Catching Mike Trout

Think fast! Tell me something Mike Trout isn’t very good at. If you said “winning Most Valuable Player awards”, you’re not wrong. If you said “ice hockey” you’re also not wrong, probably. But in terms of on-field baseball skills, Trout is across-the-board outstanding. There are, of course, some things he’s better at than others, and one notes that he just had twice as many strikeouts as walks, but Trout hits, he waits, he fields, and he runs. Trout doesn’t have a weakness — he has only relative weaknesses — and as for strengths, while it’s not as sexy as hitting dingers, Trout’s a hell of a base-runner. Our metric gives him 12 extra runs for his base-running in 2012, which is incredible. And of Trout’s 54 attempted steals, he was thrown out only five times.

One time, in the season finale, Trout was thrown out stealing by Jesus Montero, and we already wrote about that. It was notable, because Trout’s a good base-runner and for a catcher, Montero’s a heck of a DH.* (*Not really, because his hitting wasn’t good either.) But I wanted now to write a follow-up, about the other times Trout was thrown out stealing. I’ve been supplemented with information from BIS, covering the four times Trout was gunned down trying to take second. He was, for the record, 43-for-47 going for second, and 6-for-7 going for third. The latter situation is different, so we won’t get into it here. Let’s focus on those four. How, exactly, did teams manage to throw Trout out, where so many other batteries failed? Are there any patterns we can observe? We will proceed individually.

MAY 26

troutfelix.gif.opt

The key here is that Olivo made a perfect throw down to second base. Olivo made a perfect throw, and still, according to instant replays, Trout might well have actually been safe. BIS provided pop times, measuring how long it took the pitcher to deliver the baseball to home, and how long it took the catcher to deliver the baseball to second. A league-average combined pop time is 3.37 seconds. In this case, Hernandez and Olivo combined for a delivery time of 3.29 seconds, very slightly better.

Of note is that, shortly before Trout took off, Hernandez made a pick-off attempt to first. So Trout had Felix’s attention. Here’s where Felix was in his delivery when Trout turned to go:

troutfelix1

Here’s where Trout’s hands made contact with the ground during his slide:

troutfelix2

The jump was fine, and the slide was fine. The delivery was quick, and the throw was perfect. Trout might have hesitated on account of Felix’s earlier pickoff.

JUNE 4

troutvargas.gif.opt

The combined delivery time here was 3.57 seconds, or two-tenths of a second slower than average. You wouldn’t expect that to be good enough to get Trout out, but there are variables here. Vargas, as you can see, is left-handed. So Vargas could look right at Trout at first base as he took his lead. Before Trout took off, Vargas made a pick-off attempt. Look at where Vargas was in his delivery when Trout turned to go:

troutvargas1

Against Felix, Trout was going before Felix even had the ball out of his glove. Vargas’ hands are completely separated, and the ball’s about to be moving forward. In other words, Trout got a late jump, costing him time. As Trout turns to go, the ball is just about on its way to home plate. There’s also the matter of Trout’s slide into second:

troutvargas2

Trout hit the ground earlier than usual on this slide, slowing him down further. We’re talking about a matter of milliseconds, but stolen bases are decided by matters of milliseconds, and this did Trout in. The delivery time was slow, and the throw from Olivo wasn’t great, but thanks to Trout’s late start and his early slide, he was still the second half of an Angels double play.

AUGUST 21

troutaceves.gif.opt

The previous two caught-steals were preceded by pick-off attempts. Here, there was no preceding pick-off attempt, but there was a straight pitch-out where the Red Sox accurately sniffed out Trout’s intentions. The combined delivery time was 3.13 seconds, a good quarter of a second faster than average. So Trout was thrown out, despite the throw ending up on the wrong side of second base. The time cost from Dustin Pedroia having to move his glove was more than offset by the time gained from the pitch-out. Trout was still very nearly safe, so this wasn’t a sure thing, giving you some idea of how quick Trout really is. He nearly beat a pitch-out against the Red Sox in the top of the ninth.

Here’s Trout touching the ground during his slide:

troutaceves2

A pitch-out’s a pitch-out. Not much you can do about a pitch-out if you’re already running.

