Friday, November 22, 2013

The Trout/A-Rod parallel

Alex Rodriguez has been in the news a lot lately, but for all the wrong reasons. Mike Trout's name has come up a bit too (for different reasons). I couldn't help but think of the time in the not-so-distant past when Rodriguez, like Trout is now, was celebrated as one of baseball's best young players. Also like Trout, he set himself on the course to Cooperstown with an MVP-type season at the tender age of 20. In fact, their numbers are eerily similar.

A-Rod's 1996: 9.2 fWAR 146 G, 677 PA 141 R 36 HR .358/.414/.631 161 OPS+ 159 wRC+
Trout's 2012: 10.0 fWAR 139 G 639 PA 129 R 30 HR .326/.399/.564 168 OPS+ 166 wRC+

Yes, 16 years before Trout, there was another 20 year-old kid (and former first-round draft pick) who set the world on fire. Like Trout, he played a premium defensive position, posted monster offensive numbers and was voted second in the MVP race. A-Rod was Mike Trout when Trout was still in preschool.

Both players debuted as teenagers, though neither played particularly well (but, to be fair, what kind of 18 or 19 year-old dominates major leaguers?). Their superstar potential was obvious, but no one was truly prepared for them to take the world by storm at such a young age.

Before long they were household names. Both made their first appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the midst of their breakout seasons. Rodriguez made the July 8th, 1996 cover accompanied by an obvious tagline "Hot Player." (He was hitting .336/.387/.609 at the time but was about to get insanely, ridiculously hot). Trout, who appeared on the August 27th, 2012 issue, was dubbed "The Supernatural" with SI asking the question "How can Mike Trout be so good so young?" Both were at the top of their games for much of the summer, only to tail off towards the end of the season. Their less-than-stellar finishes, combined with their teams' failure to reach the postseason, proved to be deciding factors in their MVP candidacies.

Want more similarities? Of course you do! Here are some others I noticed:
  • Both batted at/near the top of loaded lineups. Trout batted leadoff, ahead of Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter. Rodriguez hit second, in front of Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. No wonder they led the league in runs scored!
  • Trout posted a .383 BABiP. Rodriguez .382
  • Both had seven sacrifice flies
  • Both reached on an error seven times
  • Both were 20 when the season began and turned 21 during the summer
  • Both made the All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger
  • As stated, both finished second in hotly debated MVP races. The players they lost to, Juan Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, were one-dimensional sluggers on playoff teams. Even their numbers look incredibly similar--Gonzalez: .314-47-144-1.011 OPS, Cabrera: .330-44-139-.999 OPS
So yeah, before all the money, off-the-field shenanigans, public misfires and PED stuff soured his reputation, there was a time when Rodriguez was exactly like Mike Trout--a kid who was ridiculously skilled at baseball, making good on his seemingly limitless potential. Back in those heady days, nobody could have foreseen what would become of A-Rod's life. I don't think Trout's career will follow the same path as Rodriguez's. I really hope it doesn't.

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