Mike Trout is the last batter any Major League Baseball pitcher should want to see at the plate in any situation. But the danger he represents is amplified when the bases are loaded.
The Toronto Blue Jays know of that danger. They were single-handedly pummeled by Trout as the two-time MVP posted a career-high seven RBIs in the Angels 11-6 win on Wednesday.
The Trout onslaught included two home runs — the second of which was a grand slam — and a bases loaded single. And his production with the bases loaded in particular made us ponder something interesting.
Does Mike Trout deserve the Barry Bonds treatment?
What we mean by that is: Should teams follow the lead of Buck Showalter, who while managing the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998 ordered that Bonds be intentionally walked with the bases loaded?
According to former Mets manager Terry Collins, he considered that very thing one time during a game in 2017. Collins ultimately decided to let Addison Reed pitch to Trout, resulting in a sacrifice fly.
Should managers be considering that strategy in 2019? If so, when would it make sense to consider it?
Let’s examine this a little closer.
Mike Trout is a beast with the bases loaded
We should say more of a beast.
The sample sizes are always small when analyzing bases loaded success. But Trout has been steadily productive, bordering on unstoppable, when those scenarios arise throughout his entire career.
This season, Trout has driven in a league-leading 18 runs with the bases loaded. He has seven hits, including two grand slams, and a walk in 11 plate appearances.
For his career, well, let’s just say Trout is doing a really nice job with the bases loaded.
Mike Trout has a .420 batting average in 69 career at bats with the bases loaded.
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 20, 2019
His full slashline is .420/.463/.811 with six grand slams and 101 RBIs in 93 plate appearances.
Breaking it down further, in those 93 plate appearances, Trout has driven in at least one run 55 times with walks, hit by pitches and sacrifice flies included. He’s also struck out 14 times, grounded into one double play and twice reached on an error in those scenarios.
The reality is, Trout has been a near lock to do damage with the bases loaded. The risk in pitching to him is allowing excessive, game-changing damage as he did Wednesday. Given his success with the bases loaded and otherwise, it’s a gamble every time he’s pitched to in that scenario.
But several factors should weigh heavily in the decision to willingly walk in a run.
What’s the score and situation?
On Wednesday, Trout’s first bases loaded at-bat came with the game tied and nobody out in the fourth inning. It’s tougher to justify an intentional walk there to give the opponent the lead while setting up a potentially big inning.
When Showalter had reliever Gregg Olson intentionally walk Bonds, there were two outs in the seventh inning and Arizona was leading by two runs. The extra cushion and added leverage were key. Olson got the desired pay off by retiring the next batter.
The score and situation are two important factors. Confidence in the pitcher is another. How that pitcher has fared against Trout and how Trout is faring overall is in that conversation. At the time of Bonds intentional walk, he was in the midst of the greatest home run stretch in MLB history. How he got there is a source of controversy, but he was feared on another level.
Trout is feared, too. But certainly not to that degree.
All things considered, there’s a really small window where the Bonds treatment is in play. Any situation with less than two outs, a tied game, one-run lead, or a deficit, makes pitching to Trout a necessity more than a gamble. One or more outs while protecting a slim lead, it’s at least worth discussing.
Unless, of course, you’re worried about...
Who's hitting behind Mike Trout?
For much of Trout’s tenure with the Angels, he’s been followed by a steadily declining Albert Pujols. Make no mistake, Pujols can still be dangerous when he’s healthy. But he doesn’t strike fear into opponent’s hearts like he used to.
Or like Shohei Ohtani does now.
Since Ohtani’s return from the injured list in May, he’s been hitting directly behind Trout. He presents a different, more difficult challenge as a versatile hitter with enormous power. His presence there alone might be enough to steer teams toward pitching to Trout.
Ohtani recently became the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle. Since May 31, he's hitting .318/.370/.712 with seven homers. With Ohtani back, Justin Upton back, and Andrelton Simmons coming back, the run producing potential behind Trout is the highest it has ever been.
The #Angels have Mike Trout. They have Shohei Ohtani above 1.000 OPS in his first full month this year, Justin Upton just back, and Andrelton Simmons due back any day now. They have found two promising rookie starters.
They are 2.5 games out of a wild-card spot.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 20, 2019
The deeper the lineup, the less you can focus on limiting one batter.
Bonds and Josh Hamilton are the only two batters to have been intentionally walked with the bases loaded since 1944. In other words, it’s not a strategy that most modern era managers entertain anyway.
If any batter in today’s game should change that, it’s Mike Trout. If it hasn’t happened by now though, it probably never will.
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