Mark Trumbo’s Uncertain Future

The top two vote receivers in the AL Rookie of the Year race are enough to make most saberists tear their hair out. Jeremy Hellickson won the voting despite posting a 4.44 FIP and 4.76 SIERA, and Mark Trumbo and his .291 OBP came in second. Both Hellickson and Trumbo finished heads and tails ahead of the rest of the competition, despite posting Wins Above Replacement totals that ranked them in the middle of the pack and behind players like Eric Hosmer, Michael Pineda, Desmond Jennings, Brett Lawrie, and Ivan Nova.

Obviously, traditional statistics played a huge role in this voting. Hellickson had 13 wins and a 2.95 ERA over 189 innings in the AL East, and Trumbo finished the season with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs. This decision is being greeted with copious amounts of snark, but both Hellickson and Trumbo are exceptionally interesting players in their own right. Instead of being concerned about the snubbed players, I’m more curious about what the future holds for these two players.

How will their careers progress? Is there any hope they can fix the holes in their game? I took a look at some of Jeremy Hellickson’s issues today at DRaysBay, so let’s take a deeper look at Mark Trumbo.

He may have just missed out on the AL Rookie of the Year award, but Mark Trumbo was a pleasant surprise for Angels fans in 2011. His 29 home runs and 61 extra base hits were both team highs, and his 2.3 WAR ranked him fourth among AL rookie hitters. While his lack of patience (4.4% walk rate) hurt his overall value, making him a mere 5% better than league average on offense, Trumbo provided balance to the Angels’ batting order. They were not a strong offensive ballclub, ranking in the middle of the pack in the majors (4% below average), and without him, their most powerful hitters would have been Vernon Wells (25 HR, .194 ISO) and Howie Kendrick (18 HR, .179 ISO).

Trumbo is an odd player, though; there aren’t many sluggers that have posted an ISO above .200 and walked less than 5% of the time. When trying to predict  Trumbo’s future, his list of comparable players is an eclectic bunch. Jorge Cantu. Delmon YoungJeff Francoeur. Rondell White. Raul Mondesi. All these players flashed exceptional power at an early age (25 or younger), but struggled with their walk rate. Most of these players kept their power and continued to be successful major league players to some extent, but none of them ever increased their walk rate much higher than league average (around 8.5%).

But Trumbo’s most comparable player strikes close to home for Angels fans. Maybe this is why Angels fans fell in love with Trumbo this season:

Unlike Trumbo, Torii Hunter‘s age 25 season was not his first year as a full-time player in the majors; Hunter played in 135 games in 1999 as a 23-year-old. He broke out at age 25, though, much as Trumbo did this past season with the Angels. While Trumbo isn’t as good a defender as Hunter and plays much less demanding positions (first and third), his offensive production mirrors Hunter to the letter.

This isn’t to say that Trumbo will necessarily continue to develop exactly as Torii Hunter did — he could always fall off like other high power/low patience hitters like Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young — but his career path seems doable for Trumbo. Hunter went on to post an ISO above .200 for five of the next six seasons, raising his walk rate to 7-8% over that time. Power doesn’t seem to be a problem for Trumbo — eight of his homers were “No Doubters” on ESPN’s Hit Tracker, and he averaged 406 feet per homer — but will his plate discipline improve any?

Of all the qualified hitters in the majors last season, Mark Trumbo had the sixth worst chase rate (42.7%) — around 12% more than the league average rate of 30% — and the 10th worst walk rate (4.4%). He only swings at 3% more pitches inside the zone than average, so in order to push his walk rate up toward league-average (8.5%), Trumbo would need to dramatically cut down on the amount of pitches he chases outside the zone.

Possible? Yes. Likely? Eh, tough to say. Most young hitters with poor walk rates develop into old hitters with poor walk rates, but the best hitters of the bunch — the Torii Hunters and Raul Mondesis — can improve their plate discipline until they’re walking at a league-average rate or slightly higher. Trumbo will be hard pressed to crack a walk rate of 8.5%, nonetheless anything higher than that, but that never stopped Torii Hunter from being a valuable player.

Of course, Trumbo does not play centerfield and he is nowhere near as good a fielder as Hunter. If he can keep improving his power, though, there’s nothing stopping him from being a steady, valuable contributor to the Angels for years to come.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

45 Responses to “Mark Trumbo’s Uncertain Future”

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  1. Colin says:

    Interesting analysis. Unless they sign a 1b man I have to think Trumbo stays until Morales can prove healthy. After that, who knows.

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  2. mister_rob says:

    Why would sabr minded people tear their hair out about Hellieckson winning?

