Nori Aoki vs Mark Trumbo
the SSI camera angle ain't all it's cracked up to be


Jerry DiPoto has made four changes on offense:

  • He switched the catcher, which anybody would have done (but credit to him for being networked with Ianetta)
  • He switched the 1B; good move there
  • He changed Brad Miller / Austin Jackson out for a no-hit glove specialist, and
  • He swapped Mark Trumbo out for Nori Aoki.


We'll call the 2015 Mariners the "Trumbo Offense" and the 2016 Mariners the "Aoki Offense."  Is that a fair characterization?  Sure, it is; more on that another time.  In this read, let's just ponder the state of our own existences.  Are we glad to have cashed in the Trumbo'ing for the Aoki'ing?  Like it or not, that's what you got, man.

Before we start ... back in the 1950's or so, this was a famous-and-fun argument between Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens.  They argued for years about the plusses and minuses of 3B's who OBP .400 as opposed to shorstops who could SLG .500.  It's easy to imagine them talking past each other in circles, lining up dozens of reasons that each guy was in the right.  Aoki is, of course, a table-setter, a leadoff hitter; Mark Trumbo is an RBI man.  We are diving into a 2015 version of a 1955 argument.

For his career, Nori Aoki has averaged 5.0 runs created per 27 outs, compared to Mark Trumbo's 4.5.  This is despite Trumbo's more impressive-looking slash line:


Trumbo, life .250 .300 .458 4.5
Aoki, life .287 .353 .386 5.0

It's interesting that Trumbo's park-adjusted OPS+ is 110 compared to Aoki's 103, and yet he's a worse offensive player.  In other words, Mark Trumbo actually scores more Slash Line Points, but Aoki has helped his offenses more.  There are two reasons for this:  One is speed around the bases.  It isn't just 5 SB's per season vs 25 SB's per season; speed shows up just as much in a player going 1B-to-3B, or 1B-to-HP, or 2B-to-HP, or scoring on a sac fly.

OPS is one thing.  Runs per 27 outs is a different thing.

A second reason that Aoki's RC is a hefty 10% higher, despite his wimpy slash line ... a point of OBP is worth about 2x a point of SLG.  That is, if you take one of the AL's average hitters, who is going .255/.318/.412, you would just as soon see him go .255/.328/.412 as you would see him go .255/.318/.432.  As Bill James said, "the biggest difference in baseball is between being safe or being out."  Trumbo makes a LOT more outs than Aoki.

So, Trumbo makes 72 more SLG points than Aoki, but this is theoretically overmatched by Aoki's 53 x 2 OBP points.  And that's the reason this article is fun:  Trumbo and Aoki are at opposite ends of the speed/power spectrum.  DiPoto has cashed in an extreme Peyton Manning offense for an extreme Marshawn Lynch offense, as it were.  (NFL analysts compare "making steady first downs" to getting extra innings in baseball, to making fewer outs.  We'll grant you, Nori Aoki is not the spitting image of Marshawn Lynch, but strategically they're brothers in love.)



Okay, we glanced at the career performances.  But don't forget now:  Trumbo is turning 30 and Aoki turning 34 (ulp).  This means you MUST project Aoki for a dropoff, and STEAMER does so:


Icon, per Steamer's 2016 projection AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Trumbo in Baltimore .252 .309 .459 103
Aoki in Safeco .270 .331 .360 96

Alert readers will notice that Trumbo's 2016 projection is exactly equal to his career slash line.  Aoki, at age 34, in Safeco, drops off a good single plateau.  This makes them almost exactly equal offensive players.  Once Aoki migrates from the batter's box to the pillows surrounding the infield, he makes up the OPS+ difference.



In this Bill James article, we find out that Royals-style (Aoki) offenses do NOT produce runs in a "steady stream" compared to Earl Weaver (HR, BB, K) offenses of similar ability.  However, Bill sidesteps the question "Do such offenses give better results come playoff times, against pitchers' pitches?"  But never mind.  For right now we'll assume that 4.5 RC/27 is 4.5 RC/27, whether you're Kyle Seager or Nori Aoki.



Trumbo is a dubious first baseman; Aoki is a fast corner outfielder.  

Despite this, Trumbo is projected to 1.3 WAR next year and Aoki only 0.9; part of this is accounted for by the fact that Aoki is regarded a DUBIOUS fast corner outfielder.  But still.  You'd have to be nuts to prefer Trumbo's glove to Aoki's.  Steamer is nuts, but that's okay.

We've got wayyyyyy too many subplots we're trying to work into the popcorn movie here, but ... Aoki's 0.9 WAR come in part-time play.  For SURE this leverages his production.  You can work in DH or LF production as you (and the enemy pitcher) deems fit.  The easiest way to beat the WAR system is with platoon players.  We read it on BJOL, so it must be true.



Trumbo makes $9M vs Aoki's $5M.  In DiPoto's Wal-Mart world, that's the difference of one catcher or one closer.  DiPoto would be perfectly justified in asking, "No no no.  Do you want Trumbo or do you want Aoki AND CISHEK."

Hmmmm, Jerry, can we just go back to comparing it with Aoki standing alone...



Aoki and Trumbo are pretty even steven.  It's the Pesky/Stephens argument all over again, and it's kind of a dumb one.  "In a vacuum" you couldn't spit for the difference.  Aoki's a bit cheaper, but he's also facing a possible Age-34 Plummet.  They're comparable in value.


The overarc'ing theme here is Quality At Bats.  You're going to give up 99 kinds of home runs, but you're going to have 8 slots in the lineup that pile the pressure onto the mound.  In a vacuum you might call this a push, but the Seattle Mariners have a grit problem.

If that's the only way to give a heart to the Lion of Oz, to bring in a bunch of players who already know how to get going when the going's tough.  Then, for this reason and this reason only, will Dr. D plump for the Aoki Offense.  The Committee's Big Idea, "an okay team and a nice night at the ballpark," has caused a lot of spiritual decay over the last 10 years.  It's still causing it, by hardlining the budget when one more RP was critical.

SSI sees value in The DiPoto Way mostly in its effect on the ballclub's toughness.  It's a way to counteract the top-down message that you can't get carried away with the idea of winning. It's a noble attempt to install some battle grit.

Style questions aside, I'm blinkin' glad to have Adam Lind.  Strategies work better when the players play good.




image:  Sonny Abesamis




...I very much like DiPoto's new offense.  I very much do NOT like DiPoto's pitching changes, other than Karns.

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