Mark Trumbo exceeded expectations in 2011, making a strong case for Rookie of the Year and a long future in the Angel organization.  All that managed to earn him in 2012 is a potential defensive position switch and a severely reduced role.  Is the Trumbomber really going to be relegated to a reserve role or can he patch up the holes in his game and force his way into the lineup?

Mark Trumbo

2011 Stats: 539 AB, .254 AVG, .291 OBP, .477 SLG, 65 R, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 9 SB, 4 CS, 120 K

2012 ZiPS Projections: 590 AB, .253 AVG, .295 OBP, .437 SLG, 71 R, 25 HR, 91 RBI, 6 SB, 4 CS, 141 K

2012 Bill James Projections: 535 AB, .269 AVG, .313 OBP, .493 SLG, 69 R, 28 HR, 94 RBI, 8 SB, 5 CS, 112 K

2012 CAIRO Projections: 358 AB, .252 AVG, .296 OBP, .462 SLG, 44 R, 18 HR, 54 RBI, 6 SB, 3 CS, 80 K

2012 PECOTA Projections: 258 PA, .256 AVG, .297 OBP, .448 SLG, 31 R, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 3 SB, 1 CS, 58 K

2012 MWaH Projections*: 325 AB, .259 AVG, .310 OBP, .489 SLG, 38 R, 17 HR, 45 RBI, 4 SB, 2 CS, 77 K

*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research

2011 in Review: Coming into the 2011 season, I was probably one of the biggest Trumbo doubters out there.  What I saw was a guy who had immense power, didn’t walk much, struck out a whole lot and might not be able to hit for average all while being a defensive liability.  In many ways, I was totally right, but I was totally wrong in many ways as well.

Trumbo was handed the starting first baseman job after Kendrys Morales suffered his injury setback in training camp and Mark made the most of it.  His moonshot home runs quickly became the stuff of legend, making him a cult favorite with the fans before the regular season even began.  He certainly did not disappoint in that department as he crushed 29 homers during the season and likely would’ve cracked the 30-mark had he not been playing the last month of the year on a broken foot.  In addition to his powerstroke, Trumbo also displayed a surprisingly adequate glove at first base.  His hands were not the greatest, but he showed surprising range, especially when you consider that many (myself included) were expecting him to be a total mess.

That was where the pleasant surprises came to an end.  Trumbo did post a passable .254 batting average, but his .291 OBP had many mocking his RoY candidacy and questioning if he had a long-term future in this league.  He also fanned 120 times on the year, a total that is very high but not so high that it is unpalatable, but high enough to shed further light on his major plate discipline issues.

Three Lingering Questions for 2012:

  1. Can Trumbo handle the move to third base? We’ve all heard the tales of terror from his very brief previous flirtations with third base as well as the recent tale of the grounder he took to the face, so there is plenty of reason to doubt this move.  However, Trumbo did manage to acquit himself rather nicely at first base last season, displaying surprising agility for a man his size.  Maybe he can commit himself and make this move?  Maybe he can’t because he lost so much time due to his lingering foot injury?
  2. Will Mark be able to improve on his abysmal on-base percentage? An even more important question than the positional switch.  He has all the power in the world, but can much of that is offset by his how infrequently he walks.  With Dipoto now running the franchise and putting an onus on OBP, will Mark be able to make the necessary adjustments to his game to prove to the club that he is worth keeping around?
  3. How much playing time will he get even if the third base thing works out? Even if takes well to third, it is hard to see him getting more than 50 starts there.  That leaves 100+ games for him to try and find a way to get into.  How’s he going to do it?  Will he be able to mix in at DH with Morales or Abreu?  Will he have to play the outfield as well?  Or will he just have to suck it up, stay on the bench and hope that the club trades him or finds a bigger role for him next season?

What to Expect in 2012: Trumbo has so much on his plate coming into this season it is a bit overwhelming.  First and foremost, he must prove that he is healthy.

His recovery from a stress fracture in his foot has taken much longer than expected and as of this writing, he still hasn’t been fully cleared by the doctors to engage in full activity.  We’ve been lead to believe that he will recover fully, but we’ve also made that same mistake before.  How quickly he can get that clean bill of health is going to have a major bearing on his season.

For starters, Mark can’t fully commit to his transition to third base.  He is taking limited work their now, but considering that the injury delayed his move so much in the first place, he needs to have the training wheels taken off as soon as possible.  Even if that happens today, there is a lot of reason for skepticism about his ability to handle the hot corner.  On the plus side, he has a cannon for an arm and has demonstrated suitable range while playing first base.  On the down side, there are already grumblings that his arm accuracy could be a problem and that he may be too big and lumbering to make plays on balls that he needs to come in hard on.  The biggest concern though is his hands.  At first base last season, Trumbo had the third-fewest number of scoops amongst qualified first basemen.  Part of that has to do with him playing in an infield full of good fielders, but a big part of that is also that he just doesn’t have good hands.  Having a hard time gobbling up anything other than routine balls at the hot corner could be the death stroke for this little experiment.

I do suspect that Mark Trumbo Thirdbaseman is ultimately doomed to failure, but I also believe that the Angels are going to try and milk it for all it is worth.  Even with Albert Pujols and maybe Kendrys Morales now in the lineup, the Halos value having Trumbo’s bat in the lineup and they will try and find away to get it in there as much as they can.  Considering that they have above average to plus defenders at every defensive position other than third base, they might decide that they can stomach one defensive liability every once in awhile.  Adding to that is that the Halos have a pitching staff very well suited to hiding Trumbo at third base a couple times per week.  Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, especially, are all flyball pitchers.  Anytime those three on their mound, the need to have a quality defender at third drops quite a bit, making it an ideal time for Scioscia to start Trumbo, assuming he believes in this way of thinking.

Of course, where Trumbo plays won’t matter if he doesn’t show progress at the plate.  The power is great and all, but everyone knows he has to display more patience.  And the ticket to him gaining more patience is him showing more discipline.  A big part of Trumbo’s lack of walks last season was that he was swining way too much, especially at balls out of the zone.  In fact, only six qualified players swung at a higher percentage of pitches they saw that were outside of the strike zone than Trumbo and only 12 swung at a higher percentage of overall pitches seen than Mark.  Bottom line, he needs to swing less.

Not only is Trumbo not allowing himself to get into deeper counts by swinging early and often, he is quite frequently getting himself out or negating his own power by chasing so many pitches outside of the strike zone.  One would hope that he’d be able to address this weakness, but plate discipline is not something easily improved upon.  It certainly can be done, but not often without a little pain.  What I would expect for Mark to do this year is make a concerned effort to work the count and swing at his pitch rather than anything he can reach.  Much like we saw with Erick Aybar a few years ago, expect this to be a rocky transition full of big ups and downs.

As strange as this might sound, being a part-time player might be to Trumbo’s advantage for this initiative.  If used properly, Trumbo could be deployed mostly against left-handed pitching.  Since he sees the ball better against southpaws, he should have an easier time making the pitch selection and strike zone adjustments he needs to make if he doesn’t want to be the next in a very long line of sluggers who wash out of the bigs because of poor plate discipline.  Hopefully, the less frequent playing time will help prevent him from being overexposed as he makes the changes to his approach as well as keep his numbers at an acceptable level so that there isn’t any potential damage being done to his confidence.

This is all a lot of “if”s and “but”s though.  For all we know, Kendrys Morales could suffer another setback and Trumbo could be promoted to full-time DH (though I suspect he’d have to share that jobs with Abreu in such a scenario) and not have to worry about third base at all while also playing so much more frequently that he won’t have the luxury of refining his approach against favorable match-ups.