Mike Trout hitting well is not headline news.
But Mike Trout – likely the best player in baseball – somehow taking his high level of play and kicking it up a notch? That’s something. And that’s what we’re looking at so far in 2017.
And that’s the last thing the Mets need right now as the losers of seven straight begin a three-game series with Trout’s Angels at Citi Field.
Trout has not only hit a home run in five of his last six games, but he’s hitting at a pace that, if kept up over the course of the year, would lead to his best hitting season yet. Granted, it’s only been 37 games, but so far Trout is slashing .341/.451/.742 on the year.
To sum it all up into one number, we can use wOBA: weighted on-base average. wOBA essentially functions like OPS, except that it appropriately weights events like walks, doubles and home runs by their actual value rather than just with whole numbers. Trout’s wOBA this season is .480, significantly higher than he’s ever had in a season previously.
And he was already amazing. Here’s Trout’s wOBA by year, via Fangraphs, when compared to the Mets’ four outfielders, for context.
It’s worth noting that Trout has had stretches like the one he is on before. Fangraphs’ split tool page shows that Trout has posted four other months in which he had a .480 wOBA or higher in his career. “Months” really should come with a caveat, since it includes an eight-game August in 2011. The other three months – July of 2012, June of 2014 and July of 2015 – Trout played in between 21 and 24 games.
But back to this season. What is Trout doing this year that has made him so effective? For one thing, his pitch selection has improved. Trout has gotten a little more aggressive about swinging at pitches that are in the strike zone – he’s upped his in-zone swing percentage from a career average of 56.9% to 68.8%. And he’s doing it while dropping his swing percentage on pitches outside the zone to a career low 22.2%, which is 2% below his career average.
Another observation about Trout in 2017 is that he’s had a lot more success hitting balls on the outer part of the plate. As you can see from the two slugging percentage per pitch heat maps below, again from Fangraphs, the Angels’ outfielder has had a lot more success on those away and low-and-away pitches in the zone this year relative to years past.
However, given the small sample and that the change appears to have come at some cost to how well he’s hit inside pitches, it’s unclear how much this is a significant change in approach and/or one that makes a difference.
As well as Trout has hit this year and as scary as that may be for the Mets over the next couple of days, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t actually been the best hitter in baseball. He actually ranks fourth in wOBA, behind Bryce Harper (.504), Freddie Freeman (.490) and Ryan Zimmerman (.488). Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is fifth at .470.