Mike Trout of the Angels is susceptible to highball. What’s going on here?

Three times Mike Trout went to the plate against Houston pitcher Jose Urquidi on July 2 and returned to the dugout in desperation three times, Angels a star hitting three innings in every bat, the equivalent of a perfect Astros right-hander pitching against one of baseball’s top hitters.

There were no tricks in the breaths. Urquidi Trout’s first pitch that day at Minute Maid Park was a poor one. His next eight passes were 93–95 mph fast balls, seven of them in the top third of the strike zone.

Heat. It 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 again a clear weakness in 2022, even as Trout garners another All-Star season after sitting out. . most of 2021 due to calf deformity.

Trout has always been a devastating smasher in the zone: since the start of the 2018 season, the percentage of balls hit on such fields is the best in the major leagues 0.866.

But he came into Wednesday night’s game against the Astros with a .064 batting average in high fastball bowling this season, managing three singles in 47 at-bats with 27 strikeouts, according to Baseball Savant.

This struggle contributed to Trout hitting 97 times in 79 games, finishing eighth in major game strikeouts, and achieving a career-high strikeout rate of 29.3%, well above his 26.1% strikeouts in 2014 and his average. career rate of 21.9%.

“I wasn’t in a good position at the plate and usually when I’m in a good position I either don’t swing those passes or I get to them,” Trout said before Tuesday night game, in which he hit twice before walking away due to upper back spasms. “If I’m in a good place and I see the ball, we don’t even talk about it.”

Trout entered Wednesday with a .270 batting average, .967 on-base percentage plus misses, 24 homers and 51 RBIs this season, but he has endured two unusually long slumps: 0-of-26 drifts in early June and one. -for 25 skid in early July. He is in pace for 177 strikeouts.

The center fielder hit .287 with .939 OPS, 36 homers and 111 RBIs in 2014, but his inability to fight the heat contributed to his 184 whiffs. On fields in the top third of the zone that season, Trout batted .082 (nine-of-110) with two homers, 39 strikeouts and a 36.2% hit-to-miss percentage, according to Pitch F/X data.

Trout mitigated this weakness the following season by learning to sack, foul, or bring higher fastballs. He included practice drills where he raised the tee for a few hits and soft throws higher to get it to stay on top of the ball.

The results were tangible. According to Baseball Savant, Trout hit .243 (88 of 362) with .793 OPS and 22 homers on high fastballs from 2015 to 2021, including a high .351 (13 of 37) with three homers in 2016.

But this season, Trout hasn’t made much headway against the heat, and opponents have been relentless in trying to pinpoint a weak point.

Mike Trout of the Angels watches his three-run home run fly in the third inning in Baltimore.

Mike Trout of the Angels watches his three-run home run fly in the third inning in Baltimore on July 8.

(Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

In nine games of the Angels’ recent trip to Houston, Miami, and Baltimore, 123 of Trout’s 161 pitches were fastballs, including 12 high heats in which Trout hit the ball, busted out, or touched down.

“That’s where a lot of guys can take any hitter out – the elevated heater, the plus speed, the ride that comes with it, and the ability to hit that spot over and over again,” Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reid said. Mike knows very well how they attack him, how they can get him out with certain things.

“It’s definitely something he works on in the cage, getting above that pitch, but it’s also one of the hardest pitches for most hitters. If it’s a ball [above the zone]you have to give it up because it has so much to do with it.”

In addition to his usual teeing and soft-throwing drills, Trout frequently hits high-speed fastballs from a high-speed batting machine.

“It’s not one specific exercise that will get you there,” Trout said, “but I’m definitely doing what I’ve done in the past.”

Trout’s average performance against the intense heat is one of several anomalies in his stats this season.

Trout entered Wednesday with a major league-best 1,194 OPS at home but a meager .738 OPS on the road, even with his one-man wrecking crew in the Seattle series as he hit five homers and drove nine runs in five games. against the Mariners 16–19 June.

“I can’t tell you why,” Trout said of the 456-point OPS differential. “It’s a strange thing.”

Trout’s flyball rate (46.5%) is nearly double what he has this season (23.8%) and much higher than his career (30.1%).

“Yes, I noticed that too,” said Trout. “I can’t say why. I have no idea. “

This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if baseballs were flying as they were a few years ago, but since all 30 teams store baseballs in humidors, reducing ball bounce and range, more Trout’s long flies are dying on warning. track instead of cleaning the wall.

“Before,” Trout said, shaking his head, “it was home runs.”