Let’s Watch Mike Trout Do Something Amazing

We take Mike Trout for granted. It’s not a thing that’s unique to Mike Trout. We take all consistently great baseball players for granted. We take all consistently great anythings for granted. That’s why we’re always trying to figure out the next big thing — it doesn’t take long to get used to the current big thing. Mike Trout, right now, beats the hell out of Gregory Polanco, but Polanco might be of greater current interest, because he’s fresh and he could become a star. Trout’s already been a star for years. This is just part of having a human brain — we acclimate. We’re incredible at it. It has its upsides.

Once you start taking a player for granted, though, it’s that much more difficult to really appreciate what the player’s able to do. The best players aren’t guys regularly doing amazing things — the best players are guys regularly doing good things, some percentage more often than the inferior players. Usually those are standard good things. We get to the point where, in order to feel an appreciation, we need something extraordinary. So let’s seize a chance. Feel like you’ve been taking Mike Trout for granted? You’re not alone. Let’s watch him do something extraordinary, to remember that he is extraordinary.

We’re going back to the weekend, when Trout faced off against Chris Sale. They faced off a few times, but, as far as the memories are concerned, they faced off but once, in the bottom of the eighth of a four-run game. Trout batted with the bases loaded, and he and Sale ran all the way to a full count. Sale threw a changeup, and Trout won, and the game was tied in a matter of seconds.

TroutSale3.gif.opt

Just the simple fact that it was a game-tying grand slam, late, makes it a career highlight. That it came against Sale boosts it a level or two. But now, think smaller-picture, think more granular. Look at the pitch that Trout hit out to straightaway center. Or, just stare at the following similar screenshots:

troutsale1

troutsale2

The changeup was just about perfect, for the situation. It was right on the outer edge, and it was down, maybe too far down to be a strike, but close enough that Trout would have to swing. Trout said later he thought it was a strike during its flight. For Sale, this wasn’t a failure to execute. It was just a failure of a human being, against Mike Trout. Basically, the pitch Sale threw can sometimes get lined the other way, but it isn’t a pitch you expect to go for four bases, when thrown just so. It was the ideal pitch in a full count. Hence:

troutsale3

The pitch was Sale’s last, and when he returned to the dugout, he grabbed a baseball bat and let out some frustrations in the tunnel. Sale might’ve been mad at himself, but he didn’t have a reason to be. He didn’t so much allow a grand slam as Mike Trout just hit one.

About the spot that Sale hit. I looked for pitches in the same spot over the course of the PITCHf/x era. I got ultra-precise and created a location box measuring one inch by one inch, and since 2008, there have been 940 swings by right-handed batters against pitches right there. Of those swings, 40% have missed. Of those swings, one has gone for a home run — Mike Trout’s. So that’s a homer/swing rate of 0.1%. On average, 1.4% of all swings lead to homers. A homer is never the most likely outcome, but for Sale against Trout, a homer was probably the least likely outcome, and still Trout went yard.

Here’s a plot of all the right-handed homers since 2008, so you can understand Trout’s homer in more context. I corrected a few measurement errors but I sure as shoot didn’t correct all of them, but you should still get the gist.

rhbhomeruns20082014

It’s not the most unusual homer that’s been hit — this might be the most unusual homer that’s been hit. But clearly, there’s the main cloud, then there’s the rest, and Trout’s homer is around an extreme. The closest homer is one hit by Alfonso Soriano, but Trout’s pitch is in an area where few other pitches are.

This is an example of where Trout really shines. Dave has noted that Trout has been somewhat vulnerable up in the zone. But, down in the zone, there is no better hitter in either league. Since 2012, Trout has baseball’s highest slugging percentage on pitches down, over the inner third. He has baseball’s third-highest slugging percentage on pitches down, over the middle third. He has baseball’s highest slugging percentage on pitches down, over the outer third. On pitches down and over the plate, overall, Trout has slugged .709. In second is Yasiel Puig, at .617. And Trout doesn’t swing and miss down there very often, which wouldn’t show up in the slugging results. He does the most damage when he hits the ball, and he very often hits the ball, when it’s down but over the plate.

