Trout's the best player in the game not because he hits 60 homers or steals 100 bases or bats .400--there's no one single number you can point to (besides advanced stats like WAR or Win-Loss %) as an indicator of Trout's obvious supremacy--the numbers say he's best because, over the course of the season, he contributes a whole lot of everything.

It's pretty tough to get a sense of that over two games. If you're an inferior squad going up against Peyton Manning or Kevin Durant in a single game, chances are you're going to get lit up for a pretty self-evident stat line, but if you're the Phillies going against Mike Trout, it'd probably take several series' worth of data for you to feel the brunt of his excellence. Maybe he'd be on a tear for one or two of those series, but very possibly, the super-hot Angels hitter would be Kendrick or Aybar or Colin Cowgill (who, going into today, had a higher OPS than Trout through 38 games), and you'd think that guy would be the perennial MVP candidate, if you didn't know better.

In a sense, this is the cool thing about baseball. It gives you an intimate bond with players like Chase Utley when you've seen enough of him to know when he's going to surreptitiously lean into an inside pitch to get on base, or try to sneak around third and score when an inattentive first-baseman is still distracted by a close play at the bag. You might not get a true sense of a player like Chase's greatness until you see them play hundreds of times, but then you feel like you understand them in a way that Yankees or Tigers fans never could, endearing them to you forever.

But in another sense, this is what sucks about baseball, and it's also why the sport has such a difficult time developing new stars when they're not chasing statistical benchmarks or making headlines off the diamond. Manning or Durant can let their play speak for themselves, with the potential to win new fans with each mind-blowing performance, but if you're a casual fan who only gets to see a couple Angels games a season, and Trout goes 1-4 with a walk and a steal, chances are you're not gonna go out and buy a Trout #27 jersey immediately after. You know he's great because the overall stats tell you he is, but to your eyes and to your heart-rate, he might seem like just another player.

I don't doubt for a second that Trout is as great as everyone says. But if for some tragic reason, this was Trout's last season in the majors, and someday my future robot grandkids hear about Trout's fleeting greatness and ask about what it was like to watch him play, my answer will be something like "Well, I only saw him play a couple games, and he had a couple hits and a steal and made a nice catch once. He seemed OK." They might not ask me any more sports-related questions after that.

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