Steamer and I: Mike Trout

Today, I continue this year’s Steamer and I series, but switch it up to the other side. That is, the first two players I compared my Pod Projection to Steamer were those I was significantly more bullish on. Now I’ll take a look at a player I am far more bearish on than Steamer.

It should not surprise you that the fantasy relevant player I’m most pessimistic on versus Steamer is actually Xander Bogaerts, who I discussed last week. Obviously, I’m not going to talk about him a second time. So instead, I move down the list and find a big surprise – 2014 MVP Mike Trout. I debated whether it was even worth writing a potentially negative article on him because my opinion isn’t going to matter much. But I’m actually quite curious about what is driving my pessimism versus Steamer since this is a complete surprise to me. So let’s find out, shall we?

For our projection comparison, all 2015 and Steamer counting stats have been extrapolated to the same number of plate appearances I forecasted.

Steamer vs Pod: Mike Trout
System PA 2B 3B HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA BABIP
2015 675 32 6 41 13.5% 23.2% 0.299 0.402 0.590 0.290 0.415 0.344
Pod 675 34 7 33 13.2% 22.8% 0.294 0.393 0.547 0.254 0.397 0.345
Steamer 675 33 5 38 13.9% 21.3% 0.307 0.410 0.585 0.278 0.418 0.350

We first find that our doubles projection is identical, so we can move right along. Steamer is forecasting Trout to hit a career low number of triples, for the second straight season, while I’m forecasting a minor rebounding closer to his pre-2015 seasons. Given the decline in speed Trout experienced last year, I can certainly understand Steamer’s stance here. However, he’s still just 24! I think that makes his Spd score more likely to rebound than if he was much older. As such, I’m forecasting a marginal bounce back.

We then stumble on over to the home runs, where we find most of the answer to our question. Trout set a new career high last year in home runs with 41, and he easily bested his previous career high HR/FB rate set in 2012, by posting a 25.3% mark, good for fifth among qualified hitters. But I’ve always been suspicious of his power. His batted ball distances and xHR/FB rates simply haven’t supported his output and I keep waiting for the magic to dry up. Check out his history:

Mike Trout xHR/FB Trend
Season Batted Ball Distance xHR/FB HR/FB
2012 281.4 15.0% 21.6%
2013 282.8 15.5% 16.5%
2014 289.1 18.0% 17.8%
2015 293.4 21.4% 25.3%

He has never posted elite distance marks and even his career high last year still ranked just 58th among batters who hit at least 30 flies and homers. In 2013 and 2014, he posted very similar actual HR/FB rates to his xHR/FB rates, while he outperformed his xHR/FB rates in 2012 and 2015. He hasn’t shown a sustained ability to outperform his xHR/FB rate and his home park certainly isn’t the answer, given its 93 right-handed home run factor and Trout’s slightly better career road HR/FB rate mark. So bottom line, I think this was a fluke. It’s why I’m projecting his HR/FB rate to decline to 20%, which is just above his career average. I’m guessing Steamer is more optimistic than I am, given its forecast of five additional homers in the same number of at-bats.

Our walk rate projections are somewhat similar, in that they are both in the 13% range. However, Steamer is projecting Trout to post the second highest mark of his career, while I’m projecting some slight regression towards his career average. His intentional walk rate will likely play a role, as it has jumped around the last three seasons.

We find another discrepancy in the projected strikeout rate. Trout’s strikeout rate ballooned in 2014, thanks to a career low Contact% and high SwStk%. Though both marks were still better than the league average, suggesting that a mid-20% strikeout rate wasn’t going to stay for long. He did improve that strikeout rate last year, but both his Contact% and SwStk% marks were virtually identical. In fact, his entire set of plate discipline metrics were about the same from 2014 to 2015, with the only difference coming from worse outside the zone contact in 2015, offset by better in-zone contact.

Since he’s now gone two years with these elevated SwStk% marks and strikeout rates, I’m thinking this may be a new baseline, so I projected minimal improvement. Steamer, on the other hand, is projecting the second lowest strikeout rate of his career! That doesn’t really make much sense to me.

We finish at the BABIP projection, with yet another surprise. It’s extremely rare for Steamer to project a higher BABIP than I do. Sometimes I wonder if it’s forecasting a historical low BABIP in baseball given the marks I see, compared to what I’m forecasting. Trout has outperformed his xBABIP in three of his four seasons, with the lone one he underperformed coming in 2015. It’s very, very surprising to see that Steamer’s BABIP projection is actually highest among ZiPS, Fans, and Pod. It’s just another driver of our projection gap.

So which projection do you agree with more, Steamer or Pod?

We hoped you liked reading Steamer and I: Mike Trout by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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OutOfTheBox
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OutOfTheBox

I will take the side of Mike Trout.