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.

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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.

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