Mike Trout struck out in his first at-bat Friday. In his second trip, he lined out. In his third at-bat of the Angels' 9-7 loss to the Orioles, Trout lofted a changeup over the left-field wall for his 24th home run of the season.
Putting an 0-fer on Trout's box score line has proven as difficult this season as taking three out of five sets from Rafael Nadal on clay, or beating the Golden State Warriors four times in a playoff series. Though he missed 39 games with an injured thumb, Trout has been incredibly consistent when he's been on the field. Friday's homer raised his slugging percentage to .684, which, combined with his .465 on-base percentage, gives him an eye-grabbing 1.149 OPS for the season.
All those marks would be leading the Majors right now if Trout was qualified for the batting title, as would perhaps his most impressive mark of all. Entering Friday's action, Trout carried a 206 park-adjusted OPS+, a number we haven't seen anyone post over a full season in more than a decade.
For those unaware, OPS+ (on-base plus slugging plus) takes a player's combined OBP and slugging and adjusts for external factors, like the ballparks he played in. It then places that player's OPS on a scale, with 100 representing the MLB average (a space currently inhabited by Shin-Soo Choo and Brett Gardner). So, Trout's 206 OPS+ signifies that he's performing 106 percent better than the average Major League player. Among hitters who are currently qualified for the batting title, the Astros' Jose Altuve owns the highest OPS+ at 172.
If Trout can keep up his mind-boggling performance, he'll be on the verge of something bigger than the constraints of this calendar year. Since the American League came into existence in 1901, there have been only 48 seasons in which a player finished with an OPS+ of 200 or above while qualifying for the year-end batting title. Trout is gunning to become No. 49, and only the third player to do it this century after Barry Bonds (2001-04) and Sammy Sosa (2001). Only nine players have accomplished the feat since the league expanded to 18 teams in 1961.
OPS+ isn't a be-all, end-all statistic, as it combines two sliding statistics that aren't completely parallel with one another. Still, the stat can be helpful for comparing one player's performance to others over the course of a long and grueling season. The real intrigue in Trout's chase for 200 will lie in his opportunities, and whether his OPS+ will truly stand alongside the all-time greats. Players need to average 3.1 plate appearances per game, meaning Trout would need to finish with 502 plate appearances if the Angels play all 162 games on their schedule. The Halos' star has walked to the plate 342 times this year, meaning he would need to average roughly four plate appearances per game if he played in each of Los Angeles' 40 remaining contests. It's a feasible pace, but it doesn't give Trout much wiggle room. Whether he qualifies could impact some American League MVP voters, too.
In the meantime, we all get to enjoy the full maturation of one of the best young talents the game has ever seen. Trout, who led the American League in strikeouts just three years ago, is now posting his lowest strikeout rate since 2013. He's getting on base at a rate that might make Ted Williams proud. He's still playing excellent defense in center field. And the Angels have a red-hot, all-around star to lead them through the rest of the AL Wild Card chase.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.