It's the day before the MLB All-Star Game. Which means it's the second-deadest day on the sports calendar, after the day following the MLB All-Star Game. There is nothing of any consequence taking place today, but there are a bunch of journalists and bloggers who need to earn their paychecks, which is why you've been reading about All-Star Game starting pitchers and lineups. It's also why you're reading about today's Home Run Derby. The Home Run Derby doesn't matter for beans, but it matters the most of anything that's happening today, because it's up against nothing, so we have to talk about it. This is another article about the Home Run Derby, and I apologize, or, you're welcome.
I don't know how most people feel about the 2012 Derby, because I'm not familiar with most people, nor do I care how much people care about something I don't care about. But what I have seen is some talk about how it's too bad that Giancarlo Stanton can't participate due to injury. The Home Run Derby isn't just about home runs -- it's about gigantic home runs, home runs you can't forget, and Stanton is a mammoth dinger machine. Players don't hit home runs like Giancarlo Stanton hits home runs, and his presence could've made this Derby a little more watchable.
But I'll tell you what -- Stanton might not be healthy enough to participate, but his American League equivalent very much is. By whom I mean Mark Trumbo, who's taking part in the Derby in just his second full season in the bigs. A year ago, Trumbo was brand new, and he had 17 dingers to his name at the break. This year he's got 22 and a reputation, and he's my great hope. I have no choice but to watch the Derby because of my job, and Trumbo's the guy I'm looking toward to make it all worthwhile.
I think it's interesting that Stanton is probably the more well-known of the two sluggers, not because Stanton isn't deserving of recognition, but because Stanton has played with the Marlins. Do you know anything about Josh Johnson or Anibal Sanchez? Of course you don't. You don't even know anything about Jose Reyes anymore and he used to be a big-market superstar. Miami swallows up attention before it can escape the city limits. Mark Trumbo plays near Los Angeles, or, as the Angels would say, in Los Angeles. Trumbo is under-appreciated for what he is. I think. This isn't scientific.
And what he is is a hell of a slugger. A pure, classic slugger, who hits home runs that ought to have nicknames. Are you familiar with Isolated Slugging Percentage? It's just Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average. Measure of power. Since the start of the 2011 season, Trumbo's posted baseball's eighth-highest ISO, and that's while playing half the time in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Just this season, Trumbo's ISO ranks second, behind a guy who plays in a bandbox.
Trumbo swings hard, and he hits far. The average home run this year has traveled about 396 feet. Trumbo's already hit ten dingers at least 430 feet. And the power seems to come so, so easily to him. Here's an example dinger swing:
Just so easy, so smooth. People talk about pitchers like Matt Moore who seem to have easy velocity. Trumbo has easy strength, such that he can swing like that and have the left fielder act like this:
Trumbo really is a sort of AL Stanton equivalent. He's older, but he's less experienced, and they both strike out and sometimes walk and hit the ball like there's a drought and they need to make it rain. Like Trumbo, Stanton would probably also be a lousy third baseman. You'd rather have Stanton on your team than Trumbo on account of the youth and the ceiling, but Trumbo has turned into an offensive terror right after the Angels moved to block him with Albert Pujols.
And what might be most terrifying about Trumbo is the way he doesn't need pitches to be grooved to launch them somewhere else. A map of his home runs from the last year and a half:
That's pitch location, with the gray box representing some approximation of the strike zone. Trumbo's hit a home run on a pitch about a foot off the ground, and he's hit a home run on a pitch about four feet off the ground. Here's that second pitch:
The pitcher was Jim Hoey. I don't know anything about Jim Hoey, but now Jim Hoey knows something about Mark Trumbo. That pitch was inside, at the letters, and Trumbo still hit it harder than Ben Revere has ever hit anything.
What this is about, in general, is Mark Trumbo being better than you probably think. Instead of regressing in 2012 like so many of us analysts expected, Trumbo's kicked it up several notches, confounding the hell out of us. He presently owns a .965 OPS. Trumbo's a beast. What this is about, specifically, is how Trumbo might be the brightest light in tonight's Home Run Derby. He hits the sort of home runs that make you make faces, and he can hit home runs on just about anything near the plate, meaning he won't need his Derby pitcher to groove everything he throws. Nobody likes watching hitters take pitches in the Derby, and nobody likes watching hitters miss home runs, or hit them barely. Trumbo probably won't take many pitches, and there probably won't be anything "barely" about the homers he hits, unless you mean they barely stayed within the actual stadium.
Maybe I'm wrong. I could easily be wrong, because while the Home Run Derby lasts forever, individual rounds go quickly and Trumbo might not find his happy place. He wouldn't be the first premier slugger to disappoint. But of the entire pool of participants, I think Trumbo has the greatest potential to make this a Derby to remember. That's one tall task, but Trumbo's a pretty tall guy.