FanPost

Mark Trumbo: The Next Mike Jacobs?

Every offseason I like to create my own lists of historical players who were statistically comparable to various Angels through to their current birthdays. My basic formula is: guys the same age who play the same position, within +/- 25% of the same number of career plate appearances, plus/minis 10 points of OPS+ (the "+" adjusts for offensive context), and then I eyeball Wins Above Replacement and other factors to find people who look truly similar. It's a shorthand way of narrowing down expectations for how our guys are going to perform in the immediate future.

Think about the current Angels team. Who is your biggest riddle in terms of how he's going to play next year, and develop over the near term of his career? Mine, by far, is Mark Trumbo. Can he really continue to exceed expectations? Does that terrible plate discipline portend a sophomore face-plant? Well, let's see what the comp exercise turns up.

It's not an impressive list. Fourteen other guys, the majority of whom were out of baseball by their 30th birthday. The best player of the bunch, Deadballer Jake Stahl, has the least in common with Trumbo; and there's a lot of Hee-Seop Choi/Dave Revering types here who had better strike zone judgment than our Mark. Other non-immortals on the list include Ramon Webster, Mike Fiore, Claude Rossman, Del Gainer, Chuck Harrison, Tony Lupien, Mitch Moreland, Pat Putnam, and Wayne Belardi. And the two hitters who most resemble the Trumbomber do not inspire confidence:
NM   G   PA  AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB/CS AVG  OBP  SLG OPS+ oWAR dWAR WAR 
MT: 157 589 554  67 138 31  1 29  89  26 128  9/4 .249 .287 .466 109  1.5  0.6  2.1
FW: 182 550 504  64 129 24  4 29  88  31  91  1/1 .256 .301 .492 112  1.5 -0.7  0.8
MJ: 166 632 569  73 154 44  1 31 100  55 127  3/0 .271 .334 .515 119  1.4  0.3  1.7

Who is "FW," this Trumbo lookalike who couldn't field? He was 1960s first baseman Fred Whitfield. Like Trumbo, Whitfield was a big dude who broke into the majors during his age-24 season. Unlike Trumbo, the very good incumbent 1Bman ahead of Whitfield on the depth chart did not break his leg during a walk-off home run, and there was no DH back then, so the Bill White-era Cardinals shipped FW to Cleveland the next year for a couple of forgettables. He was an effective lefty-hitting platoon partner there for his first two seasons, then put it all together at age 27, hitting .293/.316/.513 with 26 HRs and 90 RBIs, finishing 21st in the MVP vote. He hit 27 homers the next year, but his batting average collapsed, and he never did learn how to take a walk or field his position or run the bases. He was a part-timer by age 29, washed up at 31, retired at 33. And his stats were much closer to Trumbo than Bachelor #2.

That man, the one with the gaudier-seeming offensive stats, is Mike Jacobs. Who played his way out of the major leagues by age 29 because he couldn't overcome his lack of plate discipline and couldn't do anything besides hit the ball 400 feet now and then. Jacobs came up with a bang as a late-season addition for the New York Mets in 2005, hitting four home runs his first four games, and an astonishing .310/.375/.710 in 112 plate appearances. But instead of making way for the Mike Jacobs era, the Mets converted him into Carlos Delgado, flipping Jacobs to Florida where he hit a Trumboesque .262/.325/.473 with 37 doubles and 20 HRs in his first full season. Two more years of similar results (and negative value: Jacobs put up a -1.5 WAR in Florida despite 165 extra base hits in 3 seasons), and the Marlins shipped him to Kansas City for reliever Leo Nunez. The Royals released him after a lousy .228/.297/.401 year; the Mets gave him one last quick look in 2010, and about the last we've heard from the guy is that he tested positive for Human Growth Hormone in the minors this year while playing for the AAA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, who promptly released him.

But I wasn't satisfied with the diversity of results here, and I'm genuinely interested in how no-walk thumpers like Mark tend to age, so I conducted a new search, one that doesn't care at all what you did before age 25 -- after all, not everyone good enough to hit well across 550 or so plate appearances by age 25 are good enough to do the same at age 25, on account of they can't hold a full-time job. So the parameters for the new search were this: Who, among players at the four least challenging defensive positions (DH, 1B, LF, RF), had age-25 seasons with at least 502 plate appearances, 20 home runs, and 90 strikeouts; but with fewer than 45 walks and an OPS+ of less than 123?

