Reminder that throughout October — as the baseball playoffs kick into gear — I’m going to do a bunch of quick hits that I hope will bring a little joy to your mornings. Let’s get to it!
These have been a few tough years for Michael Nelson Trout. He has not played 150 games in a season since he was 24 years old. Each season since then — six years and counting — has been altered by something, a nagging injury, a major injury, a worldwide pandemic, something.
This year he had a back problem so severe that there was some talk about it being career-ending.
Mike Trout put up a .999 OPS anyway.
That’s just what the man does.
It’s easy to be blinded by the brilliant season Aaron Judge had or the otherworldly and incomparable play of Shohei Ohtani … but Mike Trout is still the best damn hitter in the world. His body breaks down. His speed declines. He doesn’t walk as much. And he’s still better at hitting a baseball than anybody.
That .999 OPS is the key — it’s not like OPS is the ultimate statistic or anything like that, there are various mathematical problems with it. But OPS is stubbornly effective at identifying great offense, and here are Mike Trout’s OPS numbers going back to when he was 23 year old.
Extraordinary. His career OPS is 1.002, and only one other player in the last 60 years has put up a career OPS over 1.000 — that’s Barry Bonds.
In 2022, Trout played in only 119 games — and he was reasonably healthy for fewer than 100 of them. He still finished second behind Judge with 40 home runs, second behind Judge with a .630 slugging percentage, third behind Judge and Yordan Alvarez with a 178 OPS+. The first 50 days of the season, he hit .320/.422/.673. The last 40 games of the season, after returning from injury, he hit .308/.370/.686.
The time in between he either endured through intense back pain or rested because of it and simply made the best of it.
A healthy Mike Trout might have challenged 61 home runs, too.
Through age 30, he has already cemented his place in Cooperstown — his 82.4 WAR is about the same as Ken Griffey Jr., more than Pete Rose or Joe DiMaggio, and a good Trout season away from George Brett, and maybe Jimmie Foxx and Al Kaline, too.
There’s a touch of sadness surrounding Trout’s career. Sadness that his Angels never contend. Sadness that you almost never see him on television without making an extreme effort. Sadness that he can’t stay healthy enough to put up a full season’s worth of numbers.
But this is the glory of Mike Trout: He shines through all of that. He just goes out there and never complains and plays his heart out and crushes baseballs and talks about the weather with his family.
My baseball wish for 2023 is my baseball wish every season: Let Mike Trout be healthy. Let him play on a good team. Let America discover him all over again.