After dominant, record-setting season vs. Rangers, Mike Trout gives team a break by sitting out final meeting of the year

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Angels took mercy on Rangers pitchers Wednesday night. Mike Trout did not start the final game of the season series between the two teams.

He’s done enough for one year.

Just consider his final at-bat on Tuesday night the punctuation mark on a historic year of clubbing Rangers’ pitching. In that at-bat, Trout turned a 96 mph fastball from Rafael Montero into a 442-foot drive that left the bat at 114 mph. It was his 11th homer against the Rangers this year, setting a record for the most an opponent has ever hit against Texas in a single season.

It’s no surprise that Trout, who was dealing with a bruised heel Wednesday, has done damage against the Rangers. What is surprising: That despite the Rangers more nuanced analytic approach, Trout has put up career-best numbers against Texas. In addition to the 11 homers, he posted a 1.356 OPS against the Rangers, the third-highest ever against the franchise. His 11 homers left the bat at an average speed of 109 mph and traveled an average of 417 feet.

Maybe next year, the analytic machine will spit out a different formula for attacking him.

“I know what it will say,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “It will say ‘Don’t pitch to Mike Trout.”

But, Woodward said, he believed the Rangers’ approach and execution against Trout did improve as the season progressed. Funny thing: The stats kind of bear him out. Maybe the old analytics machine did spit out some good info, after all.

In the first set of games the teams played back in April, Trout reached 20 times in 32 plate appearances on eight hits (five of them homers), 10 walks and a pair of plunkings. In each subsequent pair of series, the numbers have gone down. In the teams’ last two series over the last 10 days, Trout hit .261 with an almost human .929 OPS for 23 games. He hit “just” two homers.

“I know we’ve done better than the first time around,” Woodward said. “And I don’t want our guys to shy away from attacking his weaknesses. I love that our younger guys recently went right after him. Now, that may come back to haunt them at some point because if you keep attacking him, at some point, he’s going to get you.

“You’ve got to be really mindful of where he is in the lineup and when he’s coming up; it’s almost like the Barry Bonds mentality,” Woodward added. “I’m probably a little too proud to just put those four fingers out when I should sometimes. But it crosses my mind every time he steps in the batter’s box, even with nobody on base.”

About the weaknesses: They do supposedly exist. Up and in is where he has shown some vulnerability. At the inner most top quadrant of the strike zone, he’s just a .182 hitter. But miss over the plate just a hair more and Trout has started punishing pitchers.For the two quadrants that connect to the weak spot, he’s hitting .333 this year. It’s up from .313 a year ago. And most notably, up from .224 in 2017.

Here, it might be best to talk to a human rather than a machine. Decidedly old-school Shawn Kelley has held Trout to one hit in 12 career meetings. It included an 0 for 4 this season.

“You have to be able to go up and in,” Kelley said. “But it’s the hardest pitch in baseball to throw successfully. If you miss he’s going to hammer you. And you have to get the call from the umpire. I still think where people get into trouble is when they say ‘Oh my God, it’s Mike Trout.’ Yes, it is. But you still have to treat him as another hitter.”

It’s a troubling problem to figure out.

The Rangers, at least, are through with it for this season.

Can’t catch Trout

Mike Trout, who played the final game of the season series with the Rangers Wednesday night, is one of only 13 players in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to hit at least 11 home runs against an opponent in a single year. The list is thick with stars. A look:

Player Team, Year Opp. HRs
Gleyber Torres NYY, 2019 Balt. 13
Sammy Sosa, Chi., 1998 Mil. 12
Mike Trout LAA, 2018 Rangers 11
Aaron Judge NYY, 2017 Balt. 11
Brian Dozier Minn., 2016 KC 11
Alex Rodriguez Rangers, 2003 LAA 11
Jim Thome Cleveland, 2002 Minn. 11
Barry Bonds SF, 2001 SD 11
Luis Gonzalez Ariz., 2001 LA 11
Sammy Sosa Chi., 2001 Hou. 11
Dale Murphy Atl., 1983 SF 11
Willie Stargell Pitt., 1971 Atl. 11
Harmon Killebrew Minn, 1969 Oak. 11

OPS aplenty

Mike Trout entered the Angels final season matchup with the Rangers with a 1.356 OPS, which is the third highest all-time against Texas (minimum of 75 plate appearances in a season). The five highest single-season OPS marks against the Rangers:

Player Team Year OPS
Troy Glaus LAA 2001 1.437
Jason Giambi Oak. 2001 1.413
Mike Trout LAA 2019 1.356
John Mayberry KC 1975 1.310
Vladimir Guerrero LAA 2005 1.307