Mark Trumbo Will Do His Slugging in Baltimore Now

For the second time in as many years, Mark Trumbo has become to a fanbase one of those “Remember when we had Mark Trumbo?” guys. He received less than a year’s worth of playing time in Arizona before being shipped to Seattle where he received less than a year’s worth of playing time before being shipped to Baltimore.

That Trumbo has been traded three times in two years is, in some ways, revealing on its own. Good players get traded, too, but more often its the players with glaring flaws who find themselves repeatedly expendable and repeatedly dealt. As a bat-only, power-and-nothing-else guy, Trumbo fits the mold.

Trumbo is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent next offseason, meaning that he’s likely to become the answer of a trivia question to a third fanbase before too long. For the Orioles, Trumbo probably serves as a stopgap. He’s set to earn something like $9 million in arbitration, which made him a non-tender candidate for a Seattle team that’s looking to become more athletic.

One-dimensional non-tender candidates in their final year of team control don’t tend to carry too much in the way of trade value, and so all the Orioles had to give up for Trumbo’s services was Steve Clevenger. Clevenger is a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher who bats left handed and is out of options so he’ll see some playing time in Seattle, but also seems likely to see playing time in Triple-A. He’ll do some things for the big league club, but he won’t do more things. He hasn’t hit much, but last year he hit a little, and he doesn’t carry any kind of defensive reputation one way or the other. Seattle doesn’t have any left-handed catchers in the high minors and he can also play some first base, so in that way, Clevenger is a fit in the loosest sense of the word. This is more than enough about Steve Clevenger.

If you care about this deal at all, you care about it because of Trumbo. Trumbo is interesting, because despite all his shortcomings, he does do one thing really well. There aren’t many folks who can sock dingers quite like Mark Trumbo. He’s averaged nearly 30 per 600 plate appearances throughout his career while playing mostly in pitcher’s parks, and since 2011, only 13 people have hit more balls out of the park. Steamer doesn’t forecast much difference at the plate between Trumbo and Christian Walker, but the Orioles didn’t really have a first baseman, designated hitter or corner outfielder, so room exists for both. Even in the (unlikely?) event that they’re able to retain Chris Davis, the Orioles desperately needed bats, and that’s literally all Trumbo is, even if the end product isn’t much more than a league average hitter.

For much of the past two seasons, Trumbo hasn’t looked quite like the player we saw in Los Angeles, who ran a 113 wRC+ and a .221 ISO over three years while playing his home games in the spacious Angel Stadium of Anaheim. When he was traded to play in hitter-friendly Arizona, the thought was that the power would play up and Trumbo could reach a new level, maybe hit 40 homers. And for those first few weeks in Arizona, the power was playing up, but then Trumbo went down with a stress fracture in his foot, and he ended up missing a significant chunk of the season. When he came back, the power had gone missing, and Trumbo didn’t resemble himself.

A Mark Trumbo without the power is an easy out, and so late in 2014 after returning from the foot injury, pitchers were going right at him without much consequence. The way a hitter is being pitched to by the league can often tell us a lot about the hitter. This is a game of constant adjustments, and you’ll do anything to get an edge. The way pitchers and coaches watch film of their upcoming opponents is complex and nuanced, and when a hitter is doing something different, it shouldn’t take long for the league to adjust.

Trumbo, like most hitters with his profile, is a fastball hitter who struggles with the breaking pitch, and for his career, he’s seen a heater about 60% of the time. When he came back from that foot injury in 2014, though, pitchers saw a different Trumbo, and so Trumbo was pitched differently. In August of 2014, he saw 73% fastballs, the highest rate over a month in his career. It stayed the same in September, at 71%.

After an offseason to get healthy, Trumbo opened 2015 looking more like himself and, in response, he saw a more typical number of fastballs. An early June trade to Seattle ushered in a nasty little slump — call it an adjustment period — but then, something happened. Over Trumbo’s last three months, he ran a 132 wRC+. Granted, that number is perhaps somewhat propped up by a .365 BABIP, but the walks were up and the isolated power was pushing .200. Maybe more telling is the way the league responded.

Trumbo’s rate of fastballs seen, 2015

  • April: 62%
  • May: 61%
  • June: 64%
  • July: 62%
  • August: 54%
  • Sept/Oct: 57%

The fastballs spiked when Trumbo struggled through June, but then the league saw something, and began pitching Trumbo in a way it hadn’t since 2012, which just so happened to be Trumbo’s best season.

In a way, you could argue that this is the first of Trumbo’s four homes where he actually fits. The park didn’t much fit in Los Angeles or Seattle, and he was too often out of position in Arizona with first base blocked and no designated hitter. Now, for the first time in his career, he’ll be playing in a hitter’s park where he should be able to settle in as a first baseman/designated hitter. Even at his best, Trumbo isn’t going to make a huge difference; he just doesn’t get on base enough and doesn’t offer any value outside the batter’s box. But the most recent few months we saw of Trumbo were his most impressive in years — and not only that, but the league agreed.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Westside guy
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Westside guy

Clevenger is out of options, so he probably won’t spend time in AAA.

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He might for somebody. I like Clevenger, he’s probably a 4A+ player and just a full season shy of Christina Kahrl’s Fraternity of Backup Catchers.