Angels’ superstar Mike trout had one hell of a game in Friday’s series opener against the Houston Astros, going 2-for-4 with those two hits being home runs–including a three-run shot that broke the tie in the eighth. That second homer put the Halos ahead for good. While there is no surefire way to pitch the reigning AL MVP, we can look at some analytics to figure out a good plan of attack for the Astros in the next two games.
Saturday’s starter for Houston is Dallas Keuchel, and thus far this season he has performed like the ace that the team has been in search of. He holds a 1-0 record with a 1.29 ERA in starts against Cleveland and Texas. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher, collecting 73.8 percent of the outs he’s recorded thus far on the ground. Last year, this percentage came in at 63.5%, or a 1.88 ground ball to fly ball ratio, which was tops in the league. San Diego’s Tyson Ross came in second with a 1.47.
FanGraphs has Keuchel listed as a fastball (89.1 mph), cutter (86.3), slider (79.8) and changeup (77.6) pitcher. Here is what Trout’s batting average is on those pitches from a left-handed pitcher over the course of his career, according to where they’re located.
This is from the catcher’s perspective, so the left side would be inside to him and the right side is away. Trout owns the inside half of the strike zone, and even hits well when they’re not strikes. So how should Keuchel pitch him? There are actually some options. Working each corner with the fastball, aside from up and in, has paid off for lefties in the past. The problem with going down and in is that he destroys balls that are down and out of the zone, similar to the graph above. If Keuchel has his control working on Saturday, it may be worth the risk. Down the middle of the plate but up in the zone, or up and away would be safer bets.
There is only one word of advice for using his cutter against Trout: keep the ball away, and preferably down. He’ll clobber anything else.
The slider, unless it’s pinpointed middle-down where the .320 mark is in the graph above for all pitches, may not be a pitch that Trout sees all game. The only cold spot he has is up, and that’s because he doesn’t see too many hanging sliders. Finally, the changeup. The entire graph is at least some shade of purple, if not blood red.
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In his career, Trout is 5-for-19 (.263) against Keuchel with eight strikeouts. Obviously the southpaw has some idea of how to retire one of the best players in the game. Let’s keep an eye out for how he does so on Saturday.
Scott Feldman will offer a different look that Keuchel, as he is a righty and carries a fastball (89.4), cutter (88.3), curveball (74.4) and split-fingered fastball (83.3) in his arsenal. Look for Feldman, like Keuchel, to provide a steady diet of fastballs to Trout. Here is Trout’s map against right-handers when seeing a fastball.
The curve, split-finger and cutter are all iffy propositions. With each, the intent is to keep the pitch down, but Trout has hammered those pitches down in the zone. So fastballs up. that’s the plan, right? Sounds good.
The Houston Astros will have their work cut out for them this weekend, but with Keuchel taking on the erratic C.J. Wilson today, and Feldman facing off with Garrett Richards, who is making his first start of the season, there is still hope. It may take one of the big bats in the middle of the order doing some damage to get the job done, but limiting Mike Trout would be another plan of action.