07 December 2015

Is Mark Trumbo A Good Defender At First Base?

If you're going to acquire Mark Trumbo, then you're getting him for his bat. He has a career 108 wRC+, which means he's been 8 percentage points better than league average at the plate over the course of his career.

Specifically, though, you want his power in your lineup. In parts of six seasons in the majors, Trumbo has hit 131 home runs and has an isolated power of .208. I mentioned this the other day, but in the past three years, Trumbo is 24th among qualified players in isolated power. For reference, Chris Davis is first. Adam Jones ranks 23rd. Trumbo is strong, and he hits the ball far. That's valuable.

There's not much up for debate about Trumbo's offensive abilities. He's a high slugging, low on-base percentage hitter, and that's just fine. Most teams, especially American League ones, have room for Trumbo in their lineup.

But what about his defense? If we've learned anything about how to value players, it's that everything matters. And we know that Trumbo is a bad defensive outfielder, so hopefully he doesn't end up playing in left or right field often for the Orioles. His bat would make using him there tolerable, but it's not optimal strategy. Besides, Chris Davis very well may sign with another team, which would open up plenty of work for Trumbo at first base. So is he a good defensive option there? In Tuesday's trade write-up, I took a quick look at his defense both at first and in the outfield according to Ultimate Zone Rating (per 150 games) and Defensive Runs Saved. Let's break it down per season:


Some takeaways: First, Trumbo has only played two seasons in which he's seen more than 377 innings at first base. And in those seasons (2011 and 2013), he graded well in both metrics. Also, his only negative defensive season came in 2014, after he took over for Paul Goldschmidt, who broke his hand in August and missed the rest of the season. Earlier in 2014, Trumbo missed about two months due to a stress fracture in his left foot. He also battled plantar fasciitis.

It's worth noting that after 2011, arguably Trumbo's best defensive season, the Angels explored moving him to third base. (He healed after dealing with a stress fracture in his right foot.) The Angels also signed some guy named Albert Pujols, which explains why Trumbo barely played at first in 2012. He started eight games at third base that season (and wasn't very good) while mostly playing in the outfield. Pujols then missed a chunk of the 2013 season, and that was the last time Trumbo had regular work at first base.

Looking at individual defensive seasons can be misleading and is hardly definitive. Still, Trumbo's overall defense at first base seems solid. That is, unless you place heavy weight on FanGraphs' Inside Edge fielding data. That data, which goes back to 2012 and breaks plays down into six categories of varying difficulty, does not paint Trumbo's first base defense in the best light.

From 2012-2015, among 40 first basemen who have seen more than 1,500 innings at first base, here's how Trumbo ranks in the various categories:

Almost Certain/Certain (90-100%): t-22nd (97.6%)
Likely (60-90%): 40th (60%)
About Even (40-60%): 31st (45.5%)
Unlikely (10-40%): t-37th (0%)
Remote (1-10%): t-25th (0%)
Impossible (0%): All at 0%

So that's not great! Trumbo makes the plays right at him decently enough, but he's not skilled at pulling off difficult ones. But that doesn't mean he still can't make good plays. Here's one, from 2013:

And here's another:

Trumbo is big and strong, and he sometimes makes pretty good plays. He won't often wow you. And you can say the same thing about Chris Davis, who occasionally looks solid at first base but does not impress in the two advanced defensive numbers many analysts trust the most. Trumbo has graded well in those metrics, though it's been a few seasons since he played first base regularly. It will be interesting to see what happens if he does in 2016.

What the Orioles care about most with Trumbo is how well he hits. But if he ends up being the main option at first base, it wouldn't hurt to have an above average defender there.

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