Mike Trout has been great in 2014. His 2.7 WAR is the 3rd best in baseball and the best in the AL. Yet, Trout has struggled more than he has since his small stint in the 2011 season. His bating average, on base percentage and slugging percentage are way below his career norms(.263/.360/.515 this year, .308/.399/.540 career). More notably, however, is his insanely high strikeout rate.
Trout has a 27.9 K% this year, far above his 19% mark in 2013 and his career 20.3% mark. Among qualified hitters, his K% is 19th in all of baseball. Looking at his K% is more useful than looking at his total strikeouts because he’s getting more at bats than most players, so his strikeout totals will be more skewed. Still, Trout is striking out a bunch and that is a concern.
The biggest thing that stands out for Trout is his lower contact %. Last year , his contact % was 82.3. This year, it is 78.4%. That is quite a substantial drop. His zone contact % dropped from 89% in 2013 to 84% in 2014. In simpler terms, Trout is making less contact on pitches inside the strike zone. His o-zone contact % has dropped from 70.3% in 2013 to 68.4% in 2014. Trout is missing more on pitches in and out of the zone this season. His swinging strike percentage is up from 6.4% in 2013 to 8.3% in 2014.
Is there any reason why he’s missing more pitches? Trout is swinging at more pitches(37.9 swing % last year, 39.2% this season). His o-swing % is up but not enough to be viewed as an issue(24.2% in 2013, 24.6% in 2014). His zone swing % is up by a lot(55.6% in 2013, 56.9% in 2014). This shouldn’t be a reason for Trout making less contact though. More swinging should mean more contact, especially for a player of Trout’s caliber.
Looking at how pitchers are throwing to him, nothing seems very different. He’s seeing more fastballs, but not many and seeing more cutters. So he is seeing more pitches that are considered more hittable and less offspeed pitches, which tend to be harder to hit. He has negative pitch values against the cutter and curveball, but it’s borderline average. He’s hitting the fastball hard(8.5 wFB) but it isn’t on pace to reach his prolific 47.1 wFB he had last season.
Trout’s problem may come from his platoon split he has shown this year. Trout has actually had a slight reverse platoon split in his career so far. He has a career .316/.399/.552 line and 164 wRC+ against righties. He has a career .288/.398/.510 line and 155 wRC+ against lefties. He’s struck out slightly more against righties in his career but it isn’t anything substantial.
In 2014, Trout has punished lefties to a .327/.450/.571 line and 192 wRC+. He has only struck out 18.3% of the time against lefties. Against righties, he has a .237/.321/.492 line and 124 wRC+. He has struck out an astoundingly high 32.1% of the time against righties. Trout has dropped from an elite level hitter against righties to an above average-good hitter against righties.
Another thing to consider: Trout is seeing more first pitch strikes this year. His F-Strike% is 55.5 this year, up 2% from his 53.5 mark in 2013. It’s no secret that Trout is a very patient hitter at the plate and works the count very well. Trout rarely swings at the 1st pitch so he is often finding himself in a 0-1 hole. In his career after a 0-1 pitch, he has a 125 wRC+. After 1-0, he has a 206 wRC+. This year, after a 0-1 pitch, he has 92 wRC+. He has a 215 wRC+ after 1-0 this year.
Basically, Trout has never really had a huge issue hitting even after he got himself into a 0-1 count before this year. He was 25% better than league average after a 1st pitch strike. That’s not the case this year. He is 8% worse than league average this year after a 0-1 pitch. He’s also striking out an insanely high 35.9% after he goes down 0-1.
The only thing you can really suggest for Trout to do is to swing a bit more on his 1st pitch. That’s not to say he should swing every single time on the 1st pitch. Maybe swinging every so often on the 1st pitch and jumping on the first pitch fastball could help him. If he starts hitting that 1st pitch, pitchers will have to pitch around him a bit on the 1st pitch and more favorable counts will start to come for Trout.
Part of the 0-1 issue is he is striking out far too much even when he’s working in a less favorable count. In his career, he has a 28.8 K% after the 0-1 count. That’s high but way more reasonable than his 35.9% this year. Trout may need to tinker his swing a bit and try to just put the ball in play when he is down in the count. With his speed, putting the ball in play can do a lot of damage.
Even with all these struggles for Trout so far this year, he has still been a fantastic player. His 145 wRC+ is 15th in baseball so Trout hasn’t gone from an elite hitter to a league average hitter or anything. He’s simply in a slump and is one hot streak away from being back in elite company. We also have to consider that Trout hasn’t had a prolonged slump like this since his stint in 2011. This kid is still 22 and we shouldn’t completely overreact to 197 plate appearances that aren’t at Trout’s normal level. We haven’t even acknowledged that Trout has been an elite defender tis year and has created a ton of value there.
Angels fans, don’t be too concerned about Trout. He is slumping for the 1st time in the past few years. Trout is great with his adjustments and should start hitting again very soon. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on his strikeout numbers and see how he is doing against right handed pitching compared to left handed pitching. One little Trout tidbit that will leave you confident: Trout has a career 170 wRC+ in June and career 190 wRC+ in July. Trout could start heating up any game now.