Mike Trout Fixed His Only Problem

We’ve had fun, but this might be the last post I ever write about opposing pitchers trying to work Mike Trout upstairs with good heat. It’s not that I’m tired of it. I didn’t think I could ever grow tired of it. For me, it might’ve been the most interesting single thing in baseball, the game’s greatest player having such an obvious vulnerability. How often do we really get to talk about that kind of stuff? No, I’m not saying this because I’m tired of the subject. I’m saying this because it might not be a subject anymore.

I can’t imagine you need background. Everyone knows what was going on. Everyone saw what the Royals did to Mike Trout in last year’s ALDS. Trout’s strikeouts went up because teams realized they could throw him fastballs upstairs. OK, this, we’re all familiar with. It was probably unrealistic to expect Trout to make an adjustment last year on the fly. He’d need an offseason to work out how he wanted to respond. I think we’ve now seen his response. That glaring, obvious weakness? It’s completely disappeared.

Trout, of course, was asked about this from time to time. It only made sense; there were no other weaknesses to address. People had to ask him about something. When asked what he was going to do about the strikeouts, and about the fastballs, Trout usually said that the goal was to lay off of the pitches. Trout would explain most of those fastballs were balls out of the zone, so he’d just have to be patient. Reasonable enough, but, interestingly, we don’t see much in the data. At this point, Trout’s swing rates haven’t meaningfully budged:

trout-fastball-swing-rate

As a regular, he’s gone after roughly two of every five high fastballs. He’s gone after roughly two of every five high, inside fastballs. There’s no change between Trout’s 2014 numbers and his 2015 numbers. No change here, I mean.

But swing rate is only one measure. It’s far more interesting to look at what the swings have accomplished. You want to see differences? Here are some differences.

trout-fastball-contact-rate

This time, we’re looking at contact rate, or contact divided by swings. You see how the numbers were low last season. You see how, this season, they’ve shot up. Against high fastballs, Trout’s contact rate has improved by 15 percentage points. Against high, inside fastballs, it’s improved by 15 percentage points. Last season, Trout swung through about 120 high fastballs. This season, through Monday’s numbers, he’s swung through nine. Because it’s early, you don’t want to take these numbers to reflect Trout’s true talent, but because this is contact rate, which normalizes itself pretty fast, you take notice. It’s a pretty huge step forward.

And, naturally, there’s contact, and there’s good contact. A very rough measure:

trout-fastball-slugging-percentage

That’s a difficult graph to argue with. Looking at slugging percentage by pitch type and location isn’t the cleanest thing to do in the world, but it can be useful, especially when it shows differences this enormous. A year ago, Trout bottomed out when dealing with high heat. He did worse than he’d done before, as his game continued to evolve. It’s still evolving. Right now, Trout ranks tied for ninth in the league in slugging percentage against high fastballs. The samples are fairly small, but Trout didn’t do anything close to this in 2014.

We could use some game visuals. Trout fighting off a high, inside fastball:

trout-high-fastball (1)

Trout hitting a high, inside fastball better than that:

trout-high-fastball (2)

Trout clobbering a high, inside fastball, albeit for a long out:

trout-high-fastball (3)

And here’s a dinger against a high, not-inside fastball. It’s almost exactly what the catcher signaled for:

trout-high-fastball (4)

Mike Trout knew what the problem was. Everyone knew what the problem was, and since everyone knew, that meant the competition knew, and that meant the competition would keep on trying to exploit Trout’s weakness until or unless he forced them to stop. Trout needed to do something, and since a good number of those high fastballs are actually potential called strikes, he couldn’t just make a habit of letting them go by. He had to adjust, so that he could do some damage. It would certainly appear the adjustment’s been made. If there’s still an opening up there, it’s tiny. Trout’s prepared for the pitch that so frustrated him for all of a season.

As the theory goes, you can’t fix one weakness without creating another. In more baseball-specific terms, if Trout is more focused on punishing high fastballs, he might’ve become increasingly vulnerable somewhere else. That much seems fairly intuitive. It’s worth noting that, while Trout is running a career-best slugging percentage against inside pitches, he’s at a four-year low against outside pitches. Maybe he’s concentrating so hard on the inner half that he can be exposed on the other edge. But that much still has to be proven. For the moment, I don’t know where Mike Trout is vulnerable. I did, we all did, Trout did, and it was fascinating, but now it seems the hole’s been closed, and I don’t see another hole. I don’t have the damnedest idea of how you’re supposed to pitch to Mike Trout these days. Having to do that probably sucks.

