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I keep thinking about this tweet.

There’s so much in that tweet. Not capitalization. There is not capitalization, and there is not a named source, so those are things that are not in that tweet. But otherwise there is so much in that tweet. In that tweet, we learn that:

1. A general manager in the major leagues says that Mike Trout is better than Albert Pujols, right now. Not the more valuable property, or the guy with the brighter future, but is, right now, already better.

2. A general manager says that Mark Trumbo, a player whose flaws you are aware of, is roughly as good as Mike Trout.

3. A general manager says that Mark Trumbo, a player whose flaws you are aware of, is better than Albert Pujols. That the Angels just gave a 10-year contract to a first baseman who is, at best, his team’s second-best first baseman. That Mark Trumbo is better than Albert Pujols.

Those are three amazing statements, or at least one amazing statement, one slightly surprising statement that is amazing when you put it in the context of the first statement, and another amazing statement. A GM thinks Mark Trumbo is better than Albert Pujols. Two days since I saw that, and I’m still speechless. Do you see me stalling right now? That’s because I’m speechless. C’mon, words. C’mon.

Quick looks at the first two, then a longer look at the third.

Mike Trout is better than Albert Pujols.
Our updated PECOTA projections say Mike Trout will produce 1.8 WARP this year; he’s at 1.2 now. It sees 5.3 WARP for Albert Pujols, who has produced just 0.5 so far. So if you go by those projections, Pujols should be much better than Trout for the rest of the year. But who knows. There is absolutely nothing you know about Albert Pujols’ future or Mike Trout’s future. So maybe Trout is better, and maybe he’s the best player on the Angels. If he is, what does it mean?

Since 1950, five players have led their teams in WARP at age 20. They are Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. If Trout, as a 20-year-old, can manage to produce more WARP than Pujols—and Trumbo, and Kendrick, whom he trails thus far—it would be about the finest thing you could ever say about a kid.

Mark Trumbo is as good as Mike Trout
Trumbo—who leads the Angels in WARP—might be the perfect test for the idea that a player can (or can’t) be taught plate discipline after he makes the majors. By one measure, he had the widest swing zone in baseball last year. But he’s totally aware of the need to improve his eye: “I don’t think I was blessed with the greatest eye,” he said last year. “It’s something I’m really having to work on, but it’s hard.” He’s a smart player who has shown the ability to adapt repeatedly in his career, as a hitter (he was primarily a pitcher in high school) and as a defender who was considered awful in Low-A.  He has pressure on him to improve, as he fights for playing time in an organization run by walk-junkie Jerry Dipoto. And he’s scary enough as a hitter that he should be able to force pitchers to nibble against him.  

So we’ll see. So far, he has been noticeably more patient. At the most basic level, he drew 19 unintentional walks last year, and he is already at 12 this year. That’s not that many, but 19 in a full season. At a slightly more advanced level, he is swinging at 37 percent of pitches out of the zone this year, compared to 44 percent last year, according to StatCorner’s figures. That’s not just taking pitches to take pitches, either; his swing rate in the zone has gone almost identically in reverse, from 38 percent last year to 44 percent this year.

On the other hand, the pitches he most struggles against—those out of the zone away—have been just as tempting. He saw 328 pitches in 2011 that were a foot away from the center of the plate, which is to say, outside. He swung at 82, exactly one in four. He has seen 86 such pitches in 2012 and swung at 21. Why, that’s almost exactly …

Still. If it were easy to stop swinging at balls, there would be a lot more Pedro Feliz in the majors right now. Mark Trumbo has stopped swinging at a lot of balls, and it’ll be one of the more interesting parts of the next few seasons to see whether he can go all the way and turn into a late-blooming Paul Konerko.

Mark Trumbo is better than Albert Pujols.
Writing about Mark Trumbo is, for me, one of the hardest parts of writing about baseball. This tweet about a GM who thinks he is better than Albert Pujols is a pretty good example of why.

When I wrote about the Angels for the Orange County Register, I went into the clubhouse a couple times each homestand. Covering a game involves two tasks: A game story, with post-game quotes and the like, and a notes column. The notes column itself usually involves two subtasks: condensing the manager’s comments to the press, and enterprising some sort of short feature about a player, coach, or something associated with the team. The post-game quotes are easy; everybody moves in a pack. The manager’s press availability is easy; there’s a group of five to 15 reporters asking questions. The enterprising thing is the one part that requires some initiative and one-on-one conversation.

