Last April, I interviewed Baltimore Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo about his hitting approach. As he explained, it’s unapologetically aggressive — and geared toward power. The numbers bear that out. Trumbo hit 47 bombs last year — the most in either league — and he walked just 51 times in 667 plate appearances. For better or for worse, that’s who he is.
Belying Trumbo’s free-swinging ways is the fact that he is studious. He’s put a lot of thought into what works for him, and once the offseason rolls around, he’ll tinker with technology-driven tools. Terms like “exit velocity” and “launch angle” aren’t part of his everyday vernacular, but he knows exactly what they mean. Trumbo’s job is to bash baseballs, which necessitates his need to understand how baseballs are best-bashed.
Trumbo on launch angles: “I’m not, by any means, hyper-obsessed with some of these pop terms that are being thrown around. Especially launch angle. In practice, my goal is usually timing more than anything. When I am trying to drive the ball, I’m more or less trying to knock the fence down. It’s not to hit the ball as high and far as possible. If that happens in a game, great, but there’s a happy medium between a ground ball and a high fly ball. What’s most productive for me are those line drives that just continue to carry.
“[Ted Williams] promoted catching the ball on the upswing, which I think is basically what squaring a baseball up is. The baseball is on its way down, and if your swing is also on its way down, there’s a very small window where you can intercept it and hit the ball hard. What you’re trying to do is match the plane of the pitch with your swing, to promote length through the hitting zone and give yourself the best chance to impart the right spin on the ball.
“In the offseason, I’ll dig in a little bit more. We have the HitTrax system, which a lot of people are aware of now. You can use that to kind of monitor things, to make sure everything is roughly where you want it to be. It’s similar to a golf-launch monitor. It takes readings on where the pitch is coming in, how it’s exiting, what kind of spin you’re getting on the ball, how far it’s going — things like that.
“For me, it’s a good, standardized way to practice in a cage-type setting. When you’re hitting in a cage, oftentimes your perception is a little distorted. The distance is so cut down that what may look like a line drive could actually be a ground ball if translated to a major-league field.
“But that’s offseason stuff for me. During the season, the majority of anything you do is going to be focused on your approach to the pitcher on a given night. I compartmentalize. The game is too hard to have advanced-numbers types of things going through your head. You’re up there trying to put an at-bat together. The more technical things, I prefer to keep to the winter.
“I would never profess to having everything figured out. I just try to… I’ve played long enough that I think I know what works for me, personally. Everyone has different things that make them tick. You’re going to hear a lot of different ideas being thrown around, but I have a decent understanding of who I am, and what I need to do to help my team. If that philosophy lines up with what has maybe come into fashion, then that’s great.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.