Mike Trout is batting .290 entering the final weekend of the regular season, well off the .323 he hit last season and .326 average as a rookie in 2012.
The Angels center fielder leads the American League with 181 strikeouts, far more than the 139 and 136 he had the last two seasons. His on-base percentage is down, from .432 to .380, and his stolen bases are way down, from a high of 49 in 2012 to 16.
Trout’s power is up — he ranks third in the AL with 35 homers, second with a .563 slugging percentage and leads the league with 114 runs scored, 110 runs batted in and 83 extra-base hits.
A case can be made, at least statistically, that Trout, 23, the most valuable player runner-up to Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, is having his least productive season.
But he is still the clear-cut favorite to win his first MVP, because Cabrera is not in contention, and the best other candidates — Detroit’s Victor Martinez and Chicago’s Jose Abreu — don’t measure up.
“There is no doubt, in talking to other managers, that Mike is not only the MVP of our league but the best player,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think he’s gone out and captured that award.
“His average is not as high, but as far as his production numbers go, he’s off the charts. He’s an incredible player. I think with every player you can focus on one stat here or there, and his strikeouts are up. But I think that’s a cyclical thing.”
Scioscia believes Trout strikes out so often because he tries to go deep into counts while pitchers are attacking him aggressively, knowing Albert Pujols bats behind him.
“He certainly works counts, and when you do that you’re going to create hitting counts, walks and strikeouts at times,” Scioscia said. “But Mike has a game plan, an understanding, and his swing is short enough to where even though he’s extremely productive now, with experience, those strikeouts will be tamed a bit.”
Pujols, a three-time National League MVP who had a .328 career average, .420 on-base percentage, .617 slugging percentage and averaged 40 homers and 120 RBIs in 11 years with St. Louis, is one of those rare sluggers with more walks (1,115) than strikeouts (904) in his 14-year career.
Trout will probably never walk more times than he strikes out, but with his speed and power, if he could reduce his strikeouts by 30-40%, it’s not hard to imagine how prolific he would be.
“His average and OBP would be where it was last year, with 35-40 homers and more than 100 RBIs,” Angels reliever Joe Smith said. “Then you’re looking at what Pujols did for 11 straight years, and there are not many guys like that. That’s crazy.”
Opposing pitchers would not want to contend with such a hitter.
“It’s not like he’s striking out and hitting .240 — he’s hitting almost .300 with 35 homers and 100 RBIs,” Oakland closer Sean Doolittle said. “Shoot, you can’t have it all. It’s not fair as it is right now.
“You can jam him, break his bat, think you have an out, and he busts his tail to first and beats it out. Then he steals second and you have a runner in scoring position. There are so many different ways he can beat you. He’s just a really dangerous player.”
UP NEXT: Right-hander Jered Weaver (18-8 record, 3.52 earned-run average) will oppose Seattle right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9, 3.54) at Safeco Field on Friday at 7 p.m. On the air: TV: FS West. Radio: 710, 830, 1330.