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The anatomy of Trey Mancini’s comeback

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The Orioles’ clubhouse leader and best hitter has shown incredible bravery and perseverance in his return to the field after missing all of the 2020 season.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Red Sox.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Today is an off day for the Orioles, and Trey Mancini, for one, has earned a much-deserved break. Despite missing the entire 2020 season, the Orioles first baseman has been getting consistent playing time in the early going this season.

In case anyone missed it, Mancini has a heart-wrenching and inspiring story from the past year-plus. Orioles beat writer Joe Trezza has a great piece on MLB.com about Trey’s journey since his colon cancer diagnosis in March 2019 if you want a more in-depth look.

While a slow start this year was always expected for someone with as much rust as Mancini, he has excelled in a few specific offensive categories while building up his triple-slash line at the plate.

As we inch towards the quarter pole of the season, it’s evident how valuable Mancini is. Right now, the O’s first baseman is among the best in the league at driving in runs. He’s tied with the Angels’ Jared Walsh for the fourth most RBI in baseball with 29.

Mancini has shown a propensity to deliver in the clutch for the O’s. With runners in scoring position this year, he’s hitting .370/.412/.587 with a .999 OPS. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he has a .333/.467/.333 slash line and an .800 OPS.

Manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t held Mancini back much at all, giving him ample playing time to get back into the swing of things. It was evident in spring training when Mancini was tied for the most at-bats on the team with 51, and that level of deployment has carried into the first month-plus of the 2021 campaign. Mancini has appeared in every one of the Orioles’ 37 games so far, and he’s started all but one.

The O’s have tried to build some rest into Mancini’s schedule when it comes to how frequently he plays the field. While he’s logged a .241/.284/.426 batting line in 27 games (108 at-bats) as the club’s first baseman, Mancini has also seen time at designated hitter. In 10 games (35 at-bats) as Baltimore’s DH, he’s hitting .286/.375/.514. For whatever reason, he’s been much more productive when not playing defense.

For now, Brandon Hyde and the O’s brain trust don’t seem inclined to pump the brakes too hard on Mancini. Instead, they appear content to let him continue re-establishing himself at the plate. While Mancini’s overall triple-slash line (.252/.308/.448) this year remains below his career marks (.274/.333/.482), his average has risen 45 points since April 26.

Mancini raised his batting average from .245 to .252 yesterday alone after going 2-for-4 with a double and a single. Not to mention, those two hits came against Mets starter Taijuan Walker, who is currently carrying a 2.20 ERA.

And while he has been relatively cool at the plate in the past week overall, Mancini is still hitting .296/.333/.500 in the last 14 days. An underwhelming April (.237/.299/.443) has given way to an improved May (.283/.327/.457), and things should keep improving.

Looking at Baseball Savant’s offensive leaderboards, Mancini currently has the 17th best barrels per plate appearance in baseball at 9.6. In addition, Mancini is tied with the likes of Kris Bryant, Pete Alonso, Bryce Harper, and Franmil Reyes with 15 barrels so far in 2021. Now that’s elite company. Mancini finds himself in the 81st percentile of MLB hitters in barrel percentage and in the 93rd percentile in barrels.

To shed more light on the inner workings of this advanced metric, MLB.com’s baseball glossary defines a barrel as the following:

The Barrel classification is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.

To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.

In 2021, his age 29 season, Mancini will make $4.75 million. He can become a free agent in 2023 at the earliest. And bear in mind, he is just two years removed from hitting 35 home runs and slugging .535.

It’s impossible to know what GM Mike Elias has in store for Mancini as far as a contract extension, or if he even knows at this point. And everyone’s got an opinion on whether Mancini will be around when the Orioles are good again. But with the first baseman’s game rounding into form, he will have value whether he’s on the club or dealt for prospects at some point too.