This information is usually presented as a problem to be solved; articles lamenting Trout’s relative low profile are a cottage industry. Some writers note that, given the realities of baseball, one player can do only so much to help his team, and others speculate about when he might be able to move on to a contender that could make better use of his talents and raise his Q score. But while it would certainly thrill to see Trout play meaningful games deep into October, such forecasting overlooks the appeal he holds right now, on a middle-of-the-pack club without realistic title aspirations. Plenty of superstars demonstrate what it looks like to rise to occasions and embrace big moments, but Trout fills in a neglected corner of sports’ emotional spectrum. He tolerates and hangs in; he does his best, even without much chance for ultimate glory.
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This is an athletic era of overblown narrative, of hyper-Hollywood endings. Last year, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off a seemingly unbeatable Warriors team in the NBA Finals. In February, Tom Brady brought the New England Patriots back from a 25-point Super Bowl deficit. In between, the Chicago Cubs ended what may have been history’s most famous championship drought. Anybody who watched those games has a collection of moments they can recall on demand: James materializing to block a late layup, Kris Bryant smiling as he threw to first for the final out.
Trout has had no such moments and won’t for the foreseeable future; his current contract runs through 2020. He plays with a mix of past-prime stars and fill-ins, and his home stadium features a pile of ersatz rocks behind the outfield wall and, usually, a bunch of empty seats. The Angels start their games at 7 o’clock Pacific time, when much of the baseball-watching population is nodding off on sofas. Even in this uninspiring atmosphere, though, Trout astonishes. Baseball aficionados treat his statistics like a holy text—he has led the American League in the catch-all category Wins Above Replacement, which summarizes a player's total offensive and defensive contributions, every year for a half-decade—but the sight of him on the field renders those gaudy numbers somehow underwhelming. Trout’s acumen is such that it seems impossible for him to have a truly bad game. He has a millimeter-fine understanding of the strike zone, a missile-launching bat, and an innate sense of the various strategies at work with each pitch: These traits never leave him all at once.
“He does it the right way every single day,” said Bryce Harper, the closest thing Trout has to a peer, before the Angels and Harper’s Nationals met for a July series. “He’s one of the best in the game at being himself and never changing.” What was unsaid but implied was how tempting it might be for any other player in Trout’s circumstance to lapse into bad habits. Harper himself has alternated MVP-quality seasons with down years, and he has had the adrenal pick-me-up of playing for a contender. Nobody familiar with the 162-game haul of the baseball season would begrudge Trout the occasional off night.