Cedric Mullins is the owner of a piece of Orioles history. And given how terrific he’s been this season, it’s more than appropriate.
Mullins on Friday clubbed his 30th home run, and became the first Oriole to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases. Brady Anderson didn’t do it. Roberto Alomar didn’t do it. Neither did Adam Jones or Manny Machado or Brian Roberts or all the other players who over the years have combined speed and power in Baltimore.
There are multiple reasons holding this honor is so well-earned for Mullins. One is his recovery from a rocky (that’s putting it lightly) start to his career, a rebound that does a better job than that of practically any other player of defining perseverance and the value of dedication and determination.
The other is due to the skepticism Mullins faced from baseball followers that his numbers were an aberration, and a hot start that was simply taking a longer than usual time to cool off. He was going to come back to earth, any stat cruncher would have told you. It was just a matter of time. Give it a week, or two, maybe three.
Well, 30 homers, 30 stolen bases and a batting average that has been above .300 for most of the season are good ways to shut any lingering doubters up. For now.
But has Mullins put fluke talk to bed for good?
Baseball is the most effective sport there is at separating the truly quality players from the ones who are just riding a temporary scorching streak. For most players who are in a zone, there are just too many games, too many days, too many weeks in the season to be able to resist the gravity that is trying to pull water back to its level.
And yet, we see that there are examples of people who elevate their games for an entire season, and yet are unable to remain there in coming seasons. We’ve seen a few on the Orioles in the past 25 years. Anderson’s 50 home runs in 1996 followed by his never hitting more than 24 in a season again, for example. Jonathan Schoop’s 2017 season of 32 homers, 105 RBI and a .293 batting average fits the bill; he hasn’t approached those numbers since.
And just last year, Anthony Santander generated early MVP buzz with a season that finished up at an .890 OPS. This year he’s at .720, unable to consistently be the force at the plate he was in 2020.
And just by looking at the stats, anyone still unsure that Mullins will remain this kind of impact player has a case they can make.
Since Aug. 2, a span stretching 51 games and 188 at-bats, Mullins is hitting .255. A commenter on a recent article on this site pointed out that his weighted on-base average of .382, according to Fangraphs, is 32 points higher than his expected number — in other words, he’s getting on far more often than the metrics are suggesting he should be. Baseball Savant has Mullins’s expected batting average at .274, 25 points lower than where it was entering Monday.
Add those numbers to the fact that Mullins’s season came out of relatively nowhere, and it’s easy to understand why someone could be anticipating a drop-off next year. And if Mullins were a slap-hitter who was normally around .270 and suddenly up to .320, it would be easier to buy. He hit the ball on the ground at the same rate, at the same speeds, only this time found more holes. Makes sense.
But that brings up the biggest reason why Mullins may be beyond any fears of being a flash in the pan: His power.
Even as he’s hit .255 since the start of August, his OPS has been at .851. He has 13 home runs in that stretch, a 41-homer pace over 162 games. His batting average on balls in play has been .254 — if anything, he’s been unlucky while the average has taken the dip.
Mullins has been able to pick up his performance every time it’s seemed to slip. On May 21, his average fell to .292 after being at .313 three days earlier; he proceeded to bat .417 over his next 60 at-bats with a 1.202 OPS. His average didn’t venture below .300 again until Sept. 15 against the Yankees; since then, he’s hit .303 with a .940 OPS. Whenever he seems to be getting cold, he heats back up again, and he does it with power.
If this were Mark Reynolds we were talking about, or Chris Davis, a few more home runs wouldn’t be indicative of much. But for Mullins, who just last year offered his greatest value as an expert bunter, the power element is indicative of his transformation entirely as a hitter. That’s more fluke-proof than a few more seeing-eye singles. He may not hit .300 again — more and more good hitters don’t — but the development of his power makes it harder and harder to imagine him dropping off to the degree some thought he might at the start of the year.
It’s impossible not to feel good about Mullins in the here and now, and he’s making it harder for fans to worry about the road ahead as well. Maybe the question will still be asked next year. But Mullins is certainly doing his part to keep it out of fans’ minds going forward.