Mike Trout slumped for two weeks but is still vying for his first home run title
Mike Trout slumped for a couple of weeks, missed a few games on paternity leave before that, and is still in the running for a home run title.
The three-time most valuable player crushed his 13th homer of the season in the Angels’ 11-4 loss Wednesday, a 424-foot blast to left-center field that left his bat at 107 mph and scored two runs for a brief lead.
Trout sits top the MLB home run board with three others: young star Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres, Luke Voit of the New York Yankees and veteran Nelson Cruz of the Minnesota Twins.
Trout, whose next homer will tie Tim Salmon for the Angels’ all-time record of 299, has never won a home run crown. He came close last year with 45, but a foot injury waylaid him. By his final game Sept. 7, 2019, Trout was tied for the lead with Pete Alonso of the New York Mets. Alonso finished with a majors-best 53 homers, a rookie record.
Despite going 10 months between games, Trout carried his hot streak into this abbreviated season. The July 30 birth of his first child coincided with a power surge at the plate; he bashed eight homers in his first 11 games back with the Angels.
Deep into his first season as Angels manager, Joe Maddon fully grasps the long rebuilding road ahead for the franchise.
He led the American League on Aug. 17 with 10 homers, one behind Tatis Jr. for first place in MLB. Trout seemed poised to overtake the sport.
Then he went nine games without a ball going over the fence in fair territory, a stretch in which he went five for 33 with a double, a triple, six walks and 12 strikeouts.
When he finally snapped his drought in Friday’s 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, Trout hadn’t homered in 45 plate appearances.
Fortunately for Trout, Tatis Jr. experienced a similar power outage around the same time, adding just two to his tally. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts, Teoscar Hernández, Marcell Ozuna and José Abreu emerged as challengers to the home run lead; they each have 12.
Trout restored the balance of the leaderboard during his last five games. All he needed was to recapture his timing at the plate.
Trout began the season making contact on 81% of swings and generating hard-hit balls about half the time. From Aug. 11 to Aug. 25, he maintained a similar profile. The difference was how he put the ball in play. He elevated the ball too much, leading to an increase in catchable flyballs.
Since Friday, Trout has gone seven for 17 with three homers and a double and compiled a 1.522 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He is back to driving pitches at an ideal angle for line drives.
But Trout admitted he is not in perfect form. In a videoconference prior to Thursday’s game against the Padres, he used his third at-bat from the previous game to illustrate the point. He struck out on the fourth slider Dinelson Lamet threw in a fifth-inning sequence. The pitch started just off the plate and dived toward the dirt.
“If I recognize that just a tick earlier, I don’t swing at it,” Trout said. “That’s just the visual side, the side the fans don’t see. ... That little bit can make you swing at that stuff. Throughout my at bats after that, I felt good. All the time, seeing every pitch, that’s when I feel really at my best.”
Even not at his full potential, Trout is enjoying a positive side effect. His hard-hit rate during this stretch is 69%, meaning he’s producing exit velocities of at least 95 mph on nearly seven of every 10 batted balls. Now his 2020 hard-hit rate is up to 53.8%, good enough to rank 12th.
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Over the years, Trout has assembled many stretches in which he has produced such power, but not for the duration of any of the last six seasons. He ended his 2019 MVP campaign with a 44% hard-hit rate. Aaron Judge led baseball with a rate of 58.4% last year.
The advanced metric is hardly the most important in evaluating a player’s season, but it is a good indicator of a player’s production. The harder a ball is batted, the more likely it is to fall for a hit.
In his ninth season since being called up for good, it’s one more way Trout has found to improve his game.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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