There are fewer opportunities for a happy story on the 2021 Orioles than Trey Mancini’s return to the field after missing the 2020 season due to his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If he comes back and picks up where he left off in the 2019 season, when he hit 35 home runs, that will be an exciting thing to see play out day after day.
Whether or not this is what comes to pass is not something anyone can know ahead of time. This fact does not stop people from doing their best to make an educated guess. Some guesses are backed up by long-running projection systems.
Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be periodically looking in on some individual Orioles player projections and giving readers a chance to pick whether they think a given Oriole will do better or worse than projected. When the end of the season rolls around, we can look back and see how we collectively did in our guesses.
For this ongoing series, the projection system I’ll be chiefly using is Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, which has been hosted at Fangraphs since the 2013 season. I like ZiPS because I think Szymborski is transparent about how he updates it and what goes into it. It helps that it’s freely available on Fangraphs. It’s a nice bonus for Camden Chat purposes that Szymborski is from the Baltimore area and sprinkles anecdotes like the time he accidentally dropped a pit beef sandwich into the Patapsco River into his writing about the O’s 2021 projections.
If you’re interested, you can read the long version of what goes into ZiPS. The short version is that it digs into the post-Deadball era history of baseball to find similar players to those in the present, then projects future performance for each player based on how similar players did in the past. An individual player might beat his ZiPS by a wide margin, or fall short by just as much, but in the aggregate the system does well for itself.
Here’s Mancini’s projected batting line from ZiPS and two other projection systems:
- ZiPS: .277/.332/.491
- Steamer: .262/.332/.468 (also posted to Fangraphs)
- Marcel: .264/.333/.473 (from Baseball Reference)
That is a projected .823 OPS from ZiPS, which is very close to Mancini’s MLB performance in his 2017 rookie campaign. The other systems don’t see as high of a batting average, or as much power, coming from Mancini. Steamer’s projected .800 OPS would also be fine, but either of these might feel disappointing as a follow-up to Mancini’s 2019 breakout, when he ended the season with an .899 OPS.
The Marcel system only projects 268 plate appearances from Mancini this year. It’s likely that system puts a lot of weight on Mancini not playing at all in 2020.
The case for the over
In the last season he played, Mancini batted .291/.364/.535 over 154 games. This was not a small sample size. It’s also not one where Mancini appears to have benefited from atypical batted ball luck. His .326 BABIP from 2019 is not out of line with how he hit in the minors. The power ticking up in his age 27 season, and third full season in the big leagues, is not that unusual. Even if he steps back a little bit, he only needs to do a little better than his rookie season to beat this ZiPS projection.
The case for the under
The obvious thing is that Mancini missed the entire 2020 season due to his cancer treatments. He and the team have sounded confident that he will be ready to pick up where he left off as the 2021 season begins, but that may not be what happens. Mancini will turn 29 in March, which for some players is where the aging curve is already starting to bend back down to the bottom.
There’s also Mancini’s 2018 campaign to consider. He posted just a .715 OPS that season. An Orioles homer explanation for this would be that when he slid into the brick wall at Camden Yards in late April and banged his knee, that this knocked him off track for the rest of the season since the team never placed him on the injured list to recover. That might be right! And also it might be wrong, and there was some other factor at play that could rear its ugly head again in 2021.
Make your pick
The only polls I’ll revisit at season’s end are the ones where a hitter takes at least 200 plate appearances, a reliever throws at least 25 innings, or a starter throws at least 60 innings as Orioles. That’s about a third of a season. If someone gets hurt or gets traded before they can play that much, it won’t be very interesting to see if they beat their projected performance or not.
In the event of a push, where Mancini has exactly an .823 OPS, the tie goes to the over. What are your hopes for Mancini on the diamond this year? Let us know in the comments below.
Will Trey Mancini go over or under his ZiPS projected .823 OPS in 2021?
This poll is closed