Last season Mike Trout appeared to have a weakness for the first time. Despite winning his first MVP, Trout had arguably his worst year to date, and as 2014 progressed it became clear that he was having a hard time with the high fastball.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a piece last week about Trout's belief that his struggles came from chasing those pitches too often. As it turns out, that belief doesn't exactly gel with the facts. The Angels star does not chase high pitches particularly often, he just struggles to do anything with them.
This Achilles heel was exploited down the stretch and Trout began seeing more and more fastballs in an attempt to stifle him with the high heat. Following the All-Star break, Trout saw 67.1% fastballs, the fourth highest percentage among qualified hitters. What is particularly unusual about that figure is that most of the other hitters seeing that many fastballs were punchless singles hitters like Ben Revere, Billy Hamilton, and Derek Jeter.
Normally, it's safer to feed a power hitter like Trout a steady diet of breaking pitches, although that's far from a foolproof strategy. The fact that pitchers felt that they could do the opposite is intriguing. Trout posted a 141 wRC+ in the season's second half so it's not as if shoving fastballs down his throat turned him into Yuniesky Betancourt overnight, but it did cause an increase in strikeouts and reduce his productivity.
It's common knowledge that fastball location affected Trout, so I wanted to examine if velocity played a factor too. Was Trout struggling with the high fastball because he couldn't catch up to it? How did he handle pitches with elite velocity?
According to Baseball Savant, Trout faced 351 pitches with a velocity of at least 95 mph, by far the top mark in the league.
|Player||95+ mph Pitches Seen|
Why Trout saw so many more hard pitches than anyone else isn't exactly a mystery considering the number of fastballs thrown his way last season. It may also suggest that pitchers reached back for a bit more against him from time to time, or managers were quicker to use power relievers against him.
So, how did everyone's favorite MVP do against the really hard stuff? By and large he had no problem with it.
Trout took his fair share of pitches that had excellent velocity, and he also got quite a few hits, including an impressive game-tying home run off Sean Doolittle.
The sample size here is not large enough to say he's incredible at hitting the hardest fastballs around — especially considering the likely BABIP luck — but it does tell us he isn't rendered completely ineffective by heat.
Ultimately, it's always more rewarding to learn something new than confirm what we know, but it's also nice to reaffirm one's knowledge. I suspected that Trout's problem with fastballs may extend beyond location to velocity, but it appears that in 2014 at least that was not the case.
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Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.