Since the Orioles arrived in Baltimore for the 1954 season on through to the start of this year, there had never been a player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season. Cedric Mullins came almost out of nowhere to make franchise history by becoming the first 30-30 player. No surprise that he also became the unanimous winner of the 2021 Most Valuable Oriole award.
The MVO award is voted on by members of the local media who are invited by the team to participate. Who voted for which player, or even a list of voters at all, is not provided. Each voter has a three-slot ballot, with the winner determined on the basis of most points with first place counting for five points, second place for three points, and third place for one point.
Mullins swept all first place votes. Others who received a vote for either second or third place, in alphabetical order by last name: Trey Mancini, John Means, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, and Ramón Urías. If I had been invited to vote, my ballot would have been Mullins, Means, and Mountcastle, and I would have felt bad about leaving off Cole Sulser.
The mystery media group has managed to whiff in past years in actually identifying the most valuable Oriole. In 2021, it was a slam dunk that they did not miss. Mullins’s season story of ditching switch-hitting to become an All-Star who’s set himself alone (for now) in the Orioles 30-30 club simply can’t be beat.
By modern value metrics like Wins Above Replacement, it’s no contest, either. Mullins is worth 6.0 bWAR to date, and 5.6 fWAR. That’s 1.3 bWAR and 2.8 fWAR more than Means, who sits in second place by both metrics. Yes, as far as Fangraphs WAR is concerned, Mullins is twice as valuable as the next-highest placed Oriole. That’s a great way to illustrate both how great Mullins has been this season and a bit of why the Orioles are 51-106.
You can look in just about any facet of Mullins’s game this season and see something amazing. He had a 20-game hitting streak earlier this year, the third-longest such streak in MLB for 2021 and the longest by an Oriole since 2012. He rates at 10 Outs Above Average in Statcast’s defensive metric, tied for fourth among MLB center fielders. Using the metric of Weighted Runs Created, Mullins is tied for sixth place in the AL, dead even with New York’s Giancarlo Stanton.
Add it all up and Mullins is genuinely one of the best players in MLB this season. He’s in top 10 for fWAR among all players and only just outside of the top 10 in bWAR. The fact that he did this in 2021 when in 2019 he had played so poorly that he was demoted first from MLB to Triple-A, then further from Triple-A down to Double-A, is just a remarkable achievement for the almost-27-year-old outfielder. Let’s not forget that Mullins beat the odds to go from 13th round pick in 2015 to MLB at all.
Farther down the ballot, Means’s inclusion needs little explanation. He threw the first solo Orioles no-hitter since 1969! Beyond that, he was the only good starting pitcher on the staff, with a legitimately good (not just good by recent Orioles standards) 3.32 ERA and 1.002 WHIP in his 25 starts. Mountcastle set the Orioles rookie record with 32 home runs plus whatever he adds in the final five games. Mancini is an easy sentimental choice for performing capably in his return season after missing last year due to cancer treatments.
Urías made a solid impression in the 85 games he was able to play before a season-ending injury, batting .279/.361/.412. In bWAR, that got him to a 2.0, which is not bad for a half season of games. Mullins made the biggest 2021 leap from written-off player to possible contributor to a future good Orioles team. Urías is the next guy on that list for me.
An unknown number of individuals voted for Santander for unknown reasons that do not withstand any scrutiny by either old or new school statistics. Santander was the 2020 winner for what he was able to achieve in 37 games last season. Hopefully he can be healthier and better in 2022.
Mullins will be officially presented with the award prior to tonight’s game against the Red Sox.