Mark Trumbo, The SABR-Traditional Rorschach Test

Jeff Gross

Are concerns about Mark Trumbo's low OBP and high strikeout totals concerning? Or are we just a bunch of haterz who should salivate over the high HR and RBI totals?

The first every Baseball computer game I ever played was Hardball III. It came out for the 1992 season, but initially did not have MLB licencing or the license of the MLBPA. It also only had a handful of the stadiums for the then 26 Major League teams (Hello Dodger Stadium, home of your Atlanta Generics!) Gameplay wise, it had no subtlety for the strikezone. You either threw it right down the pipe, or it was a ball. Curveballs curved horizontally. It was a simpler time.

The thing about it that relates to the premise of this article, was that when you edited a player, you made him better or worse by changing values like Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI, SB, etc. There was only a rating for running speed and arm strength, not any of your fancy "Catcher Ability To Block The Plate" stuff you get in modern video games. That's all you needed, darn it! Of course, most modern baseball sims are miles better than Hardball III, and that brings me to Mark Trumbo.

With his 34 Home Runs and 100 RBI last season, Mark Trumbo would be an amazing Hardball III player. However, a lot has changed since then, and that is the reason that the trade fills the overwhelming majority of the Snakepit Readership (myself included) with dread. However, it seems to fill more "mainstream" (for lack of a better term) fans into a delightful tizzy. That is because Mark Trumbo is the ultimate SABR-Traditional Rorscach Test.

For those unfamiliar, the Rorscach Test is a psychological test where they show you a picture of a weird ink blob, and whoever is shown the blob has to say whatever pops into their head as to what it looks like. From those results, analysis is interpreted as to how the subject deals with certain situations. The conclusions are a bit of a stretch, but the test itself is a good metaphor for Mark Trumbo.

Let's do it ourselves! Here are two players with three statistical categories cherry-picked and shown to you:

PLAYER A:

32 Home Runs
85 RBI
.320 OBP

PLAYER B:

3 Home Runs
48 RBI
.368 OBP

Now which would you rather have? I'll let you think about it for a moment. Have you decided?

You probably figured out that this was a bit of a cheat on my part. Player A was Mark Reynolds in 2010, and Player B was Hall of Famer Lou Brock in 1974, when he finished second in MVP voting. If I were to phrase the question "Who would you rather have on your team: Mark Reynolds or Lou Brock?" it'd be an easy call (hopefully.)

As much as the stereotypical "traditional" Baseball fan likes to say "I don't care about your stats!", they actually care a lot about them, just a different set than the more advanced-metrics inclined. Home Runs, RBI, Batting Average are still statistics. When people who argue in the Great Trout-Cabrera War, the folks who said "I don't care about stats, he won the Triple Crown!", were actually putting all of their faith into stats. Which brings us back to Mark Trumbo (for real this time!)

Trumbo is the ultimate Rorscach Test because of his decent looking HR and RBI totals, but his not-great OBP and Defensive numbers. To me, it's like seeing a shiny-new BMW, and other people look at it and go "Oooh, that's a nice shiny new BMW!", but I look under the hood, and there is the engine from a Yugo. I could point out "Hey, this car has the engine of a Yugo" but those straw men I made up who looked at it initially will go "Why are you hating this car? Look at it, it's shiny!" Then they send weirdly punctuated tweets saying I'm not really a true fan of BMWs if I don't like this particular one. (Those of you who follow AZSnakepit on twitter know what I'm referring to. If you don't, uh why?)

Trumbo is also a high strikeout guy, which is normal for a guy with his sort of power. However, it does represent a sudden change of course for a Front Office trying to not rely on the Home Run a year ago. It's also odd for that unfairly grouped by me section of Traditional types of fans liking this when they became frustrated with the aforementioned Reynolds or with Justin Upton, who were both high-power, high-strikeout guys.

There's also his defense, which can be described as "Welp". Not his fault, he's a natural First Baseman who has played on teams that have had First Baseman who have been a lot better than him in their careers (Albert Pujols and now Paul Goldschmidt.) However, if he's competent enough to catch everything that's hit directly at or a few feet near him, some people will say that "ZOMG HE'S AWESOME GOLD GLOVE!" And they will, because they did with Jason Kubel. This will be despite the probability that defensive metrics will look at him unfavorably.

I'm more than aware that I'm looking at this through my Advanced-Stats colored glasses. I'm not saying that Mark Trumbo or players like him do not have utility for teams. I know I'll be cheering like an idiot when he hits Home Runs. I've already thought about posting "OPERATION TRUMBO DROP!" in a GDT when he does. However, will his power be enough to offset the lack of OBP, the high strikeouts, and the lack of defense? As well as offset the possible contributions that Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton could have brought to the team that they will now bring to teams that aren't ours? Kevin Towers is banking his job on it, while myself and many others are filled with dread for the future.

But, man, those dingers...

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