Why is Mike Trout Still Getting Pitched Down and In?

Last night, Mike Minor made a mistake that Mike Trout crushed. It looked like this.

That was an 84 mile-per-hour slider that broke down and in and ended up on the inner half of the plate, towards the bottom of the strike zone. Here’s where the PITCHF/x cameras said that pitch was located.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 12.49.05 PM

Inner half of the plate, but elevated enough to be right in the middle of Trout’s wheelhouse. He didn’t miss it, and it ended up in the seats. On the one hand, Trout’s really good, and he’s going to hit home runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s time for pitchers to stop throwing Mike Trout so many down-and-in breaking balls?

Here’s the PITCHF/x location data for every home run Mike Trout has hit this year.

TroutHRs

0 is set to dead-center of the plate; 11 of his 14 home runs have been the left of zero, the area we would refer to as the inner half. That’s not hugely surprising, though, as most players drive the ball better when it’s in rather than away. Of course, you will also notice that of those 11 inner-half home runs, every single one has also come in the lower half of the vertical strike zone. And of the three home runs he has on pitches to the right of center, two of those have come on pitches down as well.

Mike Trout has hit 14 home runs this, and 13 of them have come in the lower half of the strike zone. The highest pitch he’s hit out of the park this year was estimated at 2.625 feet off the ground, about as middle-middle as you can get. On pitches above the vertical center of the zone, Trout has floundered.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 1.01.24 PM

Trout is destroying pitches down-and-in, while struggling on pitches up in the zone. But note the number of pitches he’s seen in each area: 62 pitches in the down-and-in box, two more than the 60 pitches he’s seen in the up-and-in box, where he’s been basically ineffective. While a pitcher cannot attack solely one part of the strike zone, one would think that you wouldn’t have to throw the same number of pitches in his wheelhouse as you do in the area where he struggles the most.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just saying that these crushed-down-and-in pitches should be thrown up in the zone instead, because some pitches work well when elevated, while others do not. You do not want to elevate a breaking ball, generally. High fastballs get swinging strikes; high off-speed pitches beget souvenirs.

And a bunch of Trout’s down-and-in home runs have come on off-speed stuff or weak fastballs. Via Baseball Savant, here is the velocity chart of each of Trout’s 14 home runs this year.

chart (1)

Only three of the 14 home runs have come on pitches north of 90 mph; one one of those three was even faster than 93 mph. According to the classification of pitches from PITCHF/x, Trout has hit four home runs off change-ups, three off sliders, and one off an 87 mph cutter. Of the six home runs he has hit on pitches labeled fastballs, five were declared to be of the two-seam variety, and those ranged from 88.6 mph to 92.6 mph.

Those 13 pitches probably wouldn’t have been any more effective if they had been elevated versus ending up in Trout’s down-and-in wheelhouse. Yes, he’s struggling on pitches up in the zone, but that’s because no one is throwing him 84 mph change-ups above the belt; if they were, he probably wouldn’t be struggling so much on pitches up in the zone.

But the fact remains that Trout is destroying these low velocity pitches in the down-and-in part of the strike zone. Pitching him there isn’t working, and it’s not like there’s a safe zone if you just get a little more down-and-inside. His results on pitches in any part of the down-and-in zone is strongly positive, because he doesn’t chase down there, and when he does, he hits the ball really far.

So maybe it’s time to try something else. If you have to locate your off-speed stuff in the area where Trout is most effective, maybe it’s time to shift the allocation of pitches more towards four-seam fastballs?

Despite the fact that the four-seam fastball is often thrown in hitter-friendly counts, Trout is hitting just .147 and slugging .294 when he makes contact with a four-seam fastball this year. 24% of his swings at four-seams have resulted in whiffs, and another 52% have resulted in foul balls. Three times out of our, if Trout has chased a four-seam fastball this year, it has resulted in a not-in-play strike. And when he has put the ball in play, he hasn’t hit for much power.

I will not suggest that we know more about how to pitch Mike Trout than Major League pitchers and coaching staffs do. They have access to this same information — and far more — and yet, they are still attacking Trout down-and-in with the same frequency that they are going after him up-and-in. But the results suggest that maybe another approach is worth trying. Maybe Trout will kill four-seam fastballs up in the zone if he sees more of them, and perhaps the penalty for pitching up in the zone and missing with your location is a risk that pitchers aren’t willing to take against such a great hitter.

