“I’m not a tremendously gifted athlete,” Mark Trumbo said. “I have to work at it, and be smart out there.” That might be surprising given how country strong the six-foot-four, 225-pound outfielder looks, but if you consider his game at as a whole, it’s obvious that there are aspects that could use refinement. Statistics have helped shape some of his baseball values as he’s worked to improve himself, even if he doesn’t incorporate them daily.
“I really couldn’t care less about batting average,” Trumbo said when I asked him for a stat he likes. “It’s not worthless, it’s very close to it.” As a power hitter, he’d rather be evaluated by power stats. One of the power stats that best describes the tool is isolated slugging percentage, which subtracts singles from slugging percentage in order to approximate an extra-base hit rate. Trumbo’s .220 ISO since 2011 is tied for 21st in baseball. His 19% home run per fly ball rate is tied for 15th in the league. By those power stats, Trumbo is one of the top 20 hitters in baseball.
“I’m always trying to improve my walk rate,” Trumbo admitted, “It’s never been something I’ve been great at, but it is something I do work at.” Since 2011, his 5.4% walk rate is 20th-worst in baseball, and his 4.4% walk rate in 2011 was tenth-worst in baseball among qualified hitters, so once again Trumbo knows what’s up. He thinks there is a genetic component to the ability to discern balls and strikes — some are “born with it” — but he’s working to get the most out of what he has.
Even if we aren’t quite at the threshold of reliability for his walk rate, he is doing better this year (7%). A little better than last year (6.1%) which was better than the year before (4.4%). This follows a pattern that he established in the high minors, when he steadily improved his walk rate from 5.2% in 2008 in Double-A to 9.7% in Triple-A two years later.
He doesn’t do it with heat maps of his swing — “you have to know where you are day-to-day, and your hot zone that day might be different than the day before” — or copious statistical self-examination. But he does know himself intuitively, and uses that knowledge to improve himself.
Look at his run value heat map on the left. That’s his work against righties since he’s been in the league. Looks like he likes it high and inside. Now look at the difference in his swing rates this year. All that blue at the bottom? He’s swinging less at pitches low and away in the zone, because they aren’t where he likes them.
“You need knowledge, at this level, of what guys throw. It’s game prep, but it’s also having a good long-term memory of how they attacked you before,” Trumbo said about his work at being “a smarter hitter and anticipating.”
Some of this improvement is natural. At freshly 27 years old, he’s firmly in the ‘still improving’ parts of the plate discipline aging curves. And this year, the walk rate for a pitcher facing a batting order the third time is 7.9% versus 7.6%, so the more times a batter sees a pitcher, the better — even if fatigue factors into that stat. But Trumbo is doing good work trying to anticipate what pitches will come in certain counts — “you have to look for what you’re going to get, not what you want to get” — and he deserves some credit for that.
Trumbo “takes a lot of pride” in his defense, which might sound strange considering the results he posts in that department. His -4.7 UZR/150 in 800+ innings in the outfield since 2011 puts him in the 50 worst outfielders. But there was real worry about his ability to handle any position at all defensively when he got to the big leagues. And, as Trumbo points out, he’s not a gazelle out in the field. So he takes pride in the work he does to be better with the glove, and being a -5 corner outfielder is probably better than some talent evaluators expected.
Once again, the mantra on defense for Trumbo is to “be smart out there.” By trying to anticipate plays, and bounces, he tries to avoid “getting surprised” out there. Even if he doesn’t use a lot of advanced stats on a daily basis, Trumbo knows what he needs to work on, and by being informed and ready, he’s getting the most out of his assorted skills in baseballery. Even if he isn’t the most athletic guy on the field.
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