AL WestAnalysis

Mike Trout’s Case For 3,000 Hits

If Mike Trout were to stop playing baseball today (hopefully not), there is no question in my mind he would be a Hall of Famer with his career so far. Anything after this point will be just an added bonus in terms of his inevitable Hall of Fame induction. While the personal achievements will be nice for Trout, I can only assume the World Series Trophy is what Trout will desire the most going forward. Luckily for him, that will not keep us, the fans, from looking forward to the possible achievements he could achieve. The quest to enter the 3,000 hit club will be the goal in this article.

Before we can examine Trout’s pace to 3,000 we must first understand the current makeup of the club: current players, important stats, and groups within the club. There are a wide variety of time periods included within the club, illustrated in the graph below:

If you watched baseball at any point between 1871 to 2021 you would have had the opportunity to witness someone in the 3,000 hit club. Yes, there has been a member playing in every single year that baseball has been played since 1871. The most recent members of this group include Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre. If you were watching baseball in the 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1997 seasons you would have had the opportunity to watch 12 future/current members of the 3,000 hit club, which was about 37.5% of the current members.

To accurately compare Trout with the 3,000 hit members we will look at the first 11 seasons from each player to put them on the same scale as Mike Trout. I will refer to the first 11 seasons of a player’s career as their ‘first half’ and any time after that will be the players ‘second half’. The average hit total for all the members in the group in the first half of their career sits at about 163 hits per season. The second half average sits at 140 hits. Ichiro Suzuki currently has the highest average out of all the members with 220 hits while Cap Anson currently has the lowest average at about 94 hits per season. The average length for each player’s career is about 21.4 seasons.

First Half Monsters

Now for some of these hitters, their first half hit rate was not maintained in the latter half of their career. Ichiro Suzuki and Paul Waner both started off their careers very hot. They averaged 220 and 204 hits per season. Ichiro also maintained the most At-Bats in his first 11 seasons out of any player within the 3,000 club. Paul Waner had the 4th highest with 6489 total ABs. There is no question both of these guys played in very different time periods but their distance in terms of production isn’t quite as dramatic. Both Suzuki (1st) and Waner (2nd) hold the records for most total hits within their first 11 seasons in the majors. Suzuki, in fact, has the most 200+ hit seasons within their first 11 seasons in the Majors, Waner slots in tied for 3rd with Wade Boggs. Despite the amount of success both of these players had in the first half, the fact that both Suzuki and Waner both had over 70% of their career hit totals come in the first half suggests a downfall in their second half production.

Suzuki went from 7456 ABs to 2478 in the second half of his career and as a result his 220 hits per season in the first half of his career fell to 73 hits per season. This is no surprise given that at the time Ichiro arrived in the United States he was 27 which would mean that the “first half” of his career included the age range of 27-36 which basically included his prime years. Waner would only post 3 triple digit season hit totals in the second half of his career. While their second half didn’t emulate their stellar first halves, it would not keep them from making the 3,000 hit club.

Second Half Surges

Only 10 players have maintained a higher hit average in the second half of their careers. This accounts for about 31% of the hitters within the club. In fact out of the 10, only 2 of the hitters have a difference greater than 20. On the contrary, if we look at the hitters with a higher first half hit average, there are 16 hitters who have a difference of at least 20.

Cap Anson has the highest difference of 55, followed by Paul Molitor with a difference of 34. Cap Anson went from having 94 hits in his first half to 149 in the second half which seem to be relatively low averages. However, Cap Anson also played the most seasons of anyone in this group at 27 seasons. While he did have the longest tenure out of anybody on this group he did play well before the 20th century. While he played in an era where baseball was at its infancy, Anson was one of the best contact hitters at that time winning 4 batting titles. Molitor on the other hand played a century later from 1978 to 1998 spanning 21 seasons. Molitor had the highest second half hit average out of anybody in the group (176).

We should note that if a hitter has a higher difference between one half of a career to another, the first half of a player’s career would more likely be that season. As a result, it’s a much higher likelihood that a player would have more hits per season in their first half compared to their second half.

Sprinters vs Marathon Runners

There were a few hitters that were able to reach 3,000 hits in careers that spanned less than 20 seasons. Roberto Clemente and Wade Boggs did it in 18 seasons while Ichiro, Lou Brock and Rod Carew did it in 19 seasons. Lou Brock could very well be in the 18 season group had he not played in his first year. Brock played in only 4 games and amassed only 1 hit that year. Now if we look at the players with the most seasons played we get, as mentioned previously, Cap Anson who played the most seasons with 27, Eddie Collins and Rickey Henderson have the next most with 25 seasons.