    FIP and SIERA are great in determining what a pitcher is likely to do going forward. And definately should be used over ERA

    But the rookie of the year award isnt supposed to look at who has the best future. Its supposed to look at who had the best rookie year

    And while Hellickson probably wont be able to sustain a sub3 era going forward, the fact is he did manage to do it this year.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      Agree 100% Mister_Rob. Vote on ROY, MVP, etc should be on results, NOT advanced metrics. <3.00 ERA/13 wins is ROY stuff.

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  3. Corvelay says:

    Awards are given out for actual performances. Trumbo’s OPB was only .291 – this is a relevant fact, it shows that he made a high number of outs and got on base a low number of times. Hellickson’s FIP is not relevant in the same way. It provides a prediction about what his ERA may look like given a limited number of inputs. But, in the end, what truly mattered was how many runs he actually allowed, and his ERA is the truer, albeit imperfect, measure of this. Would you deny an MVP to a batter who had an unusually high BABIP, but as a result actually generated far more offense than the other candidates? It could be contended that Hellickson benefited from an exceptional defense, but this is weakened by the fact that no other Rays pitcher had nearly as large a spread between ERA and FIP. Perhaps they only played great defense for Hellickson.

    FIP and SIERA are by no means comprehensive measures and fail to account for a multitude of factors that have a real effect on pitcher performance. The attitude on fangraphs seems to be that since it is more difficult or impossible to quantify these factors as hard stats, we should just pretend that they don’t exist and instead measure pitching by the few that we are sure of.

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    • delv says:

      this x2 (mister_rob’s comment too). That Slowinski would get so tied up in FIP and SIERA that he’d ignore the fact that Hellickson won it over guys like Nova (more wins, higher ERA) is kind of disconcerting…

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      • byron says:

        That FIP is a good predictor is incidental to the fact that it evaluates what a pitcher has done in situations he completely controls.

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      • ttnorm says:

        It also can be said that since FIP ignores 70% of the available data in its calculation, that it is a very primitive tool on which to base a year end award.

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  4. JayT says:

    There’s also the fact that Hellickson pitched almost 20 more innings in only one more start then Pineda, in a harder division.

    There are reasons to prefer Pineda, but I don’t think Hellickson winning is something that should make people tear out their hair.

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  5. Chone Figgins says:

    Pineda finishing 5th is a joke.

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  6. Chone Figgins says:

    Pineda finishing 5th is as funny as my WAR.

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  7. Andy says:

    Um, what? Hellickson had 4.2 rWAR. The next highest AL rookie pitcher was Nova, with 3.6, and Pineda only had 2.8.

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  8. MDB says:

    Most of these comments are on the money. While FIP and SIERA show that Hellickson will be unable to keep his ERA below 3 in the future, that doesn’t change the actual results he collected this season.

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  9. LTG says:

    These comments about FIP and SIERA are off the mark. They are not merely predictive; they are also descriptive of what happened on the field. (It is, in fact, a result of their descriptiveness that they are predictive.) FIP and SIERA, by eliminating the noise created by team defense and luck, measure the value contributed by the pitcher to the success of the team. Hellickson’s deflated ERA tells us that he benefited from having the best defense in the league behind him and an absurdly large amount of luck (.223 BABIP!). In this way, defense-independent metrics are very relevant to deciding whether a pitcher merits an award, unless, that is, we think people should get awards for being lucky. How is it that I’m the first one to point this out here?

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    • Brian says:

      The fact remains, Hellickson only gave up an average of 2.95 runs, normalized to 9 innings. Sure, he benefited from the defense and probably was lucky, but the fact of the matter is that his style IS to use the defense. You can say Hellickson purposely pitched in a certain way to induce weak fly balls and pop outs by jamming opponents.

      A good defense is a valuable resource, and if the Rays really do have one of the best defense in the league, then it would make the most sense to take advantage of it. There is nothing wrong with this style of pitching.

      Also another point to consider is that Hellickson’s style allowed him to keep the pitch counts low, and thus he could pitch deeper into the game than any other rookie starter.

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      • LTG says:

        You would have a minor point if Hellickson’s batted ball profile were good, but it isn’t. He has lower GB% and higher LD% than Pineda. In other words, Pineda is better at “using his defense” than Hellickson. While it is true that Hellickson induced more IFFB and this is a sign that he should continue to outperform his FIPs, he won’t continue to outperform them by this much. (Of course, neither of them have great batted ball profiles yet.) And how is it that Hellickson uses his pitches well, or at least better than Pineda? Pineda threw 237 fewer balls and only 29 fewer strikes. Sounds like Pineda is more efficient. And Hellickson threw a lot more pitches than Pineda, just about the number you’d expect given the extra inning-load. That looks like a manager-related difference. And, at any rate, none of what you say addresses the insanely low BABIP, which is just luck.

