Odds slim Trumbo becomes full-time 3B

March, 27, 2012
3/27/12
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Mark TrumboAP Photo/Lenny IgnelziMark Trumbo hadn't played a game at third base in the minors or majors before spring training.
There are two questions regarding the Los Angeles Angels' experiment of moving first baseman Mark Trumbo to third base:

1. Will it work, in the basic sense of what is the likelihood Trumbo will be able to adequately handle the position?

2. Is it the right move to make?

Mind you: Trumbo played 624 games at first base and a handful in the outfield in the minor leagues, but none at third. Other than 23 innings in the outfield last season, all his action came at first base.

I did a little search on Baseball-Reference and checked all players since 1950 who had played at least 300 games at first base and third base. I picked what I thought would be a reasonable standard of playing time; if you played 300 games at third base, it means a manager was at least willing to live with you out there for a couple seasons' worth of games. This would help narrow down players who had played both positions and highlight guys who may have made the first-to-third transition. I figured it would be a large list. After all, a lot of third basemen get shifted to first base, right?

There were only 24 such players. The list: Harmon Killebrew, Deron Johnson, Joe Torre, Dick Allen, Richie Hebner, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Enos Cabell, Ray Knight, Bob Horner, Darrell Evans, Pedro Guerrero, George Brett, Jeff King, Dave Magadan, Ron Coomer, Todd Zeile, Phil Nevin, Shea Hillenbrand, Kevin Youkilis, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff, Wes Helms, Miguel Cabrera.

You know how many of those 24 converted from first base to third base? One.

Nearly all of these guys came up playing primarily third base in the minors. Now, not all began their careers in the majors at third base. Ron Coomer, for example, played primarily first base his first couple of seasons with the Twins, but he'd come up through the Dodgers system as a third baseman. Joe Torre and Todd Zeile converted from catcher. Dick Allen played second base and outfield in the minors before moving to third base as a rookie. Tony Perez was like Coomer: Came up as a third baseman but played first his first couple years before moving to third base for a few seasons. Pete Rose, of course, played second base and outfield before moving to third base as a 34-year-old and later to first base. It's safe to say that few major league players have had the drive and baseball discipline of Rose. Pedro Guerrero? He was sort of a man without a position. He played outfield, third and first in the minors, so wasn't completely new to the position when Tommy Lasorda tried that misguided experiment.

That leaves us with Enos Cabell, our only true first-to-third conversion on the list. He came up through the Orioles system as a first baseman, playing 418 games there, 55 in the outfield and 11 at third base. He was traded to the Astros for Lee May where he played mostly outfield his first season but did start 19 games at third. He then moved to third base regularly in 1976 and remained there for five seasons.

That's it. One guy.

I cut the list down to 200 games at each position and we get to 43 guys. Again, mostly guys who came up as third basemen plus utility types like Mark Loretta and Ty Wigginton. Dan Driessen sort of qualifies, but he had played 43 games at third base in the minors in 1972 before his rookie season. Sparky Anderson tried to turn Driessen into a third baseman, starting him 85 games there in '73 and 122 in '74. It didn't stick. That's how Rose ended up there in 1975.

Now it's possible I may have missed a guy who played one year at first base and then moved permanently to third, and thus missing our 300- or 200-game cutoff. But you get the idea: This kind move rarely works. Trumbo was an excellent defensive first baseman. He's also a very large dude: 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. Immediately, you have to wonder about his range and quickness, although Angels fans will surely point out that Troy Glaus fared fine at the hot corner despite his similar size. In the limited spring training sample size of 60 innings, Trumbo has made three errors for an .833 fielding percentage.

So there have to be doubts about the move working, no matter Trumbo's work ethic or willingness.

Now, about the second question: Is Trumbo's bat worth getting in the lineup?

This is the part of the equation that many are ignoring. While Trumbo hit 29 home runs as a rookie he also posted a .291 OBP. Alberto Callaspo can't match that power but did post a .366 OBP. That 75-point gap in OBP looms larger than the 23-homer gap between the two players.

Trumbo created about 71 runs in 573 plate appearances. Callaspo created about 68 runs in 536 plate appearances. In terms of runs created per 27 outs, Callaspo had the better figure -- 5.22 runs per 27 outs versus Trumbo's 4.47. View it this a way: A lineup of 2011 Mark Trumbos would hit a lot of home runs ... but a lot of solo home runs. The lineup of 2011 Alberto Callaspos would score more runs due to its ability to get on base and sustain rallies.

Factor in the defensive spread between the two and there are obvious reasons to question the move -- not that it isn't wise to improve the versatility of your lineup. Now, there is a caveat worth mentioning. Callaspo may not be as good as he was in 2011 and Trumbo may improve his on-base skills. If that OBP gap narrows, Trumbo's power edge makes him a better offensive player.

That's the risk Mike Scioscia is taking if Trumbo becomes the team's regular third baseman. In the end, I suspect Trumbo becomes more of a utility guy: 40 games at third base, 30 games at DH, 20 games at first base when Albert Pujols rests or DHs and maybe a few games in the outfield. That can be a nice guy to have on a club.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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