Baltimore Orioles: What Happened to Mark Trumbo?

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 14: Mark Trumbo
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 14: Mark Trumbo /

One of the Baltimore Orioles’ biggest disappointments last season was Mark Trumbo, who had arguably the worst season of his career. So what happened?

One of the Baltimore Orioles’ biggest disappointments last season was Mark Trumbo, who had arguably the worst season of his career. And the timing of that poor season was heavily emphasized by the three-year, $37.5 million contract he signed with the team in the offseason.

In 2016, the year before signing this new deal with the Baltimore Orioles, Trumbo had the best season of his career, slashing .256/.316/.533 with 47 home runs (which led the MLB), 94 runs, and 108 RBIs.

The batting average was pretty much in-line with the rest of Trumbo’s career, as he’s a career .249 hitter, but the power was what surprised. Up until that point, the most home runs Trumbo had ever had in a season was 34 in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

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But he followed that excellent season up with a poor season where he slashed .235/.289/.397 with 23 home runs, 79 runs, and 65 RBIs. It’s wasn’t absolutely horrible, but if you’re going to hit .234, you need more power to justify it.

So what happened to Mark Trumbo? Why the sudden decline? Well, this is going to sound stupidly simple, but the reason behind Trumbo’s poor season is twofold: first, he just wasn’t hitting the ball as hard, and second, he was hitting the ball in the wrong place.

It’s not surprising that, in 2016 when Trumbo hit the most home runs of his career, he also had a career-high in hard-hit rate at 39.3%, and a career-high in HR/FB rate at 24.6%. Now, that on its own should’ve been a signal that the power was due for a regression to the mean since his career hard-hit rate is 34.2% and his career HR/FB rate is 18.4%. The numbers aren’t insanely high, but there was a little bit of luck there.

Last year, Trumbo’s hard-hit rate dropped to 30.4% (the lowest its been since 2011) and his HR/FB rate dropped to 13.8%, a career-low. On top of that, he started hitting more ground balls, and started pulling the ball less, hitting the ball to center field more often.

When you start hitting more ground balls and more balls to straightaway center rather than either side of the field, and you’re hitting the ball softer than ever before, that’s a recipe for a bad season, and that’s exactly what Trumbo had.

So what should we expect from Trumbo next year? I’d expect that he won’t have as bad of a year as last year. He’ll likely have a somewhat hot first half, followed by a cold second half, that’s what he’s always done. On his career, he’s a .263/.316/.498 hitter in the first half of the year, and a .232/.283/.419 hitter in the second half.

That even played out during his poor year last year, as he slashed .254/.316/.422 in the first half and .202/.243/.357 in the second half.

It’s not surprising to see Trumbo his for a low average, he’s hit below .240 at two other points in his career, hitting .235 in 2014 with the Arizona Diamondbacks (though that season was set back by injury) and .234 in 2013 with the Angels. But that 2013 season with the Angels came with 34 home runs, which can excuse the .234 average.

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I would expect Trumbo to go back to hitting home runs at a high rate next season. I think 2016 was and will be the best season of his career, but I think 30+ home runs should be in store for him next season. He made adjustments to his swing that I detailed back before last season, and I think that that will help him regress back to the mean in 2018.