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Mark Trumbo has been very good at baseball this season and, because fielding and base-running are not a part of fantasy baseball, he has been even better as a fantasy baseball player. Per the first edition of Mike Gianella’s in-season fantasy rankings, Trumbo was the 19th-most-valuable hitter in the American League as of June 1st. Since then, he has roto-slashed .425/3/9/9/0 (AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB). It is thus safe to say that his 2016 production to date is safely within the top 15 among AL hitters and that he is likely flirting with top-ten AL hitter value. Not too shabby for a player with an NFBC ADP of 164.52.

The reasons as to why Trumbo has been good are no mystery—he has been healthy, he is taking a lot of at-bats in Camden Yards, he is hitting in the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup, and, as pointed out by Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs yesterday, Trumbo is doing his usual crushing of baseballs, while hitting more flyballs and fewer groundballs. Will he stay healthy? Probably; putting aside 2014, he has played a minimum of 142 each season. Will he continue to hit more flyballs? Maybe. I’d imagine the league will make some adjustment, but I’d also imagine that some of these gains are here to stay as he showed improvements toward the end of last season.

What Trumbo has done thus far and what he will do going forward are, at least to me, not the most interesting part about Trumbo from a fantasy baseball perspective. Rather, the interesting part is why we, as a fantasy baseball community, missed on Trumbo this year or if we even missed at all. Additionally and what I think will prove to be most helpful, is what Mark Trumbo’s beginning of 2016 might teach us about our own valuation processes.

So, back to the question, did we miss on Mark Trumbo? We start with the reason we miss on so many players: he let us down in recent years. After roto-slashing the below from 2010-2012 in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,

Year

AVG

HR

Runs

RBI

SB

2010

0.254

29

65

87

9

2011

0.268

32

66

95

4

2012

0.234

34

85

100

5

Trumbo was traded Arizona where he would play half his games in the hitters’ paradise that is Chase Field. We were salivating; it was easy to imagine 40-home-run seasons. Then, Trumbo played somewhat poorly to in his first 21 games (he struck out a lot, barely walked, and hit for a .207 AVG; albeit, with seven home runs in 87 plate appearances) and was then sidelined for 81 days with a stress fracture in his left foot. Upon his return, the AVG and BABIP would rebound (his season AVG would end up at .235), but his power never did (he hit only seven more home runs (in 151 plate appearances)). But even for those of us who decided that 2014 was a fluke, that the poor performance could be explained away by injury, Trumbo’s 2015 performance would again let us down (roto-slash: .262/22/62/64/1).

In hindsight, as it always is, it is easy to see that 2015 should have been indicator of future success or a return to past production levels. The groundball rate was down, the power (albeit suppressed by Safeco Field) was back, and the AVG had rebounded. Still, we took Trumbo, on average, as the 42nd outfielder in mixed league drafts. To answer our previous question, we missed. But more interestingly and helpfully, why did we miss? A few reasons follow:

1. As mentioned previously, expectations matter. When something falls short of our expectations we often allow that to overly influence our future valuations of that thing.

2. History and the progression of events matter. After many of us were burned by Trumbo in 2014, many of us shied away in 2015. Instead of looking at the above occurrences as reason to believe Trumbo would be the same player (and fantasy baseball player) that he had always been, we sought confirmation as to why our decision to shy away was correct. Put differently, if Trumbo’s seasons had occurred in a different order, we might have valued him differently heading into this season.

3. Lastly, and unfortunately, we are good at confusing the erroneous with the indicative. We are good at ignoring certain factors when doing so would make us fell less good about our past decisions. We are good at believing factors to be causal if only because we want them to be.

Whether this is a result of confirmation bias, choice-supportive bias, hindsight bias, sunk costs, or some combination of these with some other cognitive biases and decision-making phenomena mixed in, it seems pretty clear that the consensus missed on Trumbo because of how we (people) make valuation decisions about an uncertain future. In this case, we began to undervalue Trumbo’s upside, while simultaneously setting the odds of Trumbo hitting his upper echelon projections too low.

While this sounds like a bad miss, I do not think it is that bad a miss. Put differently, this is currently feels like way worse of a miss than it actually is. Should we have been picking Trumbo as a top-25 hitter in AL-only leagues or a top 50 hitter in mixed leagues? Of course not. Should we have been picking him closer to 100 than 150 in mixed leagues? Of course, but that is not a huge miss.

The bigger issue is how feeling like we missed big affects our decision-making process and valuations going forward. Because we would rather appear not wrong (when we actually were wrong) than fix our process going forward, we tend to do things to dig ourselves further into a hole. On a strategy-level, we might try to take a big risk with a high reward in hopes of getting back production we “lost” by incorrectly valuing a player or group of players. Or we might become overly attached to the players we chose over the player we were wrong on in hopes they will right the ship. On a player-specific level, we are likely to begin overvaluing such players in future seasons, erroneously placing value on a player’s ability to prove us wrong.

What we would hope to happen is that we learn how our process was flawed (in this instance, do not overreact to being burned by a player and do not view two seasons as an absolute trend) and make changes to our process accordingly (such as identifying such players that fit these occurrences and evaluate them via comparison to other players rather than to our past decisions). What often happens though is that we either (i) keep our process the same and blame our misses on bad luck or (ii) overreact to a result that was worse than the process that led to the result. The hope here is that when we begin analyzing our mistakes throughout the year (and that analysis has already begun), that we do so through the frame of process (which leads to results), rather than doing so through the frame of results (which taints our process by mixing in luck and volatility).

Regarding Trumbo specifically, if you have him, then enjoy it. If you missed on him, as so many of us did, then fix it, not by changing a valuation in hindsight or taking an uncalled-for risk, but by adjusting your process to give yourself a better chance at not missing out on the next set of players undervalued by the consensus.

Thank you for reading

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datahead13
6/08
I do have Trumbo, and I am enjoying this season, but the credit goes to BP. Although I see how you "missed" on him, my PFM data, customized to my league settings (10 team, 6x6, 10 keeper league), ranked Trumbo as #66 overall. I got him at #148 in the draft, which was a steal, but I only took him so early because of the PFM data. Thanks BP!!
datahead13
6/08
I also meant to say that this piece is fascinating, looking at how we make valuation decisions, from a scientific perspective, is really interesting stuff, thanks Jeff!
adrock
6/08
Great analysis, really top notch stuff!
touchstoneQu
6/08
Maybe you weren't wrong about Mark Trumbo. With an elevated BABIP, a career-high HR/FB rate of 29%, and ZIPs RoS projection tabbing him at .268/.321/.519, maybe you'd be wrong to believe that this version of Mark Trumbo is real. And that's not even factoring in his recent injury history.

Maybe a sell-high candidate?