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May 20, 2014

Going Yard

The Swing Problems Troubling Trout

by Ryan Parker


There is nothing average about Mike Trout. People built like Brian Urlacher shouldn’t be able to scale walls, run like a scared deer, all while squarely hitting a round ball with a round bat. The 2014 season has seen Mike Trout put up a slightly more earthbound line than usual. The question is why? The sample size is rapidly getting too large for the saber community to claim this is all due to a small sample of games.

As Rob Neyer and Jay Jaffe have pointed out, the data backs up the notion that Trout is not merely a victim of bad luck. If it’s not bad luck or a small sample, then what the heck has gone (relatively) wrong with baseball’s wunderkind? When in doubt look at the swing that is putting up the numbers.

Before I get too carried away I need to frame this article correctly. This is not me saying Mike Trout is in long-term trouble, or that his only hope for salvation is reading this article. This article is more of an exploration of a great hitter going through a rough stretch, hitting .161/.286/.355 in May. Trout will get his swing back and put up the regular numbers we are used to, but times like these serve to remind us that even the best at the craft can have times where they are slightly less than elite. All the notes I make in this article are merely capturing snapshots.

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Related Content:  Los Angeles Angels,  Scouts

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

randolph3030

This is really interesting, thanks for posting. Would there be a reason that he would be trying to fire his hips earlier? Could he be concerned about missing fastballs, so he would try to start earlier?

He is also not wearing that shin guard this year, but that probably doesn't mean anything.

May 20, 2014 06:04 AM
rating: 2
 
newsense

scared DEAR?

May 20, 2014 07:01 AM
rating: 2
 
godfather
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

it's called slumping...and none has ever escaped without having had to confront it

May 20, 2014 07:14 AM
rating: -4
 
John Carter

No doubt many slumps are tiny hard-to-detect flaws or changes in one's swing such as this.

May 20, 2014 08:49 AM
rating: 3
 
Lehmkuhl12

The reason his leg is stiff in the 2014 is because the pitch is middle-in. In the 2013 example the pitch is on the outer half.

May 20, 2014 08:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ryan Parker
BP staff

Brooks has the 2013 right down the middle. There is some difference based on pitch location and when the front leg firms up but usually not as extreme as the difference between trout 2014 & 2013.

May 20, 2014 09:14 AM
 
Dave Brock

What appears to be a little alarming is that Trout's K rate is up quite a bit this year. 2013 brought a 18.99% rate and 2014 so far is a pedestrian 27.86%. Any thoughts on if this is a result of what is discussed here, or just something that will be ironed out once he catches his groove?

May 20, 2014 10:20 AM
rating: 1
 
MGL

I am not necessarily buying any of this. I could be wrong, but I think anyone could support any narrative with pictures of swings, because there are hundreds if not thousands of swings that a batter has during a season, depending on the pitch location, type, the count, etc.

This:

"As Rob Neyer and Jay Jaffe have pointed out, the data backs up the notion that Trout is not merely a victim of bad luck. If it’s not bad luck or a small sample, then what the heck has gone (relatively) wrong with baseball’s wunderkind? When in doubt look at the swing that is putting up the numbers."

Is just plain wrong.

We have no idea how much of a player's past or present performance is luck and how much is true talent. We can only make inferences based on sample performance. Sure, using "scouting" and observation, we can make those statistical inferences stronger, but we can never be nearly certain what is luck and what is true talent.

The idea that we "know" that Trout's slightly worse performance so far this year is a change in talent from last year is just ridiculous. We know no such thing. For all we know, Trout was lucky the last 2 years and this season's performance represents his true talent all along. Or he is indeed unlucky this year and prior years' performance is representative of his true talent. Or anything in between (more likely of course).

May 20, 2014 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

I'm not necessarily buying this response.