Mike Trout’s Chances

Now with all this 3,000 hit talk, where does Mike Trout find himself in the mix? Mike Trout’s total hits through his first 11 seasons is 1419, which would put him between Cap Anson (1037) and Paul Molitor (1557) for second to last in total hits. Mike Trout also has the 2nd lowest average hit total in the club. Third lowest in At-Bats as well. Trout is not in the right part of the group to be in. If Mike Trout maintains his status quo of 129 hits over the rest of his time with the Angels (9 years left on his deal) he would reach about 2580 hits when his contract is over, he would be 39 entering Free Agency.

Should Mike Trout reach 3,000 by the end of his deal with the Angels he would need to maintain at-least 176 hits over the next 9 seasons. In comparison, Trout has surpassed 176 hits in a season only twice: age 20 (182) and 21 (190) seasons. Trout would need to be one of the hitters who sees a jump in their hit totals in the second half of their career to be close to hitting 3,000 by his age 40 season, which as mentioned earlier is not as common in the group. Cap Anson did it, but he didn’t play in the 20th century. Paul Molitor also did it, Molitor finds himself in the ‘Second half surges’ group which is where Trout will ideally find himself in. Trout will very likely need to mimic Molitor’s career to reach the 3,000 hit club and will probably need to play over 21 seasons, current 3,000 hit club average, unless he just has a massive second half resurgence.

Let’s discuss some factors that could limit his ability to maximize his hit production.

Missed Playing Time

From the span of 2013 (3rd year) to 2016 (6th year) Trout played in at least 157 games. However, since then he has missed time due to injuries and to a pandemic. He had a thumb injury in 2017 that forced him to miss 39 games with 19 games in both 2018/2019 due to wrist/foot injuries. 2020 he played in only 53 out of 60 games in the COVID-19 shortened season, and he played just 36 games in 2021 due to a calf injury.

Trout could have very well lost 2 years worth of playing time alone just due to injuries. While none of these injuries have been recurring, we are still forced to question whether Trout will be injury-free throughout the rest of his career. I am certain Trout will want to continue to play in Center Field as long as possible and continue to get better at all facets of the game. However the one facet of his game that he has struggled with in the last couple of years has been playing full seasons. Could moving Trout from CF to a corner spot maximize his durability? Maybe, but his thumb injury (2017), wrist injury (2018), and 2021 calf injury were all suffered running the base paths. Therefore, defense has not been the culprit of any of Trout’s injuries to this day.

Approach At the Plate

One of Trout’s best skills at the plate is his plate discipline. His ability to lay off pitches close to the zone and willingness to take walks has made him the On-Base King that he is today. If we look at total walks, Trout would rank 5th highest out of all the members in the club with 865 walks in their first 11 seasons. The average in the club is 612.

While there isn’t anything wrong with taking walks, it does keep him from putting the ball in play. This keeps Trout from benefiting from the luck that is derived in simply having the ball in play. If you have watched Angels games over the last decade you would have witnessed many times where Trout gets infield hits due to his great speed. Baseball Savant had him in the 96th percentile in sprint speed (before his injury) in 2021 which means he can still leg out infield hits. While getting 3,000 hits is all about skill, there is also a level of making contact on a consistent basis.

Unfortunately, the more balls in play will force Trout to run at a 100% effort more often which could pose a threat to causing new injuries. As mentioned earlier, Trout has most of his injuries occurring when he is running the bases which could pose even more of a threat as he gets older. Taking walks could also create problems for him since he is still on base, but there was a significant drop off of stolen bases by Trout during the 2019 season. This is the result of the injuries suffered from sliding into bases the previous two years. Regardless, Trout’s approach could be beneficial in the long run, sure it limits his balls in play, but that is the best part of his game. 

Conclusion

If we look at skillset alone Mike Trout could very well reach 3,000 hits, durability may only be the concern here but longevity will be his best friend here. Miguel Cabrera will get there (2987) and Albert Pujols has been able to do it here in the 21st century. The Run Environment isn’t exactly as friendly to Trout in previous decades due to better pitchers, less contact-oriented game and more shifting however I do believe reaching that illustrious group is more about the batter’s skillset rather than the environment around him and Trout could very well get there, and if not get very close to 3,000.

Main photo courtesy of: @Angels on Twitter

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