Mark Trumbo's Role in Aiding Paul Goldschmidt's 2014 NL MVP Chase

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Mark Trumbo's Role in Aiding Paul Goldschmidt's 2014 NL MVP Chase
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Whereas the 2014 American League MVP race will likely be between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera again, the NL MVP race should be more wide open again. Andrew McCutchen will be in it, as will Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Joey Votto and Bryce Harper. Just to name a few.

But here's where I endear myself to Arizona Diamondbacks fans. I and the other B/R MLB guys made early awards picks in February, and only I picked Paul Goldschmidt for the NL MVP.

The main reason I picked him doesn't require much elaboration. After hitting .302 with a .401 OBP and leading the NL in RBI, slugging, OPS and OPS+ and co-leading in homers, it's obvious Goldy's a stud.

But somewhere in the back of my mind was Mark Trumbo. The D-Backs got him from the Los Angeles Angels in a winter blockbuster, and he could have a hand in helping Goldschmidt win the MVP in 2014.

This, however, does require some elaboration. Because while I think Trumbo does have a role to play in Goldy's MVP chase, my expectations for him are more simple than other expectations out there.

From the moment Trumbo was acquired, there's been chatter here and there about him protecting Goldschmidt in Arizona's lineup. Even Trumbo is on board with the idea.

"Without a doubt," he answered when asked in February if he believes he can provide protection for Goldschmidt in the lineup, via ArizonaSports.com.

Trumbo went on to note that he has a good idea of the value of lineup protection after watching what Mike Trout went through last year:

He got quite a few pitches to hit, then Albert went down, and the next thing you know the guy's got over 100 walks, and I think Goldy experienced that last year, too. If you really don't have a threat or a guy...if you've got that combo, they're going to take their chances probably on both guys as opposed to just a free pass and then go after the next guy.

Trumbo has some keen powers of observation. Before Pujols' last game on July 26, Trout had a 10.6 walk percentage. The rest of the season, he had a 24.0 walk percentage. 

Trumbo's also right about Goldschmidt. After walking in 10.2 percent of his plate appearances in 2012, he walked in 13.9 percent of his plate appearances in 2013. When you look at what was going on in the No. 4 spot behind him in Arizona's lineup, that does look like a lack of protection at work:

Paul Goldschmidt's 2013 Lineup "Protection"
Split PA HR AVG OBP SLUG OPS
No. 3 735 36 .294 .394 .533 .927
No. 4 725 17 .264 .331 .413 .744

Baseball-Reference.com

Pujols goes away and Trout starts drawing a ton of walks. D-Backs cleanup hitters go "pluh" and Goldschmidt draws more walks than the year before. Thus, support for the notion that lineup protection is a thing.

Which, as some of you may know, actually goes against the conventional wisdom in the sabermetric community.

For sabermetricians, "lineup protection" is sort of like "clutch" in that there's more anecdotal evidence in favor of the idea than there is, you know, actual evidence. What the various takes essentially say is that you have to look at more than just walks.

FanGraphs' Dave Cameron, for example, penned an ESPN Insider piece (subscription required) that noted how many pitches McCutchen was seeing in the strike zone in 2012 despite the fact he was the only good hitter the Pirates had. In a piece that pondered what lineup protection would look like, FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan partially focused on whether Prince Fielder's presence resulted in more fastballs for Miguel Cabrera to hit in 2012.

If we use Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs to conduct a similar experiment with Goldschmidt's 2013 season, we see this:

The Paul Goldschmidt Approach
Year First-Pitch FB% Overall FB% Zone%
2012 61.9 56.1 44.0
2013 59.6 55.9 45.3

Brooks Baseball/FanGraphs

From 2012 to 2013, Goldschmidt did see fewer first-pitch heaters and fewer fastballs overall. But the drops were very slight, and the modest increase in pitches in the strike zone was a solid trade-off.

This puts the idea that Goldschmidt walked a lot last year because pitchers weren't giving him anything to hit on shaky ground. Rather than lineup protection, perhaps we're better off chalking that improved walk rate up to Goldy simply becoming more disciplined.

