Putting Chris Davis atop the batting order was a short-lived venture, with the Orioles opting to end that experiment only five games into the season. Davis’ last game batting leadoff was April 3, with Tim Beckham filling in the following game. Since then, it has been all Trey Mancini.
Have the Orioles found their leadoff hitter? Mancini is off to a hot start at the plate, which is a bit ironic considering what he recently told the Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli: “ ‘...you needed a sundial to measure me running, so nobody ever considered putting me at leadoff.’ ”
Sure, Mancini may not fit the old-school style of leadoff hitter and neither did Davis. These are big guys known for driving in runs, not necessarily for setting the table. Buck Showalter is going the unconventional route at leadoff, if only for lack of options, but Mancini is already showing more promise than Davis did in that role.
When Showalter first floated the idea of Davis batting leadoff during Spring Training, people were grasping to think of someone comparable. Former Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson was brought to mind. Anderson famously hit 50 home runs as the Orioles leadoff hitter in 1996. Davis hit 53 home runs in 2013, except he did it from a more traditional run producing spot in the order. A leadoff hitter with light tower power: not unheard of.
Many O’s fans remember Brian Roberts as the team’s last true leadoff hitter. The guy could work a walk, he stole bases early in his career, and he let his batting approach lead by example. He wasn’t known for his power, but he had some pop in his bat, hitting 18 home runs in 2005 and 16 in 2009.
In 2012 there was some confusion when the Orioles started batting Nick Markakis leadoff. People wanted to profile him as more of a run producer and thought he should hit lower in the lineup, which seems especially odd considering that Markakis has consistently shown the ability to get on base and maintain a strong walk to strikeout ratio throughout his career.
So what makes a good leadoff hitter? It may boil down to the fact that it needs to be one of your best hitters, because that person is going to get more at bats each game, and over the course of a season, than anyone else on the team. And maybe it just needs to be someone who can handle the pressure and throw himself into the fire right way, so to speak.
Still, some may see Mancini as more of a fit in the middle of the order, where his line drive swing and developing power would have the chance to drive in more runs. But he brings a lot of other necessary leadoff skills to the table. While his strikeout total from last year (139) may preclude him from being categorized as a contact hitter, he does hit for a high batting average, going all the way back to his minor league days.
Another thing Mancini does well is hit the ball the other way. He has strong opposite field power, as evidenced last year on a number of his home run shots. He just has that ability to hit the ball where it’s pitched and spray the ball all over the field, which is another valuable tool for a leadoff hitter to have.
Give me a hitter with a solid chance of hitting around .300, and I’ll show you someone with a chance to succeed in the leadoff role. In four career minor league seasons, Mancini batted .306/.357/.472. As you can see, he had a strong on-base percentage back then too, although it was buoyed somewhat by his high batting average.
What can I say, Mancini just seems very capable at the plate. He exudes confidence. He rarely seems overmatched or out of his element. Much of that can be attributed to his solid mechanics and simple approach. His hands are quick and short to the ball, maybe even too much so, as evidenced when he swung and took a pitch off his hand while batting against the Blue Jays on April 11.
Last year during his rookie season, Mancini had a .293/.338/.488 batting line with 24 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 33 walks and 139 strikeouts in 543 at bats. Those walk totals don’t stand out, but Mancini has shown marked improvement in that category early on in 2018.
So far this season, Mancini is batting .292/.366/.417, with 2 home runs, 5 runs batted in, 9 walks and 15 strikeouts. The number that jumps out at me here is .366. That is a robust on-base percentage for an Orioles leadoff hitter. ESPN projections has Mancini finishing the year with 81 walks if he can keep up his current pace, which would be more than twice the number of walks he had last year. The only Oriole with a higher on-base percentage right now is Manny Machado at .402.
Albeit in limited exposure, Mancini has shown a great aptitude for hitting leadoff in his career. His numbers from the leadoff spot last year were .385/.385/.846 with 2 home runs, 5 runs batted in, 0 walks and 3 strikeouts in only 13 at bats. From the leadoff spot this year, Mancini has a .362/.434/.468 batting line with one home run, 3 runs batted in, 6 walks and 10 strikeouts in 47 at bats.
Trey Mancini has shown the ability to not make outs, which is the first and most important thing for a leadoff hitter to do. His surging batting average and on-base percentage make him the logical candidate for the Orioles to bat leadoff for the foreseeable future. If the recent past is any indication, he’s going to be a really good one.