It's not the majestic home runs that have the Orioles and Mark Trumbo thinking so far this year that it was last year’s struggles, not his career year in 2016, that were the aberration. There's only been one of them so far.
But with every line drive sprayed back up the middle in his two weeks back in an Orioles uniform, the 32-year-old Trumbo gives an indicator that much of what ailed him in 2017 was left there. His major league-leading home run total in 2016 came after a start that included more singles than slugging, too.
"It's a very similar swing," Trumbo said. "It's not the same swing. But I think the bottom line is line drives play pretty well at all times. As a kid, that's what I was taught — I'm not sure if that's still what is taught — but you watch the better hitters in the game and they make hard contact, consistently. You might say there's more luck in that, but it's just simply harder to catch.
"A guy like Nelson Cruz makes hard contact all the time, and his numbers are always way up there. A couple years ago, I'd come off being his teammate in Seattle and really watching him, and that mindset probably helped me a lot in '16. In '17, it just didn't click."
At least in this small sample, it appears to be clicking so far. He's batting .327/.340/.462 with a home run and four doubles in 13 games. The power isn't showing up yet, but the peripherals are closer to what Trumbo provided at his best. According to MLB Statcast data from Baseball-Savant.com, his average exit velocity of 93.2 mph is tied for 17th in the majors among hitters with at least 25 batted-ball events, well up from last year's 89.7 mph average. His hard-contact rate is 48.8 percent, up from 38.2 percent last year and 45.4 percent in 2016.
And that's all with a little bad luck, too. Trumbo's weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .342, though players with similar batted-ball profiles would be 50 points higher at .392.
"One thing I looked at last year, over the winter, is trying to figure out why I fouled a lot of pitches off and popped a lot of balls up last year," Trumbo said. "I felt like I was never really on time. I think there were a number of things kind of contributing, but the bottom line was my barrel was underneath the ball quite a bit. So, this winter, I wanted to make an effort to do a better job of staying on plane, keeping my shoulders level, and having the ability to put the ball in play a lot more often than I did last year."
Doing that has meant Trumbo has been able to handle pitches up in the strike zone better, which is an area pitchers are attacking more and more around the game to combat the uppercut swings that some players have adapted to be a part of the launch-angle revolution.
Trumbo is happy to be pitched there. It's just about doing something with them, now.
"I think a lot of times, the outs that are made — you can point to chasing a pitch with two strikes — but I think a lot of times I think you make the out by fouling off some good pitches to hit early in the at-bat," he said. "They don't seem like a big deal, but when you get something you can work with, even if you make an out, you give yourself a much better chance by making hard contact."
Part of his frustration a year ago was the inability to correct that on the fly. At times, he knew he'd foul off the best pitch of an at-bat and know he wasn't going to get a better one before he'd even gotten through the rest of it. Pitchers often set up the low-and-away breaking ball, which Trumbo is susceptible to, with a high fastball. If he misses the ball up, the breaker down was coming, and he knew it.
"Honestly, the whole time, I knew what was going on and I was just unable to fix it," Trumbo said. "I think that's something that once a season wraps up, you can kind of take a deep breath and try and get into some changes that are going to pay off. In-season changes can be done, but it's quite a bit harder because you're constantly trying to go out there and get results with whatever you're working on, and if they don't happen right away, a lot of guys aren't going to give some of those changes the necessary time to take effect. I think I was probably guilty of that last year."