It’s not that Trout doesn’t have any weaknesses. He can definitely be exposed up in the zone with good heat. But the same goes for a lot of hitters, and Trout is unbelievable around the knees. You should never want to pitch him down and in. You should never want to pitch him down and centered. And while, usually, down and away is the best location in general, Trout covers that location, too. Chris Sale threw exactly the down-and-away changeup he wanted, and it led to the worst possible result. On Monday, Jesse Chavez threw Trout a low-away cutter, and it went for a double that was an on-field homer before a replay review. Mike Trout stands out in a number of ways, but one of them is that a common low-and-away weakness isn’t by any means a weakness of his.

Chris Sale caused a little stir in April. Speaking to Jeff Passan:

“All I know I’ve got to do is give up less runs than we score,” Sale said. “I don’t care about anything else. Not the numbers. Not the ISPFMLBLSSRs and whatever else Brian Kenny has come up with to define what makes a good player or not.”

Reminded the numbers love him, Sale said: “I don’t love them back.”

Said Sale after the Trout homer game:

“That’s why he’s the best in the league,” Sale said of Trout. “I can’t really say too much about a guy like that hitting a home run off of you. The best.”

Sale shares a division with Miguel Cabrera. He’s faced Cabrera 27 times; he’s faced Trout 13 times. Cabrera, even, has had more success in the matchups. It seems distinctly statheadian to refer to Trout as the best in the league. Or maybe Sale can just see what the rest of us do, using his own two eyes. Mike Trout does an awful lot of good things. Sometimes he does amazing ones. This is most probably because he is amazing.




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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.


61 Responses to “Let’s Watch Mike Trout Do Something Amazing”

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  1. Frank Brank says:

    How do you guys make these beautiful .gifs?

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    • David K says:

      “Sale might’ve been mad at himself, but he didn’t have a reason to be.”

      Maybe he did have a reason to be mad at himself. After all, he got into a bases-loaded jam with no place to put Trout, then he pitched to a full count, increasing his odds of being hit.

      Granted the 3-2 pitch was pretty well executed, but perhaps not the events prior to it (I didn’t see the game so I don’t know if there were 3 bloop hits or 3 errors that caused the bases to be loaded)

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      • james wilson says:

        The 3-2 count is a pitchers count. No reason to throw Trout a strike there. Given the score, a walk was not a terrible outcome.

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        • David K says:

          Well then, that would be another possible reason for him to possibly be mad at himself.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    White Sox talk radio 670 The Score was going on and on about this on the Saturday drive to South Bend for a travel tourney.

    The conclusion was that Mike Trout “doesn’t suck”.

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  3. Steve says:

    Anyone know what a ISPFMLBLSSR is?

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    • ignat dummy says:

      Just another idiot that doesn’t pay attention to something that could potentially help his performance at work.

      Macho personality that hides ignorance of baseball performance evaluation; perhaps he lacks the mental horsepower to understand basic ideas like WAR, wOBA, and positional adjustment. Not brain surgery or rocket science.

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      • Tim says:

        Or a smart guy who doesn’t tell the media the truth about the way he prepares.

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        • :syas says:

          Ignorant Seamhead Posturing From Major League Bonehead Loser Soviet Socialist Republic

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      • ned says:

        Sale’s paid to throw quality pitches, and wOBA doesn’t help with that. If he began moonlighting as assistant GM, then sure, he better get on board.

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        • a eskpert says:

          But knowing the relative value of the outcomes that are likely to result from different pitches in different spots can lead to a better pitch mix and better locations.

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      • Weiner E says:

        You know, just maybe, knowing your xFIP doesn’t make you a better pitcher one way or the other. Maybe you think about twist and leg drive and a release point that’s out front and snapping that hand down on the change and throwing the best ball you can throw. Not thinking about advanced metrics, or any metrics, might be a pretty viable way to go for an athlete trying to get his body to do something totally unnatural. I’m not sure the macho accusation is on the money here.

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    • Daniel says:

      Infield Special Power Function for Major League Baseball and Like Seriously Serial Rhoynar

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    • Anon says:

      No idea, but someone needs to create ISPFMLBLSSR if it doesn’t already exist.