Mike Trout and the high fastball. What a chapter it was. Now it’s time for the next one. This is already one hell of a story.



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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.


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mtsw
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mtsw
1 year 16 days ago

Trout must’ve been feeling the heat from Harper’s great stretch and decided to become even greaterer.

tz
Guest
tz
1 year 16 days ago

Fun Mike Trout Fact Of The Day

Since becoming a regular for good in May 2011, Mike Trout has never had a WAR below 0.8 for any calendar month. He has had more months with a 2+ WAR (five) than months with a WAR of 1 or below (four).

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 16 days ago

Second-Most-Fun Mike Trout Fact of the Day

This season, Mike Trout with 0-2 count:

.314/.351/.514, 35.1% K%

Hee-Seop Choi
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Hee-Seop Choi
1 year 16 days ago

Can we subscribe to Trout Facts?

Seth
Guest
1 year 16 days ago

Should be a Twitter account. I’d follow.

buddyglass
Member
buddyglass
1 year 16 days ago

Weirdly that’s significantly higher than his average after 1-2, 2-2 and 3-2 counts.

Captain Tenneal
Guest
Captain Tenneal
1 year 15 days ago

That’s nothing; Pujols has hit better in 0-1 counts than 2-1 counts for his entire career.

Tesseract
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Tesseract
1 year 15 days ago

Nice fact, but Trout became a regular on May 2012

Bob Sacamano
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Bob Sacamano
1 year 16 days ago

I thought his only problem was his total inability to throw runners out.

Sammy Sooser
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Sammy Sooser
1 year 16 days ago

Only a Sith speaks in absolutes.
https://youtu.be/nYaI85Hf5-A

Shane Tourtellotte
Member
1 year 16 days ago

Are you absolutely sure about that?
(h/t Bill Corbett)

Mike C.
Guest
Mike C.
1 year 16 days ago

Trout was uncommonly bad with his throws last year, but he has uncorked a number of firm throws this year…maybe he had a bit of a shoulder issue last year. Still, he’s not a true 5-tool guy until he starts hosing some guys.

Coujhd
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Coujhd
1 year 15 days ago

haha yeah because what one of the best young players to ever play this game should be concerned about is getting that 5th star for his throwing arm.

cm
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cm
1 year 16 days ago

The pitches in the gifs don’t look particularly high.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 16 days ago

“Mike Trout is great, but he’s no Hunter Pence.”

Phillies113
Member
Member
1 year 16 days ago

Here’s a handy tip: take your mouse cursor and point it at Trout’s knees. Now bring the mouse over the plate, while keeping it level with Trout’s knees. This is the bottom of the zone. Keeping the mouse cursor there can help you see that all of these pitches are, in fact, high in the zone.

Agreed
Guest
Agreed
1 year 16 days ago

I have to agree. Particularly the last gif. That pitch like belt high, heart of the plate.

Dave
Guest
Dave
1 year 16 days ago

Belt high IS basically the top of the strike zone. Maybe they give another few inches above the belt, depending on the ump, but that’s about it.

cm
Guest
cm
1 year 16 days ago

Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone
The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Most of the balls in the gifs are admittedly in the upper half of the strike zone but are more toward the lower end of the upper half.

Mr_SKIA
Guest
1 year 16 days ago

And when you find the ump who calls the strike zone that way, cm, crate him immediately and have him shipped to the Smithsonian.

Jianadaren
Guest
Jianadaren
11 months 10 days ago

@Mr_SKIA

Don’t be ridiculous.

It is called like that. It just looks lower because piches sink and because TV-camera angles are pointed down. Pitch F/X confirms.

ljc
Guest
ljc
1 year 16 days ago

In this case, “high” means “high in the zone,” correct? Therefore, belt-high really is “high.” “High” doesn’t mean letter-high. Is this correct? If so, I think it might explain this confusion.

Yirmiyahu
Member
1 year 16 days ago

a random illustration of the strikezone:

The conversation we’re having is definitely about pitches high *in the zone*. I don’t think anyone ever suggested that throwing balls to Trout was an effective strategy. Anything above his waist is going to be in the upper-third of the zone, according to the rulebook strikezone. And, as we’ve heard so much about recently, the actual called strikezone is lower than the rulebook strikezone.

I think it’d be pretty hard to call a pitch above the waist anything but a “high strike”. All of the pitches in the GIF are above his waist.

