So, the Orioles won last night. That happened.
What a strange feeling it is, to check the MLB At Bat application and not see an insurmountable one-run lead be insurmounted, Dylan Bundy become a walking dril tweet, or the Orioles finding a way to lose a baseball game in ways you’ve never seen before.
It makes you hate them a little bit less tonight.
The Orioles have been bad because everyone not named Manny Machado has either been hurt, kinda OK, or terrible. Chris Davis has actually looked a bit more comfortable at the plate the past week or so, but his general struggles were expected. Chris Tillman was signed for no other reason other than he happened to “do his part for the organization,” despite ALL THE EVIDENCE advising otherwise. Among all pitchers having completed 20 innings, Tillman’s 212 ERA- is the second-worst in baseball. You could say just about everyone told you so.
But Trey Mancini? 2018, you truly are a mouth-breather.
Granted, among his fellow Orioles, Mancini really hasn’t been bad. His 90 wRC+ is a bit below average, as is his .308 wOBA. He’s actually walking almost twice as much as he was his rookie season, and striking out slightly less, too. Yes, no one cares about batting average anymore, but Mancini is still hitting at a .256 clip, which pretty much says he’s been “meh.”
When we think of “Boom Boom” Mancini, we think of a guy who has done nothing but hit for power since his major league debut. Had it not been for Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, and a ridiculously loaded rookie class, Mancini’s 117 wRC+ and 24 home runs probably would have been hyped up a little bit more.
Right now, Mancini’s .120 ISO and .376 slugging percentage are down from respective .195 and .488 marks a season ago. Mancini has 10 total extra base hits, seven doubles and three home runs inside 144 plate appearances. The Orioles were always going to need Mancini to mash in order to meet their dire odds, and while he is far from the only problem, he certainly hasn’t helped much (though his defense has been surprisingly OK).
The weird thing is, Mancini’s offensive game hasn’t changed. Crazily enough, some of his peripherals are even better, and much like the Orioles front office, it confuses me.
So, we see here that not only is Mancini hitting the baseball harder than he was last year, but his output could very well be more up to his standards. Baseball Savant’s xwOBA factors in exit velocity and launch angle to measure a player’s expected weighted on-base average. Based on Mancini’s quality of contact, thus his ability to hit baseballs really hard, his xWOBA tells us that his offensive numbers could very well be even better than his strong rookie season.
That sucks, because in a lot of ways, it shadows improvements he’s made as a big league hitter. According to Pitch Info, he’s chasing less (36.1% to 33.1%), while making more contact outside the strike zone (59.4 to 63.6). As mentioned before, his strikeout totals have stayed nearly identical while also taking more walks. Also again, he’s hitting the baseball even harder than he did when he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind a current superstar and one soon to be. And he’s done all this while hitting more line drives!
So, the power should be there, right? It should, but it isn’t, leaving the signature attraction to Mancini’s overall game noticeably absent.
Mancini has a BABIP of .316, well above the .294 league average. After posting a .352 mark last season, and with more solidified contact, there are a lot of signs pointing to Mancini just going through a rough patch.
Adaptability was something Mancini was often praised for in the Baltimore media, that being his nature to avoid long spells of ineffectiveness. That exact thing is the kind of skill that good hitters retain, and something our George Battersby analyzed last summer. It’s hard to say that Mancini is struggling, given his rate of hard contact, but there are reasons his power production isn’t where it should be.
It’s no surprise given how stupid the start to this year has been that Mancini would end up missing a few games because he slid into the one sliver of the wall with exposed brick running down the third base line at Camden Yards. How much that still hurts, if at all, is anyone’s guess, but for whatever reason Mancini has not been doing much within the strike zone.
Pitchers haven’t drastically changed the way they attack Mancini. He still sees his fair share of breaking stuff away, and he’s actually seeing more fastballs too. But he hasn’t had as much luck in the strike zone, and a lot of it is not his fault.
On the left is pitcher usage with a variety of fastballs, and the right is breaking stuff. One of the first things that jumps out about Mancini’s 2018 season is his jump in batted balls to right field. He has redistributed six percent of his batted ball spray from his pull side to his oppo side from 2017 to 2018. As his fastball heatmap shows, he isn’t getting anything to hit towards his hands. Pitchers have been able to jam him, while they’ve also lent no assistance with sliders and curveballs too.
Mancini is the kind of guy who will hit the baseball to the optimal side of the field. He has the kind of hands to push a fastball over the second baseman, or lift a hanging slider over the right field fence. But his money down the road will be made by hitting tanks to left field. He hasn’t had much of a chance to do that yet, and that’s simply a tip of the cap to the opposition.
The Orioles stink, that I do know. But Trey Mancini does not. Of all the Orioles to get back on track, Mancini is one that I would certainly expect to veer back into the left lane. His numbers show it, and your gut knows it.