The author did not claim that he "knew" that Trout's performance this year represents a change in talent, but he did suggest underlying explanations for why his performance has been off lately. Perhaps this is a semantic question of "true talent," a term which is mostly a red herring that makes sense from a statistical construct but falls apart once applied to the field. An athlete's "talent" is naturally dynamic day-to-day and throughout his career, as is the case with virtually any skill that one acquires.

The stats may not have the power to detect a change within a small sample, but one who has the eyes to see what is happening on the field can glean these subtle details. Ryan goes out of his way to mention that this could be a short-term funk, and he is not trying to predict the future but rather explain some of the nuance of the past: "This article is more of an exploration of a great hitter going through a rough stretch."

I see this kinda thing with pitchers every single day, and most often I can tell you exactly why a pitcher is having a bad day or inning based on what I am watching on the field (mechanics, stuff, etc). One could construe that phenomenon as his "true talent" changing, but I chalk it up to the fact that this is a dynamic skill with several variables at play. "Luck" does occur, in the sense that good process + bad outcome = "luck," but I do not believe that luck is commensurate with uncertainty in our numerical measurements.

I'm not sure why "scouting" was in quotes, but the observations of expert evaluators such as Ryan Parker and Jason Parks allow us to see so much deeper than the stats allow, and Ryan is using the pics and GIFs not to tell a narrative (which has become a pejorative term) but to help the audience to see what he sees.

May 20, 2014 13:21 PM
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Incredibly well-stated, Doug. Thanks.

May 20, 2014 13:29 PM
 
MGL

"The stats may not have the power to detect a change within a small sample, but one who has the eyes to see what is happening on the field can glean these subtle details."

I'll believe that when just once - once is all I ask - someone uses observation and scouting to tell us how a player's true talent actually got better even though his performance got worse! Or vice versa. Surely that has to happen.

Everything you said, Doug, is opinion without any evidence to back it up. Why should I believe that any more than I should believe Kruk on ESPN when he tells us how fielders make more errors with slow pitchers on the mound (they don't).

When you scouting guys can tell me something that is going to happen in the future and not merely narratives about the past, and we can test that, then I might believe what you have to say. I'm not saying you guys are wrong, but I have zero evidence that what you guys are saying has any merit whatsoever. At least I don't think there is. If there is, please let me know where to find it. Otherwise it is just opinion without evidence, which might be interesting, but it's not science.

May 20, 2014 13:51 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Nobody suggested scouting was science; in fact, its an art, one that is a learned skill and normally applied using a historical perspective.

If you want examples of talent improving at the expense of performance, read the countless developmental updates we provide on the Ten Pack. On Monday, I pointed to Eddie Butler's less-than-exceptional numbers in AA, explaining that one of his best pitches was shelved in order to give developmental priority to his CB, a pitch that isn't all that special as an individual offering but will no doubt elevate his overall arsenal. His talent (as a whole) is improving despite an on-the-field performance that would suggest otherwise. I can name countless examples of this type of talent progression at the expense of performance.

I suggest reading more about scouting and player development before putting everything we write about into one box.

May 20, 2014 14:34 PM
 
MGL

"Nobody suggested scouting was science; in fact, its an art, one that is a learned skill and normally applied using a historical perspective."

Art, science, whatever. If there is no evidence that what you say has merit, then, I am afraid it is just blather.

I am NOT (of course, you will ignore this sentence and just go an assuming that I am saying that you don't know what you are talking about) saying that you or any of the other "scouts" are right or wrong about anything in particular. I am simply asking for evidence, that's all. Maybe there is. I admittedly don't read much of these types of articles. For example, if you say that you can analyze someone's swing or pitching mechanics and predict something that the numbers can't, then there must be evidence, right, or why should anyone listen to what you have to say?

I mean, if a respected doctor tells us that he has a cure for X, and he writes a beautiful article about why and how it works, we don't really care unless and until it is tested, right?

May 20, 2014 18:40 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

"Everything you said, Doug, is opinion without evidence to back it up."

