After the off-season signing of Mark Trumbo seemed to put a damper on Trey Mancini’s potential playing time in 2017, he has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Orioles thus far in 2017. Although it hasn’t been perfect, he’s been playing nearly every day as the team’s left fielder as his bat has proven it’s worth in the middle of the Orioles lineup.
After being named the organization’s Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year in 2015, and then hitting home runs in each of his first three big-league starts last year, perhaps more people should have seen his ascension coming. Even so, few could have predicted 50 games into the season that the 25-year-old would be leading the club in OPS+ by a wide margin.
As with all young players that come out of the gates swinging a hot bat, pitchers have continued to make adjustments to their approaches when facing Mancini. The real test for rookies, and all major league hitters for that matter, is whether or not they can make adjustments at the plate to counteract what the pitchers are trying to do in a mental chess match of sorts. For Mancini, so far, so good.
First and foremost, nobody pitches Mancini inside. Or at least they try not to. Because when pitchers do, he’s able to do stuff like this:
With that in mind, let’s look through what Mancini has been seeing at the plate using Fangraphs heat maps and break it down into four, approximately two-week periods.
Mancini’s hot start
Mancini forced his way onto the roster by slashing .333/.369/.600 in Spring Training and continued that momentum early on in the regular season. From the beginning of the regular season through April 19th, shown below is a heat map of the 128 pitches that Mancini saw at the dish.
Mancini was pitched away over the full strike zone from top to bottom with a lot of pitches up and away out of the zone. All Mancini did was slash .333/.379/.815. Nearly a mirror image of his average and OBP from Spring Training, but with added power. Excluding the inner third which was routinely avoided, they went right after him and he made them pay.
The pitchers start to adjust
After getting smacked around by Mancini to begin the season, pitchers changed their approaches against the young righty towards the end of April. You can see obvious differences between early April’s heat map and this one from April 20th through the end of the month.
They continued avoid pitching him inside, but when throwing within the strike zone, opposing pitchers focused on the bottom half. You can see the adjustment from away to down, often in a combination with pitches up and away and down and away in an effort to get Mancini to chase.
For a little over a week, he did too. Between April 20th and April 30th, Mancini went into a 2-for-24 slump and his average dropped to .216. Included in those 24 AB’s were 12 strikeouts as well. A 50% strikeout rate is certainly not ideal, especially when you consider he didn’t record a single walk over that stretch.
Luckily for the Orioles, Mancini’s slump to end the month of April didn’t last long. He started off May with a 5-game hit streak and through the 18th, Mancini had increased his average over 70 points to .287. Most importantly, he was pitched almost exactly the same.
Pitchers continued to attack the bottom half of the zone against Mancini and throw him low and away to get him to chase. Much to the delight of Orioles’ hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, Mancini’s approach at the plate adjusted accordingly. Between the start of May and May 18th, he batted .372/.383/.558. Slump over.
It’s hard to nitpick at someone batting .372, but Mancini still had a strikeout rate over 25% while rarely taking any walks. It’s hard to hit that well while striking out that often, and his BABIP of .452 over those 18 days was a testament to that. Without putting more balls in play, an average that high is nearly impossible to sustain.
His Current Form
As expected following a hot streak like the one Mancini went on in early May, opposing pitchers tweaked their approaches and his heat map from late May once again includes some noticeable shifts.
Opposing pitchers have not fully reverted back to the mistake of pitching Mancini high and away such as they did in early April. But, when attacking the strike zone, they have lately been focusing on the outer part of the plate in the bottom half of the zone.
Outside of the strike zone, Mancini has continued to get the Adam Jones treatment with a heavy dosage of pitches low and away in an effort to get him to chase. And the best part of this most recent adjustment, is that Mancini hasn’t.
From May 19th through Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees, Mancini hit .346 with a beautiful OBP of .469 thanks in large part to nearly identical walk and strikeout rates. Over 32 at bats, Trey tallied 5 walks compared to only 6 strikeouts- a major change from earlier in the season. He has been able to lay off so-called “pitchers pitches” and has continued to pound the ball when it’s something that he likes.
His BABIP on the year is still relatively high at .372, but it’s possible that he will prove to be a high-BABIP hitter going forward in his career. He hits the ball hard and uses the entire field, both key ingredients towards more hits. His spray chart as a right-handed batter is a thing of beauty.
With Mancini’s proven ability to get his hands in and pull balls with authority on the inside part of the plate, it really limits what opposing pitchers can do. It’s anyone’s guess as to what adjustments pitchers will make towards Mancini going forward. Maybe they find a weakness for the high heater or junk towards his feet.
It’s early on in the season, let alone Mancini’s career, but the ability to make adjustments at the major league level is an important step for rookies. It’s something he will continue to have to do for the remainder of his playing days. But so far, so good for Mancini.