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Mike Trout is finally a 5-tool player

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His throwing arm used to be a relative weakness. Not any more.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Mike Trout unleashed a throw from center field Monday night at Dodger Stadium that looked more like it was launched from a howitzer rather than the right arm of baseball’s best player. The throw from Trout was one of the most impressive we’ve seen all year across baseball, for both its speed and accuracy.

Max Muncy was the victim of Trout’s laser, measured by Statcast at 98.6 mph and traveled 261 feet on the fly to catcher Dustin Garneau, one of two Dodgers thrown out at the plate by Angels outfielders on Monday.

That Trout essentially threw a strike to home plate from four times the distance of a pitching mound is another facet of his game that he’s fine-tuned over the years.

The Angels star outfielder has been recognized as the best overall player in the game almost since his beginnings as a full-time player, able to do just about anything on a baseball field. Trout could hit, hit for power, he could run, and he could field at the toughest outfield spot.

But what kept Trout from being a true five-tool player — the platonic ideal of a complete baseball star — was his throwing arm, which was below average to average in his early years. In 2014, Nick Ashbourne at Beyond The Box Score wrote about Trout’s below average showing in some defensive metrics:

The fact that picking out a very specific small flaw in Mike Trout’s game constitutes news or any kind of novel information is just another testament to his excellence. While Trout has long been thought of as the prototypical five-tool player it may be that he’s more of a four-tool player after all.

Dino Ebel was a longtime coach with the Angels, and worked with Trout on his outfield play. In 2014, Ebel noted the improvement in Trout’s arm:

“He’s got a little chip on his shoulder that he’s trying to prove people wrong,” Ebel told MLB.com. “If you say he can’t do something, he’s going to prove you wrong. That’s what Trout’s mindset is — ‘I’m going to show everybody that I do have this arm strength, and I’m going to go out and do it.’ And he has.”

Trout’s defensive numbers have steadily improved since then. He had seven total outfield assists in his first three seasons (2012-2014), then he averaged 6.5 assists the next four years (2015-18). His throw Tuesday night was his fourth assist of 2019, putting him right in line for his usual production.

It was Ebel, who now works for the Dodgers, and as third base coach he sent Muncy to his demise at the hands of Trout, and in the ninth inning sent Cody Bellinger home in what was a game-ending assist by another Angels outfielder, Kole Calhoun.

On the money is definitely what Trout was with his arm Tuesday. His advanced metrics have improved, too. FanGraphs uses two measures of outfield arms, one using Defensive Runs Saved, and another using Ultimate Zone Rating. Trout was well below average in the former through 2014 and has been at least average in each of the last five seasons. In the latter, Trout put up his best season in 2018 and has already surpassed that figure in 2019.

Mike Trout’s outfield arm

Year DRS arm UZR arm Assists
Year DRS arm UZR arm Assists
2012 -3 -3.8 3
2013 -5 -1.9 0
2014 -6 -5.1 4
2015 0 +0.6 7
2016 0 -0.8 7
2017 +1 -1 5
2018 +2 +1.4 7
2019 0 +1.7 4
Source: FanGraphs & Baseball-Reference

Trout has maintained his status as the best in the game for so long thanks to constantly attacking his weaknesses. He used to have trouble with high fastballs but has since crushed them. Good luck finding a spot to actually pitch to him. Did I mention that Trout on Tuesday also hit a home run into the Loge level at Dodger Stadium, something that happens roughly once every two years in the ballpark’s existence?

Now, it’s his outfield arm. The improvement has been gradual through the years, but the proof was in that throw Tuesday. It’s impossible to make that play without a scary arm. I guess Trout is a five-tool player after all.