What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Mark Trumbo


September 14, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Mark Trumbo (44) at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Trumbo fits the profile of the all-power late-bloomer who comes on in his mid-twenties when all sense tells you to give up on him ever becoming a valuable player and puts up some big home run numbers. In 2011, his age-25 season, Trumbo entered the year as the ninth-rated prospect in the Angels’ farm system according to Baseball America. He sat behind such names as Hank Conger, Tyler Chatwood and Fabio Martinez. In other words, not much was expected of him.

That year, however, Trumbo made the team out of Spring Training and proceeded to hit 29 home runs and slug .477. Looking beyond those numbers, however, one could see the flaws in his game. A rock-bottom walk-rate and sub-par batted ball skills led to a depressing .291 on-base percentage and a barely-average overall offensive profile even after factoring in his tremendous power production.

When you factor in that his only real position is first base (he can stumble around in the outfield, but calling him good out there is more than a stretch), his overall profile seemed to be as a right-handed bench player with some power or maybe a second-division starter.

Many, including myself, predicted some regression and with the addition of Albert Pujols to play every day first base most thought he’d be plying his mediocre wares for another team.

But then the Angels tried to squeeze him in anywhere they could on the diamond trying him at third base and also in the outfield and he went gangbusters to start the 2012 season. By June 20, he had a surreal slash line of .326/.380/.629 and had hit 16 home runs in 242 plate appearances. His unintentional walk-rate, which previously had been awful, clawed its way up to respectable sitting just under eight percent. Everything was coming up Trumbo.

But then the wheels fell off. After June 20, Trumbo went back to walking under five percent of the time and suddenly he could do nothing at the plate. In his last 83 games, Trumbo’s slash line was an anemic .229/.273/.396 and although he hit another 16 home runs in those final 344 plate appearances. He coupled that with a drastically increased strike-out rate and a drastically decreased ability to hit doubles—hitting only four more.

In searching for reasons why Trumbo struggled so badly in the second half, one only has to look at two factors. Obviously the first is his approach at the plate which seemed to revert back to what it had previously been after a first-half aberration. The second factor was his inability to handle pitches both high and out of the zone and also in on the hands which led to a much higher whiff-rate and pop-up rate in the second half.

First-half Pop-up rate

Second-half Pop-up rate

There was also his batted-ball average which sat at .371 on June 20 and fell to .274 after that date:

First half BABIP

Second-half BABIP

Projecting Trumbo going forward is difficult. His positional problems have been more or less solved with the trading of Kendrys Morales to Seattle allowing him to DH more or less full-time, but it’s difficult to say what exactly he’ll do in that role.

His first-half numbers were completely unsustainable, this much is certain, but if Trumbo is as bad over a full season as he was after June 20, he simply not good enough to be an everyday player. Of course, the Angels don’t necessarily need him to be good—they should have no problem scoring lots of runs—and if Trumbo does completely fall off a cliff in 2013, Vernon Wells could step in at DH. Although, that’s not necessarily an upgrade. There’s reason to believe that Trumbo can at least be as good as he was in 2011, or roughly an average offensive player with not much to offer with the glove, but those second-half numbers are very troubling.