The One-Third Season Mike Trout Update

We’re doing it. It’s happening again. We’re forgetting about Mike Trout. It’s like collectively, we’re a second-grade teacher with a real-life wizard in our classroom and yet we never call on him or her to be the volunteer for any of the science experiments, so as not to single out the wizard kid while also ensuring that we remain impartial to the other, more normal children, except we know damn well that the normal kids would rather see the wizard kid perform science experiments rather than do it themselves. Call on the wizard kid! Mike Trout is right there!

Y’know how I know we’re forgetting about Mike Trout again? It’s June 1. We’re one-third of the way through the baseball season. Trout has been tagged in exactly one FanGraphs post since Opening Day. It was a post about whether Bryce Harper is better than him. Since that post, Harper’s hit .207 with a 115 wRC+. Trout’s slugged .641 with a 198 wRC+.

For the year, Trout’s been the most valuable position player in baseball. He’s been a top-three bat mixed with a top-three base-runner. He’s seventh in the league in on-base while also ranking among the league’s top-20 power hitters. He’s projected to finish the season with 9.7 WAR (yawn, but it’s not 10), which would give him 47.3 WAR over his first five full major-league seasons. And that’d be the ninth-best five-year peak of any hitter, ever. And Mike Trout is 24.

Even though we, the collective second-grade teacher, don’t call on the wizard kid in class, we’d be lying to ourselves if we said we weren’t curious what he or she were doing at all times. We’re curious what the wizard kid does at recess, we’re curious what the wizard kid eats for lunch, we’re curious what the wizard kid does at home, we’re even curious how the wizard kid gets to school. Broom? Honda Odyssey? Intangibility?

We want up-to-the-minute updates on the developments of wizard kid’s life, so we should want up-to-the-minute updates on the developments of Mike Trout’s game, too. Let’s now briefly discuss five things that are different about Mike Trout.

* * *

He’s more aggressive and is making more contact.

Trout is currently running both the highest swing rate and the highest contact rate of his career. The differences may seem small — a two-point increase in swings, a three-point increase in contact — but coupled together, it’s actually a pretty substantial difference. By multiplying the two figures together, we can get an overall percentage of pitches that led to contact. So, last year, Trout’s “total contact percentage” was 30.5%. This year, with more swings and more contact, it’s up to 33.6%. That three-point increase is the ninth-largest among 100 qualified batters from last year to next. In other words: fewer strikeouts (he’s back to that 2012-13 level) and plenty more balls in play. It’s important to note, too, that Trout’s chase rate hasn’t budged. All of the extra swings are coming against hittable pitches inside the zone. All of this, particularly for a player with Trout’s speed, seems like a good thing, although it sure is weird that…

He’s no longer reaching on infield hits.

From 2012 to -15 — Trout’s first four full seasons — he recorded infield hits at a rate like no one else in baseball. A higher percentage of Trout’s grounders went for infield hits than any other player in baseball during that time, leading to 96 hits. This year, he has one, as many as Miguel Cabrera; he’s produced a lower percentage than Justin Bour. The league leader has 15. Trout’s actually pulling more grounders than he ever has in his career, which might reasonably lead to more infield hits, so we’re left with two explanations, both of which I’d wager are in play: luck and declining speed. A big part of getting an infield hit is getting lucky — how do you think Miggy got his? — and I’d guess some of this is just noise. But we can’t ignore the possibility of declining footspeed, toward which Jeff Sullivan presented some evidence late in the 2014 season. In that post, Sullivan recorded some home-to-first times on infield hits and double plays, watching five plays each. I also watched five plays, and will add to Sullivan’s work below:

Mike Trout average max-effort home-to-first time

  • 2012: 3.98 seconds
  • 2013: 4.05 seconds
  • 2014: 4.13 seconds
  • 2016: 4.18 seconds

The fastest time I clocked was a 4.14, slower than the average that Sullivan observed in 2014. Trout’s been a more aggressive (and efficient) base stealer this year, but stealing a base is about plenty more than just speed — technique and the opposing battery play a huge role. Looking just at the times when Trout’s really legging it out, he’s lost roughly two-tenths of a second off his home-to-first time since his rookie year, and it’s costing him some infield hits.

He’s seeing fewer fastballs.

This one doesn’t need much explaining. For his career, Trout’s seen four-seamers 40% of the time, as high as 44% in in 2014. This year, it’s all the way down to just 34%. His rate of two-seamers and sinkers seen is mostly unchanged from his career norm. Sliders, cutters, curves and changes are all at career-highs. The fun part is, he’s making more contact against breaking and offspeed pitches than he has since his rookie year.

He’s becoming a… high-ball hitter?

This might be the most interesting Trout development, because it was the one covered most extensively last year. You know the story by now: Trout’s one weakness was the high fastball, teams realized this in the offseason between 2014-15, Trout last year started seeing way more elevated fastballs, it didn’t really matter. A logical line of thinking after the league’s adjustment failed to yield positive results might be that things would just go back to normal. “Welp, that didn’t work, might as well just go back to what we were all comfortable doing in the first place.” Nope. Trout actually looks like he enjoys the high pitch now:

TroutSLG

That’s Trout’s slugging percentage heatmap progressing from 2014 to -16. He’s crushed the high pitch this year. And now, the location of the fastballs he’s seen over those same four years:

Trout4Seams

He’s actually getting pitched low in the zone now! How about that! It’s come full circle.

He’s turning his arm into a strength.

Trout’s other weakness — beyond the previously perceived weakness against elevated fastballs — has been his arm. It’s the main thing that’s held down his defensive value over the years, costing the Angels roughly 10 runs since his debut. Coming into this season, Trout had registered just seven career outfield kills, as tracked by Baseball Info Solutions, and had allowed 60% of base-runners with an opportunity to advance to do so, with league average for a center fielder around 54%. This year, Trout has already registered three outfield kills, tying a career-high, and has held opposing base-runners to a 50% advancement rate, which ranks in the upper-third of qualified center fielders.

* * *

I’m never quite sure how to end Mike Trout posts. Nothing more needs to be said, but everything needs to be said. He’s just amazing, and this game is constantly changing, so watch him play baseball as often as you can, lest you miss something.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

newest oldest most voted
Jeff Sullivan Salmon Feast
Member

Great article. The only thing better than a salmon feast is a Trout kill 🙂