Mark Trumbo and Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

A long, slow dance in free agency for Mark Trumbo culminated with a three-year pact worth $37.5M to return to his 2016 team, the Baltimore Orioles. Trumbo, a classic slugger, reportedly hoped for an extra year and a total value of $75-80M on the heels of a season in which he led Major League Baseball with 47 home runs. Those who favor traditional statistics would point to Trumbo’s home-run totals and argue that he is one of the premier sluggers in the game, but in a baseball landscape run by the sabermetric crowd, Trumbo is seen as a one-dimensional player. In this chart, we will look at statistics that paint the picture that Trumbo is a one-dimensional player.

Mark Trumbo and His Contemporaries (2016)

Player 1st Half BA 2nd Half BA UZR/150 Baserunning Runs fWAR
Mark Trumbo .288 .214 -9.9 -2.0 2.2
Mark Reynolds .283 0.1
Chris Carter .213 0.9
Jose Bautista -9.3 1.4
Joe Mauer -2.2 1

It is argued that Trumbo’s year was inflated by an unsustainable .288 batting average in the first half, comparing him to Mark Reynolds, a cautionary tale of a player who peaked with a rather one-dimensional 44-homer season of his own. This is only accentuated by the fact that Trumbo’s batting average collapsed to .214 in the second half; this is nearly identical to fellow 40-homer masher, Chris Carter, who was non-tendered for being one-dimensional himself. Incidentally, Carter has been mentioned as a cheaper and nearly as valuable alternative for teams unwilling to make the splurge this offseason on Trumbo. On the field, Trumbo has been worth just about -10 runs per 150 games, which is more negative value than Jose Bautista, who was ravaged by injuries this season. On the bases, he provided enough negative value to compare to Joe Mauer, a former catcher.

There are several issues with this argument, though. The first is that Trumbo’s 2.2 fWAR is significantly higher than the one-dimensional sluggers (and others) he is being labeled alongside. Another is that he was stuck in the outfield by Baltimore in 2016 despite having no business being there. In fact, in his career, Trumbo grades out as an above-average first baseman. On the basepaths, Trumbo’s value is 105/146 of all qualified players, which isn’t as much of a tanker as one would think. As for his fluctuating halves, there is a tale behind that, too.

Mark Trumbo, Above Average First Baseman

Player BABIP wRC+ UZR/150
Mark Trumbo (1st Half) .327 143
Mark Trumbo (2nd Half) .216 98
Mark Trumbo (Career) .288 111 6.3 (1B)
2016 1B AVG .307 120 .3

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)
assesses whether a player is going through a lucky (or unlucky) streak based on deviation from their normalized rate. The average BABIP is .290, and Trumbo is no different, checking in at .288 for his career. His first half was above the average rate, while his second half was at an extreme (and unsustainable) low. As you can see in the chart, his wRC+ is in line with the offensive-minded first basemen of the league, and there is room for some uptick. His defense at first base, even if 6.3 is too optimistic, can make him a $75M man. A lot of Trumbo’s depressed value comes from spending too much time in right field; this chart will break down the calculation behind Trumbo’s 2016 fWAR and estimate what he can provide if played at his true position (and some time at DH).

Mark Trumbo as Full Time 1B (2016, 2017 Projection)

Player Mark Trumbo
Batting Runs 18.7
Baserunning Runs -2
Fielding Runs* 5.7
Positional Adjustment* -12
League Adjustment 2.6
Replacement Runs 20.1
fWAR* 3.4

fWAR calculation: (BR+BsR+FR+Positional Adjustment+League Adjustment+Replacement Runs)/(R/W)

*Assumes a 6.3 UZR/150, 135 games played as 1B, 15 games played as DH

This is an aggressive projection, but Trumbo proves that he is not a one-dimensional player. A 3.4-win player is extremely valuable, and if he produces to that level over the next three years, he will provide a significant amount of surplus value.

Mark Trumbo Projected Surplus Value, 2017-2019

Year fWAR $/WAR Value Produced Salary Surplus/Deficit
2017 3.4 8M 27.2M 11M +16.2M
2018 2.9 8.4M 24.4M 11M +13.4M
2019 2.4 8.8M 21.1M 11M +10.1M
Totals 8.7 72.7M 37.5M* +35.2M*

*Assumed aging curve via FanGraphs: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37, assumes a 5% inflation/year in $/WAR

*$4.5M of Mark Trumbo’s contract is deferred and to be paid in $1.5M increments from 2020-2022; that amount was subtracted from the overall surplus.

This chart shows the full potential of Mark Trumbo, quality first baseman. As calculated in the “Value Produced” column, he is rather close to the $75M man he marketed himself as. Because of the stigma surrounding his 2016 season, his market did not develop, and clearly overcorrected. Contending teams with needs at first base went elsewhere – the Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland, the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion, and the Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales. Even the Colorado Rockies signed SS/CF Ian Desmond for $70M (plus the 11th overall pick in the draft) to learn yet another new position. Unfortunately for Mark Trumbo, the team he signed with, the Baltimore Orioles, already employs a first baseman in Chris Davis. This redundancy will force Trumbo to again be a square peg in a round hole; part-time DH, part-time right fielder. This has been an unfortunate circumstance for him throughout his career, playing for teams that already had Albert Pujols and Paul Goldschmidt. What might have been to see Trumbo realize his full value, on a contract he deserves, and hitting moonshots out of Coors Field or Fenway Park.

Matt is an undergrad at the UConn School of Business. He knows that Daniel Norris has a 0.92 ERA in the first inning going back to 2016, and that Brandon Nimmo has a 148 wRC+ against RHP in his career. Follow him on twitter @matthewmocarsky!

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