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Entries in Los Angeles Angels (46)

Thursday
Dec262013

A Patient Trout is a Better Trout

Mike Trout has become best known for several things during his brief tenure in the major leagues, including (but not limited to) the following: Plus bat speed, which has enabled him to hit for a high average and produce screaming line-drive home runs with consistency, and above-average baserunning and defense, which has empowered him to nab bases at a ridiculously high rate and play eye-opening defense in center field. Both of these dexterities have been on display in his first two full seasons, holding true to a .324/.416/.560 slash line, 87.2% stolen base rate and 1.4 defensive WAR rating, according to Baseball Reference. But like just about every professional player, Trout has his deficiencies.

Well, had his deficiencies.

The one knock on Trout coming into his sophomore 2013 campaign -- and it wasn't really a "knock," to be honest -- was his plate discipline. While each of his offensive attributes were considered elite by scouting standards, this aspect of his game was only average at best. Trout struck out at a 21.8% clip as a rookie, which was higher than the league-average mark of 18.1% two seasons ago, and didn't draw too many walks, shown by a 10.5% walk rate that was only slightly above the 8.1% average rate. This left many wondering if a 'sophomore slump' would ensue in 2013 as advanced scouting reports of his game become available.

Boy do those people feel silly.

All Trout did last season was trim his strikeout rate by 2.8% and increase his walk rate to 15.4% -- the highest mark of any qualified right-handed batter in baseball. Sure, his batting average and slugging percentage decreased by inconsequential marks and he stole fewer bases, but his on-base percentage skyrocketed to .432 last season (third-best in baseball behind Miguel Cabrera (.442) and Joey Votto (.435)), and that was the driving force behind his elevated offensive value last season compared to his rookie campaign.

How was he able to get on base more frequently? Let's take a look.

Improved Eye at the Plate

Only 69.3% of Trout's 2012 hacks were on strikes, compared to 71% in 2013. The league average since 2012 is 67.7%.

Along with lowering his chase rate to 20.8% last season (compared to 24.3% in 2012), Trout pulled the trigger less frequently than any other qualified batter in baseball last season, evidenced by a 37.0% swing rate. This puts him in company with some of the most disiplined hitters in the league, including Marco Scutaro (whose 16.9% chase rate was the lowest of any qualified batter in 2013) and Joe Mauer (whose 35.9% swing rate since 2012 is the lowest in baseball).Yes, Trout was slightly less reluctant to offer at non-strikes than those two, but his improvements in that respect last season give reasons to believe he will become even more disciplined in the years to come.

Efficient with his swings

On top of pulling the trigger less frequently (37.0%) than any other qualified batter last season, Trout posted baseball's third-highest on-base percentrage (.432), as previously noted. But why are these two metrics noteworthy? As we see from the graph to the right, Trout -- along with Votto's 38.9% swing rate and .435 OBP -- was essentially the most efficient hitter in baseball last season at getting on base while still hacking less frequently than any other batter. Cabrera posted a league-best .442 OBP last season, but offered at 49.7% of all offerings thrown to him. Thus, Trout was much more efficient at finding ways to get on base than Cabrera, which shows he employs a more refined offensive approach.

Working the count

But improved plate discipline and swing efficiency only go so far. Perhaps the most relevant factor behind Trout's OBP rise stems from the increase in pitches seen per plate appearance.

It's important to establish right off the bat that Trout saw more pitches per plate appearance on average last season (4.21, which was sixth-best among qualified batters) than in 2012 (4.08). So, clearly, Trout has become more patient at the dish with time. As it turns out, this increase contributed to his increase in on-base percentage, shown by the graph above. While Trout's OBP in plate appearances lasting either one or two pitches last season were lower than two seasons ago, his OBP from pitch three and beyond were significantly higher, and continue to increase with each pitch. Interestingly enough, Trout's .454 OBP in plate appearances lasting three or more pitches was the highest mark among any qualified batter last season (along with a .316 BA, which was tops in the league, as well).

What we're learning is that when Trout goes deeper into counts (i.e. three or more pitches into a plate appearance), he is a much more effective hitter in that he gets on base at a rate no other professional batter can. Knowing this, opposing pitchers will likley try to get ahead of him early in the count by throwing over the plate -- which could also spell for disaster, as Trout boasts a .702 slugging percentage (third-best in baseball last season) in plate appearances lasting three or less pitches.

It seems opposing managers will have to pick their posion against Trout, especially when he comes to the plate. Do you try to pound the edge of the zone and go deep into counts against him and run the risk of him getting on base at a league-best rate, or do you throw over the plate early and thus leave open the possibility of him battering your pitcher with extra-base hits?

Either way, you're in trouble.

Monday
Aug122013

Mike Trout Tightens His Strike Zone, Gets Even Better

(All stats through Friday's games)

In 2012, Mike Trout enjoyed what many consider the greatest age 20 season ever for a hitter, posting a 169 OPS+ that bested the likes of Ty Cobb (167 OPS+ in 1907), Mel Ott (165 OPS+ in 1929), Al Kaline (162 OPS+ in 1955) and Mickey Mantle (162 OPS+ in 1952). What has the Millville Meteor done for an encore?