        Also, if you are conceding that FIP and SIERA are descriptive and should be used as a part of the analysis here, then you are conceding my point. I don’t really care to figure out whether Hellickson or Pineda really deserved the award, just that we all understand how to go about coming up with a good answer to the question.

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    • mister_rob says:

      ERA has a pretty direct correlation with what shows up on the scoreboard. FIP and SIERA not as much. Therefore ERA is a better description of what actually happened on the playing field

      FIP and SIERA are better for predicting future outcomes

      People are awarded for being “lucky” all the time. Does anyone actually think the Cards were really the best team in baseball? No. But they are all getting rings. Or should we give the rings to the team that compiles the best FIP and wOBA?

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    • Colin says:

      You eliminated your own point when you said they remove “luck” while maintaining they are descriptive stats.

      If the point is to eliminate random fluctuations then that is predictive not descriptive. Team defense removal is a different matter but you really shouldn’t make both points together.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      I don’t understand your arguement LTG. Unless MLB changes it’s stat monitoring/measuring data to FIP, SIERRA, et al, the MVP, ROY, CY should be measured by the player that put up the best numbers on the field and not on paper. Do you want a pitcher with a SIERRA of 4.00 to win over the pitcher that did just the opposite? I’m sure the pitcher that put up that 4.00 ERA. I like it just the way it is. Give me a lucky pitcher that gives up <3.00 ERA EVERY day over the pitcher that puts up those great K and BB and IFFB and GB rates but has an ERA over 4.00. I know little about SIERRA, FIP, etc but the finlal results are what I want in my favorite team, not those numbers. Especially if they get me wins.

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      • Chicago Mark says:

        Damn that didn’t come out right. But I hope you get the idea. The awards are results based. Not expected results. And that’s the way I like it.

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      • LTG says:

        Awards are for meritorious action on the field. While results describe what happened on the field they don’t necessarily describe who did what to bring about those results, i.e., who merits recognition as the reason for the results. Unless you think a person merits other people’s contributions and the luck that befalls them, you should judge awards on the basis of stats that tell us what contribution the player actually made to the results not just what results happened to take place on the field when the player was on it. FIP and SIERA allow us to make these distinctions for awarding merit.

        By the way, “luck” here just means an event that cannot be attributed to the skill of the pitcher or the skill of the batter or the skill of the defense. Thus, it is perfectly descriptive. For example, that a ball is hit on the ground 2 inches the left so that the rangy 3B just misses it, is not the skill of the hitter or the lack of skill of the pitcher. We could give a causal description of that event but the mere causal story, which eventually leads back to the arm action of the pitcher, would not necessarily tells us about the skill involved because we would need to know what the pitcher and batter do and do not have control over, which is cashed out as able to repeat reliably over a long period of time. The description of skill is the one we care about. Luck, as a category, helps us in the project.

        Everyone wants their team to win and can be happy when the team wins. But if you want to know why your team wins and which players are more responsible for it than others, you have to look harder than traditional stats allow for.

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      • Chicago Mark says:

        I’ll agree to disagree LTG. I think it’s all about Runs for and against and wins. He gave up less runs and won more games. I’m an old timer and not learning the new advanced measures very well. I just can’t buy into giving the award to a player who would have done better on a neutral field with better defense and better hitters. That’s all speculation to me. He gave up 2.95 earned runs per 9 and won 13. That’s the bottom line to me.

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  10. There was a lot written last off season about Trevor Cahill and whether or not he deserved to be in the discussion for the AL Cy Young, mostly because he seemed extremely lucky. One comparison to Cahill was Justin Masterson. Sure enough, their ERAs differed by almost 2 runs, yet Masteron’s FIP was actually better. Their ground ball rates were almost identical, yet their BABIPs were off by nearly 100 points. I think the conclusion basically boiled down to defense. Oakland had an incredible defensive infield, Cleveland had one of the worst. Both guys threw ground balls, one guy’s grounders turned into outs, the other’s turned into seeing-eye singles.

    My argument about this was that no, Cahill did not deserve to be in the Cy Young talks because if you put him on another team with neutral defense, then there’s absolutely no guarantee he ends up with a ERA under 3. That’s the point of DIPS. Sure, you can measure how each player did on their respective teams, but the point of sabermetric analysis is to take out the dependencies. Only then can there be a fair competition. Team defense is a dependency. Luck is a dependency. As far as I know, Hellickson had both of those on his side this year.

    I like Hellickson, but his rookie showing was not stronger than Pineda’s. I have no problem with him winning it. I’m even certain that he will improve his peripherals in the coming years. But I don’t think you can tell me that Hellickson was a better pitcher than Pineda last season given completely fair circumstances.

