Mike Trout’s “Struggles”, Graphed

Mike Trout has a .386 wOBA and a 151 wRC+. He’s not exactly hitting poorly, but he is striking out a lot more than he has previously, and relative to his own previous performances, a .386 wOBA is perhaps a minor disappointment. Now that David Appelman has released our fancy new heatmaps, we can see exactly where Trout’s trouble areas have been.

First, here’s Trout’s contact rate map for 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.05.35 PM

And now here’s that contact rate map for 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.06.23 PM

Look at the upper half of the strike zone. Last year, he was making contact on pitches towards the top of the zone at around an 80% clip, and when pitchers elevated in, his contact rates were in the 90% range. This year, he’s in the 70% contact range on pitches towards the top of the zone, and pitches up and in have been especially problematic.

Of course, a lower contact rate isn’t necessarily worse, depending on what kind of contact a hitter makes when he does hit the ball. In reality, what you really want to look at is total production in a location, taking into account both the negative outcomes like swinging strikes and the positive outcomes on balls in play.

And that’s why I love one of our new heat maps in particular. You’ll find it labeled as “RAA/100P”, which stands for Runs Above Average per 100 pitches, but essentially, it’s a linear weights metric that gives you the sum of a batters outcomes in a specific zone.

If a batter never swings at a pitch out of the zone, he may be hitting .000/.000/.000 on pitches in that area, but it’s still a very high reward location for him because of the large numbers of called balls, which generate value for the hitter. By adding up the values of not just the balls in play, or even just the swings, but of all pitches in that specific area, we can see where each hitter (or pitcher) is generating most of their value.

Here are Trout’s heat maps again, but this time, we’re looking at the linear weights value of these locations.

Here is 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.16.04 PM

And now 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.16.38 PM

Trout is an absolute monster on pitches down and in, and that hasn’t changed this year. If you pitch him in that low-and-in part of the zone, or even if you get it in off the plate a little bit, he’s going to crush you.

But look at the top of the zone this year compared to last year. He’s getting eaten up — relative to 2013 Mike Trout, anyway — on pitches up in the zone, and particularly that up-and-in area where his contact rate has really dropped. Previously, Trout was making pitchers pay for attacking the top end of the zone, but this year, they’re getting those pitches by him.

Why that’s become a weak spot for him this year is a question for Trout and the Angels hitting coaches, and not one we can answer. But, thanks to these RAA/100 heat maps, we can now identify where in the zone a hitter is having success or failure. And that’s why I’m going to be using these all the time.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


52 Responses to “Mike Trout’s “Struggles”, Graphed”

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  1. Swfcdan says:

    The headline words ‘Mike Trout’ generate hundreds of comments on here, regardless of the quality of the article. Looks like he’s struggling with the high hard one.

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    • Jason B says:

      Which isn’t to say it’s not an awesome article.

      ‘Cause it is.

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Baltar says:

        I double down on that Jason. Not only was the data itself awesome, but the new heat maps make the article spectacular.

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  2. Hurtlocker says:

    Is it really a shock that Trout is looking a lot more “human”, after all he is 23 y/o in a couple of months, ancient for a ballplayer?

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  3. Stanatee the Manatee says:

    I knew the new heat maps were awesome, but I didn’t realize they were this awesome.

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  4. DNA+ says:

    Very cool! Is there any evidence that pitchers have caught on, and are pitching him in this location more than in the past?

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  5. Bat says:

    A crack in the armor which leads to more than moderate decline experienced thus far?

    Perhaps he is not “the King of all trade value now and forever” as Cameron anointed him?

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  6. scatterbrian says:

    How long does it take for heatmaps to stabilize though?

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    • Poor Man's Rick Reed says:

      Good question. I would guess it takes a little longer than what we’ve seen, especially by breaking the strike zone into so many components.

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  7. Phantom Stranger says:

    Pitchers will start pitching him differently if they believe he can’t handle stuff up in the zone. The scouting report on him has definitely changed since last year.

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  8. syd says:

    I recall Trout speaking about changing his approach at the plate this season, though don’t recall what that adjustment was supposed to be. I wonder if he is just a femto-second slower on the high hard stuff as a result, and therefore making “less good” contact. Pure speculation of course.

    Data visualization is a difficult thing to get right. These heat maps are a home run.

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    • Jose says:

      Trout said he was going to be more aggressive this year, That is the main reason for the changes

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  9. Dave says:

    Awesome heat maps!

    Also, I wish my “struggles” entailed being 14th in the majors in OPS while playing all-world defense.

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  10. ReuschelCakes says:

    fantastic new feature – thank you…

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  11. Tim says:

    His struggles in May seem like they could be related to a .250 babip for the month. Actually is K’ing less and BB’ing more in May vs April. ISO a bit down too, but not horribly.

