Did you know Mike Trout is good at baseball? If you didn’t, that’s okay. We here in the media don’t talk about him very much, if at all. He won some sort of minor award last year. Something called the "MVP?" And in his first season in the league, he got something called the – let me see if I’m reading this correctly – "Rookie of the Year?" Huh. This Trout kid is pretty all right.
So all right that I have endeavored to give you your first Mike Trout Monthly Update (patent pending). Rejoice, sports fans! For Trout is good and fun to read about. Fun to watch as well. Basically, Mike Trout is fun personified unless you root for an AL West team that doesn’t reside in Anaheim. Since this is Beyond the Box Score, I’m contractually obligated to express this fun through numbers that are attached to weird acronyms and charts. FUN, you guys!
Trout finally took his rightful place atop the fWAR leaderboard on Thursday. Through the first month of his season (entering Friday’s action, that is), the reigning MVP was worth 1.6 wins, hitting a silly .329/.447/.592 and five homers to go along with his usual wonderful defense in center field. This is the kind of guy SportsCenter would call an "elite QB" if he played football for an SEC school. After April, he was situated comfortably at 31.0 fWAR for his career. That put him a tenth of a win behind Victor Martinez, who thus far had appeared in 1480 games in his career. Trout had appeared in 515. This will be his fourth full season in the league. He’s the youngest player to notch 100 homers and 100 steals.
Yet baseball is not just a game of statistics. I say that on a section of SBNation devoted to baseball statistics and analytics. True, it is also a game of analytics. It also a game of inches and a game of adjustments. That last bit is what I am here to talk about today. Mike Trout has made himself one heck of an adjustment.
Last year, pitchers began attacking Trout up and in, and his strikeouts skyrocketed. A whole lot of hay was made of Trout’s approach, and many wondered if the wunderkind had been made mortal. Oh, if only. Nay, Mike Trout is back and better than ever. I’ve made you a handy-dandy GIF, which is placed below for your viewing pleasure. Those charts from Brooks Baseball show (from the catcher’s perspective, mind you) Trout’s whiff rate on balls in each of those sections of the strikezone in 2014 and in his first 22 games of 2015. There’s a very noticeable change.
Trout has quite simply stopped swinging and missing on pitches up and in. His most problematic area was the top left hand corner of the strike zone, where he swung and missed 22.22% of the time. He has not whiffed once in that section this year. In fact, Trout didn't miss on a single ball in the top third of the zone all month. That’s insane. He started May without doing it too, but finally caved on a pitch on the outer third of the plate from Tim Hudson on Saturday. Note that it was on the outer third, and not his formerly troublesome area inside.
Trout has thus far turned a weakness into a non-factor, but it’s also resulted in more whiffs down and away. Still, Trout’s walks (as of the end of April) are up by 5.2%, and his strikeouts are down 3.1%. His .392 BABIP for the month is going to come down and with it his triple-slash numbers due to natural regression, but he's still hitting very well. This new approach at the plate is the continuation of a cat-and-mouse game that pitchers have played with Trout. Those new whiffs down and away could turn into a new monster that Trout has to wrestle with, and that’s okay. That’s how baseball works.
But goodness gracious, Mike Trout has made one hell of an adjustment. It’s stuff like this that makes him a generational talent and the best player in the game right now. Well, that and his speed and power and defense and that winning smile.
This has been your Mike Trout Monthly Update.
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Stats courtesy of Fangraphs. Pitch F/X data and charts courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.
Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, and also writes about the Yankees at Pinstripe Alley. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.