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MLB Star Power Index: How Shohei Ohtani's clutch numbers help MVP case; Mike Trout's missed stats

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 9/21/2021 Dayn Perry
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Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly undertaking that determines with awful authority which players are dominating the current zeitgeist of the sport, at least according to the narrow perceptions of this miserable scribe. While one's presence on this list is often celebratory in nature, it can also be for purposes of lamentation or ridicule. The players listed are in no particular order, just like the phone book.

Mike Trout
CF •

A lamentation caterwauled from this and every mountaintop: Injuries have robbed Mike Trout of much, and by extension Mike Trout's injuries have robbed us of much. 

Said lamentation is tied to the grim likelihood that Trout will not play again this season because of a calf injury that's kept him away from This, Our Baseball since way back yonder on May 17. If this is indeed the end of his 2021 campaign, then he'll have once again provided excellence on a rate basis -- a slash line of .333/.466/.624, which comes to an OPS+ of 195. The problem, though, is that Trout played in just 36 games. 

Unfortunately, this continues a recent trend for Trout. He's been on the injured list (formerly known as the disabled list) three times in his career, all since May of 2017. In 2017, torn thumb ligaments cost him six weeks, and in 2018 an inflamed wrist laid him up for almost a month. In 2019, a foot injury that eventually required surgery cost him most of September, but because of the expanded rosters no roster move was necessary. In 2020, he played just 53 games because that season was heavily abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then comes the major calf injury this year. 

Throw out Trout's 40-game cup of coffee in 2011, and over the first five full years of his MLB career he averaged 154 games per season. In the five seasons since then -- i.e., 2017 through the current campaign -- he's averaged just 95 games per year. 

But what if he hadn't? What if, over the last five seasons, the best baseball player in the world had been as healthy as he had been over his first half-decade in the bigs? We're here to provide an answer to that question, albeit in crude, imprecise, and probably unsound fashion, which is all owing to the fact that this scribe has a liberal arts degree of dubious utility.

So let's say Trout averaged 154 games per season over the last five years, just as he did the first five. That's a total of 295 missing games since the start of the 2017 season. Based on Trout's per-162 game averages (available at Baseball-Reference) from 2017-2021, here are the cumulative totals of what he might well have lost in those 295 lost games: 

  • 87 home runs
  • 58 doubles
  • Seven triples
  • 311 hits
  • 240 walks
  • 197 RBI
  • 228 runs scored
  • 646 total bases
  • 36 stolen bases
  • 17.6 WAR

In terms of Trout's lost Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is an all-encompassing stat that measures a player's contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the bases, that 17.6 figure means that Trout has lost to injury over the past five seasons roughly the career WAR of Adam Dunn or Cecil Fielder. 


Video: Why Is Shohei Ohtani Still Pitching This Season? (Stadium)

Replay Video

Anyhow, if you add those missing numbers above, here's what Trout's career tallies would look like as of the end of the current season:

  • 397 home runs
  • 326 doubles
  • 56 triples
  • 1,790 hits
  • 1,105 walks
  • 1,013 RBI
  • 1,195 runs scored
  • 3,361 total bases
  • 239 stolen bases
  • 93.8 WAR

In our alternate reality, Trout would be within, oh, a week or so of career home run No. 400, and he'd reach that benchmark in his age-30 season. He'd also be well past the halfway point of 3,000 hits; and he'd also have topped 1,000 career RBI; 1,000 career runs scored; and 3,000 total bases. He'd be approaching the proximity of 1,000 extra-base hits (and would likely get there in 2024, assuming health). 

As for the imagined WAR of 93.8, that lofty figure would already rank 40th all-time, just ahead of Adrian Beltre and just behind Cap Anson. Among position players only, he'd rank 27th all-time. 

Maybe under these imagined conditions, the Angels in 2017 snare the second AL wild card spot, and maybe Trout picks up a fourth AL MVP award somewhere in there. The real damage, though, is going to be backward-looking career appraisals. 

He's going into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but these lost games may prevent Trout from compiling a body of work that places him among the best of the very best when it comes to total amassed value. That's especially the case if these worrisome injury trends continue. 

As long as we're talking Halos, let's take a moment for Shohei Ohtani. He remains the AL MVP frontrunner at this writing, but anecdotally Blue Jays triple crown threat Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems to be making up ground. While Guerrero may not even be the most deserving candidate on the Toronto roster -- you can argue for Marcus Semien instead -- he's without question having a brilliant season. 

The case for Ohtani, obviously, rests on the fact that he's providing major value as a hitter and a pitcher and doing so while taking up only one roster spot. Relevant data chambered and ready to fire: 

  • Ohtani's 2021 WAR (as pitcher and hitter): 8.2
  • Guerrero's 2021 WAR: 6.8

WAR, though, doesn't account for clutch performance, and in this area Ohtani thus far in 2021 has dominated Guerrero Jr. Take a look at how the two leading MVP candidates stack up at the plate in terms of some clutch indicators (all numbers current as of Monday morning):

OhtaniGuerrero

Overall OPS

.952

1.029

OPS with RISP

1.155

1.071

OPS with runners on

1.035

1.026

OPS with two outs and RISP

1.195

1.009

OPS in "close and late" game situations

.938

.656

OPS in high-leverage situations

1.283

.970

As you can see, Ohtani has out-produced Guerrero this season in every kind of situation that can be characterized as "clutch," and he's done so by a huge margin in those latter two categories. 

Over at Fangraphs, they provide a snapshot measure called "Clutch" that compares a player's production in the most important moments of the season relative to his baseline of performance outside of those contexts. This season Ohtani has a clutch score of 0.78, which ranks 15th among AL qualifiers in 2021. Guerrero? His clutch score of -1.27 ranks 67th out of 71 AL qualifiers. For those curious, Semien hasn't been much better than Guerrero in terms of clutch this season (his score of -1.26 ranks 64th among AL qualifiers). Consider all of this to be a significant boon to Ohtani's MVP case. 

As for clutch performance as a general matter, it's not really a sustainable skill in almost every instance. A player's clutch performance typically varies widely from year to year, but when it comes to backward-looking assessments of value, which is what the MVP vote is, then it's appropriate to consider it. In this case, it very much redounds to the benefit of Ohtani. 

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