The Orioles offense is having a tough time. It is a black hole of baseball blunders that appears impossible to escape, unless your name is Manny Machado, and even he has slowed since a ridiculous start to the season. Trey Mancini is not immune to this. The 26-year-old is in the midst of a sophomore slump of epic proportions.
Mancini has played in 84 of Baltimore’s 89 games. In that time, he is hitting .224/.297/.369 with 11 home runs and 12 doubles to go with an 84 wRC+ and .295 wOBA. FanGraphs “credits” him with a a -0.2 WAR overall while Baseball Reference rates him as a -1.3 WAR player. No matter how you slice it, it’s not good.
This is obviously a huge drop off from 2017, when he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting after a season in which he was surprisingly productive. In 147 games, Mancini hit .293/.338/.488 with 26 doubles, 24 home runs, a 117 wRC+ and .349 wOBA.
One potential difference between 2017 and 2018 could be Mancini’s physical health. Remember when he slid into the wall at Camden Yards while chasing down a fly ball early in the season? That was on April 20. He never went on the disabled listed for the knee injury. Instead, he missed a few days, appeared as a pinch hitter on April 23 and returned to the everyday lineup on April 25.
The official word at the time was that there had been a “puncture” that required stitches but no other damage was reported. On April 20, Mancini was hitting .284/.352/.420. Since the injury occurred, his offensive numbers have fallen precipitously to their current state.
Things have not been great in the field either. Mancini played a lot of left field in 2017 and, while he wasn’t outstanding, the Notre Dame alum performed better than most people expected for a guy that was almost exclusively a first baseman during his time in the O’s farm system. He has returned as the team’s everyday left fielder this season, but his numbers have gone south.
During his rookie campaign, Mancini amassed a -8.9 UZR/150 and -1 defensive runs saved (DRS) in left field over 729.1 innings. His performance this year has collected him a painful -18.5 UZR/150 and -15 DRS in 553 innings. Simply put: it has been a disaster.
According to Statcast, Mancini has been worth -10 outs above average (OAA), the fourth-worst mark in baseball. If you’re more of an “eye test” type of person, you must admit that it seems pretty plausible that he is among the least effective defenders in the game. While he doesn’t make many errors, Mancini sure doesn’t pull off too many impressive plays either. How many times have you seen a bloop fall in front of him this season? Almost too many to count. That’s not a coincidence.
Left field can be a demanding position. There is a lot of running, much more than at first base, Mancini’s natural spot on the field. If you did have a knee injuy, left field doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to nurse it. Combine that with the frustration of continued offensive struggles and the nightly weight of playing for a team that’s desperate to win and Mancini’s 2018 woes start to make sense.
One of the hallmarks of Buck Showalter’s time in Baltimore has been his preference to put players in the best position to succeed. With Mancini, he has not been able to do that, and it is not entirely his fault. The Orioles roster is simply too inflexible.
Mancini, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Danny Valencia all fill a similar need. They are first baseman/designated hitter types with offensive profiles that Showalter wants to get into the lineup every night. That means that two of them, at least, have to play positions they aren’t qualified for most nights. Mancini, the youngest of the bunch, almost always ends up out of his comfort zone. It’s unfortunate, but mostly understandable.
Trumbo’s defensive struggles in the outfield are well known. He could play a capable first base, but that is Davis’ position and team management appears unwilling to move their big money slugger away from there —that is an argument for a different day. Valencia is a problem with the glove no matter where you put him. The argument could be made that a healthy Mancini is, in fact, the best outfielder of the quartet, but it has not been evident in 2018.
Apart from acquiring young talent and unloading expiring contracts, one of the best things that the Orioles could do at this trade deadline or during the upcoming off-season would be to increase roster flexibility. They are stuck with Davis, but Valencia could be dealt for something (probably not much) this month. Trumbo only has one season remaining on his contract, and he has been one of the few bright spots in the lineup.
The team would do well to get things to the point where Davis and Mancini are the only remaining 1B/DH types hanging around. Two players for two positions; it makes sense. This will be even more imperative as D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle inch towards the big leagues, although there is hope that one or both of them can stick elsewhere on the diamond.
It hasn’t all been bad for Mancini. He has already walked nearly as many times this year (30) as he did all of last season (33). He is hitting the ball harder (90.1 mph average exit velocity) than he did last year (88.6). There has been some bad luck (.272 BABIP in 2018 vs .352 in 2017) and the previously mentioned injury troubles. There are enough signs that this season has been more fluke than reality.
That said, there have also been plenty of indications that something is not quite right, and it’s not clear what, if anything, has been done to help Mancini. He hit .272 in March and April, got hurt on April 20 and then followed it with a .192 average in May, .233 in June and .105 so far in July. While this is different than the Chris Tillman situation, it is similar in that the club is content to let him continue playing despite there being obvious issues.
If you prefer Baseball Reference’s method of WAR, Mancini has been the second-least valuable (Davis) player on the team. On FanGraphs, he is fifth-worst, and the names below him (Anthony Santander, Colby Rasmus, Tim Beckham and Davis) don’t inspire confidence.
The solution to Mancini’s issues is not clear. Does he need a stint on the DL? Would a position change help at all? Heck, if everything is fine physically, should he be demoted? As with many of the Orioles other problems, the team seems to prefer doing the exact same thing every day and hoping that, eventually, something clicks.