Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout has added yet another skill to his MVP resume
As he celebrates his 24th birthday, it’s worth asking if there’s anything Mike Trout can’t do. In any case, there apparently is one more thing he can do.
It got lost in the haze of the week of the trade deadline, but I want to take you back to a recent Trout performance against the Rangers. Let’s look at a pitch that Nick Martinez threw. The approximate location:
Clearly low, clearly inside (relative to the middle of the plate). Trout swung, and this is where the ball went:
Home run, right field. Now, for a lot of players, it’s enough to hit one home run. I’ve set up what’s going to follow. A full-count pitch later in the same game, thrown by Spencer Patton:
Another pitch in. Another Trout swing. The result:
That, to the opposite side of center field. Twice in one game, Trout went deep. Twice in one game, Trout went deep to what could technically be referred to as the opposite field. Twice in one game, Mike Trout did that on inside pitches. Intuitively, that seems like a hard thing to do. When you think about it, it follows that inside pitches get pulled, and outside pitches get pushed. That is, generally, the way things go, at least when you’re talking about balls hit with authority. But, see, Trout has learned something.
Here’s another way to put this: I found another leaderboard that Trout’s on top of. It’s a little complicated, but stick with me. These numbers were made possible using Baseball Savant. Okay, first step, I isolated right-handed hitters. Then I isolated pitches inside from the middle of the plate. Then I looked for home runs, against those pitches, sent to the non-pull half of the outfield. Basically, it’s a leaderboard of going inside-out, with power. The data:
- Mike Trout, 11 such home runs
- Paul Goldschmidt, 9
- Josh Donaldson, 5
- J.D. Martinez, 5
- Nick Castellanos, 5
Lest you think I’ve done lefties wrong, I looked up the same data for left-handed hitters, and the leader is Joey Votto, at 5. No one else has more than one. That’s remarkable, as far as Votto’s concerned, but this is about Trout. Now, it’s one thing for Trout to lead the list. Trout is no stranger to leading lists. But, look at his career. These are Trout’s year-to-year totals of those home runs:
- 2011: 0 such home runs
- 2012: 3
- 2013: 4
- 2014: 0
- 2015: 11
This is something Trout didn’t do a single time a year ago. He’s gone from zip to league-leading, and though he’s hit some of these homers in the past, Trout now is posting career-best power numbers, as he continues to adjust to everything opponents try to do to him. Let’s look at some spray charts, against inside pitches. Trout and inside pitches, a year ago:
Compare that to this year:
You see the power to right and right-center. You see some more power up the middle. It’s possible that Trout has gotten even stronger. It’s probably more possible that Trout has altered the way he approaches inside pitches. Last season, as the games wore on, Trout had a weakness increasingly exploited — he was vulnerable to fastballs up, and especially fastballs up and in. Everyone knew it, and Trout worked on it over the winter, in an effort to change the conversation. Trout, at times, was vague about the changes he was making, but we can always analyze video. Video doesn’t lie, or at least it doesn’t lie as often as people do. Lacking good alternatives, we’ll just focus on a few examples.
Trout and a low-inside home run, from 2014:
Trout and a low-inside home run, from 2015:
The former was pulled; the latter went to right. Look at the images closely. What do you see? You might look first at Trout’s right elbow. In the second picture, it’s tucked closer in to Trout’s body. You can also look at Trout’s left arm — in the second picture, it’s straighter from his shoulder toward the ground. And as a result, you have a more vertical bat angle. In the first picture, the bat is more level. With the hands in and the shoulders more vertical, Trout’s able to get inside of the pitch. He looks a little like Kris Bryant, when he’s going right.
How about another case? Trout and a higher-inside home run, from 2014:
Trout and a higher-inside home run, from 2015:
Obviously, in the first picture, Trout had to hit the ball out in front of the plate — that’s why it got pulled. In the second one, Trout went yard to right in Yankee Stadium, and you can see that he stayed back. His right elbow, again, is tucked closer to the body, right up on his side. It’s as if his upper arm is glued. The left elbow is higher in the second picture, and the right forearm is angled up, with the result being visible in the hand position. In the first picture, the hands are around belt level; in the second, they’re at number level, allowing Trout to keep a steep bat path as he lets the ball travel deeper.
A small number of examples might be unconvincing, and I myself would like better evidence. But I don’t know where to find it without driving myself crazy, so I’ll settle for what we have. We have image evidence of 2015 Mike Trout keeping his hands in closer against inside pitches. This helps him get the barrel to the ball without having to speed up and hit it in front of the plate. We also have statistical evidence that Trout is inside-outing more pitches with authority, to such a degree that he’s a current league leader. So that’s pretty good. Trout knew he needed to be able to shorten up if he wanted to have success against harder pitches in. It would appear he’s shortened up, and his numbers are fantastic. His numbers are always fantastic, but that’s an achievement on its own — he gets more scouting attention than anyone else. He’s always the main enemy. He’s still winning.
It’s not that Mike Trout has gotten a lot better. That would be almost impossible. It’s that Mike Trout continues to avoid getting worse. That’s only possible when you consistently make good adjustments. Add it to Mike Trout’s endless list of strengths.