It's a fascinating, evocative list. Since I'm interested here mostly in batting development, I'll rank them by offensive Wins Above Replacement. Here are the age-25 seasons of Raul Mondesi, George Bell, Cory Snyder, Ron Kittle, Deron Johnson, Tony Conigliaro, Rico Brogna, Mark Trumbo, Downtown Ollie Brown, Hunter Pence, Greg Walker, and -- again -- Mike Jacobs:

NM   G   PA  AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB/CS BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG OPS+ oWAR dWAR WAR  K/BB
RM: 157 673 634  98 188 40  7 24  88 14/7  32 122 .297 .334 .495 123   3.6  1.1 4.7 3.81/1
GB: 157 666 607  87 167 28  6 28  95 21/6  43  90 .275 .327 .479 115   3.4  0.4 3.8 2.09/1
CS: 142 558 511  71 139 24  3 26  75  5/1  42 101 .272 .326 .483 122   2.7 -0.2 2.5 2.40/1
RK: 145 570 520  75 132 19  3 35 100  8/3  39 150 .254 .314 .504 118   2.4 -0.6 1.8 3.85/1
DJ: 140 519 477  63 130 24  4 21  79  4/3  37  98 .273 .326 .472 119   2.3  0.4 2.7 2.65/1
RB: 134 540 495  72 143 27  2 22  76  0/0  39 111 .289 .342 .485 119   2.3  0.1 2.4 2.85/1
TC: 146 617 560  89 149 20  1 36 116  4/2  43  93 .266 .324 .498 117   2.2 -0.3 1.9 2.16/1
MT: 149 573 539  65 137 31  1 29  87  9/4  25 120 .254 .291 .477 113   1.8  0.3 2.1 4.80/1
OB: 151 621 568  76 150 18  3 20  61 10/6  44  97 .264 .319 .412 108   1.6  0.0 1.6 2.20/1
HP: 157 642 595  78 160 34  4 25  83 11/10 40 124 .269 .318 .466 105   1.1 -0.4 0.7 3.10/1
GW: 163 650 601  77 155 38  4 24  92  5/2  44 100 .258 .309 .454 103   0.9 -0.3 0.6 2.27/1
MJ: 136 520 469  54 123 37  1 20  77  3/0  45 105 .262 .325 .473 106   0.4  0.1 0.5 2.33/1

A couple of things stand out. The first is that in an already patience-challenged group, Mark Trumbo walked the fewest times, had the lowest on-base percentage (by 18 points), and by far the worst K/BB ratio. The second is that, with the exception of Hunter Pence (who is still only 28) and George Bell (who won an MVP at 27, though he was toast by 33), everybody on this list was considered a serious disappointment.

Tony Conigliaro (after being traded the following season to the Angels) played just 95 more games. Ron Kittle never matched his age-25 stats in any meaningful offensive category except walks (and even then only once). Rico Brogna never again had an OPS+ higher than the league average of 100. Cory Snyder hit .239 for the rest of his career, never again topping 20 home runs. Ollie Brown only had two more seasons with more than 340 plate appearances. Greg Walker was platooning at 28, retired by 31. Deron Johnson, like George Bell, finished 4th in the MVP voting during a great age-26 season ... and then (unlike George Bell) produced all of 0.2 WAR total for his remaining 11 seasons in the big leagues. Raul Mondesi was considered among the greatest wasted talents of his day. Mike Jacobs you know about.

Consider this: The broad baseball prime years are basically from 25 to 29 (with a peak-within-a-prime at 26-27). Generally speaking, you'd expect guys to be about as good at 29 as they were at 25. But look how that group above aged just four years later:

NM   G   PA  AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB/CS BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG OPS+ oWAR dWAR  WAR 
RM:  96 426 388  78 105 22  2 24  67 22/6  32  73 .271 .329 .523 109   1.7  0.9  2.6
GB: 153 664 613  88 182 41  2 18 104  4/3  33  60 .297 .330 .458 127   3.3 -0.2  3.1
CS: 124 420 390  48 105 22  2 14  57  4/4  23  96 .269 .311 .444 118   1.7 -0.4  1.3
RK:  59 173 159  21  44  5  0 12  28  0/1  10  36 .277 .318 .535 122   0.3  0.1  0.4
DJ: 127 383 342  29  71 11  1  8  33  0/1  35  79 .208 .285 .316  80  -0.2 -0.6 -0.8
RB: 157 679 619  90 172 29  4 24 102  8/5  54 132 .278 .336 .454  94  -0.7  0.5 -0.2
TC: -----------------------------------DNP------------------------------------------   
MT: -----------------------------------n/a------------------------------------------
OB:  97 333 296  28  83 10  1  7  32  4/1  33  53 .280 .355 .392 114   0.9 -0.1  0.8
HP: -----------------------------------n/a------------------------------------------
GW:  77 263 233  25  49 14  0  5  26  0/0  23  50 .210 .286 .335  77  -0.6  0.2  0.4
MJ:   7  28  24   1   5  1  0  1   2  0/0   3   7 .208 .296 .375  82   0.0  0.0  0.0

That's right: Only one player was remotely as good, most were considerably worse, and just two qualified for the batting title. Stunning, and -- if you're concerned about the future of Mark Trumbo -- depressing.

I wanted to see how much this deterioration was a function of strike zone judgment, so I created a new list with the same parameters, only with no consideration for strikeouts and walks (and the OPS+ band tightened to between 109 and 116 to create a more manageable selection). Here are those players at age 25, again ranked by oWAR, adjusted for 162-game seasons: In order, they are Gil Hodges, George Bell again, Greg Vaughn, Magglio Ordonez, Willie Kirkland, Butch Huskey, Marty Cordova, Kent Hrbek, Jack Howell (!), Derrek Lee, Richie Sexson, Jay Gibbons, Trumbo, and our old friend Willie Mays Aikens.

