Second-year stars mostly avoiding sophomore jinx
Some have slumped but Trumbo, Kimbrel among those continuing with strong seasons
When games resume Friday, Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo will be one of eight players hoping to avoid the Home Run Derby after-slump that has plagued some sluggers in years past. Fortunately for Trumbo, he already has some experience this season with evading stereotypical drops in production.
While a couple of last year's top rookies have fallen victim to the so-called sophomore jinx, Trumbo's numbers have gotten better. After finishing second in last year's American League Rookie of the Year voting to Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, Trumbo has been a model of consistency at the plate despite being shifted from first to third base and then to the outfield.
Trumbo gained attention on the national stage this week with a couple of phenomenal blasts in the State Farm Home Run Derby -- but he was only displaying what his teammates have been seeing from him for two seasons.
Trumbo has seemingly debunked any notion of a sophomore slump and hasn't wavered at the plate regardless of where he's at in the field. He finished the first half hitting .306 -- considerably higher than his .254 average last season -- with 22 homers and 57 RBIs.
"I don't care about the batting average," Trumbo said. "I think people get wrapped up in what their batting average is and lose track of what's important. For me, it's driving the ball, driving in runs, getting on base, not lamenting too much over if this is falling, if that's falling. I just go out there and hit the ball hard."
Trumbo hasn't been alone in successfully navigating the obstacles faced by some second-year players. Hellickson, despite going just 4-5 with a 3.41 ERA in the first half, has been solid for the Rays and has for the most part maintained most of his strikeout and walk averages.
In the National League, last year's Rookie of the Year, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, has improved on his dominant rookie season. Last year, Kimbrel set a rookie record and tied for the NL lead with 46 saves to go along with a 2.10 ERA en route to taking home the hardware.
At the break this year, he again leads the NL in saves, with 25, and sports a significantly lower 1.36 ERA. With no sign of the terrible twos in sight, the 24-year-old Kimbrel is one of the game's best closers.
Braves backup catcher David Ross, who has also caught the likes of Eric Gagne, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner, says Kimbrel certainly has the potential to add his name to the list of all-time elite closers.
"He's the fastest ever to 200 strikeouts in terms of innings in the history of the game, so it's not unfair to compare him to anybody," Ross said. "Do I think he has reached that status yet? No. He's getting by with his stuff now. It's like with many other young players. Bryce Harper is doing what he's doing strictly on talent. When he learns the league and learns how to play at this level, it's going to be a joke. It's the same thing with Craig."
Speaking of Harper, it'll be his turn in 2013 to try avoiding the second-year blues after making his highly anticipated debut with the Nationals this spring. He won't be alone, considering that a record five rookies participated in Tuesday's All-Star Game. And though it may seem like a given that players like Harper and Angels phenom Mike Trout will only improve with a year of experience, it's not always that easy.
While Trumbo and Kimbrel scorched their way through the season's first half, other standout rookies from a season ago -- like the Royals' Eric Hosmer and Kimbrel's teammate and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Freddie Freeman -- have had some bumps along the way.
Freeman's struggles, however, seemed to stem from a scratched cornea in his right eye, suffered while repeatedly changing his contacts during a windy and dusty May 5 game at Coors Field in Denver. He entered that day hitting .302, but went on to hit just .242 for the month of May and sat out 12 games combined between May and June as the problem lingered.
As for Hosmer, his problems were more on par with the typical sophomore jinx. The Royals' 22-year-old first baseman, who finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, was hitting just .177 (28-for-158) through May 22. It's around that time when Hosmer began working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and made some mechanical adjustments.
"We tried to shorten the leg kick a little bit," manager Ned Yost said of Hosmer, who's hitting .289 (43-for-149) since May 23. "He was getting a leg kick, taking his weight forward, and that made his bat drag through the zone a little bit. We shortened his leg kick, shortened his stride a little bit, and he was much more on time, much more behind the ball, able to use his hands much better."
There are examples on both sides when it comes to debating the legitimacy of the dreaded sophomore jinx. Two starting pitchers, the Phillies' Vance Worley and the Yankees' Ivan Nova, haven't shown signs of slowing after impressive rookie years. But there are the unfortunate injuries that cut short the second seasons of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos and Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda.
With two of the most talked-about rookies in recent memory, Harper and Trout, blazing their way through the Majors this season, it'll be interesting to see how each handles his sophomore year.
"You have to stay humble," Trout said. "That's what my parents always taught me as a kid -- not to get cocky, not to get a big head. That's always been working for me, so I'm staying with that."
Trout still has plenty to play for in this season's second half, but come next year, it won't hurt to have Trumbo there to guide him through the sophomore growing pains.