Let’s Watch James Paxton Strike Out Mike Trout Four Times

So far in his major-league career, Mike Trout has worn the golden sombrero four times. The first time, three of the strikeouts came against Max Scherzer. The second time, two of the strikeouts came against Drew Hutchison. The third time, three of the strikeouts came against James Paxton. Sunday marked the fourth occasion. Sunday, all four strikeouts came against Paxton. So that made Sunday the first time the best player in baseball had struck out four times against the same pitcher in the same game.

Just in isolation, such a four-strikeout game would be notable. But when you consider the context, I love writing about Trout, and he’s amazing. And I love writing about Paxton, and he’s quickly improving his profile. What does it look like when a pitcher does this to the best in the world? Let us watch the strikeouts together. Trout doesn’t give us these opportunities very often.

Strikeout No. 1, First inning

One of the things to remember throughout this whole article: Trout bats right-handed and Paxton throws left-handed, so for all four matchups, it was Trout who had the platoon advantage. That doesn’t matter with regard to any specific point here; I just want to make sure that isn’t forgotten. All right, so, Trout’s a patient guy. And if you’ve been following Paxton, you know his velocity’s up. So the first at-bat started with a called strike around the knees at 96 miles per hour. Paxton then changed the eye level and came back at 97 with a fastball up that Trout fouled off. That quickly, Paxton was ahead 0-and-2, and he went over his options.

He buried a cutter low and in, but Trout didn’t bite. Then Paxton tried a fastball high and tight, but it was just a little too tight, and the count went even. That’s when the curveball came out. Trout hadn’t seen that low velocity level yet, and he couldn’t help himself. Trout got out on his front leg and came up empty.

One pivotal point in the showdown: That opening pitch.

Paxton found the border of the zone, and Mike Zunino made it look pretty. The count easily could’ve gone to 1-and-0, but because of Zunino’s smooth receiving, it was Paxton who got ahead instead, and he took advantage of that. Though Trout technically struck out against Paxton, the truth is that he struck out against the battery.

Strikeout No. 2, Third inning

Even though Trout doesn’t swing at the first pitch that often, he has become a little more aggressive, or, if you prefer, a little more “ready to hit.” His second time up, Trout didn’t want to let Paxton get ahead easily, so he went after an opening heater at 98. It wasn’t a bad pitch to hit, but Trout slightly mis-hit it and sent the ball foul. Ahead again, Paxton lost a changeup in the dirt, then he returned with a low, inside fastball that was spotted well to reach another two-strike count. Paxton had Trout in swing mode, and a low cutter did the rest of the work.

Compared to the first cutter Trout had seen, this one dropped another three and a half inches. The velocity was basically the same, and the horizontal movement was basically the same, but the ball had more depth and so Trout swung over it. I do want to quickly take you back to the 1-and-1 pitch. Another pivotal delivery:

The first time up, a borderline call was the difference between 1-and-0 and 0-and-1. The second time up, a borderline call was the difference between 2-and-1 and 1-and-2. According to the tracking cameras, the fastball here was a bit too inside, but Zunino sold it and Trout expressed his disagreement. Usually, one pitch doesn’t make or break an at-bat, but it’s all a matter of percentages. A borderline call can significantly alter the percentages.

Strikeout No. 3, Sixth inning

For the third straight at-bat, Paxton started Trout with a fastball, but Trout elected to take this one. The fastball was around the outer half, and Paxton was in another 0-and-1 count. A comeback heater at 97 brushed Trout back off the plate, and then Paxton threw another inside fastball that Trout yanked down the third-base line, ever so barely foul. That ran the count to 1-and-2, and Zunino signaled for a fastball up. Paxton threw it, and Paxton spotted it, and Trout had to go back to his dugout muttering under his breath, or maybe actually over his breath. I don’t know. Who am I, God?

It’s not hard to tell that Trout thought the pitch was a ball, and it’s not hard to see why. Here’s a screenshot:


It sure looks to me like the pitch was above Trout’s belt, even with his numbers. So that’s a generous call, aided by Zunino’s receiving. And, we can go back earlier in the at-bat, too. That first pitch that got Paxton ahead:

That’s not even a particularly excellent spot. Paxton didn’t quite locate where he wanted, and Zunino had to move his glove a foot or two, but he still stuck the pitch there, doing enough to make the pitch look like a strike. So again, instead of 1-and-0, the count was 0-and-1, which helped Paxton to get from zero strikes to three. The earlier at-bats had one borderline strike. This one had two. They were two big ones! They’re all big ones.

Strikeout No. 4, Eighth inning

For the fourth time in four chances, Paxton started Trout with a heater. For the second time in four chances, Trout went after the opening heater, fouling off a pitch around the middle. Ahead, Paxton came back with another low changeup that almost got Trout to go around. He held up, though, and then Trout also took a fastball up and in to get the 2-and-1 count in his favor. It was the first time in the game Trout had a favorable count, but the advantage quickly disappeared when Paxton spotted a heater away around 99. That set the count at 2-and-2, and then Paxton buried a curve to which Trout over-committed.

In the game, Trout saw just two curveballs. The first one struck him out in his first at-bat. This one was actually faster than that one, but it had three more inches of glove-side movement, and four and a half more inches of drop. The first was kind of more of a slurve; this was more of a true hammer, and that’s how you get a Mike Trout screenshot like this:


That baseball, for an instant, rested on the dirt, well in front of the dish. Trout couldn’t stop himself. Perhaps you couldn’t blame him for just wanting to swing. The 2-and-1 delivery that got Paxton back in the count:

That baseball was more than a foot from the center of home plate. In other words, that pitch is usually a ball, because it’s supposed to be a ball, but because the target was nearby, it was easy for Zunino to make the pitch look better. As such, instead of Trout getting into a friendly 3-and-1 advantage, the count went to 2-and-2, and Trout had to get defensive about a strike zone that was apparently growing by the minute. That doesn’t excuse the curveball swing, but it might partially explain Trout’s aggressive mindset. It seemed like with basically every close pitch, Trout was getting calls against him.

The strike-zone plot for the four at-bats:


The one pitch that doesn’t show is the last curveball — that was actually below zero, meaning it was in the dirt before it crossed home plate. Of all of Trout’s 2016 strikeouts, two of the three strikeouts against the lowest pitches came against Paxton on Sunday.


Trout didn’t have an effort he’ll want to remember, and Paxton gets credit for something no other pitcher has been able to do. Look again, though, at the strike-zone map. Paxton got a borderline call up. He got a borderline call away, and he got a borderline call down. He got a favorable call on a pitch off the plate away, and he got another favorable call on a pitch off the plate inside. There were three balls high and tight, and I suppose you could argue those were borderline calls as well, but those were balls, each one. Paxton got the coin flips. He got a few of the weighted coin flips.

In all four at-bats, Paxton got at least one crucial friendly strike call. In one of them, he got two. The home-plate umpire makes those calls, and those calls were made in large part because of the quality receiving of Mike Zunino, who once again is rating as one of the very top pitch-framers in the league. For anyone who remains skeptical that framing can be a big deal, if it weren’t for framing, Paxton probably doesn’t strike Trout out four times. He might not strike him out once. According to the record books, James Paxton is the first pitcher to ever strike out Mike Trout four times in one game. But in truth, Trout didn’t strike out four times against Paxton. He struck out four times against Paxton and his catcher.

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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5 years ago

Once again, the need for Robot Umps to call balls and strikes becomes apparent.