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The Orioles re-signing Mark Trumbo comes with some upside

The Orioles, including Mark Trumbo, strugged mightily against lefties last year - but based on his career numbers, Trumbo should do better.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Duquette approached this off season as if he were on a mission from God to bring the band back together. The latest step in completing his mission was resigning Mark Trumbo this past week to a three year $37.5 million deal. Outside of Matt Wieters, who still hasn’t signed elsewhere, the O’s are just running last year back again.

Trumbo was brought back on a deal that cost the Orioles a lot less than many thought he would get at the outset of the off season. Trumbo was said to demand up to $80 million initially. While he is a one-dimensional player, his deal is surprisingly good for a free agent who turned 31 earlier this month.

While Trumbo may not be the answer to the problems the 2016 Orioles faced, he still has some upside for 2017 season, even coming off a career-high 47 home runs.

Left-handed Pitching

The Orioles struggled to hit left-handed pitching in 2016. This knowledge is common except among mainstream Orioles reporting.

However, an under-covered part of their struggles was how bad Trumbo was against lefties in 2016. He hit .173/.223/.385 against lefties in 2016 good for a 54 wRC+. Absolutely horrendous, much like many of his teammates. Yet, for his career Trumbo has hit .251/.298/.489 against lefties, good for a 113 wRC+. That’s actually a bit better than how Trumbo has hit against righties in his career.

In 2016, Trumbo posted a 146 wRC+ against right handers. Trumbo may come back down to earth against right handers, but he almost has to come up against left-handers as well. He posted a .167 BABIP in 2016, compared to his .281 career BABIP, against left handers indicating some bad luck. Furthermore, his batted ball profile is not all that different from his career.

In 2016 he had a hard hit rate of 37.5 percent against lefties and a 20.5 percent soft hit rate. For his career, those numbers are 37.2 percent and 17.8 percent respectively. The only big difference was a drop in his line drive rate which was 12.5 percent in 2016 versus 15.8 percent for his career. It’s worth keeping in mind that line drive rate is a volatile statistic that takes a long time to stabilize. It is more likely that 2016 is not a new normal, but a valley in Trumbo’s career.

This potential regression leaves Trumbo with a decent amount of upside against left-handed pitching in 2017. He has to hit better than he did in 2017, it really is only a matter of how much. If he can revert to career norms the Orioles will have added a weapon against left-handed pitching without really adding anyone at all.

Batted Ball Speed

Trumbo had a career year at the plate last season for lots of reasons. Some indicated that he was simply more fortunate, while others were signs that he actually got better at hitting the baseball harder.

On the plus side, Trumbo posted a .278 BABIP overall, which is actually lower than his career .288 BABIP. He could be due for more luck there.

On the negative side, Trumbo also posted a 24.6 percent home run to fly ball rate, much higher than his career 19.3 percent rate. Fluctuations in HR/FB rate can often be attributed to randomness. The underlying numbers tell a different story.

Trumbo posted far and away the best hard hit rate of his career at 39.3 percent in 2016 compared to only 34.9 percent for his career. Furthermore, Trumbo was able to put more balls into the air last year posting a career high 43.1 percent fly ball rate.

For a guy that can smack the baseball, getting it into the air is very important. This plus the friendly confines of Camden Yards, and the other AL East parks, leads to Trumbo posting a career high HR/FB and leading the majors in home runs.

On top of those basic numbers, we also now have Statcast data. While we only have batted ball speed for two years, we can still look at how Trumbo improved from 2015 to 2016. Below is chart from Brooks Baseball that shows Trumbo’s average batted ball speed against “Hard Pitches,” “Breaking Pitches,” and “Offspeed pitches.”

As you can see, all of his numbers went up year over year. He hit every type of pitch with more authority in 2016 and it led to great results for Trumbo and the Orioles. Hopefully, this trend will continue or maintain itself going into 2017 and beyond.

The Orioles off season is not the one I, and probably lots of others, had hoped for. The inevitable resigning of Trumbo filled me with dread up until he moment it happened. Now that it has happened, it gives me some hope. He should bounce back against left-handed pitching solving one of the major problems of the 2016 Orioles. Also, his underlying contact quality numbers provide some evidence that 2016 was no fluke.

The deal is a good one for the team. By all accounts Trumbo likes it in Baltimore and his teammates like him. He is on a pretty friendly deal for the previous year home run champ. As long as his outfield glove stays in the locker room, his value to the 2017 Orioles should be good enough to justify his contract.