He has gotten even better...naturally

Still hitting for average and power, Trout has boosted his on-base percentage (from .399 to .425) and sports a 181 OPS+, trailing only AL MVP nemesis Miguel Cabrera (200 OPS+) among qualified hitters this season. He's once again smoking the competition among hitters in his age bracket, beating luminaries including Jimmie Foxx (173 OPS+ during his age-21 season in 1929), Eddie Mathews (171 OPS+ in 1953) Rogers Hornsby (169 OPS+ in 1917) and Cobb (169 OPS+ in 1908).

Trout has improved his already historic hitting this season by tightening his strike zone and making more contact, leading to more free passes and fewer punch outs (his walk-to-strikeout ratio has improved from 0.48 as a rookie to 0.78 in 2013).

Here's a closer look at Trout's more refined approach at the plate.

  • Trout already had a pretty good eye at the plate, chasing just 24.9% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone as a rookie. His plate approach is even more refined in 2013, with his chase rate falling to 22.1%. For comparison's sake, the big league average is around 27%.
  • He's doing a particularly good job of laying off fastballs out of the zone. Trout's fastball chase rate (16.8%) is ninth-lowest among MLB hitters and well below his 2012 clip (21.6%). Showing more restraint against fastballs thrown off the plate has helped Trout lift his batting average against fastballs from .306 to .345 this season. 
  • Trout isn't just chasing fewer pitches out of the zone -- he's also swinging at more strikes. His swing rate against pitches thrown over the plate has increased from 54.2% in 2012 to 55.8% in 2013.
  • Trout has also cut his miss rate from 20.4% in 2012 to 18.8% in 2013, which has helped him punch out less often (21.8% in '12, 16.9% in '13). Once again, Trout has made the most progress against the heat: his miss rate versus fastballs has declined from 19.9% to 13.4% (the MLB average fastball miss rate is about 16%). 

He's connecting far more often on fastballs thrown in the upper third of the strike zone

Trout's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2012

 

Trout's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2013

 

 

Sunday
Jul142013

Zack Greinke: Fastball-Cutter Combination Sparks Success

Zack Greinke produced his fifth consecutive win of the season last Saturday night, tossing a complete game shutout that included nine strikeouts, two hits and one walk at home against the Colorado Rockies. This outing generated the highest game score (91) of his career.

Missing a large portion of his season with a broken collarbone, the Dodgers have patiently waited for Greinke to pitch up to the level of the six-year, $147 million contract he signed with the club last December. Over his last five starts, the former Cy Young Award winner has certainly performed up to that billing, at least compared to the outings preceding his victories streak.

Since his streak began on June 22, Greinke has a 2.50 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Prior to the streak, Greinke had a 4.22 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

Something has clearly changed for the veteran 29-year-old over his past five outings.

It's all started with his fastball-cutter combination against right-handed opponents.

Greinke's Improved Command

Fastball pitch frequency vs. right-handed hitters

At the beginning of the season - Greinke struggled to command his fastball within the zone. His zone rate sat at 51.4 percent and his called-strike rate settled at a meager 31.7 percent.

Over the last five games - His fastball has been consistently placed low-and-away to right-handed hitters  and with it he has witnessed his zone rate increase to 58.2 percent and called-strike rate to 47.5 percent.

Results of Greinke's improved fastball command

 

April 5 - June 16

June 22 - July 13

In-play%

42.6%

42.6%

BABIP

.425

.120

SLG%

.438

.246

  • Right-handers have tallied just one extra-base hit vs. Greinke's fastball since June 22, en route to a .246 slugging percentage that's nearly half the .412 league average.

Change in approach

Greinke's cutter is commonly mistaken for a slider and because he's commanding his fastball more consistently within the zone, both pitches become more effective..

Pitch Frequency of Greinke's cutter vs. right-handed batters

  • Though Greinke commanded his cutter well -- locating the pitch for a called strike on the outer-ish belt-high portion of the plate or low-and-away far corner -- prior to his wins streak, unsurprisingly he did not induce many swings-and-misses with the pitch, evidenced by a miss rate of 42.9 percent chase rate.
  • During his wins streak, though, opponents have missed a remarkable 63.6 percent of cutters located out of the zone. The league average over that span is 36.3 percent.

Changing Results

Comparing results of Greinke's cutter

 

April 5 – June 16

June 22 – July 13

In-play %

37.1%

28.6%

BABIP

.455

.250

SLG%

.654

.154

  • Right-handers' in-play rate against Greinke's cutter has decreased substantially to 28.6 percent during his streak, considerably lower than the league average of 46.6 percent.
  • A product of that dwindling in-play rate, right-handers' BABIP has decreased to .250 and their slugging percentage has decreased to a lowly .154.

Key to Success?

Because Greinke has spotted his fastball more consistently within the strike zone against right-handed hitters during his wins streak, his changing cutter approach has coaxed righties into expanding the strike zone at a more frequent rate, leading to more swings-and-misses with his cutter out of the zone.

This two-pitch tandem will be key to Greinke's success moving forward, and could play a deciding role in the Dodgers' run at an NL West title.