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    • X says:

      Innings Stuck Pitching For Major League Baseball’s Loser Squad: Sox, Red

      +55 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DerekJeterGiftBasket says:

      I Stand Perplexed For My Lobbed Baseball Left Suddenly, So Rapidly.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    This is why, lefties, you turn your change up over so it runs “away” from the RHB’s barrel.

    Sale’s, which is usually pretty good, runs toward the barrel.

    With the one that tails away, you get the combination of distance from the bat and change of speed. Pretty sure there was an article here at FG stating essentially the same thing.

    So, a change from a LHB that ruins into a RHB acts pretty much like a slower slider.

    That was one of the things that made Strasburg so impressive. His change to lefties ran away from the barrel, and he threw another one that dropped to RHB’s.

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    • Not sure where this is coming from, but according to Pitchfx, Sale’s changeup actually has the most horizontal movement (armside) of any changeup thrown this year (12.2 inches).

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        The one Trout hit didn’t.

        Running toward the batter ca happen on a changeup because of the dendency to “wrap” the hand around the ball, which causes the writst to turn inward. It’s why pitchers need to “turn it over” to get tailing action away.

        When the pitch is taught, often the analogy is to use the same hand motion as “flinging a booger”.

        I don;t know is Sale’s changeup usually tails away, but the one in the gif, to Trout, started off the plate and moved toward the center. That’s the only pitch I am referencing to.

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        • According to PITCHf/x, you are completely incorrect. The changeup to Trout had 12.5 inches of horizontal movement, tailing away. It just looks like it doesn’t on account of the off-center camera angle.

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        • nd says:

          You need to study the physics of a ball in flight and check out some of the movement profiles on brooksbaseball or texasleaguers. You are spouting off old wives’ tale knowledge about pitching that is just plain outdated and does not reflect reality. Sliders don’t actually move… the good ones just rifle towards the mitt and let gravity and the fact that they are throwing from slightly behind the hitter do the work. Likewise most fastballs aren’t actually straight, they run in such a way to straighten themselves out to the hitter’s perspective.

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        • Justin says:

          According to Brooks Baseball, that specific pitch had armside run of 13 inches. You’re being fooled by the camera angle.

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        • nd says:

          My post is directed at CircleChange. Not implying Jeff needs to look at more F/X data than he already does, although I believe it is more than just camera angle that is fooling the eyes there. You have to realize that Sale is releasing the ball somewhere between 3 and 4 feet from the center of the plate and trying to hit something significantly closer to the center. The ball has to move toward the RHB at some point, and the fact that it ended up on the outer half instead of the heart of the plate is due to the movement.

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        • Justin says:

          Oops slow pony. This is what I get for not refreshing my window for a half hour.

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        • CircleChange11 says:

          Good points guys. I appreciate the explanation and reference. The most important thing is to be accurate.

          Thanks.

          +34 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Jon L. says:

    It looks like the catcher is reaching for that pitch, so while it certainly wasn’t easy pickins, it seems maybe location was not well executed after all.

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  6. Rick says:

    Which dot is the Shoppach homerun? And how many of the outliers are Vlad’s?

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  7. drewbradley2116 says:

    In what way is the catcher reaching for the ball? If anything it looks like he wanted the ball to be lower than it was, but on a 3-2 pitch with the bases chucked… You almost certainly want to throw a strike. Against most hitters anyway. I don’t even know if this would have been called a strike if he hadn’t swung. It was the perfect pitch for the situation. They always say “good pitching beats good hitting”, but obviously there are sometimes exceptions. Trout seems to have a knack for being “the exception to the rule.”

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  8. @ositf_blog says:

    Kelly Shoppach! Sic ‘em Bears!

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  9. Mike Trout's Girlfriend says:

    I can confirm that Mike doesn’t swing and miss “down there” very often.

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  10. tz says:

    “He didn’t so much allow a grand slam as Mike Trout just hit one.”

    This led me to a philosophical question. How much of the outcome of a plate appearance is attributable to the pitcher (+defense) vs. the hitter?

    I have no idea whether it’s 50/50, something different, or depends upon the situation. If you looked at high-level slow-pitch softball, for example, I doubt the pitcher has more than ~10% of the impact on any PA (i.e. hitters abuse all pitchers about equally). However, if you looked at fast-pitch softball (where pitchers dominate), this situation might be flipped over to the other end of the spectrum.

