Trout develops aptitude for hitting high pitches
All-Star outfielder puts in offseason work to improve at plate
TORONTO -- In Wednesday's fifth inning, Mike Trout took a chest-high, 94-mph fastball from Drew Hutchison and blasted it way over the center-field fence for his 11th home run of the season. It wasn't necessarily the result that was so impressive -- thought it traveled 412 feet and carried an exit velocity of 107 mph, according to Statcast™ -- but what it represented.
It was further proof that Trout's greatest weakness from last season is seemingly no longer a weakness at all.
The high fastball that gave him trouble down the stretch in 2014 hasn't really been an issue in 2015.
So, as Angels bench coach Dino Ebel asked, "Now where do you pitch him?"
On pitches on the upper third -- inside and outside the strike zone -- Trout entered Thursday batting .313 (10-for-32), while hitting three home runs and whiffing 14.5 percent of the time he swung. Last year, he batted just .082 (9-for-110) on pitches in that location, mustering only two home runs and whiffing on 36.2 percent of his swings.
"It's just not chasing," Trout said. "Not trying to do too much."
Overall, though, Trout is actually chasing more. He's swung at 29 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, up from 22.5 percent last year. But he's making contact at a higher rate, putting him on pace for 34 fewer strikeouts.
More specifically, he's making better contact up in the zone -- the place opposing pitchers frequently went to in hopes of exposing a rare flaw in Trout's game down the stretch last season.
"I knew what they were trying to do," Trout said. "With all the technology, you know how they're trying to get you out."
The Royals continually attacked Trout with high pitches in the American League Division Series, while on their way to sweeping the Angels and holding their best player to one hit -- a home run -- in 12 at-bats.
Trout went into the offseason knowing he had to get better against those high pitches. So he worked on getting on top of the ball, primarily by setting the batting tee up as high as possible, and continually reminded himself to only go after those pitches if they're at his chest or below.
So far, he's turned his greatest weakness into a strength.
"Really good aptitude," Ebel said. "That's what's big in this game is guys who can make an adjustment in a short period of time instead of letting it carry on and carry on. He went home, he knew what he had to do, he worked at it, brought it into Spring Training and has carried it into the season. It's aptitude."