Oh, my: Mike Trout may get even better

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
9:00
PM ET
From Alden Gonzalez's story at MLB.com:
Few guys have been in as many deep counts as Mike Trout these last two years. Only eight of them have had more plate appearances with a full count; only six have hit with two strikes more often. The approach is a credit to Trout's comfort with two strikes, but it's one that also leads to a lot of walks and strikeouts, limiting the star-studded outfielder's ability to drive in runs.

This year, it'll be different.

"I think the biggest thing, for me, is being aggressive early," Trout said. "A lot of counts last year, I'd be taking, seeing pitches. But I'm going to be aggressive this year. Instead of just flipping one over for strike one, or 2-0 strike one, I'm going to be up there hacking, I'm going to be up there swinging."


Trout saying he's going to be more aggressive doesn't mean he's necessarily going to be more aggressive and turn into Kirby Puckett. Trout was third in the majors with 110 walks and part of the reason he's hit .326 and .323 his first two full seasons is he waits for a pitch in his zone, and I suspect he's fully aware of that. Yes, hitting in deep counts is also a reason he struck out 136 times but it's also a reason he drew all the walks and led the American League in runs scored for a second straight season. As for the RBIs, Trout still managed to drive in 97 runs even while taking all those free passes. With a .432 on-base percentage, Trout got on base at a higher clip than everyone except Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto, one of just seven regulars to post an OBP over .400.

So while there's need for him to change, that doesn't mean Trout couldn't improve by being a little more aggressive. But should he be? That's hard to say. The batter-pitcher relationship is complex. Batters hit .354 and slugged .590 in 2013 when swinging at the first pitch, for example. Does that mean you should swing more often on the first pitch? Not necessarily. If you get too aggressive, pitchers will stop throwing you strikes and you'll start flailing at sliders off the plate.

Trout is right that he rarely swing at 2-0 pitches. But you know what? Most batters don't. Trout put just 15 2-0 pitches in play, but that's not all that unusual. Here are the majors' top 15 batters from 2013 in wOBA and how many times they put a 2-0 pitch in play:

Miguel Cabrera: 12
Mike Trout: 15
Chris Davis: 16
Joey Votto: 22
Jayson Werth: 9
Paul Goldschmidt: 16
Troy Tulowitzki: 12
David Ortiz: 17
Michael Cuddyer: 16
Shin-Soo Choo: 17
Andrew McCutchen: 22
Freddie Freeman: 15
Joe Mauer: 14
Edwin Encarnacion: 21
Josh Donaldson: 19

The reason Trout didn't swing at many 2-0 pitches is he probably didn't get many 2-0 meatballs to swing at. Nobody does. Only two hitters put even 30 2-0 pitches in play, Jed Lowrie (38) and Ian Kinsler (32).

What about those first-pitch strikes that Trout mentioned? Let's take those same 15 hitters and look at the percentage of 0-1 counts they faced (out of total plate appearances):

Miguel Cabrera: 45 percent
Mike Trout: 48 percent
Chris Davis: 45 percent
Joey Votto: 40 percent
Jayson Werth: 52 percent
Paul Goldschmidt: 46 percent
Troy Tulowitzki: 46 percent
David Ortiz: 42 percent
Michael Cuddyer: 49 percent
Shin-Soo Choo: 49 percent
Andrew McCutchen: 44 percent
Freddie Freeman: 42 percent
Joe Mauer: 50 percent
Edwin Encarnacion: 49 percent
Josh Donaldson: 47 percent

OK, nothing too unusual there. Trout, however, is right when he says he rarely swings at the first pitch. He only put 37 first pitches into play, or 6 percent of all his PAs. Only Joe Mauer -- who put just 15 first pitches in play -- swung less often among our group of 15, and all the others except Troy Tulowitzki were at 10 percent or higher.

Look at Miguel Cabrera for the potential value at swinging at the first pitch. He put 96 first pitches in play -- and hit .448 with 14 home runs. Chris Davis hit .438 with 14 home runs. Freddie Freeman swung most often at the 0-0 pitch and hit .455 with six home runs in 100 PAs.

This is actually what's so potentially scary about Trout, especially for opposing moundsmen: He's still figuring this game out. If he learns when to hack at the first offering, watch out. He just may get even better.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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