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New Nationals' starter Max Scherzer versus Mike Trout - Approaching right-handed hitters

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Last week, we saw how the Washington Nationals' newest starter attacked left-handed hitters. What about a generational talent? Max Scherzer vs Mike Trout? How does the Nats' new starter approach right-handed hitters?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Do you know this guy? Some kid named Trout?

trout

Mike Trout, it says there. Through April 19, 2014, you could say he was having a pretty good year. You could also say that about his 2012 and 2013. Since he broke in full-time during the 2012 campaign, he's slashed .326/.399/.564, .323/.432/.557, and last year, .287/.377/.561. He's also just 23. Not bad!

We saw last week how the Nats' newest starter, Max Scherzer, liked to work lefties (specifically Alex Gordon--no slouch either) using off-speed, a decent curve, and some brutal, well-located heat. That at-bat was a nice look at how Scherzer frequently works batters from this side of the plate, who make up the majority of his at-bats (60%).

Here, we'll see how Scherzer attacks Trout, a right-handed hitter. Last season, righties OPS'ed .629. And that was with a .330 BABIP against.

Scherzer's weapons against these hitters are primarily his four-seam fastball and slider. Whereas he favors off-speed against opposite-handed batters, he's more likely to go slider against same-sided opponents. You'll have to wait to see when he uses this (and to what effect). There's also a little something we can't see in this particular battle that might be important while also providing a window into Scherzer's intelligence on the mound.

April 19, 2014

At-Bat: Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels, Top Sixth: LAA: 1  DET: 4

So, this is a pretty awesome matchup. Scherzer is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, and Mike Trout is Mike Freaking Trout, eventual AL MVP. To this game: Trout has had a good start to the year, but Scherzer has already got him whiffing twice by the sixth. He's got a good idea of Scherzer's stuff and approach at this point, though, and with the Angels down, he's looking to get on base with Albert Pujols on deck.

0-0 Count: Fastball, 92 MPH, called strike

trout 00

This isn't the hardest Scherzer ever threw -- he reached 98 twice in 2014 -- but boy is it a good example of how location and movement can be fantastic equalizers. He starts this four-seamer (per Brooks Baseball) on the very outer half of the strike zone. You can see Trout recognizes the location out of Scherzer's hand well enough, as he's loaded, triggered, and finally down by the mid-point of the fastball's flight. By then, his decision is made: no-go. And if you focus only on an instant or two after Scherzer releases this pitch, you can't really blame him.

But then, you, me, and Trout realize something that Scherzer and his battery mate, Bryan Holaday, already know.  That fastball is generating some sublime arm-side run across the lower outer-edge of the strike zone to low-middle.  Only a few tenths after Scherzer releases the pitch, it's too late even for Trout to make a good attempt; the quarter swing is more of a reflexive admission of guilt--nonono holdon toolate.

This didn't go unnoticed.  In the post-game recap for the Angels website, Alden Gonzalez led off with the following:

Mike Trout would look at a fastball from Max Scherzer, pick his head up, see a radar gun reading of 92 or 93 miles per hour and figure something was wrong with the Comerica Park scoreboard.

"I was questioning it," Trout said after a 5-2 loss to the Tigers. "I was like, 'I don't know if that thing's right.'"

Whether right or wrong, this was an important strike one.

0-1 Count: Fastball, 94.5 MPH, called ball

trout 01

Scherzer doubled up against Gordon with two curves to start that at bat, and here he doubles up on Trout with cheddar. It's unclear if this is a macro-pattern approach, but I'm thinking it's more pure coincidence. As far as the result goes, and unlike his first pitch, Scherzer's fastball starts too far outside to risk breaching the strike zone. Trout evens the count.

1-1 Count: Fastball, 94 MPH, called strike

trout 11

Three pitches, three fastballs.  With a three run lead and no one on base, Scherzer figures he'll go right after Trout. Makes sense to me.

