Why Mike Trout Ain’t Right

The Angels ascended to first place in the AL West in the final game before the All-Star break. A week and a half later, they had a two-game lead, and since that point, they’ve lost the two-game lead, and then several more games beyond that, in a team-wide collapse that’s threatened to leave the Angels on the outside of the playoff picture. They’ve lost 26 of 37, losing 9.5 games in the standings to the Astros, and 12.5 to the Rangers. Over the span, they’re last in the AL in runs scored. Over the span, they’re second-to-last in the AL in runs allowed. The season can still be salvaged — clearly, things can change in a jiffy — but this has been a nightmare stretch, lasting nearly a quarter of the season. It’s hard to survive a lost quarter.

Obviously, in a slump like this, several parties are partly responsible. A team doesn’t sink based on one or two players. But, generally, when a team sinks, people don’t look to blame players like, say, Erick Aybar. They don’t blame players like Hector Santiago. They look to the stars who aren’t pulling their weight, and one can’t help but note that Mike Trout hasn’t quite produced like himself. Like many of his teammates, Trout’s been in a rut, and that’s done more than just open the MVP race to Josh Donaldson. As Trout’s concerned, there are questions, and I feel like it’s my obligation to try to answer them as best I can. I know my role, here.

Trout has the misfortune of having his slump almost perfectly confined to August. He shouldn’t personally care, because a slump is a slump, but that makes this an easy slump to spot. August saw Trout finish with a 102 wRC+, which rather hilariously is perfectly fine, but it’s not fine for him, and it comes with a .218 average and one home run. Trout knows he hasn’t been where he wants. Some people are trying to blame a wrist injury he sustained toward the end of July that cost him a few games. Trout insists that he’s physically okay. Sometimes players don’t tell the truth. Sometimes they do! Seldom can we spot the difference.

The first thing to do: how bad a slump is this, for Trout? Has he done this before? Presented below, a 29-game rolling average of Trout’s career wRC+. That’s the number of games he played in August.

trout-rolling-average-wrc+

Trout tends to be quite good. Hence him being Mike Trout and everything. He hasn’t really looked like a below-average hitter since he was a rookie. On the right, you see the recent slump, and it’s uncommon, but then, look over a bit to the left. It’s not like this is totally unprecedented. Just last year, between later July and later August, Trout posted a 91 wRC+ over 128 trips to the plate. The man has known some slumps. That slump just didn’t fit so easily into an ordinary splits page.

At the same time, that slump came with four dingers. Compared to this slump, that other one had more power and fewer walks. So let’s check out another plot. As Trout has gotten older, he’s hit more balls into the air. Recently, not so much. A rolling-average plot of Trout’s groundball rate:

trout-rolling-average-gb

At the time of last year’s slump, Trout was still hitting fly balls. Over the past month, Trout hit nearly half grounders. It’s not like this is something he’s never done. Witness the first half of the plot. But he tried to move away from this tendency, and now it’s back, and that hints at something being off. Trout can reach base when he puts the ball on the ground, but he can do a hell of a lot more damage doing something else.

Numbers down, grounders up. Some sort of wrist injury sustained. Before the mediocre August, Trout had a stupid-productive July. There’s a reason people wonder. Let’s check out some spray charts, using Baseball Savant. Here’s July:

trout-july-spray

Power, all fields. Here’s Trout’s whole season through July:

trout-april-july-spray

What makes this interesting is the August plot:

trout-august-spray

You see the grounders, but you also see the empty space in left and left-center. Trout barely pulled anything with authority, and though he hasn’t been exclusively a pull hitter, he’s never shied away from a pulled home run. It’s curious that the air balls have mostly all gone up the middle or the other way. This isn’t the sort of spray that Trout wants.

It’s another hint that something’s up. But before you start believing everything’s pointing that way, consider Trout’s weekly average batted-ball velocities:

trout-speed

No real convincing sign of a slump there. Trout in August: 93.1 miles per hour. Trout before August: 93.6 miles per hour. There’s still been some hard contact. Just hasn’t gone in the usual directions. And now I have just one last image. Another rolling-average plot, this one of Trout’s average fastball velocities seen:

trout-rolling-average-fastball-speed

Hello, career-high. Over the past month, the average fastball to Trout has been nearly 94 miles per hour. His career average is about 92. His season average is about 92. His July average was about 92. August has been a harder-throwing month, and though it’s not always the case, it’s usually the case that harder-throwing pitchers are more effective pitchers.

More than anything, Trout blames a timing issue. He doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong physically, and the batted-ball velocities sort of back him up. It makes sense it would be more difficult to time harder-throwing pitchers, and it makes sense a hitter would have more trouble pulling the ball in the air against them. Additionally, maybe most importantly, the opposing pitchers have just been better. That’s implied by the velocity numbers, but there’s better proof yet. The pitchers Trout saw through July have allowed an average .311 wOBA to righties. The pitchers Trout saw in July have allowed an average .318 wOBA to righties. The August number: .301. So, at least a partial explanation for what’s been observed: a great hitter has gone up against superior pitchers. Everyone is worse against opponents who are better.

You can try to examine Trout in context. His best month of the year was July, and his second-best was June. The best month of the year for Trout’s teammates was July, when they posted a 106 wRC+. The second-best month of the year for Trout’s teammates was June, when they posted a 92 wRC+. In August, those teammates posted a 74 wRC+. So Trout has sort of risen and fallen with the other hitters in his uniform. They took advantage of worse pitchers in July. They struggled against better pitchers in August. And, in August, Trout still hit far better than the rest of the team’s average.

I think that’s as much as needs to be done. It’s easy to figure Trout’s wrist must be bothering him somehow, and maybe he’s got a slight mechanical hitch, but he’s still been hitting the ball hard, and the rest of the team has mostly been awful. Trout thinks his timing has been a bit off, and that coincided with a stretch of higher-velocity pitchers, and just simply more effective pitchers. No one’s immune to the penalty of opposing better players, so when you combine that with simple randomness, I think that should get you most of the way. Every player will have very normal hot streaks and cold streaks. Trout’s had his. This cold streak was made worse by quality competition. Trout’s still the best player in baseball. He just happens to be more human than not. Maybe that’s the next thing for him to work on.





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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Captain Tenneal
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Captain Tenneal

Did he really line out 12 times in August? That seems like a hell of a lot.

JT
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JT

Is average exit velocity data available on fangraphs?

John Havok
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John Havok

Its on Baseball Savant

Neil S
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Neil S

Check out the locations, though – a couple in the RCF gap, one to deep RF, one shallow RF on the foul line. Either there was some amazing positioning on those balls or the definition of ‘liner’ is getting stretched a bit.

Albert
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Albert

What wasn’t mentioned was the two Extremely catchable pop flies that Trout didn’t take control of as the leader in the outfield ! A center fielder should never be shy of calling off another player in order to make the play. Trout was twice guilty of this ! Trout had 0 SB’s, 3 Caught Stealing, was picked off at first base and thrown out at home as well. Did the wrist injury creat laryngitis and a leg injury, DOUBTFUL ! What part of his performance didn’t suffer, the WAR total increased even with his abysmal performance ! Just remember, the OBJECT in baseball is about advancing more batters from the box to home plate than your opponent ! A batter who is in a situation with no outs and runners on first and second base hits a fly ball for a out but advances both runners receives the same WAR value as if the batter struck out ? Funny how the odds of scoring with the runners on 2nd and 3rd base increase over 1st and 2nd base ? WAR should look up what the OBJECT of baseball is !