The secret to getting even more out of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts

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Los Angeles Angels star <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8861/" data-ylk="slk:Mike Trout">Mike Trout</a> isn’t getting enough RBI chances due to the team’s minimal production from the leadoff spot. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout isn’t getting enough RBI chances due to the team’s minimal production from the leadoff spot. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The owners of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are the envy of the rest of Fantasy Baseball. But the value of these superstars is being unfairly depressed by their real-life managers for the reason we’ve all been trained by sabermetrics to essentially ignore — batting order.

The average hitter gets an at bat with at least one runner in scoring position on 24.8% of plate appearances, according to MLB stat provider Inside Edge. Trout entering Thursday’s action had 18.3% of at bats with RISP.  Just 36.5% off his plate appearances have come with anyone on base. (The MLB average is 43.3%.)

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Trout bats second, which baseball’s bean counters say should be the spot for the team’s most balanced hitter. Trout is not merely the most balanced hitter on the Angels but in the conversation for being the best hitter ever. So okay, Mike Scioscia batting Trout second especially in the American League is fine.

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But the leadoff spot for the Angels has been a veritable wasteland, with Los Angeles No. 1 hitters sporting a .285 OBP. Only the Giants (.266) and Padres (.259) are worse. Where should they turn? Why not to Andrelton Simmons, whose on-base percentage has gone up five straight years and is currently at .400. He has 12 walks and just nine Ks in 141 plate appearances. Yet Simmons primary has batted fifth and sixth this year.

Trout’s hitting .412 with RISP and has 11 RBI on seven hits. He’s walked 12 times, including four intentionally. So, yes, the other problem is Trout not having protection behind him either. But really, Trout is like Mickey Mantle. He’s the protection for everyone, like Mantle who, when he batted behind Roger Maris in 1961, prevented Maris from being walked one time intentionally even though Maris was en route to hitting 61 homers. So protection for Trout is a silly concept with there being no poison remotely as potent as him.

But getting someone more productive ahead of Trout in the leadoff spot like Simmons is not too much to ask. Just average production ahead of Trout would boost his current RBI total by 16%. That’s the difference between Trout finishing with 110 RBI (his current pace) or 128 — and that could be a couple of points easily in the RBI category.

The Red Sox of course are awesome in getting their No. 1 spot in the lineup on base, because Betts is leading off. While the Angels have their best and most balanced hitter in the right spot theoretically, that’s not the case at all for Boston. Betts should be batting second. Heck, third is better than first. Betts is leading baseball in homers, slugging and total bases, definitely not the profile of a leadoff hitter. But he’s had RISP on just 18.1% of at bats. Even after discounting all the times he’s led off the game, just 41.7% of remaining plate appearances have come with anyone on base (again the average is 43.3%). Betts is hitting .389 with RISP. His RBI total is currently about as depressed over expectation (given the caliber of his hitting) as Trout’s.

Like with the Angels, the Red Sox have an easy fix — move Andrew Benintendi to leadoff. Benintendi has an on-base percentage (.340) about 100 points higher than his batting average (.246). It’s very easy to see Benintendi with an OBP closer to .400, though he’s not currently hitting in hard-luck as his well-hit rate of at bats of .079 is about half the league average and among the worst in baseball.

So Betts owners are suffering in the RBI department with the Red Sox seemingly doing everything possible to depress his total. Betts doesn’t have Trout’s track record. Last year, his OPS+ (adjusted for park) was 107 where 100 is exactly average. This year, it’s 215, just ahead of Trout’s 210 (Trout has led the league in this stat the last three years). So maybe the Red Sox were not prepared for Betts to hit like this. But his fantasy owners will be very grateful if Boston starts treating Betts like he’s their best hitter.

Some other RISP notes: Charlie Blackmon trails all hitters at 14.1% of PAs with RISP. On the other end of the spectrum, Victor Martinez is league-leading 38.4% and Nick Castellanos 37.9% — weird because we thought the Tigers had a bad offense. Other hitters who are getting ample opportunities with ducks on the pond: Gary Sanchez, Maikel Franco, Nomar Mazara, Brandon Belt, Javier Baez and Khris Davis — all over 30%. On the other end, it’s been rough for Yonder Alonso, Matt Chapman, Eric Hosmer and Brian Dozier — all 20% or lower.

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