Mark Trumbo Talks Hitting

Mark Trumbo has always had pluses and minuses as a hitter. He’s consistently hit for power, but at the same time he’s displayed sub-par on-base skills. A free-swinging approach has been the major culprit. The 33-year-old slugger has walked just 299 times in 4,419 big-league plate appearances, largely because of a 50.6% Swing% and a 37.1% 0-Swing%. When he does make contact, he hits bombs. Trumbo has 218 home runs, and that includes a 47-home-run season.

He’s long recognized his limitations. Moreover, he’s owned up to them. An interview that ran here in April 2016 was titled “Mark Trumbo on Home Runs and (Not) Drawing Walks“. How to change for the better has been the issue, and truth be told, Trumbo’s reached a point in his career where that probably can’t happen. Not because he’s incapable of adopting a more disciplined approach — that would actually be a priority now — but rather because his playing days may be coming to an end. Trumbo played in just 12 games with the Orioles this year due to a knee injury, and even if he does return to full health, he’s somewhat of a square peg in a round hole. Today’s game is anything but kind to one-dimensional boppers.

Trumbo talked about the art and science of his craft, including his recent role as a mentor and the likelihood of one day becoming a hitting coach, on the last weekend of the 2019 season.

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David Laurila: You’re a veteran player on a young team. Do you see yourself as a mentor?

Mark Trumbo: “I enjoy talking hitting. As far as being a mentor, just by age alone there’s probably an element of that. But hitting is the thing I’ve done the longest in life, and it’s what I’m surrounded by the most, so I find myself naturally segueing into conversations that delve into all aspects of it — be it the mental, or physical, component. Adjustments have always been particularly interesting to me. That’s whether they come over the winter, or in-game. Regardless of when that is, there are a lot of things that can allow you get to another level.”

Laurila: Adjustments obviously vary in size and scope.

Trumbo: “Yes. The bigger changes usually happen over the winter. People are making fairly drastic swing changes, or their entire approach becomes different from what it was before. The day-to-day adjustments usually relate more to timing, rhythm, and pitch selection. As someone who has taken quite a few at-bats, I can usually offer insight into those topics.

“That said, I’m very much interested in the mechanics of a swing. I’ve always looked at guys who are getting it done at a highly-consistent level, and tried to see if I can steal some of their moves, so to speak. I’ve tried to figure out what is allowing them to be as productive as they are, in hopes that I can incorporate some of those things into my own game.”

Laurila: You’re still doing at this stage of your career? ‘Old dogs, new tricks,’ and all that.

Trumbo: “I always try to approach things with an open mind. I don’t think I’ve had anywhere near enough success to say that I have remotely anything figured out. All I know is that some trains of thought have served me better than others. I could probably give my younger self some pretty good advice.

“The thing about talking hitting is that you need to tailor it to who you’re talking to. That’s one thing I’ve figured out, here on the playing side: Some messages relate more easily, and a good hitting instructor gets the verbiage down with each individual.”

Laurila: Is that something you do when talking to teammates?

Trumbo: “I think it helps, sure. When you get to know someone, those relations are kind of the foundation for everything. I’m normally not very pushy with any kind of advice. I kind of lay out, ‘What are you feeling, and why do you think certain things are happening?,’ and from there enjoy watching someone work out his own problems.

“I find that the mind usually leads the way. Often it’s something really simple, and unrelated to a mechanical flaw, that leads to the mechanical flaw. It starts in the head with the approach, and from there manifests itself in the swing. Very seldom is something completely physical. It’s usually initiated by a desire to hit the ball to a certain part of the field, or trying to hit the ball farther, or harder, than is necessary at the time. And sometimes it’s actually the exact opposite: Somebody needs to be in a more aggressive mindset. Sometimes their pre-pitch mindset needs to be centered on hitting the ball as far as possible. You have to know who you’re talking to, and what drives them.”

Laurila: You said you could probably give your younger self some pretty good advice. What would that be?

Trumbo: “I’ve tended to be a guy that tries to put the ball in play more than I necessarily needed to. I think that’s the reason I haven’t ever taken as many walks as I would like, and other people probably would like. My early upbringing centered on a very contact-oriented approach. I see guys who are similar to me — big power, but the on-base isn’t necessarily near the upper echelon — and those guys I can usually talk to a little more. But it doesn’t make it any easier, because I’ve struggled my entire career to take a respectable number of walks.”

Laurila: When we talked hitting [in 2016], you said that the best version of yourself is the one that’s aggressive. In retrospect, was that maybe not true?

Trumbo: “That’s a good question. Aggressive in a very small window — as far as what I’m looking for — is what I’d say I’m looking for now. I think most guys have the mentality that they can hit most pitches, but sometimes when you look at the actual numbers you might be caught off guard as to how well you handle certain pitches, and how poorly you handle others. You need to be open to that, and to asking yourself, ‘Is that a pitch I can actually handle? Is it something I should be offering at?’ Making a change from that kind of information can make a real difference.”

Laurila: What is the most home runs you’ve hit in any one season?

Trumbo: “I hit 47, in 2016.

Laurila: You also struck out [170] times that year. What do think your numbers would have been like with a more-patient approach? Your walk total (51 that year) would certainly have been higher, but what about the home runs and strikeouts?

Trumbo: “I’ve always been interested in, when guys have big years power-wise, how… it’s not every time, but a lot of times the strikeouts will be fairly high, too. So will the walks. Those three numbers kind of go hand. Ideally, everything but the strikeouts would be through the roof, but when you’re in an aggressive mindset toward driving the ball, you’re taking your best swing more often. If your best swing happens to be a bigger version of your swing — maybe that means it’s less efficient — there’s going to be more swing and miss.

