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Gloves out: The Mark Trumbo advantage?

I think I am less effective at opening heavy doors when I have to reach across my body to pull on the handle. Could the same type of phenomenon be true for catching baseballs in the outfield?

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There was a non-zero chance of non-slide if this ball had just been to Mark Trumbo's glove side.
There was a non-zero chance of non-slide if this ball had just been to Mark Trumbo's glove side.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With a -9.7 UZR/150 in 1,351.1 career innings in the outfield, Mark Trumbo may not be an outstanding defender, but he's not a statue out there. Everyone is special in his or her own way, and in the field, Trumbo has had greater-than-expected swings in effectiveness. In 2,857 innings at first -- almost twice as many innings -- Trumbo has a 6.1 UZR/150. First won't be an option for him in Arizona, but finding a good fit for Trumbo was a priority for the new Diamondbacks regime, for good reason. Where could he go?

Fortunately for D-backs GM Dave Stewart, Mike Scioscia was able to offer a helping hand:

Stewart said he talked to Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who used to manage Trumbo in L.A., and Scioscia said right was a much better fit for Trumbo than left. Trumbo seems to agree, saying that the way the ball cuts off the bat is easier for him in right, when it tails toward his glove side.

"Being right-handed, I feel right field, especially with some of those balls coming in, it's much easier for me with that angle as opposed to the one in left," Trumbo said.

If Trumbo feels more comfortable in right than in left, then who am I to say it's a bad idea? Right field may be turning into something of a skill position, and last year in MLB, about 7% more balls were hit to the right field zone than to the one for left fielders. But how do we quantify the human element, reader? How do we quantify the human element?

It's not quite as crazy as you might think. Trumbo could throw a baseball straight through the side of a barn if he hit one, and that skill plays up more in right than in left. We'll have to see what we see.

Is there something to this glove-to-the-tail-side comfort level, though? There's nothing that says Trumbo can't be unique, but if it's more helpful to a player to catch balls closer to the foul poles without turning around, we might see that within the growing body of seasons that feature advanced defensive statistics. I pulled defensive numbers for all right and left fielders with at least 1,500 innings at each position between 2003 (the first year for which DRS and UZR is available) and 2014 and came up with just 22 players. There are a few who, perhaps like Trumbo, were moved around for offensive reasons -- but there are also a handful of defensive specialists who accumulated innings all over the outfield as fourth outfielders. It's not overly scientific and the sample is small, but the results were still interesting.

Name Throws Arm Side UZR/150 Glove Side UZR/150 tMTAdv RZR delta
Carlos Quentin R -13.2 -7.4 5.8 .024
Delmon Young R -14.9 -0.3 14.6 .011
Emil Brown R 13.9 -3.2 -17.1 -.100
Geoff Jenkins R 6.6 8.4 1.8 .087
Jason Kubel R -15.7 -16.9 -1.2 .017
Jose Guillen R -2.1 -2.3 -0.2 .079
Juan Rivera R 5.7 0.4 -5.3 -.110
Justin Upton R -5.8 1.5 7.3 .039
Kevin Mench R 3.6 16.8 13.2 .056
Matt Joyce R 5.2 -1.5 -6.7 .014
Randy Winn R 4.2 15.4 11.2 .210
Reed Johnson R 18.5 -10.0 -28.5 -.082
Andre Ethier L -5.9 -2.4 3.5 -.001
Cody Ross L 3.7 -1.9 -5.6 -.034
David DeJesus L 2.2 19.5 17.3 .010
David Murphy L -0.4 5.9 6.3 -.028
Gerardo Parra L 17.9 11.8 -8.1 -.034
Lance Berkman L -13.1 7.1 20.2 -.129
Ryan Ludwick L 3.7 -3.9 -7.6 -.017
Seth Smith L -7.4 5.4 12.8 .014
Travis Snider L -5.5 5.3 10.8 .007
Average -- 0.1 2.3 2.1 .001

"Arm Side" is the one that Mark Trumbo would not like -- left field for righties, right field for lefties. "Glove Side," left for left and right for right. The fifth column is a new statistic showing the difference in UZR/150 when a player has "the Mark Trumbo Advantage." And yes, what I have listed as "average" for tMTAdv is the mean, not weighted for the length of each player's tenure in the outfield.

The left-handers did superbly as a group: their mean tMTAdv is 5.5 a sizeable improvement but one that gets minimized by the idea that we would expect there to be an improvement, just based on the assumption that the "average" on which UZR is based is a lower threshold in left than in right. And yet, the group of twelve right-handers to have played both positions had a mean tMTAdv of just -0.4 -- very close to zero. If we discount the achievement of the lefties, maybe we give the righties some credit for doing about as well despite drawing the short straw.

The lurking variables are more important than the identified ones, I'm sure. If left field has a reputation of being easier (or at least being more of a catch-all position after others are assigned), it stands to reason that a disproportionate number of players in this righty-leaning sample were put out to pasture in left field when their defensive skills were on the decline. Still, not nothing, right?

As noted above, arm strength could help soften the blow of involving Mark Trumbo in more defensive plays by installing him in right field. But Trumbo said nothing about it being easier for his throwing arm to be on the center field side -- he spoke of catching baseballs in his baseball mitt. To get a little closer to the heart of the matter, then, I also compared the Revised Zone Ratings of each player's right and left field bodies of work. And there, poof -- the Trumbo Advantage seems to disappear. Overall, the team breaks about even.

Left-handed throwers did markedly worse: -.024. Meanwhile, right-handed throwers did a bit better: .020 RZR. That is almost exactly in line with what we would have expected. In 2014, the league-average RZR for right fielders (.902) was 18 points higher than the average for left fielders (.884), which may or may not have to do with average skill levels.

I have no idea whether this will end up meaning nothing for Mark Trumbo, or whether being able to run glove-first into the foul wall in right field will make a difference for him. If it's the latter, however, the experience of the players above suggests that it would just be one more way among many in which Trumbo is unique.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Ryan P. Morrison is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score. He writes about the Arizona Diamondbacks at Inside the 'Zona, and talks D-backs and sabermetrics with co-author Jeff Wiser on The Pool Shot, not infrequently about Mark Trumbo. Follow him on Twitter: @ryanpmorrison.