    Back to MLB, it seems like the range of performance for both hitters and pitchers is balanced enough so nobody dominates to such an extreme that it negates any variation in the quality of the opposition. Perhaps when Barry Bonds was posting a .600 OBA and homering every 7th at-bat it lowered the influence of the pitcher’s skills somewhat, but I’d still bet that the superior pitchers had at least somewhat better results against Bonds than the weaker ones.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    I’d also be interested to see if the pitches most in off the plate are Miguel Cabrera home runs. His ability to keep his hands inside the ball and get the barrel on pitches that would break most bats simply amazes me … even moreso than Trout’s ability to hammer a low and away changeup (which is still impressive).

    Another factor that is impressive is Trout stayed right on a changeup on a 3-2 count with the bases jacked. That is, by all definitions, a “fastball count” with a pitcher that has a really good fastball.

    Kudos to Sale for throwing a decent changeup in a fastball count to a great hitter. That will workout to his advantage far more than it won’t.

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  12. BDiatribes says:

    Ugh, enough of the fawning praise already. It’s one pitch and one swing. It’s the most pitches Sale had thrown since mid-April; maybe he was a little gassed. If he had a little more juice, maybe he throws a good fastball up in the zone, and Trout strikes out for the 1000th time this year. And is anyone going to mention that Trout has completely abandoned the running game this year? Maybe the stats say that Trout was unequivocally the best player in the game the last two years. But the margin was apparently thinner than it appeared, because so far this year he’s just another good player.

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  13. Luke says:

    Very nice article.

    To fully concretize the greatness of Mike Trout, I think it would be helpful for this article to also contain a GIF of Sale’s little tantrum.

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  14. Tom H says:

    most unusual home run? Dave Kingman hit one over the monster at Fenway, not sure when, IIRC Mondya night baseball. The pitch was about at his eyes, which is about 6′ off the ground. Incredible hack that worked.

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  15. Grant says:

    I was watching the White Sox pregame yesterday, to my dislike there was nothing else on TV, and they were going over this. All 3 people, including Frank Thomas, acted like it was no big deal to hit that a home run, it was a change up over the plate. I was just like seriously you get paid to say that, that was a crazy good home run. Just seemed odd to me. Thanks for writing this and clarifying that I am not crazy and know more about baseball than the white sox pregame people

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  16. Magus says:

    Maybe my mind is seeing things, but doesn’t it look like the runner on second intentionally makes a huge dip with his body right after Tyler flowers motions his glove to the ground indicating where he wants the pitch? The runner’s head drops almost completely out of screen then pops back up before making his move to 3rd on the pitch delivery. It could be a result of the runner starting his movement to 3rd, shuffling his feet to his right on his secondary lead. Still a large dip though.

    Perhaps Trout had a little help on location with this pitch from his teammate on 2nd base?

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    • Jason B says:

      Methinks you’re seeing something that’s not there. It looks like he’s just leading away from the base to me. If Trout can see that *as the pitcher is already in his windup* then somehow come back and pick up the pitcher and pitch a microsecond later, hats off to both the baserunner and to Trout.

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  17. Carlo P says:

    Never should have happened. A non-terrible manager would have had Sale out of the game at least two batters before Trout. This home run was not hit off Chris Sale, dominating unhittable southpaw. That guy hadn’t been in the game for at least an inning. It was making me physically ill to watch, knowing that pinhead Ventura would leave Sale in just long enough to unravel what had been a jaw-dropping start.

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  18. Josh B says:

    Mike Trout’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him! It’s sad the amount of validation you Fish Faces need.

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  19. Chris from Bothell says:

    Now I want to know whose homerun that rightmost dot, 1 1.5 feet off the plate and 3.5 feet high, was. It was either hit by a gibbon, or the batter jumped on top of the plate before swinging, or something.

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  20. bobbytron says:

    Lets not forget that George Springer home run the other night against the twins. Would love to see something similar from that one.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chLfbSVAYdo

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    • Josh says:

      Saw this live and got a picture of the homer! As a Twins fan it was frustrating but Springer sure is entertaining as a three true outcomes guy

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