There wasn’t much to be happy about regarding the Orioles in 2018. They struggled in all phases of the game, and players who were expected to perform in an above-average manner fell well short of that benchmark. Two of those such players were outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini and starting pitcher Alex Cobb.
In his first 17 starts, prior to the All-Star break, the right-hander went 2-12 with a 6.41 ERA, while opponents hit .313 against him. Over 92.2 innings in that time span, he allowed 121 hits, 17 home runs, 25 walks and 63 strikeouts.
But there is reason for optimism heading into 2019. After the All-Star break and his poor first half, Cobb figured things out, pitching to a 2.56 ERA in 11 second half starts. During that time, he allowed 51 hits, seven home runs, 18 walks and 39 strikeouts, while opponents hit only .232 against him.
The only blemish on Cobb’s second half was a blister issue that cut short a few starts and caused him to miss several others. And that’s a big issue worth monitoring for a starting pitcher.
In terms of continuity, Cobb had a shock to the system last year when he changed teams from the Rays to the Orioles. Tampa originally drafted him and had been his home for the first six seasons of his career. Add that huge change to the fact that he didn’t have a real spring training and it starts to become clearer why exactly he had a rough first half adjusting to his new team.
With a year of familiarity with Baltimore under his belt, expect Cobb to have a better overall season, if he can manage the blister problem better than last year. Introducing a new manager and coaching staff to the mix might be another difficult change to handle, but Brandon Hyde’s resume and reputation give reason for hope in that regard.
On the other side of the ball, Trey Mancini was another player with two markedly different halves. Before the All-Star break, he hit .216/.292/.363. But he did bounce back to hit .276/.307/.484 in the second half.
Expectations were sky high for Mancini after he hit .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI in 2017, his first full season in the majors. But alas, he fell victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. His final batting line in 2018, despite the second half resurgence, was .242/.299/.416. On the plus side, he did match his home run total from the previous year, 24.
Some may connect Mancini’s poor first half back to a knee injury he suffered while sliding into the wall at Camden Yards in April, but that is pure speculation because neither the Orioles, nor Mancini, were willing to admit as much. Mancini only missed two games because of that injury before returning to action.
But, before sliding into the brick wall at home, Mancini was hitting .284/.352/.420. For the following three months, he had batting averages of .192 in May, .233 in June, and .203 in July before bouncing back at .291 in August and .248 in September. When all was said and done, Mancini finished 2018 with 24 home runs, 58 RBI and a .242/.299/.416 batting line.
The young outfielder/first baseman is only 26 years old and has not yet hit his peak. There is room for him to grow into a more important role in Baltimore after last year’s midseason sell-off.
Suddenly, Mancini is one of the more tenured guys on the team, at least compared to all of the new acquisitions and young players being promoted. Hopefully he will rise to the occasion, like he did the last two months of the 2018 season at the plate.
It will be interesting to see how the Orioles use him this upcoming season as well, because he could probably benefit from more time at first base and designated hitter and less time in the outfield.
Another area for potential growth is Mancini’s batting eye. In his rookie year, his on-base percentage was buoyed by a strong batting average. But with fewer hits in 2018, his batting average and subsequently, his OBP, suffered greatly as a result.
If only more Orioles would take to the mantra, “a walk is as good as a hit.”