Can Mark Trumbo Hack It as a Full-Time Starter?

With Kendrys Morales‘ recovery from last May’s grand slam, walk-off celebration of doom taking longer than expected, Mark Trumbo began the 2011 season as the Angels’ starter at first base. This past week, it was revealed that Morales will have a second surgery to remove scar tissue from his damaged left ankle, knocking him out for the entire year.

While that unfortunate news is a tough blow to L.A.’s offense and Morales’ career prospects, it does open up an opportunity for Trumbo to prove himself as a capable everyday player. Is he up to the task?

Trumbo, 25, has long been known for hitting moon shots. The Angels ponied up in the 18th round of the 2004 draft, offering the two-way standout from California a signing bonus in excess of $1.4 million to keep him from attending Southern Cal. L.A. preferred Trumbo’s right-handed pop to his mid-90s velocity off the mound, and since then, he has garnered a reputation as a high-power, low-patience hitter.

After two marginal years in the Low-A Midwestern League in 2006 and 2007 (he hit a combined .247/.310/.393, while the MWL averages were around .255/.325/.370), Trumbo mashed to the tune of .283/.329/.553 in the High-A California League in 2008. While the Cal League hitting averages were .273/.340/.412 that year, and his walk rate remained poor at under six percent, Trumbo’s power earned him a promotion to Double-A late in the year.

Here’s how Trumbo has fared since he hit Double-A late in ’08. To provide greater context, I included the league averages for each minor league level:

(League averages are from Baseball-Reference)

In the Texas League, Trumbo displayed above-average, if not jaw-dropping thump and again struggled to work the count. Last year in the PCL, he really tapped into his strength with 36 home runs, which tied him with Mike Moustakas for the minor league lead. Even when you consider that the 2010 PCL was the most friendly offensive environment in the minors, Trumbo’s ISO was 78 percent better than the league average. The bump in his walk rate, however, was partially the product of pitchers choosing to take their chances with the on-deck hitter: Trumbo’s unintentional walk rate was still below-average at 8.4 percent (8.6% unintentional walk rate for the PCL).

In the majors so far in 2011, Trumbo has managed a .256/.300/.463 triple-slash in 130 plate appearances. Both his prodigious power — and glaring lack of patience — have been evident during his first meaningful big league playing time.

Trumbo has popped six home runs for the Angels, with an ISO of .207. Yet, his overall offensive performance has been just four percent better than the major league average. Why? He’s listening to the little devil on his shoulder that keeps on saying “Swing! Swing!” when pitchers tempt him with stuff out of the strike zone.

He has hacked at 43.5% of pitchers thrown out of the zone this season. Trumbo’s O-Swing ranks behind just Alfonso Soriano, Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero among all major league hitters. Trumbo is getting into pitcher’s counts often, with a 63.9 first pitch strike rate that’s four percentage points above the MLB average. Not coincidentally, Trumbo’s walk rate is just 4.6%. That’s with three intentional free passes, too: his unintentional BB rate is 2.3%.

Prior to 2011, Baseball America noted that Trumbo “doesn’t have glaring holes in his swing, though he’s still a little too tempted by high fastballs.” That has held true so far. While our Pitch Type Values show a positive run value for Trumbo against fastballs and Pitch F/X data show that four of his homers have come against fastballs, he’s hacking at plenty of high heat (chart courtesy of Texas Leaguers):

That’s a trait that pitchers could potentially exploit, and it has contributed to his 23.1% infield-fly ball rate thus far. He’ll also need to do a better job of making contact against sliders and changeups: he has whiffed at sliders 21.4% of the time (13.6% MLB average), and 32.4% of the time when a pitcher pulls the string (12.6% MLB average). Those whiff rates help explain his 25.6% strikeout rate.

There’s little question that Mark Trumbo has excellent power potential. And when he gets a hold of a pitch, he hits lasers: according to Hit Tracker, the average speed off the bat for Trumbo’s homers is nearly 107 MPH, while the AL average is around 103 MPH.

But, home run aesthetics aside, Trumbo is a flawed player whose lack of patience relegates him to waiver wire status among first basemen. For the rest of the year, ZiPS projects a .249/.295/.416 line. That level of performance is 49th-best out of 55 first basemen for whom ZiPS has rest-of-season projections. Unless Trumbo learns to ignore that swing-happy devil on his shoulder, you’d be wise to avoid this Angel.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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He’s another student of the Domingo Ayala Beisbol Academy. Just like Hank Conger, I predict big things from him to come.