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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Schoenfield: Trout’s strikeouts a cause for concern

Kill! Gore! You were slumping, but now you are sorta well again. And there’s still work to be done!

The best player in baseball is still one of the best all-around players in the game. Mike Trout is tied for fourth among position players in Baseball-Reference WAR and second among position players in FanGraphs WAR. He’s hitting .272/.359/.524, good for eighth in the American League in wOBA and and fifth in adjusted OPS.

And yet there’s sort of a small black cloud hanging over Trout because the numbers are down from last year, when he hit .323 and reached base 43 percent of the time. He’s tied for the AL lead in strikeouts with 47, one behind major league leader Justin Upton. A year ago, Trout struck out 136 times while drawing 110 walks; he’s on pace for 206 strikeouts and 88 walks. While his power output hasn’t been affected, with so many fewer balls in play his batting average and on-base percentage have thus declined significantly.

...Of course, there are always exceptions to any generalization, but Trout has already had two four-strikeout games, including a second one on Sunday, after having none in 2012 or 2013. Something is going on here besides just a random fluctuation in the numbers, whether it’s tied to Trout’s spring training assertion that he was going to be more aggressive or pitchers finally finding a hole in his swing or a bad case of allergies clouding his vision.

It should be pointed out that Trout doesn’t appear to be hitting into bad luck. His batting average on balls in play is .347, compared to .376 last season and .383 in 2012, a little less but that looks like a result of a few more fly balls (which go for hits less often) and a few less infield hits. It is possible that Trout has been selling out for power, even though it hasn’t resulted in more home runs.

So, can Trout still be a .300 hitter while striking out 27.6 percent of the time, like he’s done so far?

...It’s difficult to say what kind of hitter Trout is turning into, whether this a blip on the radar or if he’s turning into a new version of Jim Thome, albeit one with more speed and better defense. Thome did hit .300 twice in his career in years when he didn’t fan 25 percent of time. You don’t think of Trout and Thome being similar players, and they’re not, but maybe they are similar hitters. During his peak 1995-2004 peak, Thome averaged 39 home runs and 112 walks, however, so if Trout is going to sacrifice batting average, it needs to come with a few more home runs and a few more walks to match Thome.

If I had to predict, however, I’m going with a blip on the radar. I’ll say Trout cuts down on the strikeouts as the season progresses and gets that average back around .300. He’s too good and too talented to suddenly be striking out as often as Khris Davis or Welington Castillo.

Repoz Posted: May 13, 2014 at 01:10 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: angels, sabermetrics

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   1. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: May 13, 2014 at 02:01 PM (#4705925)
The best player in baseball is still one of the best all-around players in the game.


Wow ... what are the odds?
   2. thetailor Posted: May 13, 2014 at 02:48 PM (#4705976)
Snark aside, the extra long excerpt from TFA sounds pretty reasonable.
   3. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: May 13, 2014 at 04:56 PM (#4706075)
Boy, people really hate strikeouts, don't they? Even a great player can't get by with striking out anymore...even though strikeouts are at an all-time high.
   4. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: May 13, 2014 at 05:00 PM (#4706080)
You don’t think of Trout and Thome being similar players, and they’re not, but maybe they are similar hitters. During his peak 1995-2004 peak, Thome averaged 39 home runs and 112 walks, however, so if Trout is going to sacrifice batting average, it needs to come with a few more home runs and a few more walks to match Thome.

1. Trout does not need to match Thome's offensive production to be as good or better as a player overall, for obvious reasons.
2. Trout does not need to match Thome's raw numbers to match his value on offense, because 2014 is very different from 2000.

Those issues notwithstanding, I agree with post 2.
   5. Matt Welch Posted: May 13, 2014 at 05:11 PM (#4706087)
It looks to me like he's swinging harder, and swinging more. Has almost stopped taking strike one, which he used to do automatically.
   6. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: May 13, 2014 at 05:43 PM (#4706110)
OK, kids, time for me to drag out the stinking corpse of America's least favourite baseball statistic: Contact Hitter's Batting Average (CHBA)!

