The Overrated and Underrated Mark Trumbo

Yesterday, I wrote a mini diatribe on the value (or lack thereof) provided by Nelson Cruz. Because he has earned the label of “right-handed power hitter”, teams are apparently ignoring the fact that he’s not actually that good of a hitter and doesn’t really do anything else to help a team win. Bat only players where the bat isn’t that special are probably the most overrated players in the game, and that is certainly a club to which Cruz belongs.

That description also works pretty well for the eminently available Mark Trumbo. His name is perhaps the most popular of the morning, as the Diamondbacks are apparently working multiple avenues to try and acquire his power from the Angels in exchange for some of their excess pitching. Keith Law has even reported that there’s a chance that they could get the White Sox involved in a three way trade in order to find the right fit to help them acquire Trumbo, and it seems likely at this point that the Angels will move Trumbo in a quest to upgrade their rotation.

If the reported price tag of Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs is even remotely close to true, it seems fairly clear that the Diamondbacks are drastically overrating the value of Mark Trumbo, an unsurprising result given that he possesses the skillset that is most often overrated. To give up a prospect like Skaggs for the right to swap a speed-and-defense +2 WAR player for a dingers-and-ribbies +2 WAR player suggests that the Diamondbacks are following the trend of putting far too much emphasis on the ways players create runs and not the amount of runs they create.

Trumbo is simply not an impact player. Over the last three seasons of big league action, he has posted a 112 wRC+, which is terrific if you’re a good defender at an up the middle position but a little less terrific if you’re a first baseman or an outfielder who runs like a first baseman. He turns 28 in a month, so there’s not a lot of room for potential growth here either. Trumbo could still get better, of course, but he’s not some young kid who should be expected to develop into something dramatically better than what he is now. He’s a league average player, basically, and should be expected to be a league average player for the next few seasons.

But it’s worth remembering that Trumbo is a league average player, and those have value. For as much as I think the rumored price tag means that the Diamondbacks are overrating his contributions, it’s also equally wrong to simply quote his on base percentage (which is kind of awful) and ignore the thing that he does do very well. Trumbo has definitive strengths and weaknesses, but just as teams seem to overrate low OBP-high HR guys, statistical types like us can tend to underrate guys who make a lot of outs but do serious damage when they aren’t making outs. Mark Trumbo is not an impact player, but he also doesn’t suck. Positions that focus solely on what he can or can’t do miss the fact that the combination of those skills results in a player of some value.

Not as much as the Diamondbacks think he has, most likely. More than most guys coming off a season with a .294 OBP, however. Used properly, there’s nothing wrong with having Mark Trumbo in your line-up, as long as you understand what he is and aren’t planning on him being your answer to David Ortiz. And he actually has enough athleticism to be a pretty decent defender at first base, so he adds some value with the glove and isn’t a liability in the field.

Unless you put him in the outfield, where his size limits his range and makes his physical limitations more obvious and more harmful. And this would be the plan in Arizona, as they already have Paul Goldschmidt entrenched at first base, so Trumbo would be acquired to roam the outfield. Trumbo as a left fielder is likely less valuable than Trumbo as a first baseman, as the gap in his own defensive value at the two positions is probably larger than the gap in positional scarcity between the two spots. It is possible that he could improve significantly with a lot of work, and perhaps even become a passable defender in the outfield, but his size means that he’s probably never going to be an asset out there.

And so the Diamondbacks would be acquiring a league average player who they were forced to use sub-optimally, meaning that in Arizona, he’d probably produce at a slightly below average level. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that Mark Trumbo as an outfielder would produce less value than Adam Eaton as an outfielder, and simply swapping those two players would make the Diamondbacks worse.

There’s likely going to be more pieces involved in any deal that gets completed, and perhaps by the time the deal is revealed, it will be more evident why the Diamondbacks are interested in completing this deal. For their sakes, though, I hope they get some other things in value in return, because Mark Trumbo is not the kind of guy that is going to justify giving up Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs. He’s not as worthless as his OBP might suggest, but the fact that it takes him 500 outs to hit 30 home runs means that his overall value is limited.

Mark Trumbo isn’t great. And Mark Trumbo doesn’t suck. He’s okay. If you pay for okay, there’s nothing wrong with trading for Mark Trumbo. The Diamondbacks need to make sure they’re paying for okay, because that’s what he is.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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