Baltimore Orioles: What to expect from Mark Trumbo in 2017

Now that the Baltimore Orioles have officially re-signed outfielder Mark Trumbo, it’s time to look at what Orioles fans can expect from him next season. He had a career-year in 2016, is that repeatable? Or was it a fluke?

After what seemed like essentially forever, the Baltimore Orioles finally re-signed outfielder Mark Trumbo to a three-year, $37.5M deal. While that’s all well and good, that money is a total waste if Trumbo can’t produce, and there’s reason to be skeptical.

Last season was the best season of Trumbo’s career. He lead the MLB in home runs with 47, 13 more than he’s ever hit in his career, and batted .256/.316/.533. He was also tied third in the league with an ISO of .277 (he was tied with Chris Carter and Khris Davis), another career-high by over 50 points.

So it’s reasonable to look at the season Trumbo had last year and say “that had to be a fluke.” If you look at the stats from the rest of his career, 2016 sticks out big time. The only time he came close to a season like 2016’s was in 2013 with the Angels when he batted .234/.294/.453 with 34 HRs.

So the question is, is this repeatable? Can Trumbo do what he did last year again? Or can he at least come close? Baltimore Orioles fans will all easily remember the difference between Chris Davis‘ incredible 2013 season when he batted .286/.370/.634 with a franchise-record 53 HRs and followed that up with a miserable .196/.300/.404 season with 26 HRs. Is that what we’re in for with Trumbo?

In short, no, I don’t believe that we are. Whenever I see a player have a major breakout season, especially one as old as Trumbo was last year, I look for some kind of noticeable skill change. A change in approach, or something that you can point to and say “That is different from the rest of their career.”

The simple answer is, Trumbo decided to hit more home runs. I know that that probably sounds stupid, and yes it’s an oversimplification, but Trumbo changed his approach in an effort to hit the ball out of the park more.

Take a look at these two gifs (courtesy of Eno Sarris of Fangraphs). The first is Trumbo with Seattle, and the second is Trumbo with the Orioles. See if you notice a difference in his approach:

Look at the difference in the leg kick. In the second clip, Trumbo’s leg kick is a lot more subtle than in the first one. He condensed his approach and cut down on the extra movement. That lead to career-highs in both fly ball rate (43.1%), HR/FB rate (24.6%), and hard hit rate (39.3%).

Now, if you’re like me, you might look at that HR/FB rate and say “Whoa, there’s no way he can sustain that” but when you compare that rate to his career rate of 19.3%, and add in the change in approach, that doesn’t sound all that insane.

Looking deeper into his approach, it looks like Trumbo is sitting on fastballs now more than ever. His weighted runs above average (wRAA) on fastballs skyrocketed last year to 26.5. The highest it had ever been before that was 6.7.

With that though, has come a decrease in his ability to hit sliders and cutters, the former hitting a career low -8.1 wRAA and the latter hitting -1.4 wRAA, despite being positive for the past three years. His performance against changeups took a hit as well, hitting -1.0 wRAA after two straight years of positive numbers.

Now, the reason I mention that is because that is part of the reason I’m expecting a regression from Trumbo. I think pitchers are going to figure him out; they’re going to start throwing him more off-speed stuff and fewer fastballs (though obviously he’ll still get his fair share).

Another positive aspect to his approach is his plate discipline. While his strikeout rate has a slight 1.3% increase, his chase rate hit a career low, his whiff rate hit a five-year low, and his contact rate hit a five-year high. His swing rate also hit a career low.

What all of this means is that Trumbo is being more patient at the plate. He’s waiting for his pitch, and when he sees it, he’s absolutely crushing it.

I’m not expecting Trumbo to repeat what he did last season, but the change in his approach to the plate has me convinced that he could do something similar. I’d expect a season of something like .255/.315/.498 with 35 HRs or so, and that’s still a season the Baltimore Orioles would love to have.