The Curious Case of Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo
Mark Trumbo’s home run last night at Midland was one of the longest hit this year by an Arkansas Traveler.

 

Back on June 25, I wrote that Mark Trumbo appeared to be emerging from a season-long funk. At that point, in his last thirteen games (starting with Game #2 of a June 12 doubleheader) his AVG/OBP/SLG were .385/.396/.558.

During last night’s game at Midland, Mark hit a two-run dinger that Travs broadcaster Phil Elson described as perhaps the longest homer he’d seen hit this year. In his second at-bat, with the bases loaded, Trumbo hit a shot that required a miracle catch by RockHounds center fielder Archie Gilbert to avoid clearing the bases. He finished the night 3 for 5 with 3 RBI.

So I wanted to revisit Mark’s numbers and see how he’s done since that June 12 marker.

That period covers 25 games. In those games, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .384/.404/.566 in 99 at-bats. He had only 15 strikeouts, or one every 6.6 at-bats, an excellent ratio for a power hitter.

Mark has never been one to take a lot of walks, and that’s still true. He had only four walks in that 25-game period. But you can’t argue the rest of the results, other than perhaps last night’s dinger was his first since June 4.

I e-mailed Angels farm director Abe Flores to ask why Trumbo was more successful in the last month. He replied that Mark had shortened his swing and “matured” in the batter’s box; by that, he meant that Mark was letting bad at bats go, being more conscious of his body language, staying positive and focusing on the next at-bat.

As I’ve written many times, Dickey-Stephens Park, the Travs’ home field, is the most pitcher-friendly park in the Texas League. It’s very important, therefore, to look at the home/road splits for Travs hitters to see how badly DSP has impacted their overall numbers. Here are Mark’s overall splits for 2009:

Home: .248/.310/.416 (137 AB)
Road: .294/.324/.436 (163 AB)

Mark’s splits during his last 25 games:

Home: .315/.345/.481 (54 AB)
Road: .467/.478/.667 (45 AB)

This is the same pattern I noted in last November’s 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. Mark’s 2008 home/road splits in the Texas League:

Home: AVG/OBP/SLG: .209/.225/.358 (67 AB)
Away: AVG/OBP/SLG: .357/.410/.661 (56 AB)

In the latest issue (#0915) of Baseball America, columnist Peter Gammons comments on whether pitch recognition and plate discipline can be taught in the minor leagues.

Gammons quotes an unnamed general manager as saying, “I think plate discipline and recognition can be honed and developed. But I think it is an innate skill.”

Howie Kendrick is cited by Gammons as someone struggling to figure out pitch recognition:

But if a young player doesn’t have to address pitch recognition and plate discipline in the minors, can he learn on the major league level? The Angels are going through that process with Howie Kendrick, a potential batting champion whose inability to deal with the strike zone had resulted in a .229 average.

The sabermetric world tends to think that taking more walks results in better plate discipline, when in fact it’s the reverse. Walks are a byproduct of better pitch recognition and plate discipline. This was a point made by Mike Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher last April in an article by sportswriter Mike DiGiovanna in the Los Angeles Times. Kendrick in particular was one subject of the article.

Do Trumbo’s numbers over the last 25 games indicate better plate discipline even though he’s still taking few walks? That’s a question that may not be answered until he faces major league pitching.

But he’s certainly trending in the right direction.

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