I begin this article, as I have many articles, with a confession. I've never been a Mark Trumbo believer. It's not that I don't think he has talent, but I'm a big OBP guy, even in leagues that don't use it as a category. I like it because players with good OBPs can still produce during slumps by getting on base and racking up some counting stats. Trumbo has never been an OBP guy, as he set his career high at .317 last year. So when I was looking for some inspiration for my Saturday article and Ian Miller of Productive Outs suggested Trumbo in light of his terrific start, I jumped at the idea. Not because I what to crush dreams or anything like that, but because doing this exercise has caused me to change my tune before, and it's good to challenge your preconceived notions every once in a while right? Right.
|Baseline: 2013 (162 game pace)||720||.284||.349||.531||90||38||107||3|
Let's start with what's encouraging. Even at 80% of his current pace, he's a 30 home run guy, with near 90 RBI. That type of power seems to be increasingly rare, so he's clearly a valuable player even with a solid dropoff built in from his current numbers. There's also reason to believe that his current .284 average isn't nearly as much of a mirage as one might initially think. While I don't think that's his true talent level in regards to his hit tool, his fly ball percentage isn't overly high, a la Josh Reddick, and he's actually reduced it by 4% compared to 2012. On top of that, not only is the FB% down, but those fly balls have turned into line drives, as his LD% has increased 4% relative to 2012. And, as we've known, the power with Trumbo is legit. He's currently producing a career high 23% HR/FB rate, but that's not an inconceivable jump for someone with his strength from the 20.6% that he had in 2012.
So, as we can see, Trumbo is hitting he ball better, and more effectively, as he's reduced his fly balls and increased his home runs per fly ball. That's legitimately good improvement, but it's not the only thing he's done. He's also upped his walk rate a full 3% relative to his 2012 total, while keeping his K% constant. Given his on-base struggles in the past, and a likely drop off in batting average (more on that in a second), it's fair to question whether he'll be able to maintain the improved walk rate, while also noting that it will be of vital importance to his overall value.
Now let's look at why this tremendous start might not continue. For starters, his BABIP is sitting at .344, which is 28 points above his BABIP last year and 44 points over his career average. Part of that can be attributed to his increased LD%, though some credit also has to go to his current infield hit percentage of 13%, which is 6% higher than his career average and a 7.5% higher than his 2012 total. I'd expect a return to his career average infield hit percentage as the season goes on, but I only expect it to nominally affect his overall BABIP, because it will be offset by the increased LD%. Another career high BABIP wouldn't surprise me here.
The other reason for concern? Trumbo was actually better in the first half last season, producing a .306/.358/.608 slash line before falling apart in the second half (.227/.271/.359). Now, that second half slash line is surprisingly similar to his 80% slash stats in the table above, with the notable exception of the weak slugging percentage. His slugging is the part of his game I have the most confidence in though, so while the other slash stats might drop off, if he can keep his slugging in line, he'll still be an incredibly valuable player.
There's obviously concern that Trumbo's first half isn't even as good as last year's, and he dropped off in a big way last year. Maybe he's just a first half player. I tend not to buy the "second half player" narrative, so I'm inclined not to sell the first half player narrative. It's hard to tell you I believe these adjustments are real though, when pitchers were able to exploit his weaknesses after what appeared to be an adjustment last season. However, one thing I always talk about with prospects is that I like to see them respond from failure. We saw Trumbo struggle in 2011 (aside from the power), only to improve drastically in the first half of 2012, and improve a solid amount overall. I like that we've seen Trumbo show the ability to make adjustments multiple times now. That means if pitchers once again adjust to him, he knows how to adjust back. I'm not saying that I buy his current rate stats, but I'm more inclined to believe in him a fantasy asset than I was before I started this piece. Are you?
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