Angels have MLB's best hitter … and it's not Trout?

May 13th, 2022

The best hitter in baseball so far this season is on the Angels. But it's not Mike Trout. And it's not Shohei Ohtani. It's … Taylor Ward?

Who? The Angels' 28-year-old right fielder has flipped the switch from role player to star, seemingly out of nowhere. Ward is leading the American League with a .367 batting average. He's leading the Majors with a .490 on-base percentage and an 1.199 OPS. He's slugging .709 -- second to Trout -- with seven home runs.

Put everything together into one all-encompassing hitting stat, Weighted Runs Created Plus, and Ward is No. 1, ahead of his superstar teammate.

Highest wRC+ in 2022
Min. 90 PA
1) Taylor Ward (Angels): 252
2) Mike Trout (Angels): 246
3) Manny Machado (Padres): 208
4) José Ramírez (Guardians): 194
5) Aaron Judge (Yankees): 193
League average = 100

Trout has been almost 2 1/2 times as good as a league-average hitter … Ward has been even better than that.

You play next to Trout for long enough, he might rub off on you. That's what seems to be happening with Ward this season, especially on the plate discipline side.

Ward has adopted Trout's patient approach, and he's mirroring the three-time MVP's swing decisions. Look at this.

  • Trout: 23.1% strikeout rate / 17.1% walk rate
    Ward: 21.4% strikeout rate / 19.4% walk rate
  • Trout: 37.7% swing rate
    Ward: 37.3% swing rate
  • Trout: 58.8% in-zone swing rate
    Ward: 58.7% in-zone swing rate
  • Trout: 18.6% chase rate
    Ward: 15.9% chase rate
  • Trout: 39.0% swing rate vs. fastballs
    Ward: 39.8% swing rate vs. fastballs
  • Trout: 33.6% swing rate vs. breaking balls
    Ward: 33.6% swing rate vs. breaking balls

They're both being selective, and not chasing, which produces the high walk rates. When Ward does swing, at strikes, he's also doing lots of damage. That's the Trout formula.

Their approach at the plate is giving the Angels huge offensive value. Trout and Ward both rank in the top five in MLB on Statcast's swing/take run value leaderboard.

The swing/take leaderboard looks at the outcome of every pitch a hitter sees (ball, strike, single, home run, etc.) and gives it a run value. A bigger positive number means a hitter is creating more runs for his team.

Swing/take run value leaders for 2022
1. José Ramírez (Guardians): +21 runs
2. (tie) Mike Trout (Angels): +17 runs
3. (tie) Manny Machado (Padres): +17 runs
4. (tie) Taylor Ward (Angels): +16 runs
5. (tie) Freddie Freeman (Dodgers): +16 runs

Trout and Ward have been the most valuable teammate combo in baseball this season by their swing/take decisions (José Ramírez/Josh Naylor and Manny Machado/Eric Hosmer are the other two standout duos). Those swing/take decisions continue to parallel each other when you look at how they break down across the different regions of the strike zone.

Some hitters, like Pete Alonso, do most of their damage on pitches in the heart of the zone. Others, like Matt Olson, are particularly good at laying off chase pitches.

But Ward has distributed his value evenly across the different regions. He's made himself a balanced hitter, like Trout.

Trout's run value by region of the strike zone
Heart: +4 runs
Edges: +3 runs
Chase: +6 runs
Waste: +4 runs

Ward's run value by region of the strike zone
Heart: +4 runs
Edges: +6 runs
Chase: +5 runs
Waste: +2 runs

Ward is even spraying the ball to the same parts of the field as Trout.

Ward: 43.1% pull | 31.0% straightaway | 25.9% oppo
Trout: 44.1% pull | 30.9% straightaway | 25.0% oppo

Trout crushes the ball harder than Ward -- there's still only one Mike Trout, after all -- but Ward is crushing the ball plenty himself. Here are his expected stats based on his quality of contact.

  • xBA: .308 (89th percentile of MLB)
  • xSLG: .611 (94th percentile of MLB)
  • xwOBA: .442 (97th percentile of MLB)

Ward has barreled 15.5% of his batted balls -- "barrels" are the combinations of exit velocity and launch angle that are most likely to be home runs and extra-base hits -- which puts him in the 92nd percentile of MLB. He's hit 43.1% of his batted balls in the launch angle "sweet spot" of 8-32 degrees (that covers both the line drive range that's best for base hits, and the fly ball range that's best for homers), which puts him in the 93rd percentile of MLB.

Ward's gotten better every year he's been with the Angels -- from 2018 to '22, his wRC+ has increased from 58, to 68, to 97, to 111, to the 253 it sits at right now. You add another star hitter to an Angels lineup that already has two of the biggest in baseball, and it's no wonder they're in first place.