Mike Trout is off to the best start of his career

Superstar's hard-hit rate and barrel rate each highest since 2015

May 12th, 2018

Last Friday night in Anaheim, ripped a line drive with an exit velocity of 118.0 mph at Twins shortstop . The result was an out to end the game -- a 5-4 loss vs. Minnesota -- but it was the hardest batted ball any Angels player has hit since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015. It was also a prime example of an overall trend this season for Trout, widely considered the best player in baseball.

Trout, who has won the American League Most Valuable Player Award twice and finished runner-up three times in six full seasons, has produced an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater in 46.9 percent of his batted balls so far in 2018. That's his highest hard-hit rate through May 15 since Statcast™ began tracking. Trout's highest hard-hit rate for a full season was 48.9 percent in '15. Last season, it was 39.9 percent.

Trout's hard-hit rate by year

2018: 46.9

2017: 39.9

2016: 40.5

2015: 48.9

Of Trout's 113 balls in play so far this year, 19 have been barreled -- that's a barrel per batted-ball rate of 16.8 percent. Last season, his barrel per batted-ball rate was 13.3 percent, and his season-high since Statcast™ began tracking also came in '15, at 16.4 percent. Trout's average exit velocity is up from 88.8 mph in 2017, to 91.8 mph this season.

"I feel like there's nothing different from [2015] to now," Trout said. "I think it comes with experience -- knowing the guys, knowing the pitchers, knowing their tendencies. Seeing their pitches. And not missing."

Trout's "barrel" rate by year

2018: 16.8

2017: 13.3

2016: 14.6

2015: 16.4

"Not missing" is something Trout is doing more of -- his swinging-strike rate is 17.3 percent this season, down from 18.2 percent last year and 22 percent in 2015. A big reason for that is he's swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone. According to Statcast™, Trout's swing rate at pitches out of the zone so far this season is 17 percent, down from 19 percent last year and 22.6 percent in '15.

"Mike has always had a good understanding of the zone," said teammate , a future Hall of Famer who recently collected his 3,000th career hit. "Now as a veteran, he understands more on what pitchers are trying to do in certain counts and situations. He's fine taking his walks because he can do so much damage on the basepaths."

While Trout has fine-tuned his swing over the years, it's largely the same as it's always been. With his ever-increasing selectivity, the walks are up, but so are the hard-hit balls.

"He's putting up good swings, he's taking his walks, and whenever they do pitch to him, he's punishing them," said . "He just looks locked in right now."

"The crazy thing is that he hasn't yet reached his prime," Pujols said. "He continues to get stronger and his hands seem to get faster each year."

A natural result of being locked in the way Trout is right now, the first question that comes to mind when he does something like he did last Friday.

"When you hit a ball hard, everybody's asking, 'What's that exit velocity?'" Trout said.

"Everybody" includes teammates.

"It's just different coming off his bat," said Zack Cozart, who is getting a chance to watch Trout every day in his first season with the Angels.

"He's really short to the ball. And obviously he stays through it. And add to that how strong he is. There's just not another guy like him."

Since his first full big league season in 2012, no player is within 20 wins above replacement of Trout (based on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR). And whether it's how hard he's hitting the baseball or the results of that contact, he's only trending in one direction. So far in 2018, he's slashing .306/.449/.633 with 12 home runs, eight steals and a higher walk rate (19.8 percent) than strikeout rate (18.7 percent).

"He's still learning. He's been around a while, but he's still just going to keep getting better and better," Cozart said. "There's just certain things that he does -- certain pitches that he's able to hit -- that you just don't see other guys being able to handle."

Trout said he doesn't become preoccupied with how hard the ball is leaving his bat, but that he'll take a peek every now and again at the television screens in the clubhouse.

"I think it's pretty cool to have, and it's come a long way," Trout said of Statcast™.

The batter's box isn't the only place Trout has gotten off to a great start, according to Statcast™. He's also improved in center field. In 2016 and '17, Trout's Outs Above Average stood at -2 and -3, respectively. So far this season, he's at +3.

There's no telling what Trout's ceiling is, especially given how he has gone from great to greater over the past few seasons. From year to year, the game's biggest stars shine brightest, but there always seems to be one constant as other faces change.

"Every once in a while they'll be like, 'Oh, this guy is pretty good. That guy is pretty good,'" said Simmons. "[Trout] has proven it time and time again.

"He just shows you who he is every single year."