About ten days ago, Dave Stewart came out and publicly declared Mark Trumbo the team’s every day right fielder in 2015. Aside from the fact that I disagree with the organization making bold public statements about players, especially this early in the offseason, I also disagree with Trumbo lining up in right 150 times next year. The experiment in left field didn’t go very well, and with right field being largely considered more difficult than left (although likely not by a wide margin), I wasn’t exactly optimistic about him moving to right. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that it might not matter very much. Let me explain.

The outfield arrangement that we have advocated for here at Inside the ‘Zona centered around managing a left field platoon of Mark Trumbo (who crushes lefties and plays poor defense) and Ender Inciarte (who’s better against righties and plays outstanding defense). It makes a ton of sense to pair these two based upon who’s on the mound and/or the score of the game in late innings. Trumbo’s struggles against righties is nothing new and Enciarte’s defense reputation is similarly well-known. This would free up right field for David Peralta (who bats left) on a pretty full time basis, getting spelled on occasion for Cody Ross (who bats right). A natural platoon in left, a natural platoon in right, A.J. Pollock in center every damn day (forever!). Makes sense for a team trying to maximize it’s assets.

But while we have the numbers and history to suggest that the above plan is a solid idea, it may not have had a lot of chance to see the light of day given external factors. Would the organization admit that they’d acquired a part-time player in Trumbo when they tossed aside Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for him? Probably not, for political reasons, even if the group in power now wasn’t the braintrust who pulled off the dreaded Trumbo trade last winter. It’s possible that Trumbo may not have accepted the role and I suppose it’s fair to suggest that we can’t completely bet on Ender Inciarte playing all of 2015 like he did for the last two months of 2014 (if you don’t play him, however, you’ll never know). These things considered, I’d already mentally prepared myself to see way more of Trumbo in left with Enciarte spelling him one day a week and serving as a late-inning defensive replacement while picking up a couple starts in center. Right field, in my mind, still belonged to David Peralta and Cody Ross.

Then the news broke and my whole plan fell apart. Aside from the basic positioning shuffle, it struck me as odd that the team announced it’s motive for moving Trumbo to right was that he would have more confidence there as opposed to playing left. More confidence? That doesn’t sound very saber-friendly, but as I mentioned on The Pool Shot, I know there’s a strong mental aspect to the game. So maybe there’s something to this confidence they’re speaking about. Do they believe it’ll transition to his plate appearances? Because we have a pretty good idea of what the fielding will be like: terrible. Absolutely terrible.

You see, Trumbo has played right field before and has about a third of a season’s worth time out there. That’s not a ton of time to evaluate his game, but for what it’s worth, he’s rated incredibly poor. Presumably, he’d have more innings out there if he hadn’t been so bad. For example, his UZR/150 (a stat that rates his defense per 150 games) stands at a whopping -19.3, meaning he’d be worth nearly negative two wins over 150 games played in the field just from a defensive standpoint. The Diamondbacks must surely think he can be better than that, because if that’s where he stands, he’d have to absolutely rake at the plate just to cancel out the defensive deficiencies and prove himself an average major league asset. And guess what? He hasn’t ever produced runs at the dish at a level needed to cancel out the projected defense and ultimately make him an average, 2-win player next season.

But as I alluded to earlier, it doesn’t really matter all that much, and here’s why: he’s projected to be worth strong negative value in left field, too, according to Steamer (and, frankly, the eye test). So no matter where the Diamndbacks try to play him, he’s going to struggle defensively and be a complete liability. This isn’t debatable any more, it’s been confirmed and everybody knows it. The pressure is solely on the bat for Trumbo as it’s going to have to produce in a big way if he’s to recoup the value lost in the field. Again, we know this story well. The team thinks that he’ll be more comfortable in right and they seem to think that this comfort and confidence will help him at the plate. There’s no way to measure how his internal “feelings” in the field will impact his hitting, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m guessing it in and of itself doesn’t improve anything, but that’s just me. If he wants to improve at the plate, he needs to strike out less, take some walks and make more consistent contact. Playing right field isn’t likely to fix these things.

This does have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the outfield, however, and if you’re looking for a place where the impact will be felt, it’s presumably in left field production. David Peralta and Ender Inciarte are slated to split time there, but they can’t be platooned as they’re both left-handed bats. So Chip Hale will have to choose one or the other, opting to prioritize offense or defense and rarely getting both at the same time. In right, Cody Ross can’t be platooned because he’s right-handed just like Trumbo, which puts him in some kind of weird place where he’s on the roster but just doesn’t play very much despite pulling down $9.5 million in 2015.

This not a maximization of resources. For team that has a chance to win half of it’s games by using it’s resources in an optimized way and staying healthy, this seems like a step backwards. Of course, Trumbo is Trumbo wherever he plays in the outfield, and if he can get back to being 20+% above average in producing offense, I suppose we can look the other way. But this takes opportunities away from three other players at the expense of giving Trumbo full-time reps, and if he struggles at the dish like he did in 2014, then we have a major problem on our hands. We’ve suggested an optimized options for the D-backs and they seem inclined, at least for now, to play it more traditionally. I certainly hope they reconsider their position on the outfield alignment, but I’m not optimistic that they’ll do so. Instead, we’ll just have to change our left field jokes to right field jokes on twitter. I’d rather not make jokes at all, I’d rather win games, but the Diamondbacks seem unwilling to oblige at their own peril instead.

