By @Docwaukee, AngelsWin.com Contributor
There is a lot of anecdotal info and observation in regard to Mike Trout's ability to handle high fastball. There always has been. It's been his 'kryptonite' for years. Yet until recently, he was still putting up hall of fame numbers. Why now, all of a sudden, is he struggling, and does it have to do with attacking him up in the zone? How's he performing on pitches up in the zone? How's he performing on pitches up and out of the zone? Is he swinging at each of them more than he used to?
I think our eyes are telling us that they are, not very good, even worse, and yes. But do our eyes deceive us?
First off, I would like to add that Trout has always had a bit of a complicated setup. Leg kick. Hands high. Lots of timing mechanism to get things in the right place. But once he does, that swing is a thing of beauty. Over the years though, we seen have have these streaks where he's working on getting that front foot down on time. Something he's been quoted on several times. The swing hasn't changed as of yet. A little video from 2019 to 2021 to now shows pretty much the exact same setup and trigger points.
I've always felt like his approach was sort of the reverse of many in that he made a point to be on breaking balls and off speed while adjusting to the fastball - if you will. I'm not sure if that has changed.
One thing we know for sure is that he's swinging more in general (44.7% of the time in 2023 compared to his career avg of 38.8%) and that's been happening since he returned from injury last year. Another thing we know is that he's swinging more at balls in the zone (68.2% in 2023 vs. 56.4% career) and he's still among the top in the league in terms of offering at pitches out of the zone - right in line with his career. But all of the above is for all pitches. Not just fastballs.
So let's see if a deeper dive can yield any info in that regard.
First off, lets look at how they're attacking him with fastballs. A comparison of 2023 to 2019 is in order I think considering 2019 was Mike's most recent MVP season.
In 2023, they're throwing fastballs at him 49.6% of the time. In 2019, they attacked him with fastballs 42.8% of the time. But where?
Side by side it 2023 vs. 2019.
Up out of the zone 2023: 35.4%
Up out of the zone 2019: 33.0%
Up and in the zone 2023: 22.8%
Up and in the zone 2019: 22.8%
So pretty damn close here.
Is he swinging at them the same amount?
Balls up in the zone 2023: 7.8%
Balls up in the zone 2019: 5.4%
Balls up out of the zone 2023: 1.5%
Balls up out of the zone 2019: 0.9%
Alright, we might be getting somewhere here.
And how about the results?
Balls up in the zone wOBA 2019:
Not all that compelling...
How about out of the zone?
Up and out of zone wOBA 2023: 0.0 but that's 8 results
Up and out of zone wOBA 2019: 0.0 on 11 results.
So he really doesn't make that many outs on fastballs up in the zone in general because he doesn't really offer at that pitch all that much. Yes he's on pace to do so a few more times this year but by seasons end we're talking like maybe 8 more outs. Which is still not great but really on 10-12 points of batting average.
So he's swinging more. But why?
Is it because he's in more two strike counts in general? Nope. Almost the exact same amount.
Are they attacking him with fastballs up more with two strikes? 9.8% of the time in 2023 vs. 8.2% in 2019. It averages out to about 30 more results from pitches up in the zone for 2023 than in 2019.
None of the above screams that he would be tanking to the tune of an ops 175 points below his career avg. And a few things I'd like to leave people with as they contemplate his demise.
His avg exit velo is higher than the 2019 season. His hard hit rate is higher than his career avg. His chase rate is at about his career avg. His swing and miss rate is higher than his avg but down from last year. And for all you stat nerds, his xwOBA for contact is .490. Still elite but off his .513 career avg.
His xba is .269 compared to his actual of .252. His xSLG is .508 compared to his actual of .467.
Personally, I just think he's swinging too much. Yes, there are some signs of decline there, but there's some bad luck too. Why swing more when your swinging strike rate has gone up? He used to leave certain strikes alone. You can't tell me that pitchers have become better at commanding the ball than they did before.
Albert Pujols called and he wants his late career approach back. Let him have it.