Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the two best young players in the game. Both are among the greatest offensive threats in Major League Baseball.
In the past, Trout was the one winning awards and setting records and Harper was the one who hadn't reached his full potential.
In 2015, Harper has been the one who has grabbed all the headlines and attention – and deservedly so, he has been absolutely phenomenal – and Trout has flown a bit more under the radar.
Which certainly shouldn’t be the case because, even though Trout will likely not win the Most Valuable Player award this year, he has improved in several areas of his game from last year and he still has a solid case for the best player in baseball.
Trout’s performance on Thursday night against the Twins is a big reason why.
With the Los Angeles Angels still in the thick of the American League playoff race, Trout put the Halos on his back en route to an 11-8 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
"It's September. We got to go now," Trout told reporters after the game. "It's time to go. We've got like 18 games left [actually 16], and every one of them is going to be big. We've got to win them all."
In the game, Trout came to the plate six times. He hit two home runs – a towering grand slam and a laser solo shot – walked three times, scored three runs and drove in five.
“That’s the reason why he is the best player in the game,” Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said after the game.
The offensive outburst gives Trout a career-high 38 home runs for the season, which is good for sixth in the league. He trails only Harper in overall wins-above-replacement (WAR) for position players and offensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, and his stat line is stellar across the board.
Trout ranks third in MLB in weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), an advanced stat that measures how many runs a player creates for his team, third in OPS+, which takes the traditional OPS and adjusts it to league and ballpark factors, and third in slugging percentage.
This writer could go all day about Trout’s stats, but that’s not necessary. All that matters is that they are superb. Maybe not as outstanding as we have seen from the 24-year-old in the past, but still stellar nonetheless.
Arguably the most impressive feature of Trout’s 2015 campaign has been his display of improvement, most notably in two key areas: strikeouts and hitting fastballs.
Last year, much was made about Trout’s propensity to swing through fastballs, particularly ones up in the zone. It was true, he struggled to hit fastballs, which is one of the main reasons he struck out a league-leading 184 times.
This year, though, has been a different story.
He has lowered his strikeout rate by three percent and, while that might not seem like a lot, he is on pace to have about 25 fewer punch outs.
And his success against fastballs has been a night-and-day difference. FanGraphs has a stat that measures a player’s success against certain pitches, and Trout’s wFB – or his fastball runs above average – is the only thing you need to look at to fully appreciate his improvement.
Last year, his wFB of 17.7 could be labeled as somewhat mediocre, as it placed him outside of the top 25 in that category. This year, however, his value against fastballs has skyrocketed to a whopping 40.6, which trails only Harper for the MLB lead.
Trout has also improved his hard-hit percentage and reduced his soft-hit percentage, according to FanGraphs. His average exit velocity – how fast the ball comes off the bat – of 93.35 miles per hour ranks sixth in baseball, per Baseball Savant.
Simply put, he has hit the ball harder than almost every other player in Major League Baseball.
So this year, Trout has hit for more power, cut his strikeout rate, completely turned around his fortunes against fastballs, and has hit the ball harder. Don’t forget, he won the MVP last year.
If not for Josh Donaldson’s explosion north of the border, Trout would undoubtedly garner baseball’s most coveted award once again.
Either way, Trout is one of the most talented and dynamic ballplayers on the planet and, even though Harper has been better this year, don’t forget about Mike Trout.