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  12. Mike C. says:

    Trout and Co. won’t talk about it, but he ‘dinged’ his right shoulder a few weeks ago…and that coincided with his recent struggles. As the heatmap illustrates, he has been swinging right through elevated fastballs that he used to crush. His pitch recognition is off a tick too. So this isn’t the new norm for Trout – his shoulder will heal, his hammy will get better, he’ll make an adjustment and start crushing again. That’s my not-so-bold prediction.

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    • Mike Harper says:

      Its not a bad prediction, but Trout has been having issues on the high stuff all year. It may have to with his style of hitting. He stand tall in the box, with his hands around his forehead, and when he loads, he widens his base and drops his hands. Since everything is moving down, it would make sense that he could hit low pitches better than high ones. His decision to be more aggressive probably leads him to load more violently, and tensing at the plate leads to dropping the bat, once again better for low pitches. This is just a theory of course, and Trout will probably turn it around, especially if his right shoulder is indeed at issue.

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  13. bookbook says:

    Nowhere to go but down…

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  14. RT says:

    Sorry if I missed this in the article, but do these numbers count contact on foul balls?

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  15. Angelsjunky says:

    It is worth noting that in his last six games, Trout has hit .409/.444/.727 with a .429 wOBA and a 215 wRC+. His K rate is down to 11.1% during that span.

    Small sample size, I know, but slump over? You should have written this a week ago, Cammy.

    Maybe an article about his reduced stolen bases? That would require looking beyond the numbers, I imagine – like into Scioscia’s brain.

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  16. pft says:

    Massive lifestyle change for Trout at age 23 with all that money coming in. Can’t help but affect his concentration and perhaps motivation. Not unheard of players to drop off after signing huge extensions or free agent contracts,

    -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • pft says:

      Not to say whatever ails Trout will last. I suspect his best years are ahead of him as a hitter. Fielding and running game may already have peaked

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    • Paul says:

      Good point. Your made-up intangibles will prove you know why he is struggling if he does, and if he doesn’t then you can make up other intangible reasons. And then if those reasons don’t hold up, you can make up others.

      I guess you can see where I’m going. If you can’t test a theory to predict future events, it’s credibility is basically nil. I could also say Trout is struggling from his fear of global warming. And when he recovers, I could say he has decided to not believe in global warming once again. But if I can’t test my theory’s utility, then it has very little merit.

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    • LG says:

      Based on the rest of your comment, I’m legitimately surprised you used the correct “affect.”

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  17. Ctownboy says:

    Trout’s speed is being wasted batting where he is in the line up. If a man is on second and Trout is on first, then no way to steal. If nobody on second, Trout on first and Pujols up, Pujols doesn’t like a guy trying to steal.

    Since Sciosia likes to manage as if he is in the NL, it baffles me that he is wasting Trout’s speed like he is. Let Trout lead off with Kendrick batting second. That way Trout can steal more bags and Kendrick can get more fast balls to hit.

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    • Swfcdan says:

      Totally agree, never like seeing speedsters batting 3rd as it just doesnt make sense. Same with Ellsbury this year to some extent, but the Yanks already have Gardner (whos nothing if not a leadoff hitter) and cant really hit Jeter 3rd (or near the bottom for his ego) so Ellsbury has to hit 3rd I guess. At least they dont have any great hitters behind him so he can still run when he gets on.

      Anyway as for Trout though, no excuse why he isnt leading off. The guys 23, let him run!

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      • David says:

        So… one of the best hitters in baseball should always hit behind the person on his team with the lowest OBP so as to maximize his times on base with nobody ahead of him?

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  18. Frank says:

    He has a TUE for HGH. How come this isn’t a bigger deal?

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    • Jason B says:

      Tuesday?

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    • David says:

      Cite? Do you have access to Mike Trout’s personal medical history? Did you hack the MLB drug report to tell you who the exemptions are for? Also, nobody has a TUE for HGH, there are, however, 3 players who MAY have an exemption for TRT (testosterone replacement therapy), which does not involve HGH, though it does involve Testosterone.

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  19. nicky p says:

    So it looks like he is sitting low and away and trying to adjust in, and he’s likely committing just a tad late. He’s not recognizing the pitches as well as he did last year.

    His low away zones are ridiculous.

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  20. nicky p says:

    Also I thought the reduced steals were injury protection now that he’s an investment.

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  21. Chris from Bothell says:

    What’s the simplest way to find out what pitches he’s seeing in those zones? Would be interesting to see if it’s just location at all that’s confounding him, or if it’s specific types of pitches being thrown high and inside.

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  22. Max G says:

    I know this has nothing to do with heat zones, but can anybody explain why Trout’s steals are so down? He’ll be lucky to crack 20 SBs at his current rate. I know it is partly due to hitting 3rd, but plenty of number 3 hitters in baseball history have swiped a fair amount of bags. Trout’s not even attempting to steal much, despite being on base in plenty of typical green-light steal situations in 2014. Thoughts?

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