Which he did, by the way, as he swung at fewer pitches outside the zone, fewer pitches inside the zone and fewer pitches overall:

Paul Goldschmidt's Discipline
Year O-Swing % Z-Swing % Swing %
2012 29.4 63.6 44.5
2013 25.8 62.0 42.2

FanGraphs

Now, I didn't watch every game that the D-Backs played last year. I have no doubt that any who did could think of plenty of times when teams were clearly pitching around Goldschmidt

What I'm not sold on is whether pitching around Goldschmidt was any sort of general protocol. He walked a lot, sure, but aside from that the evidence of pitchers avoiding him is iffy. Chalking his improved walk rate in 2013 up to a lack of lineup protection is an oversimplification.

But then, maybe this is all academic anyway.

Even if we could prove that lineup protection is a thing and that Goldschmidt clearly didn't have it last year, it wouldn't matter as far as Trumbo is concerned. As much as he thinks he can provide it, he's not the kind of guy who would.

Trumbo was, after all, an easier out in 2013 than the guys who batted behind Goldschmidt. The .331 OBP they compiled isn't much to speak of, but it certainly looks good next to Trumbo's .294 OBP. D-Backs cleanup hitters also had a decent 16.0 strikeout rate, compared to 27.1 for Trumbo.

The point, in a nutshell, is this: Don't expect Trumbo's presence to make Goldschmidt a better hitter in 2014. It's likely not going to make any difference whatsoever.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

So why pick Goldschmidt for MVP?

Well, again, mainly because Goldy is awesome. Between his ability to hit, hit for power, play defense and run the bases, there's no first baseman more well-rounded than he is. And if he could put up numbers without "protection" in 2013, then he should be able to do so in 2014.

Where Trumbo can help is simply by doing his own thing. If he does, he's going to give the D-Backs something they sorely lacked last year and help them become a better team because of it.

What the D-Backs sorely lacked last year is power outside of Goldschmidt. They weren't a great power-hitting team, and they were even worse if you remove Goldy's production from the equation.

Which leads us to the following illustration. Here's a comparison of the power Trumbo and Goldschmidt displayed last year to the power the D-Backs outside of Goldschmidt displayed:

Goldschmidt, Trumbo and the 2013 D-Backs
Split Isolated Power HR/FB Home Runs
Trumbo .219 20.9 34
Goldschmidt .249 22.5 36
Rest of 2013 D-Backs .118 7.3 94

FanGraphs

So yeah. The D-Backs absolutely could have used Trumbo's boomstick last year.

The good news is there's one projection system that sees Trumbo putting up even more power in 2014. Per FanGraphs, the ZiPS projection system sees him finishing with a .245 ISO and 35 home runs. No doubt the move from Angel Stadium of Anaheim to Chase Field is a factor there.

Let's all watch this for funsies; courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB's official YouTube account.

If that power is there, ZiPS projects Trumbo to be worth 1.9 WAR. If you're thinking that sounds low, just remember that Trumbo doesn't get on baseZiPS projects a seemingly generous .320 OBPand is pretty much assured to be a lousy defender at a non-premium position in left field. 

But that's still an upgrade over what the D-Backs had in left field last year. Quite a big one, in fact, as Arizona got minus-0.6 WAR from its left fielders in 2013. Only Twins and Astros left fielders were worse.

The Diamondbacks will need more to go right in 2014 than just Trumbo upgrading their left field production, of course. They're going to need their rotation to account for the loss of Patrick Corbin, more consistency from Martin Prado, a full season of Aaron Hill, a bounce-back season from Miguel Montero and increased stability at the back end of their bullpen (that means you, Addison Reed). If the stars don't line up, it will be hard for Arizona to improve on its 81-81 showings in each of the last two seasons.

But if Trumbo's presence does indeed help the Diamondbacks improve their record in 2014, a notable barrier between Goldschmidt and the NL MVP is going to be lifted. He had all the numbers last year. Had he been able to match McCutchen in the team success department, the MVP might have been his.

Goldschmidt's a good MVP pick simply by virtue of being one of the National League's elite players. If Trumbo does his thing and a few other D-Backs do theirs, he could be the man to beat.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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