That kind of reporting never really gets comfortable, or it never got comfortable for me after 10 years of doing it in a variety of sports and non-sports beats. At the end of the day, nobody has to talk to a reporter, and everybody involved knows this. So asking a player, or any person, to answer questions is asking for a gift. And answering those questions is an act of grace. It’s easy to judge reporters who seem too close to their sources, but appreciate what the working reporter has without those acts of grace: nothing.

The first time I talked to Trumbo I was, as always, a bit nervous. I had written him off as a prospect in 2008 or 2009. I doubt Trumbo would have ever seen me write him off, but I knew I was asking a favor of a guy I had criticized based on, to be honest, not much expertise or investigation. I had said nice things about him, too, especially after he put together a 12-month hot streak that carried him through the PCL, the Venezuelan Winter League and spring training in 2011. But it’s weird to ask for something from somebody after, essentially, insulting him. Trumbo was great to me, though. He had hit his first big-league home run the day before. It was a very quick interview. I got what I needed.

As the year went on, I routinely heard the Angels coaches rave about Trumbo. He took early batting practice just about every day I was at the park. During games he watches the action as closely as anybody, observing. If he were 5-foot-10, he’d be called scrappy. He’s not, so he’s just a guy who has more infield hits and stolen bases than a guy his size and speed really ought to. I once heard that Trumbo had been poor at taking instruction when he was in the low minors. This was hard to imagine. I found out later what the problem was, and it was sort of hysterically innocuous. When Angels coaches would tell him something, he would nod. Later, he realized that he should nod and say “yes” so they appreciated that he was listening. That’s the extent of the problems when you’re dealing with Mark Trumbo.

Trumbo is just a wonderfully nice person, so far as I can tell. (He’s also a friend of a friend.) He makes eye contact when he answers questions. He pauses a beat before he does, considering the question because, to him, it seems like an important question. He’s honest and candid, but not candid in a way that suggests he’s just trying to get attention. He’s generous with praise for his teammates and his coaches. He’s honest about his limitations. “I’m not a terribly gifted athlete in a lot of regards,” he said when they talked about moving him to third. He never, in my experience, was anything less than realistic about his chances of staying as a third baseman. It would be incredibly hard to make the transition. It would be uncomfortable. But he would try hard, because he wanted to play, and because the men who sign his checks had asked him to. I recognize that this is standard sportswriter stuff, praising an athlete I barely know based on the extremely limited exposure I have had to him. Totally fair point. But I believe what I’m saying, and I actually came to believe it matters. I wasn’t sure how it mattered, but how could making right decisions not matter?  

And this is why I don’t know what to do about tweets about Mark Trumbo. I like Mark Trumbo. More importantly, I think Mark Trumbo is a good ballplayer! He has had a maddeningly wide strike zone in his career, and I certainly didn’t expect him to become a star, but he has enough power that he’s a legit major-league first baseman, even if his OBP drops to nearly unacceptable levels.

I just don’t think Mark Trumbo is better than Albert Pujols. To be honest, I don’t think that that GM in Heyman’s tweet actually believes it. I do think he’s a tremendously improved player, way, way, way better than prospect hounds expected him to be four years ago, similarly better than I ever expected. Better than I expected before last year, and better than I expected this year. Mark Trumbo is better at baseball than I am at anything, and he has become one heck of a baseball player, and that GM who said he is better than Albert Pujols was merely complimenting him. Does it need to be strictly, literally true for it to tell us something? No, not really. What it tells us is that a smart guy in a front office thinks Mark Trumbo has become a heck of a ballplayer. Done.

But it’s hard to leave it at that. It’s always hard to leave it at that. Mike Scioscia said last summer than Mark Trumbo was not just a Rookie of the Year candidate, but an MVP candidate. Well, no. The truth of the moment—Mike Scioscia thinks Mark Trumbo has become a heck of a ballplayer—gets lost in the not-truth of the moment. Mark Trumbo wasn’t an MVP candidate by any measure I would want people voting on. This isn’t meant as an insult to Mark Trumbo, but it feels like an insult to say it, and I hate insulting Mark Trumbo. I really like Mark Trumbo. He’s a heck of a ballplayer!

