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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