Mike Trout talks Kobe Bryant, playing catch with fans and the benefits of experience

Mike Trout is baseball’s best player.

You know this, of course. In his five full seasons in the bigs with the Angels, he’s won the AL MVP twice and finished second three other times, which is kind of ridiculous. Advanced baseball metrics love his production, as do traditional counting stats (he averages 33 homers and 28 stolen bases a year), and he’s an elite defensive center fielder.

I had the chance to chat with Trout on the phone Tuesday afternoonas part of a round of media interviews he was doing to promote a new commercial for BODYARMOR , the sports drink company that has Kobe Bryant as a primary investor. The commercial is narrated by Bryant and features athletes James Harden and Richard Sherman, among others.

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Anyway, I thought we’d share part of the interview here in a Q/A format.

SN: Let’s start with this: You’re off to a typical Mike Trout start to this season, but when you look at your game, how do you feel you’re a better player now than you were when you first arrived in the big leagues?

TROUT: I think the biggest thing is experience, seeing guys over and over again helps me out. It’s tough when you go out there and face a pitcher for the first time. You don’t know what he has, and now that I’m seeing pitchers over and over, it’s big for me. There’s always things you can get better on, though. Just trying to repeat your swing, stay more consistent. And over the years you learn some things where, when you’re going through a little skid, you know how to fix it. Well, hopefully you learn how to fix it. Sometimes it’s a bit harder than that. But the biggest thing is experience.

SN: That’s something that’s always kind of fascinated me, the battle of adjustments between hitters and pitchers. Some pitchers are better at adjusting and sometimes hitters are better the second or third time through. What’s the key to staying on top of that?

TROUT: You hit it right on the nose. The pitchers are trying to change up the sequences as well. For me, it’s not just location, it’s seeing guys and knowing what their fastball does, or knowing what their slider does, or cutter or curveball or changeup. Location is one thing. You have a set location or pitch you want to hit before you step in the box, and if you don’t get it, you gotta lay off it. It’s tough to do when you want to do so well. It seems like every game, you try to figure out their game plan, but sometimes that hurts you. Sometimes, if you think they’re trying to beat you inside, you’re thinking inside and they throw a pitch two or three inches inside that you can’t drive, and you swing at it and ground out to short or third. For me, it’s staying with my approach and trusting it.

SN: There are so many Mike Trout stats to look at, whether it’s WAR or wOBA or homers or whatever. Do you have a favorite stat or two you look at and think, “OK, this gives me an indication of how I’m doing out there?”

TROUT: Yeah, I think getting on base is big for me. Driving in runs is huge. Homers will come. I don’t really look at that too much. But now my on-base percentage is over .400, which means I’m seeing the ball pretty good. The average is, you know you can go on some streaks where you hit the ball hard and one night you’ll hit the ball hard four times and you go 0-for-4, then the next day you hit two bloopers and they’re hits. That’s how baseball is. You’re going to fail a majority of the time, but you’ve got to stay positive. Things will turn, and you can’t nag on yourself and put yourself in a bad hole. You’ve got to always stay positive and trust it.

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SN: What was it like to work with Kobe for that commercial? Is he as intense with that kind of thing as he was playing basketball?

TROUT: (laughs) Oh yeah. When I first started talking with him, it was pretty cool. Growing up, watching him on TV hitting all the game-winning shots, winning all the championships, the MVPs, it’s pretty special and a pretty cool feeling to talk with him and work with him. His involvement in basketball was unbelievable and now that he’s working with BODYARMOR, it’s even more special.

SN: I saw video from the other day of you playing catch with the kid in the stands before the game. That was pretty cool. How did that happen?

TROUT: Day game in Anaheim. Went out there to get warmed up and started playing catch with him. That was a pretty cool experience. It’s great for the fans, obviously great for the kid. I was talking with him, and he was pretty nervous, but that’s expected. I didn’t want to airmail one, either. I didn’t want to put one in the stands; I had to hit him in the chest every time. It’s a good thing for baseball, when it happens. You see it across the league, guys playing catch with fans. It’s just making people’s day, that’s key. Putting smiles on kids’ faces, you don’t know what that stuff does. It means a lot to me as a person, and obviously to the kid and his family.

SN: I wanted to ask you about the 10th-inning home-run robbing catch against Mike Napoli, too. Take me through that one.

TROUT: Early months in Anaheim, the ball doesn’t fly that well. I know Napoli, he likes to face us and he hit that one pretty good. For me, I thought it was gone off the bat. I just wanted to make sure I caught it. It probably would have went over; people were saying it would have hit the top of the fence, but I was just happy I caught it. Those are tricky. If you go up to the fence and don’t jump, or you get too close to the wall and you do jump, you can get jammed into the wall and your glove will change direction and you miss it. Thought I’d make it an easier catch for me just to climb up there where I won’t get jammed on the wall. Happy I made it.

SN: How much are catches like instinct and how much of that is having learned how to maneuver and operate around walls like that?

TROUT: For me, as the home field, during BP I get a lot of balls off the wall or close balls that I can time. Obviously don’t want to do it all the time in BP because there’s a chance you get hurt, but knowing where you are in the field and just the repetition and being comfortable with it helps.

SN: You’ve been automatically intentionally walked twice this season, which is as much as anybody in baseball. What’s that new rule like?

TROUT: It’s uh, a weird feeling. You get to the plate and they whistle out to the catcher and they tell you you’re going to first base. Going from the on-deck circle to first base is pretty weird.

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SN: Are you a fan of the rule? How do you look at it?

TROUT: You know, I don’t mind it. It’s something new, I guess, that speeds up the game a little bit, but it doesn’t happen that much. When it does, it’s awkward. It’s something that we’re not used to, so I think give it some time and we’ll get used to it. Doesn’t bother me.

SN: Commissioner Rob Manfred has talked about being open to all kinds of new ideas for the game. Any rule changes or tweaks you’d like to see implemented down the road?

TROUT: I like the way the game is going. Obviously they’re long sometimes, but that’s the way baseball is. It’s been played like that for hundreds of years, so that’s the way baseball should be played.

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