It felt this way when the Angels said they were going to try Trumbo at third base, a statement of just how much he has improved his defense and agility overall, and how valuable they see him to the lineup, but also not (it seemed to me) a very good idea. It felt this way when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, and first in the player’s vote: a compliment, but not one that I totally agreed with, which wasn’t something I could state without feeling like I was bashing Mark Trumbo, a ballplayer I think a lot of. It felt this way when I said over the offseason that the Angels should trade him, because he was too good not to be starting but probably not quite good enough to start on the Angels. But but but I meant that in the nicest possible way.

Opinions are uncomfortably binary, especially when we’re all just strangers on the internet. Things get simplified into either good or bad, and arguing that a player is not quite as good as the standard set for him inevitably involves marshalling evidence of his flaws. So what I’m saying is this: it’s grand to see Mark Trumbo is having a great year. It’s really no fun pointing out the flaws in a player I like. The first two months of this year suggest a player who, through sheer will, might just be becoming a player without flaws.

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I'm beginning to expect this level of writing when I click on your byline, Sam, and almost always I get it. Great to be a BP subscriber and get to see it multiple times a week.
But what I really want to know, Sam, is whether you think Mark Trumbo is any good as a ballplayer.

If you say "Mark Trumbo" enough times, it starts to not make sense.

Trumbo and Trout's full names were used so often, it reminds me of how that's a crutch often used by football analysts ("Brett Favre this," "Brett Favre that"). But maybe it's more common than I realize. I've noticed Steve Nash is often referred to as only Steve Nash. (And that Dwayne Wade is often referred to as D-Wade, even though it takes more time to say than Wade, and he's not likely to be confused with other Wades in the NBA).

At least you didn't ape the football guys by saying that Mark Trumbo is a BASEBALL player, a rising star in MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
Oh, and I enjoyed the blog by the Thrice guy. I'll need to sample them on YouTube.
There's also a fourth option. Jon Heyman either misquoted the GM or forgot to include Pujols.
I also think it's the nature of the tweet. It's quite possible the GM was considering the value of the property considering age/contract, etc., but this didn't fit into the soundbite.
No I don't think Mark Trumbo is better than Albert or Trout.

But you can consider he's played 1B, 3B, and RF this year and he was also offered a scholarship to pitch at USC, so he'd be the best pitcher of the three. I'm sure Albert is a better 3B.
I wish the most interesting part of the discussion and the biggest part of Heymann's tweet--Is Trout better than Pujols--had gotten more attention here.

The wild card in the equation, which I'd love to hear your opinion on Sam, is this: How good do you think Albert Pujols is today? IMO, he's deteriorating rapidly, losing over a quarter of his previous season's WARP each of the last two years, and on pace to lose 60% or so of last season's value this year.

Forget everything you know about the last 11 years, and put yourself in this situation on 6/1/01. Some typically dunderheaded national writer with a knack for putting his foot in his mouth says: "1 gm says pujols is #stlcards best player. i agree. #phenom" What's your reaction, in a lineup with McGwire, Edmonds, Drew, Lankford? Do we credit those four for what they've done in the past, or do we look at the right now/future?

Pujols won't hit 5.3 WARP this year. He'd have to go something like 325/420/580 to get there. And he's not that player anymore. That's not a comment on a flaw in PECOTA, but a comment in Pujols having a post-30 age curve that so far has proved to be a lot quicker than the norm for both the general population of hitters and the elite guys.

It's entirely possible that Heymann is absolutely right, and Trout is a better baseball player today than Albert Pujols. He plays elite defense at a premium position, has the unheard of speed to hit triples on line drives to left field, and is patient and talented at the plate.
FWIW, ZiPS has Trout ending the season at 4.6 WAR and Pujols ending at 4.0 WAR. So, I'd say there's a pretty good chance Trout is the better player this year.
Yeah, ZiPS has had a crush on Trout since before the 2011 season. If I recall correctly, I think ZiPS projected Trout to be the best Angel in 2011, when he was just 19.

