Nobody has hit more home runs on pitches down in the zone this season than Mike Trout.
Tonight on ESPN (8 PM ET), two teams in the thick of their divisional races square off in an interleague matchup as the Atlanta Braves host the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have excelled recently in interleague play, winning 11 of their last 14 games, while the Braves are just 1-7 this season against American League opponents.
Here are some players and matchups to watch.
Star Watch: Mike Trout
In Saturday night’s game, Mike Trout homered to give him 75 in his big-league career in 399 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Trout needed the third-fewest games in MLB history to reach the 75 HR-75 SB mark, being beaten there by just Eric Davis and Alfonso Soriano.
Braves starter Mike Minor should avoid pitching down in the zone when facing Trout, as Trout has hammered that type of pitching during his career.
Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Trout leads the majors with a .356 batting average and a .581 slugging percentage against pitches down in the zone. And his 27 home runs ranks behind only Baltimore’s Chris Davis.
Mike Trout vs Pitches Down in Zone
By Season Since 2012
Trout is getting better against those pitches. As the chart on the right shows, his slugging percentage has risen every year, and his 11 homers against pitches down in the zone is three more than any other player this season entering Sunday.
Working up in the zone will be a much better bet for Minor. Trout is 0-28 this season against pitches up in the zone.
Matchup to Watch: Angels Hitters vs Minor’s First Pitch
This season, opposing hitters have 13 hits in 24 at-bats against Minor’s first pitch, good for a .542 batting average. On all other counts, batters are hitting .241 against Minor.
That’s continuing a trend for Minor, against whom opponents batted .345 on first pitches in 2013, compared to .254 in 2012.
Hitters are getting a bit more aggressive against Minor’s first pitch, as the swing rate on his first pitches has increased from 24.8% in 2012, to 29.5% this season. And they’ve been rewarded, as the swing-and-miss rate is 11.3% this year, compared to 26.0% in 2012.
What’s Going on With the Braves Offense?
MLB Ranks in Last 2 Seasons
Last season, Braves batters struck out 1,384 times, tied for the sixth-most by a team in a single season in MLB history. This season, their strikeout rate is up from 22.7% to 23.2%.
But along with the worse strikeout rate, the Braves have dropped off in several other categories this season, giving them one of the worst offenses in baseball.
Last year, the Braves ranked 13th in the majors in runs scored, but this season, they’re averaging just 3.6 runs per game, 29th in MLB.