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The Orioles can use another lost year to find out if Cedric Mullins is part of the future

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As of now, Cedric Mullins and his tools have earned our curiosity. This summer, we’ll find out if they keep the Orioles’ interest.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine a team losing 115 games. Imagine this team being forced to trade its best player in decades, while failing to force a return worthy of his caliber. Imagine its breakout star from the season before failing to maintain his surge of potential. Imagine this team’s most expensive player misplacing THREE wins and absorbing ownership of baseball’s worst offensive season ever.

You could probably count on a couple of fingers how many times baseball was fun last year for a downtrodden Baltimoron. What the Orioles lacked in wins, they made up for in misery.

However, Cedric Mullins did provide one of the, like, two moments of bliss. And then he did a little more than that. Now we’re here, and the Orioles, in the face of an arduous rehabilitation, may have something to look forward to.

Once you take out the initial excitement of his arrival, Mullins’ debuting 45-game sample is just OK. In 191 plate appearances, he posted a .671 OPS and 86 wRC+, while actually accounting for -0.3 fWAR. In the end, his totals were the result of two differing months of performance.

Cedric Mullins 2018

Via: Fangraphs OPS BB% K% wRC+ BABIP
Via: Fangraphs OPS BB% K% wRC+ BABIP
Aug. .941 9.7 % 15.3 % 156 .347
Sept./Oct. .512 8.4 % 21.8 % 44 .238

Obviously, the first month was better than the latter for Cedric, and we’re not talking about a smidge. Perhaps due to fatigue shared by the Orioles and their viewership, Mullins’ less-than-stellar final month may have gotten lost in the pit of misery. There are those who are rightfully reserved in their opinion of Mullins, like our Ben Hansford, who made a lot of good points on the subject earlier this month.

Mullins certainly saw a steep drop-off in production, but it wasn’t as if he listened to anyone telling him to jump off a cliff. His BABIP descended more than a hundred percentage points, while his strikeout numbers climbed, but when it comes to making contact, Cedric does not struggle.

Cedric Mullins Plate Discipline 2018

Via: Fangraphs O-Swing% O-Contact% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
Via: Fangraphs O-Swing% O-Contact% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2018 22.2% 66.7% 40.7% 83.1% 6.9%
League Average 30.9% 62.8% 46.6% 77.0% 10.7%

Despite a 44 wRC+ over his final 119 plate appearances, he may have succeeded more, regardless of the results. His hard-hit rate went up from 24.1 percent to 28.4 percent over the final month, while his swing and contact rates also rose. He made more contact when he hit .187 in September than he did when he hit .317 in August, while consistently sending harder-hit baseballs into the field of play. It would appear we have a classic case of unfortunate batted ball luck.

In today’s era where swings and misses are more sought after than democratically involving the seven guys behind the pitcher, Mullins was among the best in baseball in putting the bat on the ball. He was considerably better than his peers in not swinging and missing, despite a heightened need to swing over his final month. Compared to Austin Hays and Yusniel Diaz, Mullins does not share their same concerns when it comes to plate discipline. Though we likely need more of a sample size to be sure, it appears that Mullins is capable of maintaining an advanced approach at the plate.

That’s a checkmark we can (maybe) mark off.

The aspect of his game that deserves the most attention is his speed, and how that, paired with his ability to put the ball in play, makes him dangerous...most dangerous.

According to Statcast, Mullins’ sprint speed ranks in the top five percent among big leaguers, while his average time of 4.05 seconds from home to first was 11th best in baseball. The dude is fast going to first, on the base paths, and in the outfield. You can’t teach what he has, and the Orioles have been dying for the kind of athleticism that combines true speed with plus bat control. And all the while, Mullins’ upward power trajectory adds yet another riveting tool.

Defensively, Mullins’ -6 DRS shouldn’t be taken at face value. The Orioles are unlikely to position their defenders in a similar fashion, given the new regime and a new way of doing things. Plus, one can hope that Mullins won’t be surrounded by clumsy outfielders like Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo in the not too distant future. There’s reason to believe that Mullins’ numbers in the outfield will also take a leap, and the excitement again, is a testament to his tools.

I tend to jump on a lot of bandwagons, and I think that’s the optimist in me. Until Anthony Santander crashes and burns, or better yet, succumbs to his current crashing and burning, I refuse to surrender. But that optimism also comes from finding flaws in our approach that always seems to highlight the worst of a player.

I’m on the Mullins bandwagon until opinion turns into fact, good or bad.