November 30, 2015
Mike Trout and the Two-Out Offense
On the eve of this past season, I wrote a piece about the shape of offensive decline in major-league baseball over the prior handful of seasons. By comparing the run-expectancy charts from the early 2000s to the chart for 2014, I found something interesting: A disproportionate part of the recent offensive downturn came with two outs. With zero and one out, the 2014 run expectancies represented about 87 percent of the zero- and one-out run expectancies of a decade earlier. With two outs, though, the average run expectancy was just 81.5 percent of the previous levels.
From there, I dug into two-out batter performance leaguewide, and found that pitchers were dominating in those situations more than ever before. Two-out walk rate was at an all-time low; strikeout rate was at an all-time high. Home run rate and isolated slugging were at a 20-year low. Relative to the league’s OPS in other situations, overall two-out offense was worse than it has ever been.
That’s still true, because in 2015, that trend—what we can almost call a blip, now, because 2014 was a fairly radical step out of line with the usual relationship here—reversed itself. Here are the run-expectancy matrices for 2014 and 2015, and another matrix showing the percentage of each situational RE represented by the 2015 RE for that situation.
It’s hard to parse exactly what that approach change is, but I have a hunch, and I’ll share it in another piece in the middle of this week. For today, one more note, a follow-up on one of the players on whom I focused at the end of April’s dive into this subject.
Mike Trout was brutal with two outs in 2014. He managed a .335 OBP, because pitchers were exceptionally cautious with him in those spots, but he batted .196 and slugged .291. He struck out 31.4 percent of the time, and hit just one home run. I’m proud to say that my reaction to those numbers was this: “Trout is a master adjuster; it’s a good bet that this will look like a fluke when his career is over.”
One year later, it doesn’t necessarily scream fluke, but it’s a problem of his past, not his present. In 2015, Trout clubbed 10 home runs in 201 two-out plate appearances. He had 47 strikeouts and 47 unintentional walks in those spots. His .626 slugging average matched his OPS with two outs in 2014. He was, statistically, the league’s best two-out hitter.
I suspect the reason for this had a little to do with my topic for Wednesday, so I won’t dive deeply into the theory here. For now, just note this: there is no weakness Mike Trout can’t turn into a mind-boggling strength in under 12 months. This time, his adjustment was so obvious that most of the mortal, human players who get to play in his league made it, too, and two-out offense is back, baby.