“I’ve found that when I keep the mindset of getting my A-swing off as much as possible, I don’t hit as many weak groundballs. I may swing and miss more, but sometimes that trade-off is worth it… as long as the weak outs go down, too.”

Laurila: With a more patient approach you’d have maybe hit 50-plus home runs, and drawn another 20-25 walks. The tradeoff likely would have been even more strikeouts — an Adam Dunn-type of season.

Trumbo: “It’s possible. The good years are sometimes not as easy to dissect as the ones that didn’t go your way. In 2017, I had a down year, and when I reflected on it after the season I realized that I didn’t hit the fastball anywhere near what I felt I was capable of. So the entire winter preceding the 2018 season, my goal was to get back hitting the fastball.

“In today’s game — and I see this with every team — we have a machine throwing hard fastballs. I think that’s one way to combat the stylistic pitching era we’re in, where the elevated fastball, and the big overhand breaking ball… the breaking ball part of it isn’t as easy to work on, although you can. But that’s always going to be a tough pitch to handle.

“One thing I’ve been trying to talk to the younger guys about is how I feel like you can control the way that you time the fastball, and approach it, at least with how you’re trying to put it in play. It can help you to get on plane and take away some of the weapons the other side is using.”

Laurila: Is hitting higher-velocity fastballs off a machine something you’re big on?

Trumbo: “I’ve always preferred a firmer look, whether it’s in batting practice with an arm, or with a machine. If you’re not challenging yourself daily with some of your drills, you’re letting yourself off the hook a little bit. I know a lot of things, like underhand flips, are extremely useful, and I’ve seen Hall of Fame players that do that consistently. Personally, I’ve always wanted a little different feedback on my own swing, to expose some of the flaws and inefficiencies that can happen throughout the year.”

Laurila: Are you a believer in tee-work, and flips?

Trumbo: “I think it’s completely subjective. It’s all up to the individual. I’ve always preferred the tee, but more and more I like to see a look that’s got some speed behind it. That’s the most similar thing you’re going to see to when the lights come on.

“I know that many decades ago they used to have actual live arms throwing batting practice. It was pitchers throwing. That would be pretty helpful, although for a number of reasons that isn’t going to be feasible.”

Laurila: How much are you keeping up with technological advancements in the game?

Trumbo: “I’ve had extensive experience with the HitTrax system. I find it to be a really nice way to work with a purpose, especially over the winter. In previous years, I hit in a cage environment, and you don’t really know where the ball would be landing, or how hard you’re hitting it. You want to work with purpose over the winter, especially on the exit velocity side of things. That’s something that’s highly valued by teams right now, for obvious reasons, and a lot of guys can make improvements in that regard. Rapsodo and Edgertronic more on the pitching side, but there are applications for hitting, as well.

“I think working with tools like that is a necessity in the current climate we’re in. It’s nice to have a balance, but if you’re not at least open to the idea of the technological advances… that just doesn’t play very well right now.”

Laurila: Players such as yourself — Chris Davis is another example — have become somewhat less valuable in recent years. You’re seen as being too one-dimensional at a time when a greater variety of players are hitting for power. What are your thoughts on that?

Trumbo: “I think that what’s valued as much as anything right now is pure athleticism. There’s always been somewhat of a balance between the speedy guys that didn’t hit for a lot of power, and the bigger middle-of-the-order-bat types that did. I don’t think it was ever all that important for the bigger guys to be multi-dimensional guys, but right now, unless you’re hitting 40-plus, there’s a desire for more versatility. If you’re a first base/DH type right now, you have to really pop to stay relevant, or even keep a job. I understand that.

“I don’t know how much the balls have influenced things this year. Maybe you can tell me? I’ve read a lot, but at the same time I haven’t had a lot of at-bats this year to give much feedback on that. But I do think that in a world down the road, home run totals are going to come down a little bit. That would give the power-first guys more of a role. Home runs are always going to beneficial to a team. But again, right now we’re at a point where you can find home run power at virtually every position.”

Laurila: What is your contract situation heading into the offseason?

Trumbo: “This is it for me. At least with the Orioles.”

Laurila: Do you hope to keep playing?

Trumbo: “I’ve battled this knee injury pretty hard this year. I’m a little over a year post-surgery, a cartilage-restoration procedure, and those tend to take a long time to get right. I’m approaching the offseason with an open mind, but I’d need to see some improvement in the health over the winter.”

Laurila: If you do want to keep playing, there’s the issue of teams willing to give you an opportunity. Logan Morrison mostly just got minor-league invites last winter as he was coming off injuries of his own.

Trumbo: “I have a suspicion that it would be similar for me. The guaranteed major league deals are hard to come by right now. It seems like a lot of guys are signing minor league deals with the hope to have a good spring and make the club. Would I be willing to do that? It’s definitely an option. I don’t know at the moment how attractive that is, or even how reasonable it is health-wise.”

Laurila: What if you’re offered a hitting coach position?

Trumbo: “One thing I’ve done a lot over the course of my career is travel quite a bit. I’m originally from the west coast, and I’ve been playing on the east coast for awhile now, so location would have some bearing on that. So would the specific role they’d be talking to me about. This is all premature; none of that has happened yet. But to answer the question, some guys are naturally inclined to stay in the game in a coaching capacity, while others are not. I fall more in the first category.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Daniel Murphy, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.

We hoped you liked reading Mark Trumbo Talks Hitting by David Laurila!

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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.

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D.K. Willardson
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D.K. Willardson

Always felt that Trumbo had significant upside if he could clean up his swing path. Has great power but he has always been a high backspin hitter which is unfortunate. He is in the last quartile in all three swing path quality metrics (backspin, LA variability, IFFB rate). Like he indicates – seems like it could be a simple “software” issue in how he’s thinking about the swing .