01 November 2017

Sensible, yet Expensive: A Davis/Trumbo First Base Platoon

One of the major points I made in the 2017/18 Orioles Blueprint finale was that the club should begin the season with a first base platoon of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo.  This would be a major shift in what was intended when either of these players were signed to their contracts.  Chris Davis still has five years left at 17 MM a season with 6 MM on top of that deferred every year.  From a management perspective, it is difficult to come to the conclusion that your big ticket item, your monetary face of the organization after just two years on his current deal needs to ride the pine against same sided pitching.

When Davis signed, there certainly was some fear here.  Davis has two major things working against him.  One, his hit tool is on the threshold of being unplayable.  His immense power compensates when he is able to put the ball in play, but that depends on him making enough contact and getting power in that contact.  In 2013 and 2015, he made contact and got on base about 15-20% more often than the past two seasons.  It is hard to be productive when you are not getting on base.  Second, his immense .300-some ISO has dropped to a solid .200 ISO, but that still makes it difficult to make up for his lack of contact.

The second aspect that was concerning was that even in his great years, Davis was still rather adequate against left handed pitching.  As the rest of his game has fallen, his performance against left handers has cratered.  It is so poor that it is hard to think that Davis has gotten 365 PA these past two seasons against left handers.  Buck and the Orioles have shown zero interest in protecting him from pitchers that he is unable to handle.

Chris Davis Platoon Splits
vs RHP ('16)464.223.341.487
vs LHP ('16)201.216.313.398
vs RHP ('17)360.218.317.468
vs LHP ('17)
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/1/2017.

In 2017, Chris Davis had a .118 ISO against left handed pitching.  That is bad, but really how bad is it?  Off the 25 first basemen who had more than 125 PA against left handed pitching, Chris Davis second worst.  What is the median value? .205.  Chris Davis' power performance (which is what his value is) is 50% of what the average first baseman does against lefthanded pitching.  Now, let us only consider left handed batters who play first base.  There were 11.  What was that median? .186.  Baltimore has a problem.

If the club can stomach Davis as a first baseman against right handed pitching, then the question comes to who plays first base when Davis sits.  As I noted, Mark Trumbo fits that bill and he is also a problem for the Orioles.  The club signed Trumbo after he found great difficulty in getting decent offers as a free agent.  The Orioles placed a qualifying offer on him and he refused it, thinking he had enough leverage to secure a deal elsewhere.  Instead, he came back to the Orioles at what honestly was a bargain price though the Orioles already had players cluttering up his best defensive positions: 1B and DH.

As I have often mentioned here and on Twitter, Mark Trumbo suffers from playing designated hitter.  Some scoff at the idea that a player could be impacted based on whether or not he plays in the field.  However, this has been shown to be true as a population effect.  The next statement I receive is that 14 points of wOBA are not that much.  Yes, that is correct.  It is not much of a difference even though it is a significant population effect.  One needs to go to the next step though.  The population is full of players who are found to be worse than or better than that average.  No one is that average.

On that spectrum, Mark Trumbo finds himself on the very bad side during his Oriole career:
Mark Trumbo 2016 and 2017
In field 280/338/543, 263 ISO, 133 wRC+
at DH 220/278/413, 193 ISO, 81 wRC+
And even worse last year:
Mark Trumbo 2017
In field 331/366/504, 173 ISO, 132 wRC+
at DH 207/268/368, 161 ISO, 66 wRC+
It is plainly obvious that Trumbo simply does better when he gets to use his glove.  Why?  I do not know.  There certainly are ideas out there to explain it.  For instance, when is the least safe time when you are in a plane?  When the pilot disengages from autopilot.  Having spent up to several hours not flying a plane, that moment where the pilot is suddenly engaged winds up causing significantly more flight errors than at any other point and even when correcting for pilots not using autopilot.  That would seem to suggest that maybe why some batters do worse when riding the pine is that their mind is not engaged.  That playing the field may prime a player for when he steps into the batters box even though that activity is far different from what one does in the field.

