As much as we love Miguel Cabrera, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He hits for average, he hits for power, he has blazing speed, and he plays excellent defense at a premium position. He's the total package, and there's a reason many people feel like Trout was snubbed when Cabrera won the American League MVP Award in both 2012 and 2013. If sabermetricians ruled the world, Trout would be a three-time MVP before his 24th birthday.
Every superhero has his weaknesses, though, and Trout is no exception. A career .304/.394/.548 hitter, Trout is batting just .280/.310/.542 against the Tigers in 113 plate appearances. No American League team has held him to a lower OPS, and only the Los Angeles Dodgers have had more success in 10 or more games against him. Trout's tOPS+, a form of OPS+ scaled to each team he faces, is just 78, well below average. Trout had just four hits in 28 plate appearances against the Tigers last season, and is off to a 2-for-8 start in this weekend's series.
How have the Tigers kept one of the best hitters in baseball in check? The answer is simpler than you might think.
While Trout has made adjustments to handle pitches high in the strike zone this season, his swing is tailored towards pitches low in the strike zone. He has made a career out of punishing sinkers and anything else on the lower half of the plate, particularly as the ball drifts towards him. Most young pitchers are taught to keep the ball down, but that is just playing into Trout's hands.
Opposing pitchers did what they could to keep the ball away from Trout's hot zone in 2014, but they were not very successful. Trout hit .287/.377/.561 with a career-high 36 home runs and 111 RBI en route to his first career MVP. He also struck out a career-high 184 times, a product of pitchers finding the hole in his swing up in the strike zone. Overall, however, pitchers still left plenty of pitches down in the zone for Trout to swing at.
The Tigers were much more successful than the rest of the league at staying out of Trout's hot zone. In two series against him in 2014, they kept the ball up and away. Trout struck out 12 times in 28 plate appearances against the Tigers in 2014, nearly double his season rate.
Despite this stellar work, it hasn't been a perfect science. Trout hit .419/.406/.710 against the Tigers in 2013, and still has six home runs and 19 RBI against the Tigers in his career. And, despite their efforts, the Tigers are just 11-21 against the Angels since Trout made his MLB debut in 2011. Even though their handiwork against Trout has not shown up in the win column, the Tigers deserve praise for limiting a player of Trout's caliber to relatively pedestrian numbers.