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August 22, 2012

BP Unfiltered

When Aaron Cook Struck Out Mike Trout

by Ben Lindbergh

You might remember Mike Trout from such accomplishments as "being barely over 21" and "being the best player in baseball." You might remember Aaron Cook from such accomplishments as "having the lowest strikeout rate of any pitcher in decades" and "being below replacement level." The two faced off for the first time Tuesday night in Fenway. Trout, unsurprisingly, went 2-for-3 with two singles. If Trout faced Cook in every at-bat for a whole season, he might actually hit .667. But sometimes he would make outs, and once in a while, one of those outs would be a strikeout. I know this because Trout struck out against Cook in his first at-bat against him, and I have the GIFs to prove it.

This wasn't the most improbable strikeout imaginable. That would probably be Aaron Cook striking out Jeff Keppinger. (Keppinger is actually 0-for-12 against Cook, but without any Ks.) Trout is the best hitter in baseball, but he does strike out sometimes. In fact, he's struck out 92 times. But Trout is so good, and Cook is so hittable, that a strikeout was still an incongruous outcome. Maybe the stars were aligned, or maybe Cook just had his best strikeout stuff. He gave up 11 hits and five runs in five innings, but he struck out four batters, as many as he'd struck out in his four previous starts and twice as many as he'd struck out in any other start this season.

The first pitch, a called strike, was an 89-mph sinker more or less down the middle. Trout took it, possibly because it was the first pitch of the game and he was still settling in, and possibly because 89-mph sinkers down the middle are pretty much par for the course against Cook.

The second pitch, another called strike, was a 91-mph sinker farther on the corner. If you're going to throw two consecutive pitches of the same type to Mike Trout, in the same general area and at approximately the same speed, the second one better be at least a little faster and at least a little better located. This one was.

The third pitch was an 87-mph slider, and it didn't do anything useful except make Jarrod Saltalamacchia breakdance very briefly.

The fateful fourth pitch was another slider, this time at 88 mph and a little less outside. In other words, the second slider followed the same rule as the second sinker. It worked. 

So, that's how Aaron Cook got the best of Mike Trout for the first and possibly only time. It wasn't the craziest sight we've seen this season. We don't have to take away Trout's MVP award or give Cook the Cy Young. Still, over the course of a single at-bat, a great hitter having a great season can let a hittable pitch go by, and a mediocre pitcher having a subpar season can throw two well-placed pitches and make a great hitter look lousy.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Mike Trout,  Aaron Cook,  Strikeout Rate,  Strikeout

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