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  11. Nick says:

    Trumbo cannot play 3B. He may try it out this winter if his foot heals, but I wouldn’t bet on him being good enough….unfortunately

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    • AA says:

      Trumbo apparently can play 3B, but hasn’t played it professionally. He can play corner OF, but there isn’t a spot there for him.

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  12. Colin says:

    This article is about Trumbo right?

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  13. Gdubya says:

    not anymore

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  14. cdawg says:

    Mark reynolds jr ! Keep in mind though, I have not even glanced at his minor league career; there for this statement may be very dumb.

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    • AA says:

      Always low walk rate, but his MiLB career was marked by both power and solid AVG. He hits a lot like a RH Garret Anderson with more power.

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  15. Pat the pragmatist says:

    Hellickson and Trumbo may have finished on top of the voting.

    But in the long run Pineda, Lawrie, Ackley & Hosmer will all be better players.

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  16. Nathan says:

    Isn’t the real point that Hosmer should’ve won it? Forget the pitcher debate…

    Actually, I can’t forget the pitcher debate, because it is the SAME ARGUMENT THAT HAPPENS EVERY DAY ON THIS SITE.

    FIP absolutely measures what happened. Just because it is primarily used as a predictive stat does not mean it doesn’t describe what happened. It just only describes the things the pitcher directly, without question, controls.

    I’m not arguing for Pineda or Hellickson, I really don’t care. I just don’t understand why this argument happens every freaking day and why it is so hard for some to understand.

    99% of us acknowledge that some pitchers have some control over where the baseball is hit, and thus can “pitch to their defense”. The point is that A) we do not have any good way to measure this right now, and B) what we can see, both statistically and with the eyeball test, is that pitchers like this are truly rare anyhow.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      Disagree Nathan. What actually happened is that Hellickson gave up <3.00 runs per 9 innings pitched and won 13? games. I don't want my voters to take luck into account when deciding who wins. I want them to see Hellicksons numbers for what they did for the team. Isn't that the way it should be, what happened on the field?

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      • Nathan says:

        If you don’t want your voters to take luck into account, then you shouldn’t support an argument based on ERA (to say nothing of FIP).

        What actually happened is not that Hellickson gave up < 3r/9 — what happened was that the RAYS gave up < 3r/9 with Hellickson on the mound.

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  17. Chicago Mark says:

    I like that Nathan. I really don’t know how to argue against that point. I guess we are voting for players and not teams. So we vote for the player whose team did it when he was on the mound. I know this brings it down simply to wins. And that’s not the total solution here. The bottom line is Hellickson’s results were better than Pineda’s (RESULTS). And that is how we should vote. Not on best peripheral (spelling?) data.

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    • LTG says:

      So, CM, your position on awards is that we should give one person credit for the whole team’s performance around him?

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      • Facepalm says:

        The bottom line is, every player on whatever team won the most games deserves to tie for the MVP. Because their individual contributions don’t matter, just the results do.

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  18. jim says:

    i love how every time an award is issued, a debate has to ensue about fWAR vs rWAR, FIP vs ERA, blah blah fucking blah, can’t we all just be happy mark trumbo didn’t win it?

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  19. Ken says:

    I understand the argument for FIP and all the sabremetric stats to determine value of a player. But these are stats that would be used by a GM to determine value of a player they have or are thinking about obtaining. For awards purposes, you should take into account only what the results were on the field for that player that year. It does not matter what that players defense contributed to those stats or what kind of luck was involved. Every year there are players that have career years and they will never be able to duplicate them, but that does not mean they don’t deserve the MVP or Cy Young for that great season. If all we took into account was the stripped down version of the sabremetrics, only the most talented players (the same ones every year) would even be considered for all of the awards since they have consistently the best FIP or what have you.

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  20. Anthony says:

    Oh my word, what are the comments for this article? Yeah, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, tERA, and other such fielding-independent statistics based on DIPS theory, but they’re far more than predictive stats. They’re essentially measuring how much of that shiny 2.95 ERA can be credited to the way Jeremy Hellickson actually pitched and how much of it can be coughed up to random luck and a stellar defense. The fact that his fielding independents are north of 4.00 is simply saying, at least I think, his pitching alone basically gave up 4 runs per 9 but his fielding was so good and he was lucky enough that the combination produced 2.95 ER per 9 innings, or 3.05 R per 9 innings. I think this year’s RotY results in the A.L. are great and terrible simultaneously. The fact that Brett Lawrie didn’t get a vote, that Pineda finished fifth, that Nova trailed all of the three in front of him, and that Ackley and Jennings weren’t the top vote-getters amongst position players is troubling. But had Nova beat out Hellickson I doubt it would have been due to superior DIPS theory stats, so it would have likely been a regression in the advancement of anti-W/L. So, yeah. I’m rambling now so I’m done.

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