How is it even possible that a player could launch five home runs in a series?
Never mind the fact that this is the greatest player in the history of the sport; it is beyond all belief that he would see the requisite number of pitches (due to the new, pitchless intentional walk) after having crushed the way he did in the first few games.
This guy is slugging 1.000 right here and now. That is a load of malarkey. Think about it: he has averaged a base for every single plate appearance this season aside from a lone sacrifice fly. That is across 43 plate appearances — a small sample size to be sure, but a large one for which to maintain that kind of success.
Frankly, it makes zero sense to pitch to him. The man has more home runs than singles right now and is striking out less than both Andrelton Simmons and Michael Brantley. He’s whiffing at all-time lows and making elite contact at all-time highs. His hard hit rate is 50%. Brent detailed about a million other ways that this start to the season might just be the greatest we will ever see from an Angel.
So why would you even bother? What could you possibly hope to gain from throwing a strike with the bases empty? How often could being in the zone really benefit you?
Let’s look at his protection. “It doesn’t exist” is only a thing because managers have pitcher egos to stroke. That thinking won’t hold for long at Trout’s rate.
Justin Bour, Andrelton Simmons, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun are batting a combined .185/.269/.285 across 145 plate appearances. Again, that is including Calhoun! Going into the final game against the Rangers, players batting 3rd in the lineup specifically have a .143/.231/.171 slash over 39 plate appearances. If Mike Trout is on base, he will only be moved over via hit about 1/7 of the time. That is absolutely terrible.
Worse still, Justin Bour and Andrelton Simmons (the only two players to bat third all year) are groundball machines so far. Before today, Bour had a groundball rate of 52.9% while Simmons was at 52%. When batting third, these players have combined for a 56.7% GB% with a .167 BABIP.
And it isn’t like Trout is stealing right now. What are you, stuck in 2012?
Let me ask again. WHY WOULD YOU EVER PITCH TO HIM?
Bases loaded? You’re more likely for him to drive in runs via hit or walk than get out anyway. I repeat, he has more home runs than singles alone, so you’re more likely to clear the bases than not at the moment. Might as well limit the damage with a walk, especially when facing him with fewer than 2 outs. Oh, you want to pitch around him? Drew Smyly did too, with a fastball up and out of the strike zone. How foolish.
Bases empty? What could it possibly hurt to put him on when you have Justin Bour behind him still trying to find himself? He can’t drive himself in if he’s on the basepaths. If there are 1 or 2 outs, there is absolutely zero excuse.
Let’s get hypothetical here. If this is Trout’s new norm, the only acceptable choice for an opposing manager is to take the bat out of Trout’s hands every single time. As things currently are, it only makes sense to get to the next guy in line with minimal damage. Yes, somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20% of the time it might bite you in the butt, but that is fewer than one time per game on average. If Trout really is trending toward one of the greatest seasons ever seen, limiting him to approximately <1 run per game is a massive win for the opposition. Of course this isn’t going to happen, but it makes a lot of sense. We don’t require run expectancy figures to know that the current configuration of the lineup is possibly as bad it can get.
A smart manager is going to make the move every single time the game is within a stone’s throw of winnable, short of walking themselves off. If Ohtani’s return is delayed, Trout may just break the single season American League IBB record by the All Star Game.
Heck. At this point, he might even be so good that all the protection in the world couldn’t justify throwing him a strike.