I devised it 30 years ago after hearing someone say, "If such-and-such didn't strike out so much, he'd be a .300 hitter!" So, using VisiCalc on my Atari 800 computer (dear God, I'm old) I devised a just-for-fun series of formulas:

"Extra Strikeouts (XK)": K above league average. In the 1980s, it was around 1 K per 6 AB, now it's nearly 1 in 4 (.229).
"Extra Hits (XH)": XK * BA when not striking out. These are the "extra" hits the batter would (presumably) get if they weren't striking out so much. Plug the extra hits into BA, and presto!

OK, let's use Trout as an example. He's 40/147 (.272) with 47 K. That's 13.3 K above league average, 10th-worst in baseball (Justin Upton is worst, with 18.5.) Trout is hitting an even .400 when he's not striking out, giving him 5 (rounded off) "extra" hits. Plug it in: (40+5)/147, and that's a CHBA of .306. (Hey, it works!)

When you look at all 193 players with at least 100 AB, they're actually (as a group) striking out less than average: 432 less K than league, or about -2 each. (This makes sense; you're more likely to stay in the lineup if you're making contact, yes?) Jose Altuve has just 13 K in 161 AB, almost 24 fewer than average. Detroit teammates Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez are both around -22.

So what does this prove? Absolutely nothing.

   7. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: May 13, 2014 at 06:01 PM (#4706117)
When you look at all 193 players with at least 100 AB, they're actually (as a group) striking out less than average: 432 less K than league, or about -2 each. (This makes sense; you're more likely to stay in the lineup if you're making contact, yes?)

Also pitchers strike out a LOT.
   8. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: May 13, 2014 at 06:35 PM (#4706129)
Wow this Trout strikeout thing is of national concern now, I thought I was having deja vu until I realised this was another issue raising this "concern". So if Mike Trout never strikes out he hits .400? Bah!

Trout is an amazing player, 200Ks a year or not. Personally I reckon he's playing around a bit with things. As noted, he's a little less patient on strike 1, he appears to be swinging harder. Maybe he wants a 50 homer season? Don't know, but I reckon he'll settle into a lifetime of 310/400/530 20SB 150K and usual awesome glove and base running 8WAR player that he is. Because, well he's Mike Trout and that's what he does.
   9. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 13, 2014 at 07:21 PM (#4706155)
2 players have hit over .300 with >175 K's:

Bobby Bonds (1970) 302/375/504 with 189 whiffs

and

Ryan Howard (2006) 313/425/659 with 181
   10. PreservedFish Posted: May 13, 2014 at 08:24 PM (#4706167)
AJ Pollock still has time to catch up.
   11. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 13, 2014 at 08:38 PM (#4706171)
there are lots of other players in both leagues striking out and not getting anywhere near mike trout's results

how about folks focus on those guys?
   12. Greg K Posted: May 13, 2014 at 11:51 PM (#4706289)
Juan Francisco just struck out in something like 9 straight plate appearances this week. But he's hitting .278/.369/.542, not including another double and home run tonight, and cost the Jays nothing, so he's another guy I'm happy to watch play for my team despite the strikeouts.
   13. Cooper Nielson Posted: May 14, 2014 at 07:13 AM (#4706383)
Apologies for re-posting this here, but it was the 99th post on the previous Trout-strikeout thread, which was already nearly dead when I posted it, so it didn't get much of a response. But I am still curious about it:

Something strange seems to be going on in Anaheim this year. We're so used to seeing Trout at the top of the WAR leaderboard (at the moment he's second in the AL to Donaldson on BB-Ref; 2.3 to 2.5) that maybe we don't question it, but I feel like something's awry.

Despite the Ks, Trout is having a very good year offensively, but it's nothing THAT special. He's 6th in the AL in OPS, 6th in SLG, 6th in R, 8th in HR, 12th in RBI, 13th in BB, only 28th in OBP, 36th in AVG. He's only stolen 4 bases. A few hitters, like Jose Bautista and Victor Martinez, probably Jose Abreu, have been clearly better than him. Of course, Trout does play center field and apparently plays it pretty well. His dWAR is 0.8 already. But last year his dWAR was negative, and I remember in a Tigers-Angels series earlier this year, the Tigers were running on him every chance they got. So I'm a bit skeptical that he's truly an elite defensive center fielder.

