Headed into 2012, Mark Trumbo stood pretty close to the top of the “most overrated lists” from the perspective of most advanced baseball sites. Yes, 29 homers, 87 runs batted in, and a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year ballot in 2011 looked really nice on the surface, but you didn’t have to look too hard to see signs of concern beyond that. The ugly .291 OBP stands out, of course, but the high strikeout rate and total inability to take a walk were even more concerning. Of the 145 qualified hitters in 2011, only two had a lower BB/K mark, and beating out Miguel Olivo for anything should hardly be a cause for celebration. It wasn’t hard to think that pitchers could exploit that weakness in Trumbo’s second time around the league, especially when he would also have to contend with attempting to learn a new position. With the imported Albert Pujols and the recovering Kendrys Morales taking most of the first base / designated hitter time, Trumbo was asked to try to convert to third base.
This all made for a very uncertain forecast for the 26-year-old Angel, one that tempered many expectations… and then he defied us all by getting off to a crazy hot start. By the end of a phenomenal May, Trumbo was sitting at .348/.396/.632, and while third base hadn’t quite worked out, his bat was reason enough for the Angels to cut Bobby Abreu and minimize Vernon Wells in order to give Trumbo regular playing time in the outfield corners. Over the next two months, the average and OBP dropped as you’d expect, but the power remained, with 17 blasts over June & July along with a place on the American League All-Star team.
Trumbo kicked off the second half with homers in four out of five games – that’s five out of six if you include the final game before the break – and continued to destroy the ball until the end of the month, not seeing his slugging percentage drop below .600 until July 29. As it turned out, Trumbo sat the next day with what was variously described as “back spasms” and a “dislocated rib”, and while it seemed minor at the time, it now seems like the beginning of the end.
Though he returned after just one day off and hit another homer two days later, the post-injury Trumbo was nothing like the monster he’d been for the first four months. From July 31 on, Trumbo hit just .205/.250/.297 with five homers, striking out a whopping 74 times in 208 plate appearances. Or, to show it a little more clearly:
Yikes. I’ve chosen to show SLG% and K%, but really this could have worked for any offensive stat. Trumbo stopped hitting for power, he stopped hitting for average… to be honest, he stopped hitting, in general. All the fears of the preseason doubters had come true, and then some, particularly when it comes to simply making contact. While Trumbo is clearly always going to be a guy who trades a lot of whiffs for his power, he’d at least managed to keep his K% at or near 20% for the first four months of the season. That’s high, but acceptable when it comes with all of the production he brought. In August, that was 36.4%; in September, 33.7% with a 0.07 BB/K. That’s no typo, that’s just what happens when you strike out 29 times and walk all of twice.
It wasn’t so much that he had poor batted ball luck, or suddenly started hitting a ton of grounders, or any of the other symptoms we often look for in players who fall of the cliff. His bat just stopped making contact with the ball, and it doesn’t matter how much power you have when you’re whiffing more than a third of the time.
Trumbo’s second half was so bad that we named him as our “AL Fantasy Hare” here, with good reason, and so now fantasy players are left with the following dilemma: what is Trumbo? Have pitchers learned “the book” on him, leading to a career as the overrated “Adam Dunn without the walks” player many of us thought he’d be? Or should we put more weight on an absolutely fantastic first four months, which are largely backed up by a solid minor league track record?
It’s very difficult to not simply point at the rib / back injury, given that it coincides almost exactly with the day he just stopped hitting, and explain his slump away that way. It might even be true, though of course Trumbo denies it, as though that means anything. I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle – that is, the injury was absolutely a limiting factor, but it may have helped hide the fact that Trumbo almost certainly wasn’t going to be able to keep up his early season production for the entire season.
Breaking down his 2012 monthly production, it actually seems clear that there were three Trumbos last year. In April & May, there was the red-hot-holy-BABIP beast. In June & July, he was the high-powered OBP-lagger we’d expect, and of course in August & September, the post-injury mess.
It’s that middle player that seems the most appropriate for Trumbo, the one who still showed massive power, but had a much more reasonable BA/OBP mark once his BABIP fell from that always-unsustainable marks it was early on.
Still, who wouldn’t take .260/.320/.540 with 35 homers and a ton of strikeouts, marks that seem easily attainable if Trumbo is healthy? Considering how difficult power is to find these days, that he’s eligible for at least two positions (that’s first base & outfield, though some leagues might give him third base, which would be huge, and leagues that split outfielders would give him left and right), and that he’s no better than the third best hitter on his own team, it could be argued that Trumbo heads into 2013 as an undervalued fantasy prospect.
Then again, don’t wait too long to pull the trigger, because his seasonal stats for 2012 still look nice enough for those who don’t remember how poor he was to end the season. There’s obvious risk here, because we can’t know for sure it was just the injury that ruined his year. Still, with Torii Hunter off to Detroit, Trumbo is likely to spend 2013 as the starting right fielder for the Angels, and as long as he’s healthy, he’s a fascinating source of power.