Is Mark Trumbo Any Good?


This is a post inspired by a fun fact. Something I saw and absolutely couldn’t believe. Perhaps you, too, will hardly be able to believe this bit of somehow-factual information. Okay, deep breaths: Mark Trumbo has a batting average over .300 all but two months this season, and a wRC+ over 100 all but one month this season.

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Yes, you’re reading that right: Mark Trumbo’s been good at the plate more often than not this year. That’s “often” as in “during more individual months,” but the point ought to stand. Trumbo’s  been alright as of late, but he was alright in April, too. Even in May he was fine. Let’s just look at this month-by-month, in an attempt to make this sound at least somewhat believable.

In April Trumbo hit .319/.338/.542, a strong line that spelled a strong 137 wRC+. In May Trumbo hit .237/.297/.527, which is basically his career line plus 100 points of slugging. It was right after this 121 wRC+ month that he was traded to Seattle, in the midst of what appeared to be a productive campaign.

So June! Trumbo joined the M’s on June 3rd. On the month he hit .134/.165/.183. In terms of wRC+, that’s a -5. 100 is league average, remember, and the lower you get the further you get from average. Trumbo was over 100 percent worse than the league average MLB hitter after arriving in Seattle. His OPS that month was his OBP the month before, just about. It was an awful, immediate collapse.

But then came July, where Trumbo batted .318/.356/.447. 128 wRC+! And this month he’s been at .308/.412/.615, good for a 177 wRC+. For reference, 177 is Nelson Cruz‘s wRC+ this year. For the last nine days Trumbo has hit like 2015 Nelson Cruz, who is outhitting everyone in baseball other than Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

What looks on the whole like a miserable season is being (mostly) dragged down by a terrible, awful month of June. The numbers say Trumbo’s been replacement level on the year – 99 wRC+ on the season with cover-your-eyes defense and far too many outs on the basepaths. They say that he’s been much worse than that with Seattle – .246/.290/.357 for an underpowered 82 wRC+. But there’s no doubt that his most recent results are encouraging. So the question is this – is Mark Trumbo any good?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Trumbo sucks, and even if he hits well he’s going to continue to suck. We’ve seen guys with this profile before – all bat, no anything else. These kind of guys have to hit much, much better than average in order to provide value, especially if they’re being forced to play defense (and thus accrue negative value). Trumbo’s been spending plenty of time at first, left, and right. He’s been awful at all three spots.

The temptation is to say “oh yeah, well Nelson Cruz.” Mark Trumbo is not Nelson Cruz. Nelson Cruz is one of the ten best hitters in the game of baseball. That’s why his schtick works. Mark Trumbo is just a younger Raul Ibanez. If he keeps his wRC+ over 125 he’s a one-dimensional player who at least doesn’t actively hurt you. If he dips below that threshold he’s replacement level. If he’s hitting worse than the league (like he is in a Mariners uniform) then he’s one of the biggest liabilities in MLB.

This is a player-type with a huge amount of downside, and the Mariners run the risk of dealing with that downside when they insistently fill their roster with these guys. The upside is that they hit near their ceiling and are useful players. The downside is that they hit like anything other than the best version of themselves and are black holes. Trumbo, for most of the year, has been a black hole. Because that’s what happens when your only baseball skill decides to take a month off.

That’s how hard it is for a player like this to stay valuable: there’s just so little room for error that basically everything has to go according to plan in order for the guy to be anything near what he’s supposed to be. Mark Trumbo has had a fine year, save for one month. That one month was so bad that it will likely keep his season at or near replacement level, no matter how he hits the rest of the way.

Is Mark Trumbo any good? No. But what if he hits? Then he’s okay, but not good. On the year he’s fallen well short of expectations, though maybe that’s our fault since he was even worse a year ago. Jack Zduriencik obsessively hordes all-bat, no-glove players as if they’re not one of the worst bets in the sport (especially in a park like Safeco). Let’s collectively try to do a better job of not acting surprise when these players fail. They’re built to fail. Much like Zduriencik’s Mariners teams.

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