But what really seems strange is that if you look at the WAR leaders, you also see Howie Kendrick at #4, Colin Cowgill at #10, and Erick Aybar at #12. Kendrick's having a pretty good year, but Cowgill only has 83 plate appearances (Trout, for comparison, has 165) and Aybar has a .713 OPS, which somehow equates to a 103 OPS+. J.B. Shuck has 0.7 dWAR in just 19 games.

So what's going on here? It seems like WAR is treating Angel Stadium like it's Dodger Stadium in 1968, even though it has played as a hitter's park this year. It also seems that Angel players, especially outfielders, are getting a huge boost in defensive value (possibly relating to park factor?). Back to Trout, he is indeed "on pace" for 10+ WAR, which would be a better season than last year (9.2 WAR), when he hit .323/.432/.557 with 33 SB. That doesn't seem right.

Is this just a small-sample-size problem that will go away by the end of the year? Or is WAR broken in Anaheim?

   14. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 14, 2014 at 07:52 AM (#4706392)
greg k

as someone who watched juan up close i will share that the american league suits him well as he can dh.

folks claim he can play third or first base but as the saying goes, if putting someone in a spacesuit and having them ride along in the shuttle makes someone an astronaut then wearing a glove and standing in the vicinity of third base makes francisco a third baseman.

he is also a feast/famine hitter (common to power hitters). so the 1-27 stretch with 16 strikeouts is coming. hopefully management will be patient.

i agree that francisco can help a team. but in a very defined way. asking him to 'get out of his swim lane' is a bad idea
   15. Ron J2 Posted: May 14, 2014 at 08:18 AM (#4706402)
#13 WAR uses 3 year average. So a PF of 96 right now. Something of a compromise that most people go with after Harold Brooks demonstrated that most of the year to year variation in park factors was just noise. Pete Palmer's compromise was to use 3 year park factors unless there was a substantial change in the park and that seems better than a decision to blithely use 3 year factors (for example, I have little doubt it's wrong to use 3 year park factors for much of Hank Greenberg's career. The Tigers made several major changes to the configuration in that time frame)

Early season single season park factors are so noisy as to be useless. In particular the mix of road parks doesn't give you anything close to a random mix. And mix of opposition starters carries too much weight. You can attempt to adjust for all of this, but it's a lot of work to apply to something that's already pretty noisy. IOW 3 year park effects are "good enough" for this time of year given the size of the standard error in something like WAR.
   16. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 14, 2014 at 08:21 AM (#4706404)
speaking of park factors i saw that miller park's one year factor is 85

that's astrdomish
   17. Ron J2 Posted: May 14, 2014 at 08:49 AM (#4706410)
#16 At this time of year, factors like seeing the Padres at home and not on the road can move the dial a fair amount.

Last time I checked, Sean excluded inter-league games in figuring park factors (to avoid the who DH influence on scoring issue) and if this is still the case, what you've got is 3 games vs the Braves, 4 vs the Pirates, 3 vs the Cardinals, 3 vs the Cubs and 3 vs the Dbacks at home and 3 at the Phillies, 4 at the Pirates, 3 at the Cardinals and 4 at the Reds. Easy to see how the mix of parks and opponents (and pitchers) could move the dial a great deal. I mean cancel the Cardinals and Pirates and you've got games at home versus the Padres, Dbacks and Cubs balanced against road games in Cincy and Philly. I'd expect there to be a fair amount more runs scored in the road games.

   18. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: May 14, 2014 at 09:38 AM (#4706427)
there are lots of other players in both leagues striking out and not getting anywhere near mike trout's results

how about folks focus on those guys?


But no one cares if Trout is having a better season than Mark Reynolds. We want him to be *Mike Trout,* and so far he hasn't been.
   19. alilisd Posted: May 14, 2014 at 12:03 PM (#4706569)
Bobby Bonds (1970) 302/375/504 with 189 whiffs


In context, 1970, that is amazing! Howard in 2006, not so much.
   20. alilisd Posted: May 14, 2014 at 12:04 PM (#4706571)
At this time of year, factors like seeing the Padres at home and not on the road can move the dial a fair amount.


Ouch, Baby, very ouch!
   21. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 14, 2014 at 01:11 PM (#4706621)
Bobby Bonds (1970) 302/375/504 with 189 whiffs
In context, 1970, that is amazing! Howard in 2006, not so much.

quite--Bonds' record stood until 2004. Since then it's been surpassed 15 times by 8 different players

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