Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Mike Trout looks different and I think I know why. Just look at the new headgear he's rocking.
No, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder is not a mariachi enthusiast (that I know of). Nor has he purchased an urban sombrero from the J. Peterman catalog. He could be paying homage to Woody from Toy Story, but I doubt it.
The truth is, Trout just had a really bad game.
Trout earned his second golden sombrero of the season Sunday when he struck out four times in a win against Toronto. All four of Trout's punch-outs were of the swinging variety. Trout also hit a ground-rule double in the game but they don't give out head accessories for that sort of thing (though I'm petitioning Bud Selig as we speak).
It's become clear to me this isn't the Mike Trout of old. Something changed for America's preferred Subway spokesperson (you had a good run, Jared) and I'm still trying to get to the bottom of it.
Trout is hitting .273 through his first 36 games. For most human beings that would be perfectly fine. But after watching him rip through the major leagues the last two seasons like some sort of home-run hitting cyborg ninja, I wasn't entirely convinced Trout WAS human. Finding out that Trout is indeed a human life form from Millville, New Jersey instead of a robot from outer space is a bit disappointing.
What's also disappointing are his 46 strikeouts in 143 at bats. That ties him with Toronto's Colby Rasmus for second-most in MLB. Trout is on pace to finish the year with 207 K's. That total would be the fifth-highest in major league history.
What is this, some bizarre tribute to Adam Dunn? Or has Trout really fallen this far?
To be fair, Trout has seen an uptick in the power department. With seven blasts already, he's slightly ahead of where he was at this stage last season. The 33 HR he's on pace for would be a career-high, as would the 99 RBI he's projected for. To top it off, 48.7 percent of his hits this season have gone for extra bases. Compare that to the period between 2012-13 when only 37.6 percent of Trout's hits went for more than one base.
The increase in homers would explain Trout's high strikeout totals but not his fading stolen base stats. Trout's current rate of production calls for 18 steals, roughly half of what he generated last season (33 steals on 40 attempts). Keep in mind, Trout led the majors in that category as recently as 2012 (49-for-54 on stolen base tries).
Is Trout still yielding solid numbers? Sure. But this isn't what we signed up for. Trout was supposed to be a contact hitter with 30-30 potential. Instead he's morphed into Evan Longoria with a little more speed. You could have gotten that in the third round.
History tells us Trout's speed will return when we least expect it. Indeed, Trout had attempted just seven steals at this juncture in 2013. He became significantly more daring as the season progressed, tallying 28 thefts on 33 tries over his final 121 games. Even if Trout looks more like a linebacker than the skinny 20-year-old who stole 49 bases two seasons ago, the potential for 30-plus steals still exists.
Trout is no stranger to striking out (one K every 4.03 at bats for his career) but it's never been a major concern until now. To find the root of the problem, it's helpful to compare Trout to Houston outfielder George Springer, who also went for the golden sombrero this weekend. While Springer's issues seem to be linked to impatience (only 3.8 pitches per plate appearance), Trout is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Trout's swing percentage (40.6 percent) is only marginally higher than his career average (39.2) and most of his at bats are lasting an eternity (4.54 pitches per plate appearance).
That would suggest Trout is actually being TOO selective at the plate. With Mike Napoli and Adam Dunn posting similar numbers in terms of at bat length (4.70 pitches per plate appearance for Napoli, 4.49 for Dunn), maybe that's the collateral damage that comes with being a power hitter. Of course, Trout's contact rate has dropped considerably as he's hit just 82.7 percent of pitches in the strike zone this season (87.9 in 2013).
Another variable to consider is Trout's average against righties. He's hitting just .239 against them in 109 at bats. That doesn't mesh at all with last season when Trout actually hit better against right-handers than lefties (.327 in 437 AB vs. RHP, .309 in 152 AB vs. LHP).
It's not quite time to panic though. Believe it or not, Trout was only hitting .283 at this point last season. He hit for a .336 clip the rest of the way to finish at .323, third-best in the American League.
Lose the sombrero, Mike. It's not a good look for you.