OCTOBER 3

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And it’s this play again. The combined delivery time was 3.37 seconds, right on the league average. According to BIS, an expected delivery time for Beavan and Montero would be about 3.39 seconds. Montero’s throw was right on the money, improving matters. In the previous post about this play, we noted that Trout appeared to stumble when he turned. Any stumble, of course, costs valuable time. Here’s where Beavan was in his delivery when Trout turned to go:

troutbeavan1

It’s Trout’s right foot that kicks up a little dirt, indicating slippage. Here’s Trout touching the ground during his slide:

troutbeavan2

Trout might’ve slid a little early, too. And, importantly, we’ll note that, prior to Trout running, Beavan attempted a pair of pick-offs. For all three non-pitch-out Trout caught-steals at second, there were preceding pick-off attempts. Here’s Trout during one of the pick-offs:

troutbeavan3

There’s a slight, visible lean toward second base. Trout was going to go, although he made it back to first in time. Here’s Trout right before his steal attempt:

troutbeavan4

The lean is gone, and Trout is hesitating. He doesn’t turn to go until Beavan’s hands are just about separated, and then there’s the slight stumble. Thanks in part to Beavan and thanks in part to Trout’s iffy footing, Trout got a below-average jump, allowing Jesus Montero to gun him down with a perfect throw. The play was still incredibly close, because there’s no such thing as throwing out Mike Trout by a mile.

We’ve looked at four caught-steals, one of which came on a pitch-out and the other three of which followed pick-off attempts. In Beavan’s case, we can clearly see the effect of the earlier pick-offs. In Vargas’ case, we have to consider the difference between stealing off a righty and stealing off a lefty. In Felix’s case, we don’t know what effect the pick-off might’ve had, and Olivo’s throw was genuinely perfect. Trout was gunned down by two perfect throws and a pitch-out, and in the other case he got a late start off a southpaw and slid too early. A lot of things had to come together for a battery to erase Mike Trout from the basepaths.

It’s probably worth investigating in greater depth the true effects of pick-off attempts. It would be incredibly complicated, which is why I’m not volunteering, but there are people out there who are smarter than me. It’s also definitely worth considering that nothing on a baseball field is automatic, and everything is conducted by humans, leaving everything vulnerable to human error bars. Sometimes a baserunner will start a slide too early. Sometimes a catcher will make an unusually strong and accurate throw. When the right error bars overlap, Mike Trout gets thrown out stealing. They don’t do that very much.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

43 Responses to “Catching Mike Trout”

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  1. Tyler Greene says:

    <3

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    • Evan says:

      Wow, some seriously empty field level seats in that Beaven clip. Looks like sun is out too. Where is everyone? Probably a Sunday game in September. Go Hawks!

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      • Brent says:

        Last game of the year, Wednesday Oct 3rd. Was going to be a night game but changed to afternoon when they added the second wild card team. The stands pretty much looked like that every non-Felix start.

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  2. KCDaveInLA says:

    Really, the only sure call there is Jesus Montero’s, which proves (1) Mike Trout is sometimes on the bad side of close calls despite his godlike status, and (2) even a blind squirrel like Montero will occasionally find a nut.

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    • Jon L. says:

      Yes, but there may have been times he was called safe when he was really tagged out.

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      • Greg says:

        Likely several times. I recall a game where it appeared he was thrown out at second, but he was called safe. He proceeded to attempt to steal third and was definitely out. Guess what? Called safe again!

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  3. guy says:

    Why is Mike Trout wearing blue in the first clip? He’s a red guy, not a blue guy.

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  4. StonetheCrow says:

    Pacific Coast League throwback day I think. Seems like Trout likes to slide early, eh?

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  5. Federico says:

    The second time Olivo caught Trout stealing the throw was pretty lousy compared to the ones by Saltalamacchia and Montero (as the pop time suggests), the “lefty effect” had a huge effect in that one.

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    • Federico says:

      Damn, I really wrote like a drunk monkey in the previous post, sorry English, I didn’t mean to.

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      • Baltar says:

        English asked me to reply, as it was busy correcting much worse damage elsewhere. It says it hardly noticed your slip, but to try not to do it again.

