Mark Trumbo was the least recognizable player in the Home Run Derby. Sure, Trumbo finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting last season, but he lacked the star power of a true superstar like Prince Fielder or Matt Kemp. But Trumbo impressed in the Derby, nearly making the finals while hitting some of the longest home runs of the night. And while the Home Run Derby doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, it’s an opportunity for players to display their talents in front of a national audience. Casual fans may not realize how good Trumbo has been this season. After last night, fans will start to take notice of his breakout.
Trumbo has been exceptional with the bat this season. He’s hitting .306/.358/.608, with 22 home runs. Trumbo’s .405 wOBA ranks seventh among all outfielders. There was no doubt Trumbo would hit for power. He clubbed 29 home runs as a rookie last season. The question was whether Trumbo would be able to get on base enough to make his skill-set useful. Trumbo may have finished second in the ROY voting, but he received a lot of scorn for ending the season with a .291 on-base percentage. It’s hard for any player to accrue a lot of value when they make outs that frequently, even if the club 29 home runs.
Trumbo heard those concerns this past off-season, and he’s made some adjustments.
While Trumbo has improved his walk rate, the gains aren’t as drastic as they initially appear. Trumbo walked in 9.8% of his plate appearances through the first month of the season, but he was unable to maintain that level. And while his overall performance improved in May — he hit .367/.407/.670 — his walk rate dropped to 5.9%. He managed to make a slight improvement in June, and it’s probably too early to fully rely on his July rebound.
But there is some reason for optimism. Last season, Trumbo’s walk rate was just 4.4%. He’s managed to surpass that number in every month of this year. That could be a sign that Trumbo can sustain a slightly higher walk rate. At the same time, much of Trumbo’s gain this season is due to a good first month. A look at Trumbo’s monthly splits from last season reveals that he has seen his walk rate spike before.
Last May, Trumbo walked in 9.5% of his plate appearances. After that month, he dropped back down to 3.4%, and never came close to reaching the heights of his May the rest of the year. Again, though, there’s reason to rejoice. Trumbo’s worst performance this year — his 5.9% walk rate in May — is better than his walk rate in every month other than May last season. In other words, his worst month this season would rate as his second highest month last season. That’s promising. And since we know that walk rate stabilizes at about 200 plate appearances, we can confidently say that Trumbo has improved his weakest area.
The real question is whether his improvement is enough. Because even though he’s made improvements, it would be foolish to think of him as a patient hitter. ZiPS seems to think some of the gains will last, projecting Trumbo to have a 5.8% walk rate the rest of the season. If that holds true, Trumbo would finish the season with a 6.4% clip. That’s a nice improvement, and could be a sign that Trumbo will work to improve his rate in the future. But even if this most recent gain is all that Trumbo is capable of, he’s going to have some productive seasons.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.