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10 Responses to Trumbo In Right? You’d Better Believe it

  1. Anonymous says:

    Man watching that guy play last year was painful.

  2. Sam says:

    Has Ross ever played left? Is that the only thing (besides a stated commitment not to platoon) that keeps the original plan from happening with left and right field switched?

    Also, it’s great to have discovered a new good player, but isn’t all the Inciarte hype on this blog a little overconfident? What happened to the “defensive metrics need three seasons’ worth of data” rule of thumb?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Ross has actually played more left field than right field in his time with the D-backs. Dave Stewart has declared LF as Peralta and Inciarte’s territory, however, and I’m not really sure how you fit a third guy in there.

      Inciarte’s defense rated highly last year, and surely some weird stuff can happen in a single season of data. But, the scouting reports have said for years that he’d be significant defensive asset and Baseball America has rated his throwing arm as the best in the organization in the past. Add to that his range that’s clearly visible and you can see where he’d be quite an asset defensively. Putting an exact value on it may be risky, but calling “good”, and even perhaps “excellent”, seems like a safe bet.

      • Sam says:

        Okay, so Stewart already dictated the whole outfield, not just where Trumbo plays; I guess I didn’t catch that. If he had just declared Trumbo’s position, though, is there any major reason why an Inciarte/Trumbo platoon couldn’t happen in right rather than left? Like, was the “Trumbo is our starting right fielder” announcement really substantially worse than if he were to say “Trumbo is our starting left fielder”?

  3. Jeff says:

    There is one reason that particularly makes sense for having a first baseman more comfortable in right field is simply for that fact that you are still on the same side of the field. I know it sounds like a pretty weak arguement, but if you actually took the time to ask a couple of baseball players about there opinions on playing on different sides of the field, they would tell you that it definately makes a difference moreso on the visual aspect when making reads as well as just the comfort factor.
    Also, there is no doubt in this fans mind that if given a healthy trumbo in the chase field launch pad for a full 150 games, he would absolutely put on a light show. I have no idea why you dislike him so much, but you have to understand that his performance on both the offensive side and the defensive side was severely hampered last year. A stress fracture is a serious injury for a power guy and he still managed to drive in over 60 runs in only 350 at bats! I hope you feel like an idiot when he comes out and drives in 120 next year.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      A couple of things:

      First, I actually talked about the idea of him being more comfortable in right in relation to his former time at first base on the 4th episode of The Pool Shot. It might be a little weak, but I think it’s also presumably reasonable.

      I think his stress fracture could surely have given him fits in the box. No one’s said that’s not a reasonable explanation. But, some of the troubling signs from him have existed far before he hurt his foot last season. So to blame the entire downfall on an injury doesn’t quite paint the whole picture when he’s struggled with particular aspects in the past, too.

      If you’re evaluating hitters by RBI’s, you’re doing it wrong. That’s all I’ll say about that. Google it, or better yet, read more of the content here. That’s about the worst measurement of a player possible.

      • Jeff says:

        First off, there is no telling when in fact the stress fracture actually began giving him problems. His disabled list timing has nothing to do with when in fact the injury occurred. The thing about stress fractures is that they are a slow developing injury that often times go unnoticed until a full blown fracture or break actually occurs. GOOGLE IT!

        Also, I do not need to read your content to know how to evaluate players actually being a college baseball player myself. I am quite familiar with the game actually.
        Trumbo was acquired and is being paid to DRIVE IN RUNS. Hence my reference to RBI’s above. I am fully aware that there is more to analytics than RBI’s. There are different roles on a baseball team and trumbo’s role is to help the team win by driving in Goldschmidt as many times as he can. He may strike out a ton! But his prescence behind goldy is a necessary one making both players, as well as the team, better.

  4. Kevin says:

    I think one of the major short-comings in the D’Backs front office over the last few years has been over-emphasizing the downturn of players on injury years. The did this with Upton (trading him coming off an injury season), they did this with Carlos Quentin (getting a bag of balls for him because he couldn’t hit with only one functioning shoulder), and I’m sure I could find more examples as well. This has bitten us in the butt every time we’ve done it. I appreciate the SABR analysis, but I think the anti-Trumbo rhetoric could be toned down a bit until he actually has a healthy season in the line-up. There is also every reason to believe defense can improve with practice and patience (see Goldschmidt, who was considered a butcher when he came up), so assuming there is no possible way for Trumbo to grow as a defender is similarly problematic. I highly doubt the people on this site are the only ones that know Trumbo clearly has room to grow as a defender. He knows it. The front office knows it. And I’m they’re both working to improve it (hence the switch to RF in the first place).

    • Jeff says:

      Amen Kevin! I think it would be a huge mistake to trade Trumbo now! The people on this site who want him out due to his lack of sabermetric projections obviously haven’t learned anything from the past. One bad season hampered by injury and all the fan loyalty is lost.

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