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The Orioles Trey Mancini outfield experiment is working so far

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The Orioles are a team with a plethora of first basemen. This led to playing time for Trey Mancini in left field. How has that been going so far?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Orioles are playing poorly at the moment and if that does not change soon the 2017 season may be lost for good. They are already under 10 percent in their Fangraphs playoff odds as of this writing. However, one of the few bright spots throughout the season has been Trey Mancini.

Mancini has torn the cover off the ball at the plate. He is currently batting .305/.347/.567 good for a .913 OPS on the year. That puts him at an OPS+ 140, or 40% better than the league average hitter. This all coming from an eighth round draft pick which is even more rare.

He has also been getting better each month. In March and April he posted a respectable 112 OPS+, in May he topped it with a 135 OPS+. Now in June he is raking with a 160 OPS+. He is crushing right-handed pitching and holding his own against lefties which is odd considering his minor league splits. The Orioles reverse splits strike again. He is smashing the ball to smithereens and his hitting of the few reasons the Orioles still remain in anything close to contention.

However, with all of the Orioles first basemen on the roster, Mancini has been pushed to a lot of outfield play. Right now, with the injuries to Chris Davis, Mancini is playing more first base, but he still has over 200 innings in the outfield in 2017. Also, moving beyond 2017 with Davis and Trumbo locked up for the foreseeable future, Mancini is going to be playing the outfield even more. So I wanted to see what we could glean from the first few glimpses of Mancini in the outfield.

The most important thing to note when looking at the numbers on Trey Mancini’s defense is that the sample size is paltry. 200 innings is not a large enough sample size to glean anything more than some cursory information. The rule of thumb is usually about 1500 innings or maybe even three years worth of data.

This is because fielders differentiate themselves by making plays at the extremes. The highlight reel catches. However, there are only so many highlight reel catches to be made. And one flub of a one easy play can tank some defensive ratings.

But, trends can be identified and some information found can be useful moving forward. With that out of the way, let’s get into way overemphasizing some small sample size numbers.

The two big publicly available defensive metrics are Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Click those links to read about each of them more in depth. So depending on which one you like better, Mancini either looks pretty bad or average.

First, DRS rates him currently as a +1 run saved defensively. Of left fielders with at least 200 innings, Mancini ranks tied for 16th out 34 qualified left fielders. He is just about average. The highest rated left fielder is Justin Upton at +9 and the lowest rated fielder is Ben Revere with a -9. Again, the sample size is small, but he is basically smack dab in the middle of the pack.

Second, UZR/150, a stat that prorates to compensate for different amounts of playing time, rates him at -11.7 runs saved which places him as the 28th best left fielder, again out of 34 with at least 200 innings in left field. UZR rates Mancini much more unfavorably.

This is mostly due to a very poor rating for his arm, -2.4 runs saved. His range has actually not killed him with only a -0.6 runs saved mark. The concern coming from first base was his arm. According to UZR, it has cost him a ton and will continue to do so. DRS, on the other hand, has Mancini’s arm at +1 runs. So go figure that out.

Third, the Statcast data. Statcast breaks down plays from one to five star plays. One being the easiest and five being the hardest. According to Statcast, Mancini is 100% on 1 star plays (11 out of 11), 71.4 percent on 2 star plays (5 out of 7), 16.7 percent on 3 star plays (1 out of 6), and he has made 0 percent of plays rated either 4 or 5 stars (0 out of 8). Again, the sample sizes are small and one more catch made or missed on there drastically changes the numbers.

Lastly, the eye test. Defense is hard to measure. There are lots of moving parts to defense. That’s why I like to watch a guy play to back up my thoughts and compare him to others at his position that I watch. To me, Mancini is fine. His arm has gotten a little more accurate, but it lacks for strength. He makes the plays he is supposed to and will probably miss some balls an above average left fielder would get to. He is fine for the position especially if he keeps raking.

Going forward, I expect Mancini to likely rate out as average to below average in left field. Things can change, but I do not see the defensive metrics or the eye test loving Mancini. He can get better, but only so much. Before this year he had never played a position other than first base in the Orioles system, not even designated hitter. More time is needed to make a final assessment, but I would have to say that the experiment has certainly gone better than I expected.