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Entries in Mike Trout (16)

Tuesday
Feb252014

Criticism Aside, Harper Keeps Improving

Bryce Harper is 21 years old, launched more home runs during his age 19 and 20 seasons (42) than any hitter since Tony Conigliaro a half-century ago, and racked up as many Wins Above Replacement over that period (nine) as Ty Cobb. Yet, for all of Harper's early-career accomplishments -- or perhaps because of them -- we like to nit-pick his performance. Can Harper, limited to 118 games last year due to a left knee injury, learn to avoid brain-rattling outfield collisions while retaining his competitive fire? Why hasn't he joined fellow phenom prospect Mike Trout among the game's truly elite? Was it really such a good idea for Harper to challenge Jesus Montero to an eating contest during the offseason? (He lost, apparently.)

With the focus on Harper's playing style and off-field plate discipline, some might have overlooked his across-the-board offensive improvement in 2013. Harper boosted his batting average (from .270 as a rookie in 2012 to .274), on-base percentage (.340 to .368) and slugging percentage (.477 to .486) while also sharpening his strike-zone control (his walk-to-strikeout ratio climbed from 0.47 to 0.65). His park-and-league-adjusted OPS spiked from 18 percent above average to 33 percent above average. By any measure, Harper's bat became even more lethal in 2013.

How, exactly, did Harper post arguably the best offensive showing by an age-20 corner outfielder since Tony C? Here's a closer look at his gains in controlling the zone and clubbing pitches deeper into the gaps.

No More Trouble with the Curve

Harper increased his OBP by nearly 30 points thanks to a more refined plate approach in 2013. After walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances as a rookie, Harper drew ball four 12.3% of the time last year. Granted, pitchers tiptoed around the Nationals slugger, throwing him fewer pitches in the strike zone last season (41.2%) than in 2012 (42.3%). Only Pablo Sandoval (37.2%) got a lower rate of in-zone offerings among players batting at least 400 times in 2013. Still, to Harper's credit, he did a better job of laying off those pitches tossed off the corners and in the dirt.

Harper chased less often no matter the pitch type, but he made the biggest strides in containing himself versus curveballs. While he chased hooks at the fifth-highest clips among all National League hitters in 2012, Harper displayed above-average discipline in 2013.

Harper's chase rate by pitch type, 2012-13

 

Harper lunged at plenty of low-and-away curveballs as a rookie. Last year, he let pitches thrown below the knees go by. His chase rate on low curves plummeted, from 45.6% in 2012 to 28.3% in 2013.

Harper's swing rate vs. curveballs, 2012

Harper's swing rate vs. curveballs, 2013

Fewer punchouts 

Harper also connected on pitches more often last year, paring his strikeout rate from 20.1% to 18.9%. While he whiffed more often against changeups, he more than offset that uptick by making more contact versus fastballs and breaking stuff. Once again, Harper improved most against curveballs.

Harper's miss rate by pitch type, 2012-13

 

Deeper drives, More Pull Shots

At first blush, Harper's already-impressive pop didn't improve much from 2012 to 2013. His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) barely budged, from .206 to .212. Dig a little deeper, though, and Harper looks primed to hit bombs and blow kisses more often in 2014.

Harper swatted fly balls an average of 273 feet as a rookie, which was slightly above the MLB average (269 feet) and in the same range as second basemen Jose Altuve and Neil Walker. Last year, Harper hit fly balls an average of 285 feet -- the same as David Ortiz and Joey Votto, and farther than Trout (281 feet). That helps explain why Harper's home run per fly ball rate climbed from 15.7% to 19.2%, cracking the top 20 among MLB hitters.

He also put the ball in play to the opposite field less often in 2013 (28.5%) than in 2012 (36.8%), instead cranking more pitches to center field and the pull side. Like many hitters, Harper does more damage when he pulls the ball (career .853 slugging percentage) or lines a pitch to center field (.564) than when he goes oppo (.484). With Harper hitting deeper -- and more frequent -- shots to center field and the pull side, he could top 30 homers next year.

Bryce Harper isn't at Mike Trout's level, at least not yet. And yeah, he does need to stop face-planting into fences. But let's not forget that he's already a star-caliber major leaguer despite being the same age as this year's top college prospects, and he's constantly improving. Let's stop nit-picking, and enjoy the beginnings of an inner-circle Cooperstown career.

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