It has become a bit of a quandary, probably more so for Angels fans than manager Mike Scioscia: To maximize Mike Trout’s run-producing opportunities, should the two-time American League most valuable player bat second or third?
One solution would be to find a guy who gets on base at a .450 clip, has great plate discipline and speed, plug him into the two-hole and drop Trout to third.
“We don’t have another Mike to put in front of Mike,” Scioscia said. “So, it’s just the way it is.”
Trout began Wednesday night’s game against Kansas City with a .315 batting average, an AL-leading .447 on-base percentage, 19 homers, 15 doubles, 39 runs batted in, 13 stolen bases, and a league-leading 52 runs scored and 51 walks.
He has hit second for all but four of his 61 starts, leading off twice and batting third twice.
Of Trout’s 273 plate appearances through Tuesday, 101 came with men on base, 52 came with runners in scoring position, 18 were with runners on first and second, and one was with the bases loaded.
No. 3 batter Justin Upton had 133 plate appearances with men on base and 73 with runners in scoring position, and cleanup man Albert Pujols had 121 plate appearances with men on base and 73 with runners in scoring position.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who usually bats fifth or sixth depending on Shohei Ohtani’s availability, had 104 plate appearances with men on base and 62 with runners in scoring position before he was placed on the 10-day disabled list because of a sprained right ankle on Wednesday.
“Guys like Upton and Pujols have so many more plate appearances with men on base and runners in scoring position because Mike is on base so often,” Scioscia said. “Mike sets the table so well — he’s on base almost half the time — and you want the guys behind him to be able to take advantage of that.”
Scioscia had considered moving Simmons, who is batting .330 with a .399 OBP and 34 RBIs, into the second spot, but Simmons emerged as a middle-of-the order force, and Scioscia didn’t want to disrupt that. Zack Cozart, who led off for 26 games, might be a candidate if he had a better average (.225) and OBP (.301).
Kole Calhoun, on the DL because of an oblique strain, would have been an option if he were hitting closer to the career .261 average and .330 OBP he had entering the season. He’s batting .145 with a .195 OBP.
“We’ve looked at some things,” Scioscia said. “All the studies we’ve seen on it say that while there’s an increase from leadoff to second as far as how many runners you have in scoring position, there isn’t much of an increase from the second to third spot.”
For Trout’s RBI opportunities to increase, the hitters in front of him need to get on base more often. That’s been the biggest impediment to an offense that still ranked fifth in the AL in runs (284) and OPS (.742) entering Wednesday.
Angels leadoff batters — Ian Kinsler and Cozart — entered Wednesday ranked last in the major leagues in average (.204) and OBP (.281) and 25th in runs (34).
“One reason Mike’s numbers aren’t quite what we know they will be is we went long stretches where guys were trying to find their game, and some of those guys were hitting in front of Mike,” Scioscia said.
Kinsler, slowed by a left adductor strain in April, heated up last week, hitting .550 (11 for 20) with three homers, three doubles, six runs and six RBIs in five games to raise his average from .179 to .222.
He was hitless in 12 at-bats with one walk in his first three games this week until he doubled and scored in the fifth inning Wednesday and hit a two-run home run for 3-1 lead in the sixth.
The challenge for Trout, who was batting .371 (13 for 25) with runners in scoring position entering Wednesday, is always to keep the same approach.
He came up twice with two on in Monday night’s 9-6 win over the Royals, delivering a score-tying RBI single in the sixth inning and a game-winning RBI single in the eighth.