But it seems like maybe it’s worth trying, because at this point, we can be pretty sure that throwing him an off-speed pitch down-and-in is going to have a terrible result.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Trey Baughn
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Member
Trey Baughn
2 years 10 days ago

I’d love to see this same heat map for guys like McCutchen and Stanton to see if they are taking advantage of pitches up. And how does this heat map compare to Trout circa 2013?

Matt
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Matt
2 years 10 days ago

I was at the game on Saturday, and having just read the article about Trout crushing low stuff, I was on the lookout for how the Braves were going to pitch him. Apparently the Braves had not been reading Dave Cameron, as Gavin Floyd seemed to be attacking Trout down low. And he made them pay for it later in the game with another long home run. Someone should link them to this website.

tz
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tz
2 years 10 days ago

Got to think that some of this is inertia from a pitcher’s overall approach – if some guys succeed by pounding the lower part of the strike zone, they will be uncomfortable attacking a guy like Trout up in the zone. Especially if they don’t have a plus 4-seam fastball.

Matt
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Matt
2 years 10 days ago

True. And it isn’t like Floyd has a killer fastball that is traditionally associated with throwing high in the zone. But man, attacking low to a guy who is just destroying low pitches. At least go away or something

Dave Cornutt
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Dave Cornutt
2 years 10 days ago

Last night, Minor had no clue where the ball was going, so that was probably random.

RC
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RC
2 years 10 days ago

It’s worth noting that in postgame comments Mike Minor acknowledged he was aware of Trout’s ability to hit so well down and in. Sounded like he was trying to throw the slider as a chase pitch below the zone, and just missed up. One could question why even go near that zone if you are a pitcher, but it was clear that Minor did not intend to throw Trout a hittable pitch in that area.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 10 days ago

Makes sense. Trout’s fly ball rate is up. His line drive rate is down. Up and in, down and away is the traditional way of dealing with this.

The surprise for me is the negative up and away box. You’d ideally just give him the high, hard one 50% of the time, the low outside fastball 25% and the slow stuff down and away the other 25%.

KJ
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KJ
2 years 10 days ago

As a Braves fan I am very happy that the Braves likely won’t have to face Trout again for a few years. What a tremendous young player.

Fatbot
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Fatbot
2 years 10 days ago

I only saw the first AB where Trout watched strike 1 down the middle then went fishing on a breaking ball in the dirt for strike 2. Trout watched the next pitch for strike 3, mid-high inside black of the plate … called a ball. Then Trout watched the next pitch for strike 3, mid-high inside black of the plate … again called a ball. Then at 2-2 he had a broken bat flare for a single. Next inning Upton was rung up on the same pitch and you could read his lips saying, “that wasn’t a strike to Trout”. There wasn’t much more Minor could do, he was damned no matter how he pitched to him. Need to invent yet another category for Trout to lead in: BATTU (batting average thanks to ump).

Anon21
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Anon21
2 years 10 days ago

Not so much Trout getting the benefit. The Braves just get the short end of it.

Tim
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Tim
2 years 10 days ago

Braves fans complaining about the strike zone not being large enough for their pitchers might be the funniest thing ever to grace the pages of Fangraphs.

Brian
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Brian
2 years 9 days ago

If anything umpires screw Trout a lot. He has a lot of strikeouts this year and the last pitch wasn’t even a strike.

Anon12
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Anon12
2 years 8 days ago

Have we already reached the era where people start trying to discredit Trout any way they can? Wonder when the PED accusations start?

Aussie Mariner
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Member
Aussie Mariner
2 years 10 days ago

“Trout has floundered”

jacaissie
Member
2 years 10 days ago

I remember when Salmon was floundering on pitches up and in for the Angels.

Mike Carp
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Mike Carp
2 years 9 days ago

Came here to post this.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
2 years 9 days ago

Pitchers are serving up homers on breaking stuff down and in to Mike Trout in order to set up the four-seamer. That’s the secret to limiting Trout to a career-low two-thirds of a slash line at .305/.390.

G
Guest
G
2 years 9 days ago

Trout also crushed one on a rope to the right field corner that would’ve been a double if anyone other than Heyward is defending. His range is sick.

That was arguably the best hitter vs. the games best defender

Brian
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Brian
2 years 9 days ago

I doubt pitchers are intentionally throwing Trout pitches he can crush. If they’re smart they’d just walk him though. Until Pujols starts coming through in big situations go after Pujols.

rustydude
Member
rustydude
2 years 7 days ago

No doubt, Trout is working on contact with high strikes, as we speak.

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