My own opinion: I'm not too worried about Pujols' seemingly accelerated decline, or, at least, I don't think there's a lot of evidence yet to suggest the normal aging curve doesn't apply to him. I think Pujols is probably one of the 10 best players in baseball right now, and Trout is probably one of the 30 best. That also means that if I'm off by just a little for each, then Trout would be, indeed, better than Pujols.
I respectfully disagree. I don't believe there is any evidence (discipline stats, power, slash lines, WARP, TAv, baserunning, defense, literally anything meaningful) that shows Pujols is not a player in steady if not steep decline.

Let me see if I understand this argument correctly.

140 plate appearances from Mike Trout from this year is more relevant than 221 plate appearances from Albert Pujols this year, ignoring Trout's 134 plate appearances from last year (where Trout "underperformed") and ignoring Pujols's 7250 plate appearances from his career.

Or, perhaps, Pujols's .906 OPS in an offyear last year when he battled a bad elbow, returned much sooner than expected is and still posted the 10th best OPS in the NL is, again, more relevant than Trout's .887 in the brief time he has been up this year?

That's the thrust of your argument, right?


My argument is how Pujols has trended since the close of 2009, over 1572 PA of steady decline.

You say bad elbow, I say old guys have more nagging health problems keeping them off the field or from producing the way they did when they were young. You say off year in 2011, I say then explain how it looks statistically like a logical progression from 2009 -> 2010 -> 2011 ->2012 as he gets progressively worse each year. Are they all 'off years'? If so, isn't that support for my case rather than against?

You say 10th best OPS in NL, I say (if we must use it) that a 906 OPS last year represents a steady loss of about 100 points of OPS per year which he looks primed to equal or exceed this year. I can say same for literally every meaningful offensive stat. That Pujols is in steady if not steep decline.

What we're seeing from Trout is an indication of what we're going to see from Trout for the next decade. The same can be said for Pujols. That's my argument. And I tend to think that Pujols' performance over a very meaningful almost 1600 PA supports that wholly, and that Trout doing what, as Sam mentioned, only a set of HOF no-doubters have done, supports that side of the equation.
You know, after 182 career plate appearances, Starlin Castro had a .944 OPS at the age of 20 in July 2010. While Castro has been a good hitter at a premium position, he has not kept up that level of production.

So, similar to Trout, it would be difficult for me to say I would prefer Castro (or Trout) to Pujols. I just can not say with any certainty that Trout's current level of production is sustainable.

Meanwhile, Pujols has been at or above that .900 OPS level multiple times. That deserves some weight.
I think you're missing my point, respectfully, Richard. And that isn't what Mike Trout will be based on the significance of 180 PA. It's that the elephant in the room of this discussion is Pujols' last 1600 or so PA, which show a big fat steady downward slide. A 900 OPS for Pujols is a big big fall from where he was in 2009. He's at .693 right now and unlikely to hit that 900 this year. There's nothing to tell us his downward slide is going to reverse or slow. Could he have a crazy good outlier year in 2014 and OPS 1.000 again, sure. But that will be an outlier.

Mike Trout? It's about Rany's stuff on young guys (Trout is 5 mos younger than Nick Franklin, taken two picks later, and is the youngest position player from the 2009 draft in MLB by a long margin. Ackley, same draft, is 3.5 years older than Trout, who is hitting circles around Ackley and did hit circles around Ackley in the minors despite being 3.5 years younger.) It's everything KG has reported on Trout. It's how Trout dominated every level he played while at a very young age at each level. Mike Trout is an elite player with a huge future ahead of him. He could have OPSed .120 the last month and I'd believe that.
I think I have an idea of your point. And yes, Pujols's best years are most likely behind him. The thing that I am not sure is being valued is that .900 OPS hitters are rare. Trout has not established himself as that kind of hitter, 180 PA just isn't enough.

Sure Trout's got great potential, but it's not guaranteed he will produce great results. You can consider the Castro example (who has done amazing things as a young player but is not a superstar) or those who have "failed" such as Jason Heyward. Just a few weeks ago, people were panicking about Mike Stanton (who has not hit for a .900 OPS over a full season). Meanwhile, even a diminished Pujols hit at that .900 OPS level.

