Three times Mike Trout stepped on the plate against Houston pitcher Jose Urquidy on July 2, and three times he returned to the dugout in frustration, with the Angels star striking on three pitches in each at-bat, equaling a flawless inning by the Astros Right-hander against one of baseball’s greatest players.
There was no real trickery in the puffs. Urquidy’s first pitch against Trout that day at Minute Maid Park was a curveball. His next eight pitches were fastballs between 93-95 mph, seven of them in the top third of the strike zone.
high heat. That was Trout’s kryptonite in 2014, when he won his first of three American League Most Valuable Player awards despite a career-high 184 strikeouts, and it’s a glaring weakness again in 2022, even if Trout won another All-Star after sitting out Season together for most of 2021 due to a calf strain.
Trout has a history of crushing break balls in the zone, with a major league-leading .866 slugging percentage on such courts since the start of the 2018 season.
But he entered Wednesday night’s game against the Astros with a .064 average in plate appearances that ended in high fastballs this season and managed three singles in 47 at-bats with 27 strikeouts, according to Baseball Savant.
Those fights helped Trout hit 97 times in 79 games, finish eighth in the majors, and have a career-best strikeout rate of 29.3%, well above his 26.1% strikeout rate from the 2014 and his career average of 21.9%.
“I wasn’t in a good seat at the plate, and usually when I’m in a good seat, I either don’t swing at those seats or I get to them,” Trout said ahead of Tuesday night’s game, in which he struck out twice , before departing due to upper back spasms. “When I’m in a good place and I see the ball, we don’t even talk about it.”
Trout started Wednesday with a .270 average, .967 on-base percentage plus slugging, 24 homers and 51 RBIs this season, but he’s suffered two unusually long dips, a 0-for-26 sled in early June and one One-for-25 skid in early July. He was on pace for 177 strikeouts.
The midfielder hit in 2014 with .287 OPS, 36 homers and 111 RBIs, but his inability to fight high heat contributed to his 184 touches. According to data from Pitch F/X, Trout hit .082 (nine for 110) this season with two home runs, 39 strikeouts and a 36.2% swing and miss rate on pitches in the top third of the zone.
Trout mitigated this weakness the following season, learning to put down, foul, or square more high-pitched fastballs. He incorporated practice drills, raising the tee for a few swings and throwing soft shots higher to force him to stay on top of the ball.
The results were tangible. Trout hit .243 (88 for 362) with .793 OPS and 22 homers on high fastballs in seven seasons from 2015 through 2021, including a .351 (13 for 37) high with three homers in 2016, according to Baseball Savant.
But Trout has had little success against high heat this season, and opponents have been relentless in their attempts to expose the weak spot.
In nine games in the Angels’ recent trip to Houston, Miami and Baltimore, 123 of 161 pitches for Trout were fastballs, including 12 high heaters that Trout hit, flew out or hit the ground.
“This is where a lot of guys can get any hitter out – the increased heating, the plus speed, the ride that comes with it and the ability to keep hitting that spot,” said Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reed. “Mike is well aware of how they attack him, how they can get him out with certain things.
“It’s definitely something he’s working on in the cage to get over that pitch, but it’s also one of the toughest pitches for most hitters. If it’s a ball [above the zone]you have to put it down because it has so much bike.
In addition to his usual tee work and soft toss drills, Trout often hits high fastballs off the high-speed pitching machine.
“It’s not a specific exercise that gets you there,” Trout said, “but I’m definitely doing stuff that I’ve done in the past.”
Trout’s batting average against heat is one of several anomalies in his stat line this season.
Trout entered Wednesday with a major league-best 1,194 OPS at home but a meager 0.738 OPS on the road, even with his one-man crew wrecking a streak in Seattle as he hit five homers and drove in nine runs for five Play against the Mariners June 16-19.
“I can’t tell you why,” Trout said of the 456-point OPS differential. “It’s a freak thing.”
Trout’s flyball rate (46.5%) this season is nearly double his groundball rate (23.8%) and far higher than his career flyball rate of 30.1%.
“Yeah, I noticed that too,” Trout said. “Can’t tell you why. I have no idea.”
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if baseball flies like it did a few years ago, but since all 30 teams store baseball in humidors, reducing ball bounce and travel distance, more of Trout’s long flies are dying on the warning line rather than clearing the wall .
“It used to be,” Trout said, shaking his head, “it was home runs.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/story/2022-07-13/mike-trout-angels-striking-out-highball Angels’ Mike Trout susceptible to highball. What is going on?