The journey from the first Pong machines and Nintendo games to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), StarCraft, DOTA, League of Legends, and Minecraft began in the last part of the twentieth century.
As of 2014, these games, traditionally confined to geek corners of the world are the new esports. Talented stars play in tournaments, can go professional, and even obtain athlete status for visa purposes.
There are video game athletes, baseball video games, and commercials with baseball players playing themselves in baseball video games. And then there are time trials. In games with a racing element or a clock of some type, there are often time trial modes where a player can test their skill against either their last effort or a friend’s time.
While playing, a “ghost” image of the player completing the task at hand is present and in order to improve, that player wants to keep that ghost behind them – any time you see the ghost it means you’re going slower than before.
It’s through this lens that we can look at the accomplishments of Mike Trout. Baseball analysis has a concept of pace and achievement that dates back a hundred years. But thinking about it slightly differently, with the context of 2014, what are the first 33 games of a season than the first segment of a race around a track?
Mike Trout has been arguably the best player in baseball the past two seasons, finishing as runner-up for the AL MVP award to Miguel Cabrera both times, and he started the 2014 season with a bang. How does this Trout compare to his efforts in the last two years, years which we already know he turned in excellent performances?
What’s incredible is that as great as Mike Trout has been over the past two seasons, a generational talent on par with some of the biggest names in the Hall of Fame, he’s doing it again. Through the first 33 major league games of each season (hard to believe Trout began 2012 in the minors isn’t it?) Mike Trout has been extremely consistent across his production: doubles (8, 11, 8), triples (3,3,3), home runs (5,6,6).
While Tout has recorded slightly fewer hits in 2014 (37) after hitting 42 during the same span in 2012 and 39 to start off 2013, the hits he’s gotten have been for power. As Joe Sheehan has noted in his newsletter, singles are the hits being sacrificed to the strikeout and shifting gods. This is too small a sample to read much into, but it fits the theme of Sheehan’s analysis.
The reigning leader in walks, Trout took 12 free passes in 2012, 14 last year (when he finished the season with 110), and this year has already walked 18 times. After walking just 67 times in his first full major league season, Trout made taking pitches a priority, and unsurprisingly, he excelled at another aspect of baseball.
The only stat heading in the “wrong” direction for Trout: strikeouts. Trout’s whiff totals starting the last two seasons: 30 and 29, respectively. This year he’s already up to 40. After striking out 139 times in 2012 and 136 times last year, Trout is on pace for around 190 Ks this year if he plays 157 games again. This is not to say there’s reason to panic – Trout himself isn’t worried – and strikeouts are a part of the modern game.
It is somewhat surprising after the past few years to see such a sharp increase, even over a short timespan, but there are many payers who succeed with high strikeout rates. Matt Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 while striking out 159 times and he only walked 74, a total Trout should easily eclipse. Trout has actually been on base more times in 33 games just adding up his hits and unintentional walks than he has been in each of his MVP-caliber seasons.
George Carlin once compared football and baseball: “Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.” While Carlin was doing a bit rather than hard analysis, the truth of the statement is correct. Baseball is fundamentally is sport that developed and evolved in the 1800s before the professional leagues really kicked into gear at the turn of the century.
The lenses we view baseball through reflect not only the sport but ourselves and the time we conduct our analysis. No matter what lens we use to examine Mike Trout, he’s pretty good. And will likely catch and surpass his previous self.