The slugger has to be happy about that, even if the number is a little lower than he might have expected after hitting 47 home runs last year. In July, at the All-Star Game, he was already being asked about this possible deal, and he agreed that it would be nice: “Moving your whole life year to year is not as ideal as maybe people think it is. You’d like to establish yourself and contribute to a singular team for an extended period of time if possible.”
Now he can! Will he be as good as he was this past year?
He led the league in home runs, yes, but he also set career highs in hard-hit rate, pull rate, and fly-ball rate while playing some of his better outfield defense, despite possessing an athletic skill set more suited for first base. In July, he admitted that the outfield was sometimes “daunting” but that he had to “resort to competing” as he always had.
The result was a season that made him a great fit for the Orioles on a returning deal. “If you can bring a little bit of versatility to your team, you’re that much more valuable,” he said back then. But mostly, he was signed for his bat, and all those extra hard fly balls he showed this year.
This offseason, Trumbo went to work, as he always does, with Dan Koosed at the Orange County School of Baseball. After the halfway mark in this interview with Matt Yallof and Eric Byrnes on the MLB Network, he talks about the work he put in with Dan. “I’ve worked with a system that analyzes it not unlike a golf simulator,” he says. “You can see your launch angle and exit velocity.” It’s all part of an effort to “keep the ball on the line and in the air,” something people have heard before, but he’s willing to use the best tools at his disposal to do so.
In terms of actual mechanical decisions, meeting his goals meant simplifying his swing. At the All-Star Game, Trumbo said he was trying to “clean up some of that wasted movement” in the offseason. Check out his swing in 2015 (first) vs. 2016 (below). It certainly looks like his step is more muted in the Baltimore clip.
What this meant in terms of outcomes was more fly balls, and harder, just like he wanted. Below is Trumbo’s Statcast data, with adjustments for lost readings by Jeff Zimmerman. The league’s exit velocity increased by over a mile per hour, but Trumbo’s increased more than that. And he hit more balls in the air, and more balls in the ideal home-run angle.
|Average Exit Velo||88.3||89.8|
|% Home Run Angles||10.8%||12.6%|
It’s funny, though. You look at these new numbers and you wonder how sticky they are year to year. You can see that his fly-ball rate went up, from 40% to 43%. But isn’t that about the same? And we know that fly-ball rate is fairly sticky year to year. And that players hit more ground balls as they age? So do we know any more about Trumbo given his launch angles from 2016?
The year-to-year correlation for launch angle from 2015 to 2016 was .629, compared to .793 for ground-ball rate from 2002-2012, so it’s tempting to think that our new stats are worse than our old stats. But we also know that it only takes about 50 balls in play for launch angle and exit velocity to stabilize, compared to 109 balls in play for ground-ball rate, according to Derek Carty’s work.
It’s possible to have a number that becomes meaningful in shorter samples but is less useful year to year, of course, but it’s also more likely that, as Statcast improves its ability to capture all launch angles, we’ll find that it’s a more exact and better metric year to year.
For now, we know that Trumbo decided to hit more fly balls and did so. He also added a strategy component. This summer, he said: “Even in situations in the past where I may have had a little bit of a put-it-in-play approach, I’ve stuck to more of a power approach. With our lineup it doesn’t do any good to chop a ball into a double play. Punching out is not ideal, either, but if you take a good aggressive swing and swing through it, the guy behind you gets a chance.”
A three-year high in strikeout rate was actually part of the plan — even despite a career low of reaching at pitches outside the zone. He was willing to forgo the two-strike approach to hit for more power, and he hit seven home runs after an 0-2 count (second-most in baseball to Todd Frazier’s nine), so maybe it was the right fit.
He did struggle a bit in the second half, with a temporary dip in fly balls, but that was just a blip. “It’s hard to hit fly balls. You try not to press or take shortcuts. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes not,” said Trumbo in early August. In the end, his fly-ball rate was exactly the same in both halves, and though his batting average on balls in play dipped (from .327 to .216), his isolated slugging percentage (.294 to .256) was still excellent, showing that he was still able to hit for power.
Given that Trumbo has changed his approach and mechanics to make the most out of his given abilities, and that he’s going back to the same lineup and same park, it might be too aggressive to regress him all the way back to his career averages when it comes to slugging numbers. He’ll probably hit at least 35 homers and play enough first and outfield to keep him close to league average overall next year. If he does that, he’ll be on an appropriate contract, and part of a fearsome lefty/righty duo in the middle of that Orioles lineup.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.