Mike Trout is healthy and set to resume the historic start to his career

Big League Stew

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout’s Baseball-Reference page already reads like a roadmap to the Hall of Fame.

A career .308/.408/.567 slash line. Six All-Star Game selections. Five Silver Sluggers. Two MVP awards. Finishing as the runner-up in the other three seasons he’s been eligible for the MVP award. The highest fWAR of any player through his age-24 season.

Mike Trout isn’t just the best player in baseball, he’s already put himself among the best to ever play the game.

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That’s not good enough for him. Despite all the accomplishments, Trout is “obsessed with being great.”

“I want to be the best,” Trout told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “At the end of my career, if somebody brings up my name [I want them to say]: The guy played 100 percent the whole time and left it all out on the field.”

For the first time in his career, Trout’s pursuit of history has been put to the test. The 25-year-old tore a ligament in his left thumb on a slide attempt during a May 28 game against the Miami Marlins. The next day, Trout decided to have surgery. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks.

Mike Trout missed 39 games after injuring his thumb during a slide. (AP Photo)
Mike Trout missed 39 games after injuring his thumb during a slide. (AP Photo)

He’s expected to return on Friday night after just six-and-a-half weeks, proving that he even heals better than the average human being. During that time, he’s been viciously attacking his rehab, ensuring he doesn’t miss a beat after his first-ever stint on the disabled list.

Trout’s use of the term “obsessed” is not a coincidence. The outfielder is the star of a new ad titled “Obsession,” in which he is shown going through a training montage as he speaks dramatically uplifting phrases while motivating music swells in the background.

It’s part of a campaign created by former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant for BODYARMOR sports drink. Trout says the beverage helps him avoid cramps and stay hydrated during games and workouts.

The repeated line “back to it” is an appropriate summation of Trout’s mindset.

“I keep telling myself — and this should be for everybody — you can always get better at something” Trout says. “The ultimate goal is to win a championship … that’s what motivates me.”

On the surface, it’s easy to want to dismiss that as a typical cliché answer from an athlete. Trout’s already the best player in baseball. How much more can he realistically improve?

We should all know better than to doubt Trout’s abilities by now. During the second half in 2014, a small weakness emerged in Trout’s game: He wasn’t hitting high pitches well. Take “weakness” with a grain of salt here — Trout did go on to win the MVP — but he slugged just .138 against pitches classified in or beyond the upper third of the strike zone. It was a legitimate concern.

Trout acknowledged it was an issue the following February, telling Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times that he planned to work on it during spring training. By May 2015, he was slugging about .800 on fastballs classified as high or high and inside, as chronicled by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs. In three months, Trout turned his only weakness into one of his biggest strengths.

That year, Trout improved his batting average, on-base percentage, hit a career-high 41 home runs and lead the league in slugging. He finished second in the MVP voting. Not good enough.

Driven by his motivation to be the best, Trout returned in 2016 and hit for an even higher average. He led the league in walks, on-base percentage and OPS+. He won the MVP award this time, as if there were any doubt.

Mike Trout has never finished lower than second in AL MVP voting. (AP Photo)
Mike Trout has never finished lower than second in AL MVP voting. (AP Photo)

That brings us back to 2017. After missing 39 games, Trout finds himself in an unusual position. His 3.4 fWAR ranks seventh among all American League players. He’s finished first in the AL in fWAR every season since 2012. If Trout is hoping to catch New York Yankees rookie phenom Aaron Judge, who leads baseball with a 5.5 fWAR and looks like the odds-on-favorite for AL MVP, he faces one heck of an uphill battle.

And yet, when Trout returns from his thumb injury Friday, he’ll do so with the best slash line of his career. His .337 batting average is a career-high. As are his .440 on-pace percentage and .742 slugging percentage.  He still leads baseball with 10 intentional walks.

Trout once again figured out a way to improve, and was well on his way to winning another MVP award before the injury. The only thing keeping him from achieving that is time. Given Trout’s mindset, and his track record when faced with adversity, you can’t discard the idea.

If Trout can pull it off, it would take an unprecedented performance that would undoubtedly extend his already historic start. It would be yet another step toward Trout reaching his ultimate goal: Not just being among legends, but being the best of all-time.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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