National Columnist

Upon further review, Angels' Trout is even better than you think

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Trout is having a season that rivals Albert Pujols' scorching rookie year in 2001. (Getty Images)  
Trout is having a season that rivals Albert Pujols' scorching rookie year in 2001. (Getty Images)  

This is a public service column, probably deserving of an award when it comes to that sort of thing, because I'm going to tell you something important, something you didn't know about baseball player Mike Trout.

And you thought you knew plenty. You knew he played for the Angels. He's a center fielder. A rookie. And he's pretty damn good, the obvious Rookie of the Year in the American League and a leading candidate for MVP. So if you already knew all that about Mike Trout, congratulations. You know a lot.

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But did you know he's having the single greatest rookie season in baseball history?

And one of the most unusual seasons -- by anyone, ever?

Those are mostly factual statements, with a bit of opinion in there. You know how it is with stat-based baseball arguments: so much depends on which stats you value, and which style of ballplayer you prefer. Want a basher? Well then, Albert Pujols' rookie season in 2001 (.329, 37 home runs, 130 RBI, WAR 7.7) was pretty good.

Want a slick-fielding center fielder? Fred Lynn in 1975 (.331, 21, 105, WAR 7.3) won Rookie of the Year and MVP, the first player to do that. Point being, picking out the best rookie season in baseball is up to you. I've gone on Twitter to talk up Mike Trout (WAR 7.6) and his incredible rookie season, and people come back at me with Pujols or Lynn. Maybe it's not cool enough, but the name they ought to come back with is Ted Williams, who in 1939 hit .327 with 31 home runs, 11 triples, 44 doubles and 145 RBI.

That's the kind of company Trout is keeping with his own rookie season, something for the ages, even if it is a season he'll probably top someday. Speaking of ages ... Mike Trout turned 21 last week. You think this is the best he can do? Man, he's just getting started.

But already he's doing something that has never been done in baseball history. Trout is hitting .340 with 21 home runs and 36 stolen bases, and if the season ended today -- which it won't, but bear with me -- he would be the first player in baseball history to post those three numbers in the same year.

You follow? Nobody in baseball history has hit at least .340 with 21 home runs and 36 steals. Mike Trout is there right now.

And he has done it in 92 games.

Trout is on a pace to top 30 home runs and 50 steals, which has been done just twice -- Eric Davis (37 HR, 50 SB) in 1987, Barry Bonds (33, 52) in '90 -- and he's heading that way despite beginning the season in the minor leagues. He basically missed the first month, not making his 2012 debut until April 28.

Even so, Trout leads the league in batting, stolen bases, runs (88) and runs created, a complex stat devised by Bill James designed to measure a player's overall offensive contribution. Trout leads the league with 101 runs created, and the gap between him and No. 2 Miguel Cabrera (94) is bigger than any gap in the top 10. That's an accumulating statistic, and he's running away with it in the American League -- after spending the first 20 games in the Pacific Coast League.

Remarkable. One of the most unusual seasons we've ever seen, and not normally the kind of thing I'd write about. A great player having a great season? Impressive, but not really interesting. This one, though, interests me because -- as is the case with the seasons being put up by two National League closers -- I'm pretty sure it's floating under the radar.

Not out in California, of course. Angels fans know how well Trout is playing, as should most baseball fans on the West Coast. But in Middle America and the East Coast? Trout plays way too late for most of us to watch on TV or to follow in the newspaper.

Put it this way: I've been on the Mike Trout bandwagon for about a month, and not until this weekend -- when I started researching this story -- did I have any idea how good he is on defense.

His offensive numbers speak for themselves. You don't need highlight shows to know that only a special offensive player can hit .340 with 21 home runs and 36 stolen bases in little more than half a season. But the defense? I had no idea until I dug deeper into the numbers, which show Trout ranking among the top 10 in the American League in defensive WAR, one of just two outfielders ranking so high (Minnesota's Denard Span is the other).

And then on Saturday night Trout did this to Seattle's Miguel Olivo, scaling the wall to take away a home run for the third time this season. According to research by ESPN Stats & Info, Trout is the first outfielder to steal three homers in one season since 2010.

And Trout has done it in 92 games.

What that video of the Olivo robbery doesn't show is what came next: that when Trout came down from the wall, he threw to first base to double off Eric Thames.

That's just one play in a long season, but Trout is making more of them than anyone, whether it's on defense or the bases or in the batter's box. He's a leadoff hitter who is slugging .592. He's a home-run hitter who leads the league in steals. He's 21 years old.

And if he keeps playing like this, he ought to become the American League's first unanimous MVP since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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