ZB39
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ZB39
1 year 15 days ago

“When asked what he was going to do about the strikeouts, and about the fastballs, Trout usually said that the goal was to lay off of the pitches. Trout would explain most of those fastballs were balls out of the zone, so he’d just have to be patient.”

Unless Mike Trout is confused about the nature of the problem, I think the relevant pitches are supposed to be very high in the strike zone to outside of the strike zone.

Yirmiyahu
Member
1 year 15 days ago

I believe that Mike Trout was either confused about the nature of the problem, or was deliberately obfuscating, or there was a misunderstanding/error somewhere along the line in asking/answering/transcribing that quote.

There is no statistical evidence that Trout had a problem avoiding swinging at high fastballs (either strikes or balls). Statistically speaking, he demonstrated skill at laying off those pitches.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-nature-of-mike-trouts-problem

ZB39
Guest
ZB39
1 year 15 days ago

Thanks for pointing me to that article. I can now conclude that I am completely confused about the nature of the problem. Much of this article implies that the problem has to do with pitches above the strikezone. The other article suggests that it has very little to do with that.

Jianadaren
Guest
Jianadaren
11 months 10 days ago

@ Yirmiyahu

Trout’s problem was that he couldn’t hit high-inside pitches for average or power. So by laying-off those pitches, particularly with less than two strikes, he’ll avoid hitting into outs while occasionally also collecting some called balls.

Fatbot
Member
Fatbot
1 year 16 days ago

Yeah I agree none of the gifs show high pitches. Especially with none of the counts at 3 balls, they should be extreme top of zone to too high.

The baseball savant pitch f/x searches don’t really convince me to declare “problem solved”. I think it’s small sample size and pitchers are doing a terrible attempt at pitching him high so far.

Search for zones 1-2-3 (high strikes) and it’s 8.5% of pitches. Zones 4-5-6 (middle strikes) 12%. Zones 7-8-9 (low strikes) is 12%. So the high strike is still the least common pitch Trout is seeing.

Why? Likely because pitchers are crapping their pants and afraid to make the mistake and miss the location. Zones 11-12 (high & outside/inside) is 32%. So the pitcher might be *trying* to pitch Trout a high strike, but most often (three times as much) missing the target.

Overall Trout is seeing 41% of pitches “high”, 12% “middle” and 47% “low”. Only 11 of Trout’s 139 plate appearances (8%) have ended on a pitch in the high strike zone (zones 1-2-3). He is doing great in these ABs (5-for-11, 1 HR) but tiny sample size.

I think we need some more samples but the combination of Trout’s discipline laying off the high strike and pitchers ineptitude attempting to hit the high strike are making it rare.

dude
Guest
dude
1 year 16 days ago

Ahh, gotta love Fangraphs: where anal retention is not only accepted but lauded.

David
Member
Member
David
1 year 16 days ago

Does it look to anyone else like h’;s standing further off the plate — the little league adjustment to inside pitches?

misleading title
Guest
misleading title
1 year 16 days ago

“Mike Trout fixed his only problem”

No he didn’t; he still has bad teammates

Paul
Guest
Paul
1 year 16 days ago

Also, his dog won’t stop peeing in that corner in his house.

noseeum
Guest
noseeum
1 year 16 days ago

His house no longer has any corners. Problem solved.

Bobo Polaroids
Member
Member
Bobo Polaroids
1 year 16 days ago

I laughed. More like cackled, really.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
1 year 16 days ago

Mike Trout has the same problem we all (presumably) have – constant soul-crushing fear. And the oldest and strongest fear is fear of the unknown. Mike Trout knows this. And he knows we are surrounded by an abyss of chaos and suffering. And there is nothing else.

Mike Trout knows that the only thing we are guaranteed is suffering and death.

If Mike Trout has fixed this problem, then he is even more talented than anybody realized.

skippyballer486
Member
skippyballer486
1 year 16 days ago

Mike Trout was faced with constant soul-crushing fear . . . but then he lined it into the gap for a one-out triple.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
1 year 16 days ago

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

And the only thing fear itself has to fear is Mike Trout.

pphil09
Member
pphil09
1 year 16 days ago

Now let’s see him do it against MLB level pitchers

Il BuonO's
Guest
Il BuonO's
1 year 15 days ago

Because he hasn’t been facing ML pitching???

Jake
Guest
Jake
1 year 15 days ago

Can he learn to not take the first pitch for a called strike every AB now? Albert must be rubbing off on him.

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