When Mike Trout reported to Angels camp last month and met with a bunch of reporters on the right-field warning track at Tempe Diablo Stadium, people asked him dumb questions ("Does your glove have a name?") and they asked him obvious questions ("What did you do over the offseason?") and they even asked him some baseball questions ("Is your goal to cut down on strikeouts?"). Trout answered all of these questions pleasantly if not elaborately, but one answer -- related to the strikeout topic and his league-high total in his MVP year -- was interesting.
"It's plain and simple," he said. "I was chasing the high pitch. Everybody knows that."
The reality, as noted on FanGraphs.com's leaderboards, is that Trout actually had one of the lowest swing rates in baseball last season on elevated pitches inside and outside the zone, even with two strikes. So his answer was not what you'd call mathematically correct.
It was, however, emotionally correct, because it is true that if we had to note one major weakness in this otherwise seemingly superhuman ballplayer, the high fastball is it. As Trout himself said, "Everybody knows that," and nobody put it to better use than the reigning American League champion Kansas City Royals, who fed Trout a steady diet of high stuff in his underwhelming 1-for-12 showing in the Angels' Division Series three-and-out.
And so a ballplayer picked apart like no other before him (if only because he's ascended to a historic level of performance at a time when we have an overabundance of data available to us) has but one fatal flaw at the plate, and this is considered sexy stuff for seamheads. Because as fascinating as it has been to watch Trout put up arguably three MVP-worthy years in his first three full seasons, the continued adjustments at this level are what are going to ultimately define his long-term legacy, the same way as every legend defined theirs.
If you think about it, Trout arrived as the perfect hitter for his time. Not that his talents wouldn't have translated in other eras, but in the 2010s we've got a league of hitters punished with increasingly intricate defensive shifts meant to destroy their batting averages and flustered by an increasingly sinking strike zone.
Then along comes this kid whose ability to spray the ball to all fields essentially makes him shift-proof, and, oh yeah, he's also a uniquely talented low-ball hitter, rendering the low strike a non-issue.
"Most hitters that are good low-ball hitters are left-handed hitters," Angels hitting coach Don Baylor said. "It's very seldom that you see really good low-fastball hitters or breaking-ball hitters that are right-handed hitters. So he just kind of jumps out at you. It's like, 'Wow, he likes the ball down in the zone.' And pitchers like to throw down in the zone."
What's become clear to opposing pitchers is that Trout is one of those rare guys you can target up in the zone. Nobody in baseball saw more pitches in the upper half of the zone, according to FanGraphs. And while his chase rates weren't nearly as outlandish as Trout seems to think, pitchers did exploit his weakness enough to raise his strikeout rate a whopping 7 percent -- from 19 to 26.1 -- in '14.
Baylor said he doesn't harp too much on the high strike (or non-strike) with Trout, but it has certainly been mentioned and is certainly understood by the young slugger.
"Even with all the success he's had," said Baylor, "he's still a young player that's making adjustments. He still wants to get better, if you can believe that."
Actually, that's pretty easy to believe because, MVP aside, 2014 was Trout's worst overall statistical season (which tells you all you need to know about the start he's off to), and it ended in humbling and abrupt fashion on the postseason stage.
So Trout has motivation to get better, and it will be interesting to see how he targets this little issue. Does he totally adjust his swing mechanics to become a better high-ball hitter at the possible expense of the low-ball ability that makes him so special? That seems doubtful. Does he become more selective on high pitches so that his vulnerability is not so frequently exposed? That seems possible.
The best option, though, is one Trout himself has addressed in recent days, when he told reporters he plans to be "locked and loaded" on first pitches this spring.
In his career to date, Trout has swung at first pitches just 10.3 percent of the time. The Major League average last year was 27.5 percent, so Trout is on the extreme even by the uber-patient standards of the day.
If Trout adjusts that approach, there will undoubtedly be ripple effects.
"The book on Trout is to get a first-pitch strike on him, because he usually takes on first pitches," said an advisor for an AL team, speaking on background. "Then go away with a breaking ball, and then go up and in. So what I want to know is what happens when he starts swinging at more first pitches. How does that change everything else?"
That's a great question. And if Trout's springtime "locked and loaded" idea becomes in-season reality, we'll get the answer.
"[Opposing pitchers] are going to have to go to something else," Baylor said. "And those are the adjustments that you're going to have to make as a player, if you're going to play a long time in the game. You're constantly making adjustments to survive. Mike's talents are so good that once he starts jumping on that first pitch, then they're going to have to change."
For a young player who has achieved so much in such a short time, there must be some temptation to make no changes. But that's not what got Mike Trout to this elite level, and that's not what's going to keep him here.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.