In some ways, this discussion reminds me of the Joe Mauer argument from a few years ago where Joe finally had his power explosion so everyone thought he would be more valuable than Pujols in future years. Sure enough, he hasn't been.

Anyway, on the original subject of "who is the Angel's best player", I believe Pujols is likely to outproduce Trout for this year. I also believe that Pujols will keep pace if not outproduce Trout for the next few years. In 2015 when Trout hits 23 and Pujols hits 35, that'll probably be the inflection point where Trout definitively surpasses Pujols. But until I can see a season and a half of Trout's production at the major league level, I'll still take Pujols's declining production because I can see Pujols hitting that .900 OPS level for at least two more years.
Who says Pujols is still a 900 OPS hitter? That's not how the aging curve works, where you take a big drop at 30, a big drop again at 31, then you flatline and your age 31 season becomes your reality for a while. The older a player gets, the more their drop as a rule will accelerate. Pujols is already in a decline that's more accelerated than should be expected of two populations: everyone, and elite hitters. He's not having an outlier like Adam Dunn's 2011. He's having a steady, multi-season decline that I think it would be short-sighted to think is just going to stop or slow down.

I won't be surprised if Pujols has another 900 or 1000 OPS year. But I'd be shocked if it were not an isolated season of maybe 530 PA with an out-of-line BABIP and a bunch of fence-scrapers that sticks out in what is an otherwise continuous downward trend. And I'll be equally shocked if we ever look back at the end of a season and say "Albert Pujols. Man, he was THE BEST this year." That ship has sailed.
Well, it's called an aging curve for a reason. The declines are gradual. And it's not like 30 is the magic number where things start declining, nor does the "peak" always happen at 29.

The BABIP argument is interesting. Did you know last year he had a career low .277 BABIP and, so far this year, a .239 BABIP though his career numbers are at .309?

Again, I get curious why you dismiss sections of his track record when others get overly weighted. You seem inclined to suggest a "bounce back" would be because of luck but that his "decline" has nothing to do with it.
The declines on the whole are gradual but they do accelerate as age advances. Pujols' own personal decline has not been anything even in the same time zone as gradual.

Albert Pujols circa 2001-2009, you get no argument from me. I'm not dismissing any of Pujols' track record. That's a straw man you're arguing with. You're dismissing the recent--and frankly, most relevant--part of it by relying more on the player he was 1600PA ago, and not the one he's become since the close of 2009.

I explicitly did not dismiss last year's stats.

I explicitly stated that even a diminished Pujols posting a .900 OPS is rare.

I have also said that even his performance last year could've been affected by injury, stress over contract or even BABIP fluctuations.

I am saying that Pujols's career history make it more likely he will produce at that .900 OPS (if not better) and that Trout does not have that history, so he is less likely to produce at that level.

Yet, you dismiss Pujols's history while ignore Trout's subpar performance from last year. You think Pujols may have a lucky BABIP year and rebound with some good stats, ignoring that his BABIP this year (.239) and last year (.277) were below career averages. Yet, you ignore Trout's .372 BABIP so far this year. You dismiss that there are other 20 year olds who had hot months or hot half-seasons and didn't sustain that .900 OPS level. Heck, even Darwin Barney had a hot month.

You selectively use statistics then you say I'm the one making a straw man argument?

Anyway, I get the general idea. You like Trout, you don't like Pujols.

As an addendum, Trout has a huge future ahead of him, but he isn't an elite player yet. Also, the Angels are built to win now. If it was a rebuilding team, Trout would be "more valuable" than Pujols, but he still wouldn't be "the best player" for another few years.
Trout is playing every day on a team built to win now because Trout is a better player right now than the overpaid old guys clogging up LA's 25-man roster.
I wish they used the same logic with Bourjos vs Wells.
Sam Miller = Mark Trumbo of baseball writing.
That makes him a "heck of a" writer, just not the best on BP.
I'm going with the Kurt Vonnegut of baseball writing. Satire, history, observations of human nature. All we need is the sci-fi angle now, Sam! Perhaps a world in which Trumbo is better than Pujols accounts for that?

Heck of a read. Keep it up!
On that note, I have about 50k words done of a sci-fi baseball novel.. :P
Unclear, is that a good thing or a bad thing? :)