Mark Trumbo Earned His New Contract Through Massive Improvements in 2016

Mark Trumbo brought the flash in 2016 by leading the league with 47 home runs. Can he duplicate that in 2017 after across-the-board improvements last year?

Mark Trumbo borders on being the definition of a one-trick pony. But when you do that one trick well, it can lead to gobs of cash. Trumbo may not be pulling a Scrooge McDuck and backstroking through gold right now, but he did earn himself a pretty spicy new deal.

The 2016 home-run champ will be sticking with the Baltimore Orioles for the next three years, finally landing his first big contract in the major leagues. Trumbo certainly has his warts, but he earned this payday through some significant improvements in 2016.

Let's take a look back at what exactly Trumbo did to amp things up last year and why this could bode for more big-bopping seasons to come. He's not a superstar, but for what they're asking him to do -- hit mad dingers -- he should continue to get the job done.

Up-Tick in Hard Contact

Dating back to when he was with the Los Angeles Angels, Trumbo has always been able to make solid contact when he got the barrel on the ball. It was just more true in 2016 than it had been in years past.

Trumbo finished the season with a 39.3% hard-hit rate, the highest mark of his career in his age-30 season. Among qualified batters, this was the 16th-best mark in the league and 10th among right-handed batters. He ranked just 42nd in this same category in 2015, so this wasn't all due to the league-wide increase in power.

You don't knock balls out of the park simply by hitting it hard, though. You've got to get some loft, too, and Trumbo aided his cause there by also increasing his fly-ball rate. It went up to 43.1%, besting a career-high in 2015 of 40.3%. Combining this with that mammoth hard-hit rate -- and a homer-friendly park in Baltimore -- and it's easy to see how Trumbo blasted 47 balls over the wall.

Despite this, there's a reason that Trumbo didn't get the $75-80 million he reportedly initially sought in free agency. His career on-base percentage is just a few ticks above .300, and he topped out at .317 in 2012. That's well below most guys of his ilk, justifying his coming at a bit of a discount. This was another area in which Trumbo made strides last year through improving his plate-discipline stats.

Check out his marks in this area through the end of the 2015 season compared to what he did last year. "O-Swing%" and "Z-Swing%" are the percentage of pitches he swung at outside and inside the zone, respectively, while "SwStr%" represents the percentage of pitches that result in a swing and a miss, all courtesy of FanGraphs.

Split Walk Rate O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
Career Through 2015 6.5% 38.5% 68.2% 72.5% 14.0%
2016 7.6% 33.8% 69.9% 72.4% 13.6%

Trumbo became a more selective hitter, swinging at just 33.8% of pitches outside the zone, besting his previous career low of 34.6% in 2014. His contact rate was a smidge lower than his career mark, but that was largely due to a 77.4% outburst in 2011. This was still the second-best contact rate of Trumbo's career.

What makes this all even tastier from a forward-looking perspective is that Trumbo just got better as the season went along. This shows his first-half splits compared to what he did after the All-Star break. Trumbo's power slipped in the second half, but his progress toward being a more patient hitter was even more evident.

Split Walk Rate Strikeout Rate O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
First Half 6.9% 26.4% 33.7% 70.2% 70.5% 14.7%
Second Half 8.6% 24.3% 33.9% 69.5% 74.8% 12.2%

By making contact at a much higher rate, Trumbo cut his strikeout rate over two percentage points. The league-average walk rate for position players in the second half was 8.3%, meaning he was finally above average here. Plate discipline will never his strength, but we'd be foolish to ignore the improvements he made here both in the season as a whole and in the second half.

Trumbo's terrible defensively, generating -11 Defensive Runs Saved in 2016, but with Pedro Alvarez likely gone, Trumbo should have more time to play first base or serve as the team's designated hitter. If that's what the Orioles ask him to do, and he carries over the new-found offensive skills he tapped into last year, then this contract should be beneficial for both sides.

Duplicating a Career Year

We shouldn't expect a dude who smashed 47 dongs to duplicate that performance the following year. Too many things can go wrong to curtail that, and it's a lofty total even if everything goes right. Trumbo at least has the tools to make it happen, though.

Trumbo's 2016 season was easily his best by almost any measure -- advanced stats or traditional. He made better contact while also improving his patience at the dish. If he can use that this year to further elevate his walk rate, then it's reasonable for him to even return more value than he did last year.

This is a guy who will never be an all-around stud, but the Orioles aren't paying him to be that. They're paying him a reasonable price to provide some thump in the middle of the lineup, and based on the immense strides Trumbo took in 2016, he should be able to do exactly that going forward.