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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.