This is an interesting offering. Trout (and Holaday) clearly want the appeal to the first base umpire for a check swing.  Phil Cuzzi, however, has no time for your opinions, and ruled it a called strike.  Like the Supreme Court of the United States, NO APPEAL FOR YOU.

In fact, Scherzer isn't really any more inside here than the last pitch (the pitch chart is below). Is it the catcher's framing? Maybe. You can see Holaday's receiving isn't too much different between both pitches. On this pitch, though, he does seem to move just a tad less vertically. That might well have been enough.

If you're Trout, this sort of stinks. The first strike moved too late to do anything with. Then you earn a ball outside.  Then the third pitch is the same horizontal location, and a tick lower. So you could reasonably expect that to be a ball, too. Yet he didn't even earn an appeal!

Perhaps Scherzer's accuracy to that point had earned him the benefit of the doubt (he walked two in seven innings). Perhaps Holaday's more subtle movement was the difference maker. Perhaps it was both, or neither. Either way, Trout's in a bit of trouble.

1-2 Count: Watch

I can't give this one away.

trout 12

Slider, 86 MPH, swinging strikeout low and away. With two strikes, righties batted .188 and slugged .247 against this pitch. Over half, including Trout, struck out.

Trout's failure to pick up the spin fast enough might have doomed him here. It also could be that it's just not all that easy for the world's greatest hitter, and other MLB hitters, to recognize this pitch. Trout admitted after the game that he a "really good look" at only one pitch during his first couple ABs, if you're looking to support that theory. I couldn't find any quotes from opposing batters about this fact generally, though, so it's speculation.

Another thought on the strikeout: Remember I noted something we couldn't see in this at-bat that might have impacted the result?

Here's a 2-1 slider to Trout in the first inning on a similar (but not the same) vertical plane:

trout 1st inning slider

Scherzer left that pitch a little more up, and Trout was just a tad ahead of the offering. When Scherzer went back to that in the sixth, he located a little better without making the end result too obvious out-of-hand. While the Millville Meteor struck out a decent amount last season, Scherzer deserves credit for delivering an enticing pitch that Trout couldn't do anything with.

It's impossible to know whether Trout still had that first inning slider on his mind--that pitch wasn't a two strike offering, after all--but maybe there's a positive thought to be had on Scherzer's craft. It's also possible that by the sixth Trout was frustrated with his two strikeout day and Cuzzi's refusal of his appeal; you definitely get a sense of this as he walks out of the box. Even there, kudos to Scherzer and Holaday taking advantage of that by offering a pretty nasty slider.

Trout was complimentary of Scherzer after the game; I'm guessing he's referring specifically to his first-inning strikeout on a high fastball in the quote below:

"Some days you've just got to tip your cap. (Scherzer) made a few good pitches," Trout said. "He's got good life on his fastball. The ball, in the middle, kind of rises up from that kind of sidearm motion."

For his part, Scherzer knew what he was up against, and pitched accordingly:

"He's a great hitter and I respect everything that he does," Scherzer said of Trout. "But you have to be really aggressive right back at him. You have to use all your pitches and you have to attack him. If you give him an inch, he can hit it a mile."

Almost literally, Scherzer didn't give him an inch inside the strike zone in the sixth.  Almost (I realize RHH-adjusted zones may be different.  Leave the narrative alone!).  Here's the plot:

Pretty nice to think about when looking ahead to 2015, no?

In conclusion, Scherzer shows plus stuff against hitters from both sides of the plate. With lefties, this is usually in the form of fastball and change-up. Against righties, he goes to his fastball and slider most often.

Scherzer's no slouch in the velocity, movement, and location facets of pitching, either; we've seen over two articles where he can blow hitters away, run fastballs from out of the strike zone to over the plate late, bend gravity to bury change-ups, and paint corners with other offerings where necessary. He's not going to strike everyone out, of course, but hopefully this gives you a good idea of his blueprint to success.

My thoughts on his 2015? He's going to fit right in.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, Fangraphs, and Baseball Reference for stats and information.