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Orioles slugger Trumbo isn’t hitting the mark

The slump Mark Trumbo is stuck in isn’t what the Orioles had in mind when they signed him this offseason. It’s probably because his swing looks a little off.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Walk-off walks are cool.

Just before Seth Smith thrillingly watched four Danny Farquhar pitches hug the strike zone, resulting in the Orioles dousing the man of the moment with the fresh feeling of ice cold water, Mark Trumbo had another chance to stride away from his current 36 wRC+ form.

In a 1-0 count, Trumbo was on the receiving end of a hanging Alex Colome cutter at 89 MPH, such a pitch destined for one true outcome: banishment over the fence.

But as Trumbo seems to be proving with a bit too much frequency, he just missed it.

Though the latter of the O’s lineup bailed out baseball’s returning home run leader, it was yet another chapter in a series of unfortunate events that has encapsulated Trumbo’s early season misfortune. Troubles that, quite frankly, are tough to spot on the surface.

Mark Trumbo Plate Discipline 2016-17

Plate Discipline O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
Plate Discipline O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2016 33.80% 69.90% 49.40% 82.00% 72.40% 13.60%
2017 28% 73.10% 49.80% 77.60% 70.30% 14.80%

In spite of a .250 OPS, .077 ISO and a 4.9 BB%, Trumbo has actually been pretty good in rationing his swings. His current chase rate of 28% would actually be a career best, as would his frequency of swings within the strike zone. However, Trumbo’s pace of contact over the plate has dropped heavily, even as he’s forced more pitches in the strike zone.

For power hitters like Trumbo, as he’s so affluent at firing his hips in making sweet, sweet contact to his pull side, the inner-half of the plate becomes a playground. As you’ll see with most zone profiles, Trumbo’s 2016 season was scarred along the outer-half of the plate. Though, in true slugging fashion, he took advantage of mistakes when he had the chance.

A season ago, en route to hitting a major league best 47 ding dongs, Trumbo owned his side of the plate. Such tends to be a prerequisite for all big league hitters, but again, power hitters often auction off the far side of the plate in order to rake in the exchange on the pull side. Trumbo didn’t miss many baseballs that found his happy place in 2016, but so far this year, it’s been a lot of grandma swapping spit with Shooter McGavin.

With an influx of available pitches to hit, Trumbo hasn’t taken advantage of what appears to be a steady diet of digestible meatballs. With only one home run more than three weeks ago, Trumbo isn’t necessarily lacking in contact, but the manner of Trumbo’s baseballs being put in play has been more meager than his reputation has normalized.

Last season, Trumbo was sixth-best in baseball in terms of Statcast’s barrel per batted ball event. In 15.8% of Trumbo’s recorded events via Statcast, balls put in play could be coined as a “barrel”, a name given to a batted ball that, according to its exit velocity and arc, holds a minimum baseline of a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. It’s a really fancy way of saying he hit the ball really hard more than other guys.

In 2017, Trumbo’s Barrel/BBE now sits at 3.7%, with only two batted balls thus far worthy of being labeled as such. His rate of contact said to be of the “medium” variety sits at 57.4%, another current career high.

So, how is it that someone like Trumbo who so routinely found holes in the defense and created his own in the bleachers a season ago so precipitously see his contact distribution weaken so mightily. Well, it may be because his swing doesn’t look quite right.

This dinger from Trumbo in early June of a season shows him at the heart of his comfort. Down in the count, Trumbo gets a hanging 1-2 changeup from eventual Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, and proceeds to nuke the baseball nearly 115 MPH. His hands, his load leg, and his torso all seem to be moving in unison. Trumbo doesn’t look too passive down in the count, and he certainly isn’t cheating for a fastball. There’s a natural rhythm to his swing.

Fast-forward to last night, and there’s Trumbo again narrowly missing a chance to throw a punch at the Statcast leaderboard.

Not necessarily his hands, his load doesn’t appear to be differing from a season ago either. The more side-by-side views of the respective swings versus similar pitches in similar counts shows a guy who just looks like he’s questioning himself. There’s no real fire in his swing, and being stuck in between like that can have the kinds of after effects we’ve seen out of Trumbo.

The failure to hit the inside pitch with authority, as well as hitting defensively may provide a sneak peek into how his beleaguered presence at the plate has effected his intimidating authority.

It’s more than likely there’s a subtle mechanical flaw to be found that our eyes from afar can’t see, but it’s important to recognize it’s still only April. The only real way for Trumbo to harmonize his approach at the plate is to hit through it, and Trumbo is no stranger to adjustments.

In early July last season, Trumbo bounced back from his first encounter with 2016’s respective adversity at the plate. Slumping for close to two weeks, Trumbo flashed a more refined version of himself, showcasing a swing with a very quiet set of hands, a relaxed front side and the explosion typical of the 6’4, 225 lbs. behemoth. This is the kind of mistake pitch that helped make Trumbo, well, Trumbo.

The growing frustrating surrounding Trumbo’s current status is justified, especially with Trey Mancini providing more competitive at-bats. Even so, expect the big man to make himself great again, because there’s a lot of evidence that points to how self aware Trumbo is, and there’s enough history to suggest he’s imperfect, but he isn’t this.

As brutal a game as baseball is, all it takes is one, and Trumbo will find that one sooner rather than later.