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  6. Newcomer says:

    I enjoy the phrase “when the right error bars overlap.” Perfectly describes the improbable events that show up so often in this game. And that so many people can’t seem to understand.

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  7. Josh M says:

    I conclude that Trout was smart enough to not try stealing against Wieters. #homer

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    • Trotter76 says:

      In the future it may be smart not to steal on the Mariners. That’s a crazy stat: He attempted 47 steals of 2nd and the only team that caught him w/o a pickoff was the M’s, who did it 3 times.

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    • Jon L. says:

      Maybe Safeco suppresses offense because the bases are further apart.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I’ve went to a handful of tryout invite camps (as a participant, LHP) and the one thing that impressed me the most are the catchers that can really throw it to 2B.

    When you see a guy that has “a pro arm” (short for a pro-caliber ‘time to 2B’ “, it literally slaps you in the face.

    So, while we might talk of a MLB catcher as being “slow to 2B”, it’s also worthwhile to mention that if you were able to watch the C in real life, it would blow you away.

    I can imagine, as a former pitcher, that when you’re throwing to these guys one of the thoughts on your mind as you have a man on 1B is “don;t linger on the the follow through”, because the ball has to have a distinctive sound as he flies by.

    ————————————

    Be interesting to see Henderson v. Trout in regards to where they start their slide. I say this because Henderson always seemed to slide “past the bag” and hang on with his foot, whereas Trout seems to prefer ctaching the bag with his hands and doing it that way.

    On the June 4 throw-out, MO’s footwork is about as crappy as it gets. He doesn;t even look as if he was thinking Trout could go, throwing hand relaxed more at side vs. behind glove, pretty deep squat, and just slow feet. But the throw itself is impressive.

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  9. John Jaso says:

    Great stuff Jeff, thanks.

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  10. I was at that game (the entire series actually). Loved the uniforms! Thanks for the Mike Trout P0rn!

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  11. Sparkles Peterson says:

    Clearly Trout should stop running on the Mariners.

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  12. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Here’s something Trout isn’t great at: Throwing

    He’s only pretty good at it.

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  13. Jon L. says:

    Is Trout really sliding too early? A good base stealer might slide to avoid the tag when he sees the ball arriving. If that were the case, it would mean Trout slides early because he’s in danger of being thrown out, rather than that he’s being thrown out when he slides early.

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  14. Bloody awesome, F-ing brilliant, fill in your choice of swear word and adjective.

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  15. Ruki Motomiya says:

    You know what this article reminds us?

    Even Miguel Olivo is a pretty good baseball player, compared to 98% of the population.

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    • 1st base says:

      99.999 you mean. You’re not going to find 2 out of every 100 people that are better at baseball than him.

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      • PackBob says:

        Probably not 1 out of 100,000 either.

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        • MrMan says:

          Well…..if you’ve got 40 men on each MLB roster….and 330 million US citizens, it means 1 out of every 225,000 US citizens is on a MLB roster.

          However, not all those people on MLB rosters are US citizens. So….you’d really have to add large percentages of the Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Costa Rican, Japanese and quite a few other countries.

          I’d say you get to at least 450M including the many other countries….in which case….1 out of every 375,000 people is on a major league roster…meaning Olivo is better than 99.99973% of the population at playing baseball.

          Give or take a few one-thousandths of a percent.

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    • Kazinski says:

      Its the only skill Olivo really has as a baseball player. He can’t catch the ball, since 2003 he is number one with 96 passed balls, #2 only has 74; He is a black hole offensively, with a career .693 ops. And he has a historic reluctance to take a walk:

      Since 1901, there have been 10 seasons where a batter struck out more than 100 times and walked less than 15 in at least 300 plate appearances. Olivo lays claim to three of those seasons.
      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/miguel-olivos-hat-trick/

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  16. Ivan Grushenko says:

    This is awesome. I have nothing more to add.

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  17. JEdward says:

    Trout doesn’t get caught stealing. He just turns himself in from time to time.

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    • snack man says:

      This post makes me wonder if has only so-so base running instincts but it just doesn’t matter about 49/54 of the time.

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  18. Average_Casey says:

    The moral of the story: Mike Trout should just not run on the Mariners.

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