Regardless of why, Trumbo has repeatedly struggled as a designated hitter for a long while.  This leaves the club starting off with a lineup against right handed pitchers with Chris Davis at first base and Trey Mancini at designated hitter.  If pinched, Mancini moves to left field, Davis to the designated hitter slot, and Trumbo goes to first base.  Against southpaws, Trumbo starts at first and Mancini once again is the designated hitter.  If pressed, Trumbo stays, Mancini moves into the field and Davis gets the designated hitter slot.  This si what the plan should be on opening day.

If Davis is setting the world on fire, he can press for a full time role.  Against lefties, I think this would likely mean that Mancini gets more time in left field.  Likewise, if Trumbo reflects his 2016 self then that probably means squeezing Davis into more designated hitter time than first base time.  Yes, Davis is a very good first baseman.  Yes, I am ignoring last year.  His average play last year was likely impacted by core injuries that not only limited his acceleration, but also his lateral movement.  From that, I would think he would bounce back in 2018, defensively.  I also think that Trumbo's ability there (rather decent in his youth) is not much of a drop from where Davis is.

So what we are left with is Chris Davis making 17 MM in 2018 and Mark Trumbo tacking on 12.5.  Yes, I am suggesting the Orioles start off with a 29.5 MM first base platoon.  It is not anything that any of us wanted, but it is what we got.  Time to make some lemonade.


Rob said...

Amen. Sunk costs, etc. Hopefully Buck isn't looking at salaries when constructing his lineups. Play your best 9 each game...

Pip said...

Does Buck read your stuff? I hope so.

Jon Shepherd said...

I hope what I write is common knowledge to him.

Unknown said...

Hopefully, we can trade Trumbo for a starter with a bad contract, KC comes to mind. They need power, plus they have Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammell, 2 with bad contracts.

btwrestler119 said...

Probably the best solution out of a host of not-so-great options.

Pip said...

Yes, one would expect so, but that begs the question of why he continues to do otherwise.
When concrete facts reveal that what you are doing is bad, yet you continue to do it, that is inexplicable and unforgivable.

Unknown said...

It still blows the mind resigning Trumbo. Could have had a left-handed bat for about 30 million less in Alvarez.

Anonymous said...

So who plays LF against leftes? If Davis is on the bench, Trumbo at 1B, and Mancini at DH with Hays/Jones at CF/RF, who plays LF? Do we need to sign a RH COF as well as a LH CF? I would be all in on the platoon but you start running out of player options at some point. If you buy Dyson, for example, you're set against RH with Trumbo on the bench. But you still have a problem vs LH. I suppose you could try to re-sign Gentry. I'm pretty much done with the Rickard experiment. A Davis/Trumbo 1B platoon creates one more hole to fill.

Jon Shepherd said...

Roger, you wrote five comments on the article that was published six days ago which specifically addresses your comment in this article.


Anonymous said...

It just dawns on me that I forgot about Santander, too. He can probably help fill the gap as a SwH COF. And my primary comment on this subject is that I didn't think Buck would ever go for it - doesn't seem to be his style. I also still stand by my prior comment that I think Mancini needs to be in the field both for his own good and development and for later usefulness for the team. BTW, if we want a cheap LH DH option, there's always Pedro.

Unknown said...

This article makes too much sense. Unfortunately, we all know the O's won't be deploying this option during the season. smh

Pip said...

Roch Kubatko just predicted that the Orioles will sign Carlos Gonzalez for 12 million dollars.
Sadly, that does not surprise me

Matt Kremnitzer said...

He didn't predict it. MLB Trade Rumors did.

Anonymous said...

I thought that was not clear thinking on MLBTR's part. They also seem to disagree a lot with BORAS. They had some good prices for the O's on some of the best targets - Dyson, Jay, J. Garcia, Nunez (and really high on Lynn, in particular). Although it does seem like the type of move the O's might do to bring in Gonzalez, but only if he hadn't found a job by Feb and took half of that estimate. I'd rather see them bring in Dyson.