Mark Trumbo is an enigma. A right-handed power hitter who lacks patience and regularly swings wildly at balls outside the strike-zone isn’t the strangest thing that baseball has seen. Yet, that’s just part of it. It’s the way he’s found success being just that type of hitter that is what makes Trumbo sort of an unique conundrum of a baseball player.
Trumbo has hit 61 home runs since the beginning of the 2011 season but has posted a career OBP of just .301. And despite his hacking tendencies, Trumbo has still proven to be valuable. According to Baseball-Reference, Trumbo has been worth just over 7 wins above replacement during that tenure.
The majors have taken notice of this value as well. He’s been an all-star, was the AL rookie of the year runner-up in 2011 and the playoff-bound Pirates were even rumored to be making a move before the trade deadline to try and obtain Trumbo. Not bad for an 18th round draft pick who was described in the 2010 Baseball Prospectus annual as being “slow” and “unathletic” and “lacking in plate discipline.”
Yet despite Trumbo’s success, the descriptions from the 2010 BP annual are still mostly applicable. And even though a recent article described Trumbo’s constant adjustments as a key to him getting better, the numbers don’t necessarily agree.
The only other right-handed hitter since 1912 to hit 61 home runs with an on-base percentage lower than .305 through their age 25 to age 26 season is Ron Kittle. In the following six years Kittle played in the majors, he hit 108 home runs but with a slash of .242/.306/.471. Look familiar?
Trumbo is in just his third full-season in the majors but he seems to be quickly becoming the next Ron Kittle. Trumbo, like Kittle did, strikes out almost 25% of the time (24.5% in his career) and walks little (8.4% career rate). And just like Kittle, Trumbo is a hacker with a strike-zone that rivals the grand canyon.
I mean just look at this:
On top of that, Trumbo’s contact rate has been declining since his break out 2011 season (77.4% in ’11 to 70.9% in ’13). And that’s despite the fact that he’s swinging at a few percentage points less at balls outside the strike-zone (36% this year, 38.1% in ’12).
And then there are those slumps he goes through. Slumps that you have to wonder if he’ll ever get out of.
In the last 65 games (June 1st to August 16th) Mark Trumbo is batting .202/.262/.403. By comparison, Josh Hamilton, who has been getting most of the “slumping” headlines, has posted a similar slash line in that time: .231/.277/.419.
But that’s Trumbo. He will never be the patient and consistent hitter with a spot-on strike-zone that many of us want him to be. He’s a hacker and in his hacking, he’s found success. And it’s important to accept hitters what they are, especially if they succeed with their approach. The question is: do the Angels want that type of player whose prone to prolonged slumps and can’t lay-off a breaking ball nearly a foot off the plate?
Thus far, the Angels have made every indication that they are not willing to part Trumbo. They traded Kendrys Morales in the off-season and put the lumbering Trumbo in the outfield and at the DH spot just to get his plus-power potential into the lineup. When the Pirates reportedly came calling this trade deadline, the Angels held onto him.
The Angels decision to hold onto Trumbo may not be rooted in a belief that he can continue to succeed beyond the odds, though. Trumbo is cheap and becomes arbitration eligible next season for only the first time. He is also under team control through 2017. And currently, the Angels have no one who fits the DH/1B/RF profile in the system to really replace him. Kole Calhoun has only 34 games of minor league ball at first (31 of them coming in Single-A) and in three games at first this year in the majors, he has already committed 2 errors. While first-base prospect C.J. Cron, the last first-round draft pick the Angels had, is struggling to showcase the hit-tool he was drafted for in Double-A with just 10 home runs and a wOBA of .325.
Which puts the Angels in a tough position: to hold onto Trumbo this off-season and continue to deal with his multi-month slumps, strike-outs and the strike-zone discipline that he lacks or try and trade him. Trumbo has value, but for a team is full of hackers (three Angels are in the top 20 lowest BB% in the MLB), the Angels might be better off shopping the young slugger around and see if they can obtain similar value in a different form.
Otherwise, the Angels and their fans will have to learn to love the Trumbomb.