The Orioles haven't had a Rookie of the Year winner since Gregg Olson won the award for the AL in 1989. This year isn't looking like their year either, but it's not for lack of trying from Trey Mancini. He was everything the Orioles and fans could have hoped for and more.
Mancini was so good for the Orioles this year that he made the Mark Trumbo signing look bad even without getting into Trumbo's performance. Should the Orioles have seen Mancini coming this year? If they had done so, they could have saved themselves a bad deal. They did not do this. The good news is that Mancini was so good that even the Orioles couldn't ignore him.
This should not have worked out, really. "Oh, sure, let's just have the career first baseman start playing left field. What could possibly go wrong?" Only idiocy or desperation would make this seem like a good idea. I leave it up to the reader to decide which applies to the pre-Mancini 2017 left field situation, which saw all of Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry, and Hyun Soo Kim starting games out there. Those weren't good ideas either.
Instead of continuing to suffer through that mess, Mancini made the Orioles decision for them. He forced his way onto the roster in the first place by being a clear best option for the bench, and after starting fewer than half of the Orioles games in April, he forced his way into left field, too.
Mancini's 2017 batting line of .293/.338/.488 is that of a solid big league regular. There is no need to qualify it with "It was good for a rookie." Only the 52 home runs hit by New York's Aaron Judge will keep Mancini from hauling home that hardware. Mancini was good. If the rest of the Orioles had hit like him, the team would have been a lot better off. They didn't, of course.
Both that .293 average and .338 on-base percentage were tied for the team lead with the season's other most pleasant surprise, Jonathan Schoop. This pair of 25-year-olds carried the team as much as they could.
Not bad at all for a guy who was overlooked coming out of the University of Notre Dame. Mancini's college teammate Eric Jagielo was a first round pick of the Yankees; he hasn't made MLB yet and might never do so. Even the O's didn't take Mancini until the eighth round. Sometimes you just never know. But Mancini made it impossible for the O's to ignore him - and impossible to keep him on the bench, too.
Along the way, at least one Orioles rookie record fell. Although Mancini's 24 home runs fell short of the 28 hit by Cal Ripken Jr. as a rookie in 1982, Mancini did succeed in setting a new record for a hitting streak by an O's rookie, collecting hits in 17 straight games this September. Oh, and by the way, in the game where Mancini's hitting streak ended, he walked twice.
Despite that hitting streak, September was actually what passed as a tough month for Mancini. He hit just one homer in the month, yet still batted over .300 for the month and had a .726 OPS for the month overall. Manny Machado wishes his worst month this season was so good.
The word "consistent" is one of those buzz words of the likes of MASN's Jim Hunter and Mike Bordick. Saying a player "hasn't been consistent" is a polite way of saying he hasn't been good. This is not a complaint one could ever make about Mancini's 2017 season. He never slumped severely. Again, even his worst month saw him set an O's rookie record for a hitting streak! I like him.
The various Wins Above Replacement metrics like Mancini too, although probably not as much as you do, and definitely not as much as my girlfriend does. By the Fangraphs WAR measurement, Mancini was worth 1.8 wins this season. Baseball Reference rates him better at 2.2 WAR.
Those are respectable numbers indicative of a player who is a capable regular starter. Only four Orioles position players and two pitchers topped his fWAR. What kept Mancini from rating higher was his defense, but not in the way you expect.
I hope it's not any slight to Mancini to note that when Adam Jones commented last offseason that the Orioles need to get more athletic at the outfield corners, Mancini is probably not who Jones had in mind out there. There were certainly times in his 88 outfield games where it was clear that Mancini was a first baseman playing out there.
Overall, though, he didn't look too bad, at least as far as defensive metrics are concerned. By Defensive Runs Saved, Mancini was a -1 in 729.1 innings out there. What he gave back in range, he made up for in arm strength - again, by DRS. The Ultimate Zone Rating metric was a bit less kind, rating Mancini at -3.9 runs with a rate per 150 games of -7.3, losing more from his arm than he did for his range.
That's just talking left field. It was actually his numbers at first base that dragged him down: -4 runs by DRS in just 35 starts, and a UZR/150 of -4.1. Perhaps this is all noise. League-wide, team officials continually talk about how the public defensive metrics are only worth so much, and it's generally accepted that you need three years of data to get an idea about a player anyway.
What will Mancini look like in left field next year? We'll probably find out the answer because I think that's where he will be in 2018. Every indication when you see Orioles coaches talking about him is that he's a hard worker who will continually work to improve at whatever he's asked to do. That's not going to win him any Gold Gloves, but it should help him be good enough to help the O's. I mean, it is just left field.
The Orioles weren't ready to go full Mancini from last offseason. With how he played this year, he showed them that they should have been. There are plenty of questions about next year's team, but Mancini isn't one of them.