Mike Trout Wants Your Curveballs Now by Jeff Sullivan June 28, 2016 Mike Trout is, once again, the league leader in position-player WAR, and league leaders in position-player WAR tend to do some incredible things. Trout just did an incredible thing on Monday, and we should talk about it. With two strikes, against Collin McHugh: No, you didn’t see that wrong. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, because memories are notoriously unreliable, but the thing about eyewitnesses is that they witness things once. You can witness this as many times as you want. Loop it over and over and over again. This pitch. It went for a dinger. I’m probably not going to get sick of posting screengrabs, but if you bear with me for a moment, let me try to get this out of my system. Here’s an image from the side: Pretty low. Here’s the Gameday Classic image: To be honest, this isn’t the sort of thing that requires a lot of research. The home run is self-evidently unusual, because we all know that was a pretty good location for a two-strike breaking ball. McHugh threw the pitch he wanted. Trout just stayed with it and applied the appropriate swing. From Baseball Savant, here are Trout’s career home runs, with yesterday’s indicated by the arrow: Lowest one yet! Trout has always been fond of the low pitch, but not really pitches that low. On the other side, here are McHugh’s career home runs allowed, with Trout’s obviously again indicated by the arrow: Lowest one yet. You see an elevated blob up there, but the homers in the lower areas are sparse. I looked up all of McHugh’s career two-strike curveballs thrown way down below the zone. Unsurprisingly, most of them were taken for balls. There were 35% swings. Of those swings, 68% missed. There have been four times as many whiffs as batted balls. In case it’s not clear, McHugh did what he wanted to. That pitch had nearly never failed. Then came the Mike Trout Override. Daren Willman tweeted something after the fact. It’s since been picked up in a handful of articles. Willman noted that Trout’s homer was the lowest pitch hit out since Freddy Galvis drilled a lower pitch in April 2013. It’s true! It’s been more than three years since we’ve seen a lower pitch turned into a homer. Yet we can turn this into something even more impressive. Trout is a pretty big dude, right? Galvis, not so much. Galvis isn’t short, but it’s worth remembering that pitch heights are always relative. The pitch Galvis hit out was 7.7 inches below the lower boundary of his strike zone. The pitch Trout just hit out was 9.1 inches below the lower boundary of his strike zone. If I’ve done my analysis correctly, then in these terms, Trout’s homer came against the lowest pitch — relatively speaking — in the PITCHf/x era. It just narrowly edges out a homer by Delmon Young. All the measurements have margins of error, so we can’t pretend it’s all perfect, but Trout did something extraordinarily rare. It’s kind of his thing. Stepping just a little back, Trout walloped a two-strike curveball. For that matter, it was a good two-strike curveball, and I noticed that, when Trout came up to bat the first time, McHugh didn’t show him a curve. The second time, McHugh didn’t show him a curve until the curve that flew away. Now, McHugh throws plenty of curveballs, and it’s not like Trout would’ve been taken by surprise by one, but still, this grabbed my attention. Trout was ready and waiting. And according to the numbers, he’s now feasting on curveballs more than ever. I’ve written in the past about how Trout has acted passively against curves. This is his fifth full season in the majors, and he’s sitting on a career-high swing rate against curves. It’s the highest rate by a good margin. And this year, against curves, Trout has slugged .886. Last year, he slugged .261, and through last year, since debuting, Trout slugged .422. His contact rate against curves is up. It would appear that sometimes Trout is looking for curves, and he’s doing a fantastic job of staying back. That’s how you end up with a leaderboard like this. Here are the top hitters in baseball, sorted by run value at the plate against curveballs: Mike Trout, +10.3 runs Joey Votto, +10.3 Yoenis Cespedes, +5.6 Khris Davis, +5.6 Martin Prado, +5.6 So Trout, this year, is at +10.3. Trout, for his entire career, is at +16.7. His career-best mark before was +3.9. Trout is still just 24 years old, and it makes sense that he continues to develop. His current wRC+ is right where it’s always been. Yet he has a career-low rate of strikeouts, having slashed five percentage points off last year’s mark. Mike Trout has gotten more prepared for each individual at-bat, and his success against curves shows that he’s still learning what to look for, and when. Now Trout’s approach is better, and more complete. He’s plugging holes that weren’t even that hole-y. Depending on your perspective, he’s either amazing or impossible. Mike Trout has become a fan of hitting curveballs. Monday, he smashed a really good curveball, one thrown right where the pitcher wanted. It was one of the lowest pitches hit out of the park that we’ve seen in recent years. It was a signature moment for an iconic young player, the sort of achievement even the other team has to stop and admire. The Angels lost.