I encourage you to read my "Raising Aces" column, which is saturated with evidence to back up my claims of what pitchers are doing on the mound. I might use visual evidence along with the subjective 20-80 scouting scale, but I also provide a rubric (with visual examples) so that others may vet the process. Furthermore, the basis of my approach to pitching is rooted in data driven by high-speed motion capture - I have spent years breaking down the pitching delivery, both visually and numerically, across a sea of biomechanical variables. If you're interested, some of that numerical evidence can be found in my book: "Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch."

The scouting evidence is all around us, and there are countless examples on BP where scouting has revealed elements of causation. "True talent" is a nebulous concept, but there do exist cases with players whose core skills improved even though on-field performance went in the other direction (as Jason mentioned in the Butler example).

Visual evidence is evidence nonetheless, even if it cannot be fed into an algorithm. Until we have access to physical measurements on the field (such as the new tracking data from MLBAM), then scouting observations will be unable to satisfy certain definitions of validation. But the inability to appreciate that which cannot be measured in a box score does not invalidate the existence of such elements, and one's mistrust in the art of scouting is equivalent to one who doesn't trust wOBA because they haven't grasped the numerical underpinnings of the system.


There is no spoon.

May 20, 2014 20:11 PM
 
Dan Farnsworth

With all due respect, MGL raises a great question about claims of mechanical efficiency. While I highly enjoyed your book, and do in fact agree with most of the concepts you talk about, the sample sizes used to draw conclusions were very small and do not qualify as proof in my opinion.

I struggle with the same issues as a hitting coach and researcher. While I have many reasons for teaching certain things and disagreeing with others, the vast majority of it is still based on the personal experiences of myself and others I trust. Your statement that you "have spent years breaking down the pitching delivery" leads me to believe you are the same. THAT ABSOLUTELY HAS VALUE, but for there to be any real final say on the discussion, more research with true independent and dependent variables must be done. Otherwise, there is no reason for the casual onlooker (with respect for MGL, I mean in the realm of mechanics) to believe one expert over another.

May 20, 2014 22:54 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

All fair points, Dan, and I appreciate the discourse.

I see a line between one's ideas of "good/bad" mechanics and the collective understanding of how the process impacts the outcome. I also hear the frustration from the coaching angle, and personal experience will no doubt shape one's approach. But I think that we can turn it into a positive by expanding the collective experience of the baseball audience, getting more eyes to appreciate the nuances of the game, and this is at the core of articles like "Going Yard" and "Raising Aces."

We don't have to agree on whether "locking out the front leg" is a bad thing, but our understanding will evolve as long as we can agree on what "locking out the front leg" look like, allowing for a deeper evaluation of adjustments that players make over time.

May 21, 2014 00:37 AM
 
hyprvypr

Everyone slumps. Babe Ruth slumped. Pujols has slumped. So has Trout. I'm sure it's mechanical, as any long-term athlete can agree with - sometimes a routine becomes the problem itself and you develop bad habits.

May 20, 2014 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
MGL

"I can name countless examples of this type of talent progression at the expense of performance."

Anything at the major league level?

May 20, 2014 18:43 PM
rating: 3
 
SaberTJ

MLB teams are playing games to win. They don't make these sacrifices at this level.

Halladay went to the minors to revamp his mechanics for a reason.

Jun 05, 2014 09:38 AM
rating: 0
 
huztlers

I think he is going to have many struggles, relatively speaking. He is firmly caught in between doing what he does best (being a leadoff hitter with pop) and wanting to be an elite slugger. I think he could be an elite slugger, and he will be when his legs are gone, but for now he is in a tough spot mentally. Offensively, he would be best served to be Rickey Henderson but there is a lot of pressure on him to be something else. He has been taking some pretty inconsistent hacks lately... and by inconsistent, I mean bad.

May 21, 2014 07:36 AM
rating: 0
 
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