You won’t find ‘Mike Trout‘ and ‘limited’ in the same sentence very often.
He hits (.311 career BA). He hits for power (.545 career SLUG). He steals bases (88.4% career SB-rate), and he makes plays no human in his or her right mind ought to be able to make on a diamond. Basically, he does everything incredibly well, and if you didn’t already know that before today, I would advise that you watch more baseball in the future.
Yet for all the things we know Trout does well — hit, slug, steal bases and defend, if you missed those previously — there are a handful of things that 22-year-old hasn’t done so well this season with Los Angeles. He’s striking out more than normal (career-high 25.6% K-rate), walking less frequently than last season (3.4% BB-rate decrease from 2013) and reaching base at a lower rate (.376 OBP) than in each of his first two professional campaigns.
But perhaps more importantly, No. 27’s bat has this season become significantly limited in the strike zone, which could very well be the source behind some of those regressions.
While Trout was able to command a broad region of the plate in 2013, posting a 43.8% in play rate and 89% contact rate on pitches located inside the strike, he has not been able to do so this season — evidenced by a 34.9% in play rate and 86.2% contact rate on in-zone offerings.
We can easily explain these regressions with a quick gander at the in-play rate heat maps above, which depicts a major reliance on pitches located to the lower-half of the strike zone — an area relative to the imaginary square box where Trout is slugging a major-league best .701 and placing 44.5% of pitches into play coming into play Tuesday night.
The problem is that his heavy dependence on lower-half stuff is leaving Trout exposed to upper-half stuff, which as we can see from the second image is a region of the zone in which he has hardly any success at placing balls in the field of play. Amazingly, Trout has placed just 16.8% of such pitches in play this year, down from 33.2% last season. If we raise that to the upper third of the zone, Trout owns a — get this — 4.9% in-play rate (decreased from 26.1%), which is by far the lowest frequency among qualifying batters this season.
Here’s where that strikeout rate increase comes into focus.
Trout’s upper-half deficiencies stem from him coming up empty against elevated offerings. Last season, 21.9% of his total swings-and-misses transpired in the upper third of the zone, which was slightly lower than the league average mark of 23.4%. Now, a massive 37.6% of Trout’s whiffs occur in this area, which ranks seventh-highest among qualified batters.
With this in mind, we should expect to see opposing pitchers attack the upper third of the zone against Trout at an increased rate, until he shows he can handle these offerings on a consistent enough basis, as he did last season.