COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout put together a season in 2012 that wasn't just memorable - it was other-worldly.
In fact, his season was so special that many are wondering if he set himself up for the dreaded sophomore slump.
Second season letdowns are common in baseball. Hitters can at times have trouble adjusting at the plate because opposing pitchers have a better idea of how to get them out. In turn, pitchers can struggle in their sophomore seasons as hitters get a better understanding of their tendencies.
In recent years, several players have experienced the dreaded sophomore slump. Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward nearly won National League Rookie of the Year Award honors when he hit .277 with 18 HR and 72 RBIs in 2010. However, he regressed in 2011, hitting just .227 with 14 HR and 42 RBIs.
Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto captured the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2008 with a .285 average, 23 HR and 86 RBIs. The following season, Soto hit just .218 with 11 home runs. In fact, Soto has yet to recapture his rookie year magic, now serving as a backup to A.J. Pierzynski with the Texas Rangers.
A terrific rookie season does not necessarily guarantee future success. One only has to look at the career of former Rookie of the Year Award winner Joe Charboneau as an example.
However, what Trout achieved in 2012 was extraordinary. His 10.7 WAR is the highest ever recorded for a position player --other than Barry Bonds-- not currently in the Hall of Fame.
It's doubtful that Trout will be a one-year wonder like Charboneau.
Some have suggested that Trout can't possibly match the numbers he posted last season. He set the bar too high.
How does anyone know the height of that bar?
Oakland Athletics general manger Billy Beane is not one who believes that Trout has reached that bar quite yet.
Beane told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com that he doesn't envision a sophomore slump at all.
"Honestly," Beane said, "I'm worried he's going to be better. Seriously. And he's going to be up there an extra month. Yeah, I'm concerned he's going to be better, if that's possible."
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Gonzalez that Trout has the uncanny ability to adjust better than most.
"When he first came up, to me, he chased the slider a little bit, he chased a little bit out of the zone, and the second time, he was a different cat," Mattingly said. "Anybody who learns that quick will make the adjustments for whatever someone's trying to do to him."
Noted sabermetrician Bill James believes that Trout's sophomore season will be just slightly better than his rookie year.
According to FanGraphs, James predicts that Trout will hit .325 with 30 HR, 87 RBIs, 53 stolen bases, 122 runs scored and a .966 OPS.
Nothing about those numbers screams regression.
Trout is just 21 years of age, so it's unlikely he'll lose speed anytime soon. His defense is exceptional as well.
In addition, many sluggers have to make adjustments to their swing over time. Long, loopy swings can be the bane of their existence. Not so in the case of Trout, who already has a repeatable, compact swing.
Sophomore slumps are part of baseball - it's inevitable that a certain percentage of players will see a downturn in their second seasons.
But in the case of Mike Trout, his sophomore season could be even memorable. It's entirely possible he's just scratched the surface of his potential.
Doug Mead is a freelance sportswriter living in the Los Angeles area. His work has been featured in Bleacher Report, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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- Mike Trout