Trumbo swings at too many pitches but, in his defense, he can handle almost anything he can reach, viz: the Felix Hernandez two-seamer, six inches low and inside, that he hit 472 feet, the Brian Duensing fastball at the letters that he hit 457 feet, etc. But he acknowledges his lack of plate discipline is a challenge. "I don't think I was blessed with the greatest eye," he told a reporter earlier this year. "Some guys have a better sense. It's something I'm really having to work on, but it's hard to do." If it is a skill that can be learned in one's late 20s, Trumbo's upside starts to look like Paul Konerko, but all PECOTA sees is Jonny Gomes.
Apparently, Trumbo was not offering us lip service in that quote; he has been working hard on things, and his line score is the one Angels fans had hoped to see from new free agent slugger Albert Pujols. While Pujols has had his struggles in 2012, Trumbo enters Monday with a robust .321/.369/.599 slash line in 203 plate appearances.
How has a player whom most mocked as a free-swinging one-trick pony become one of the more valuable fantasy assets in 2012?
The most striking part of Trumbo’s evolution is his unintentional walk rate. The league average for that metric is eight percent, and Trumbo was at just 3.3 percent last season, taking just 19 unintentional walks in 573 plate appearances. His teammate, Vernon Wells, had 20 unintentional walks in 505 plate appearances last season, and only Vladimir Guerrero was worse with 14 walks in 562 plate appearances last season. Trumbo has more than doubled that rate in 2012, all the way up to 7.2 percent.
The increased plate patience has not helped his contact rate, though, as he is striking out a tad more than he did last season—a jump from 20.9 to 22.1 percent. According to StatCorner, his strikeout looking rate has dropped from 3.1 percent to 1.9 percent, but his swinging strikeout rate has spiked from 17.8 percent to 20.2 percent. He is swinging at three percent fewer pitches this season but is also swinging and missing four percentage points higher than he did last season.
His batted ball profiles are nearly identical except that he has cut down on infield flies from last season, turning them into real fly balls. In 2011, 18 percent of his flies became home runs; this season, one of every four fly balls he hits has left the yard. And when he does keep the ball in the yard, they are falling for base hits at a better rate than last season. In 2011, his batting average on balls in play was .274, which would be fitting for a right-handed slugger that isn’t terribly fleet of foot. This season, that rate has shot up to .366 after a .379 April, a .402 May, but a terrible .211 in June thus far.
His spray charts from 2011 and 2012 are shown below, courtesy of texasleaguers.com:
Trumbo is still using all parts of the field when he hits, as he did last season, and has retained the power to all fields as well.
Here are how his run value heat maps look from last season and this season, courtesy of baseballheatmaps.com:
He continues to punish both types of pitchers but has been even more effective against lefties this season than he was last year with an OPS 129 points higher in 2012. That said, he has just three walks against 21 strikeouts versus lefties in 68 plate appearances so far, and it would appear that lefties are getting him out low-and-away as well as low-and-in. In 135 plate appearances against righties, Trumbo is just six walks shy of matching last year’s walk total that came in 385 plate appearances. Last season, he struck out in 25 percent of his plate appearances against lefties and 19 percent against righties; those rates currently sit at 30 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
You drafted Trumbo for his home run and RBI production, and you have gotten that so far. Plus, you’ve been pleasantly surprised by a good batting average, more steals, and a stronger run total than last season. He is being disciplined to take more walks this season, but not because he is swinging at fewer pitches. He is seeing more first pitch strikes as well as more pitches within the strike zone this season, so the increased walk total is not coming from pitchers working around him.
Simply put, Trumbo is showing strong statistical growth in 2012, and owners that purchased him at a discount thanks to all the negative news in the off-season could have themselves a 35-40 home run player by season’s end with a batting average 20-plus points higher than last season.