The regression of Mark Trumbo has been just as bad as everyone expected. The defending home run champ, acting as the Orioles primary designated hitter throughout the season, is slashing just .240/.300/.412 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI. Of course, he has not lost all usefulness, but it may be time for manager Buck Showalter to move Trumbo to the bench if the O’s want to put their best foot forward in the AL Wild Card race.
All of the peripheral statistics suggest that Trumbo should be replaced. He has a WAR between 0.1 (Baseball Reference) and -0.4 (Fangraphs), a 90 OPS+ and an 87 wRC+. All of those numbers are below average.
Of course, he is a DH for a reason. His fielding is atrocious and only further lessens his value. Yet he has taken part in 109 of the Orioles’ 120 games thus far, missing 10 of those games because of a stint on the disabled list.
The most likely alternative to having Trumbo in the lineup everyday would be to make Trey Mancini the DH, name Joey Rickard the everyday right fielder and hand Seth Smith the job in left most days. Keep in mind that Anthony Santander, the Rule 5 pick, is expected in Baltimore later this week. Depending on how he plays, he could very well factor into this as well. The 22-year-old is a corner outfielder and has shown a good ability to handle the stick in the minors.
A winning formula
Rickard, for all of the grief (by this writer included) he was given a season ago, has rebounded nicely this year, particularly with the glove. His total WAR ranges from 0.7 to 1.0 this season whereas his UZR/150 has jumped from a poor -19.2 in right field last year, up to a massive 59.6 now. While his ability with the bat still leaves a lot to be desired, he provides a steady hand in right field, a spot that has proved defensively difficult for Baltimore in recent seasons. With a Baltimore pitching staff that has finally seemed to find its footing, it would be nice to have a reliable defender in right.
Mancini has been an unexpected force in the middle of the Orioles lineup. Everyone knew he could hit, but this well? Few were expecting a .294/.343/.526 line with 21 home runs and 62 RBI from the rookie. That said, he is straight up bad in the field, looking stiff and lacking an arm strong enough for any position other than first base. Not to mention, the position he plays seems to affect his hitting. When DHing, Mancini hits .299, and .351 when at first base, but he drops to .242 as a left fielder. Allowing him to focus on offense would seem to be a wise move.
Smith has been a fine addition. The 34-year-old is defensively challenged, but has an impressive approach at the plate that has allowed him to accrue a .353 on-base percentage, the best mark on the team, apart from Tim Beckham’s hot 14-game start (.517 OBP) with the O’s. He has even done well in limited chances against left-handed pitching (.300/.364/.600 in 20 at-bats).
Why not Davis?
Although Trumbo’s struggles have been greater, Chris Davis has been the Oriole on the wrong end of many-a-fan’s vitriol this summer. Most of that is likely due to his huge strikeout numbers (133), his minuscule batting average (.220), lack of power (18 home runs, 10 doubles, .428 slugging) and that big old contract (seven years, $161 million) he has. So, why don’t the O’s put him on the bench and let Mancini or Trumbo play first?
The most obvious reason is that Davis is actually a pretty darn good defender at first base. He is far and away the most athletic among the potential first baseman on the roster. And stats back up his ability. His UZR/150 at first this year is 5.4. Mancini has a -2.6 and Trumbo has a nice career number of 6.0, but has no significant innings at the position since 2015. In limited chances with the O’s, he has been about average.
That alone is reason enough to keep Davis in the lineup while removing Trumbo. On top of that, Davis has a higher ceiling and probably a better chance of bouncing back. Crush is a career .247 hitter with a .493 slugging percentage. This year he is at .220 and .428, respectively. Conversely, Trumbo’s current .240 batting average is only 10 points below his career number, and his .412 slugging percentage is 53 points below his career mark there.
Both men are 31 years old; young enough that they can still play at a high level, but old enough that they’re best days are likely well behind them. Davis has the better career track record. Trumbo has always been a one-trick (DONGS!) pony. Go with the proven over the one-year wonder.
The best way to get Trumbo in the lineup is as a fielder. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but with the way this Orioles team is constructed, it makes the most sense.
As mentioned earlier, if Trumbo moved to the bench, Smith would likely become the left fielder most days. But Showalter has shown that he’s not a fan of having Smith face left-handed pitching. Beyond Smith, the options would be Craig Gentry or the incoming Santander. Gentry is just so bad at the plate that it would be foolish to make him part of a platoon again, and Santander is a mystery. That leaves Trumbo to be the right-handed part of a possible corner outfield platoon.
For his career, Trumbo has pretty even splits. He slashes .249/.305/.459 against righties and .251/.299/.480 against lefties. Smith, on the other hand, has a track record of struggles against lefties (.206/.285/.323). So even though he has succeeded this season, it’s unlikely to maintain.
It works out because Trumbo would be replacing Smith in the field. Both are bad with the leather, so not much is lost in the exchange, but it gives the Orioles a boost offensively. Trumbo is a right fielder, so when he is in the lineup, Rickard heads over to left, where he is about an average fielder
A platoon may also help with Trumbo’s mindset. He has talked about in the past how he prefers to play the field over DH. It shows. As a DH this season, he is slashing .201/.270/.379. When he moves to the outfield he hits .346/.386/.505.
Of course, this is all on paper and baseball isn’t played on paper. Odds are that the Orioles coaching staff has bounced an idea like this around a time or two already. Trumbo is a veteran. Showalter is not one to give up on his vets, so the point is most likely moot.
What should Mark Trumbo’s role be on the Orioles?
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