NM   G   PA  AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB/CS BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG OPS+ oWAR dWAR WAR  K/BB 
GH: 156 676 596  94 170 23  4 23 115 10/?  66  64 .285 .360 .453 112   3.6  0.1 3.7 0.97/1
GB: 157 666 607  87 167 28  6 28  95 21/6  43  90 .275 .327 .479 115   3.4  0.4 3.8 2.09/1
GV: 145 614 542  81 132 24  5 27  98  2/2  62 125 .244 .319 .456 114   2.7  0.2 2.9 2.02/1
MO: 157 677 624 100 188 34  3 30 117 13/6  47  64 .301 .349 .510 115   2.5  2.7 5.2 1.36/1
WK: 126 511 463  64 126 22  3 22  68  5/3  42  84 .272 .335 .475 115   2.5  0.5 2.9 2.00/1
BH: 142 505 471  61 135 26  2 24  81  8/5  25  84 .287 .319 .503 114   2.2 -0.4 1.8 3.36/1
MC: 137 579 512  81 142 27  4 24  84 20/7  52 111 .277 .352 .486 115   2.1  1.2 3.3 2.13/1
KH: 158 666 593  78 165 31  2 21  93  1/1  67  87 .278 .351 .444 112   2.1  0.4 2.5 1.30/1
JH: 138 511 449  64 110 18  5 23  64  4/3  57 118 .245 .331 .461 110   2.0  0.5 2.5 2.07/1
DL: 158 625 561  83 158 37  4 21  75  4/2  50 126 .282 .346 .474 112   2.0 -0.2 1.8 2.52/1
RS: 148 607 537  89 146 30  1 30  91  2/0  59 159 .272 .349 .499 112   1.9 -0.3 1.6 2.69/1
JG: 136 541 490  71 121 29  1 28  69  1/3  45  66 .247 .311 .482 111   1.8 -0.3 1.5 1.47/1
MT: 149 573 539  65 137 31  1 29  87  9/4  25 120 .254 .291 .477 113   1.8  0.3 2.1 4.80/1
WA: 151 623 543  70 151 24  0 20  98  1/0  64  88 .278 .356 .433 116   1.4 -0.1 1.3 1.38/1

These men, especially compared to the previous group, were not disappointments. Gil Hodges made seven more All-Star teams and seven more top-20 MVP finishes. George Bell, you'll recall, was about the only guy from the first list who had a robust career. Greg Vaughn hit 306 more home runs. Magglio Ordonez, one of the most underrated players of the modern era, has put up a .312/.375/.509 line in 6415 post-age-25 plate appearances. Marty Cordova was done by 34 but even at 31 hit .301/.348/.506 with 20 home runs. Kent Hrbek averaged 24 HRs and hit .276/.370/.485 the subsequent 8 seasons. Derrek Lee has put up an OPS+ of 128 in the decade since, including a stunning age-29 campaign in which he led the league in batting, slugging, homers, doubles, hits, total bases, and OPS+. Richie Sexson hit 45 home runs twice, and had other seasons of 39, 34, and 29. Two disappointments (Kirkland and Howell) could never figure out left-handed pitching, two others (Aikens and Gibbons) had problems with drugs, and Butch Huskey (who has the worst K/BB ratio here outside of Trumbo) really belongs to the first group more than this one. Fittingly, Huskey was out of baseball by age 29.

Combining the two lists, there are 23 non-Trumbo players. The three hitters with the best K/BB ratios -- Gil Hodges, Kent Hrbek, Magglio Ordonez -- went on to have great careers. The three with the worst -- Butch Huskey, Raul Mondesi, Ron Kittle -- were semi-legendary busts. And each of the two groups had the exact same combined offensive WAR at age 25 -- 8.2.

Mark Trumbo, I'll stress again, has the worst K/BB ratio of all two dozen players.

There are a couple of things to be said in Trumbo's comparative favor. Unlike Raul Mondesi, he's a humble, hard-working over-achiever who stays in shape. Unlike Tony C., there are no residual effects from a brutal beaning to contend with. Unlike Ron Kittle, he appears to have a brain on his shoulders. Unlike Jack Howell, he can hit better than your sister when he doesn't have the platoon advantage. I for one deserve to eat copious crow for asserting on multiple occasions that Mark Trumbo was "not a prospect" and certainly wouldn't amount to much in the bigs, based merely on watching him try to take groundballs in spring training a few years back. He clearly delights in proving skeptics wrong.

But. Based on this very preliminary look at the issue, I would not be declaring first base a filled position for the Angels, not in a year when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are on the market. It's not clear that Mark Trumbo has an offensive ceiling much higher than what he showed in 2011. There are precious few positions on this team available for offensive upgrade, yet offensive upgrade is precisely what the team requires. Trumbo had a nice season, but first base would be an obvious target for upgrading even if he wasn't a prime candidate to regress. Meanwhile, he's a prime candidate to regress.

I didn't go looking for that conclusion, and I hope he proves me wrong again (namely, by learning the damned strike zone). But if it's my team, and his foot heals fine, he's putting on an outfielder's glove next spring.

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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