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Patience at the plate not working during Trey Mancini’s sudden slump

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In some ways, slugger’s cold stretch has defied explanation, but stats show Mancini’s aggressiveness at the plate has changed as well.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It has a bit of an “Et tu, Brute?” feel to it. In a dreadful Orioles season in which players have fallen off of hot starts or failed to shake off early struggles, Trey Mancini has joined the list.

A player with a real chance for All-Star consideration during a strong first half, Mancini has seen his own play start to sour, as he’s currently in the midst of an 0-for-24 skid, a stretch that includes 27 plate appearances. He’s 0-for-the second half, and last had a hit on July 3.

The slump has seen his average drop from .301 entering that July 3 game to .281, and he started showing signs of frustration in an 0-for-4 afternoon Sunday during which he lined out on a well-hit ball, fouled a ball hard off his shin and struck out to end a late Baltimore rally.

In many ways, Mancini’s slump has been what slumps often are: a string of outs for no rhyme or reason. He’s a .373 hitter in the first inning this season, but he’s 0-for-6 in this run of six hitless games. He’s a .405 hitter ahead in the count, but he’s been 0-for-4 in these games. He’s striking out more, once every 3.43 at-bats compared to his average of once every 4.28 at-bats during the season. It’s baseball. Sometimes, you just go cold.

The stats, however, do show one area where Mancini appears to have changed his approach, and that’s concerning his willingness to cut loose earlier in the count.

Throughout the season, Mancini has been a very good instinctive and feel hitter. While some work the pitcher, get the count in their favor and try to set up either a mistake or a hittable pitch and take advantage, Mancini thrives on jumping on pitchers who are either just trying to get a feel for the game or who are just trying to get the at-bat off to a good start.

It’s a big reason why Mancini’s been such a good first-inning hitter - it’s felt like he’s been more locked-in from the first pitch than the man throwing it - and why he’s been so successful early in the count. He’s batting .389 this season on the first pitch and .500 on a 1-0 count.

In these six games, however, Mancini has been more reluctant to go after the first pitch. In his last 24 plate appearances, Mancini has put the ball in play on the first pitch only twice. He hasn’t done it on a 1-0 count, and has only twice done it at 0-1. Meanwhile, he’s let 18 of those appearances reach two strikes (he’s drawn three 3-2 walks).

Of course, just because a hitter doesn’t put the ball in play on the first or second pitch of the at-bat doesn’t mean he isn’t trying, but in Mancini’s case, it has. In 22 of those 24 plate appearances (Baseball Reference is missing the pitch-by-pitch breakdown for two of them), he’s swung at the first pitch six times and taken it 16. Ten of those taken pitches have gone for strikes, meaning Mancini’s started himself down 0-1, where he’s a .226 hitter for the season.

This doesn’t necessarily point to a lack of aggression on Mancini’s part. Pitchers could be on to him and his trends, and be starting him with more off-speed pitches and breaking balls, rather than fastballs that catch part of the middle of the plate - the kind that Mancini all season has loved to rip into the gaps or over the wall in right-center field for a quick 1-0 lead.

It could, though, be the cold streak at work. The longer a slump lingers, the more a hitter tries to press and look for ways to break out of it, and the more likely he is to go away from his tried-and-true rhythm. Mancini has taken the first pitch in 12 of his last 14 appearances, which could indicate that he’s actively trying to see more pitches in hopes of getting the mistake that leads to that slump-busting hit - even if that approach hasn’t been what’s worked best for him this year.

If stats are any indication, Mancini could be well-served by going back to a more free-swinging approach from the very start of the at-bat. It’s difficult, though, to be so aggressive when every hit ball seems to be popped up or weakly tapped to shortstop, which goes to show that what Mancini really needs is for one of these balls to fall in so he can finally put this bump in the road behind him.