Trey Mancini was great for the Baltimore Orioles in 2017, but he fell off this past year. Where does his true talent level lie, and what expectations should we be setting for him in 2019?
Unfortunately we saw some strong regression from Mancini in 2018 which coincided with the worst season in Orioles history.
Expectations will remain high for Mancini in 2019 as the lowly Orioles search for leadership both off the field, and on it.
But how will we define success for Mancini in the future? Should we expect him to perform more like his 2017 self or his 2018 one going forward?
A few things stand out when you look at his two seasons.
For one, his BABIP in 2017 was .352, which is unreasonably high for him considering he isn’t a burner on the base paths.
That mark was always unsustainable, and we saw it come back to earth this year. The .285 BABIP he posted in 2018 feels more accurate, and closer to what we can expect from him in the future.
Part of the reason his BABIP went down is because his ground ball rate went up, from 51% in 2017 to 54.6% (7th highest in MLB) this year.
Some hitters can make a high ground ball rate work. Jonathan Villar, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Ketel Marte all posted ground ball rates over 50% this year, but they all have the speed required to make that work.
Mancini ranked 58th out of 74 eligible players on the sprint speed leaderboard for left fielders. His 27.0 fps would’ve ranked 17th of 61 first baseman, but he’s still not fast enough to succeed with a ground ball rate that high.
You don’t necessarily need to be an extreme fly ball guy to be a successful hitter in MLB, but Mancini posted the 11th lowest fly ball rate in baseball this past year.
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In a time period where so many hitters are making a concerted effort to hit the ball in the air due to data suggesting its success rate, Mancini just isn’t and we saw his productivity drop this year because of it.
His wRC+ dropped from 118 to 93, his wOBA dropped from .349 to .308. The strikeout rate went up slightly and the hard contact rate went down just a touch. These things aren’t direct results of the low fly ball rate, but they’re certainly not steps in the right direction.
The recent Ken Rosenthal article at The Athletic ($) illustrated the Orioles reluctance to build a better research and development department and properly utilize analytics to improve their on-field product. Maybe Mancini’s struggles stem from a lack of good information coming from the front office.
Either way, Mancini’s regression in 2018 wasn’t a great sign.
The last thing I’ll mention is the defense. Defensive metrics aren’t the best indicators in small sample sizes but you don’t have to be a sabermetrician or quantitative analyst to notice that Mancini isn’t a great fielder. Mancini posted a -15.3 Def in 2017, and a -17.2 in 2018.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, Fangraphs’ defensive runs above average (Def) helps determine defensive value and rates players based on positional averages [+20 is gold glove caliber, 0 average and -20 awful].
The point being that Mancini has limited value as a defender, both in the outfield and at first base. His value lies within his ability to hit and if he’s not doing that well, he likely doesn’t have a place to play.
If Mancini turns out to be a slightly-below average hitter, he’ll only have a place on this team for so long. The Orioles don’t have a ton of talent that’ll push him for playing time in the next year or two but if he can’t hit his way past Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, we’re going to see a lot of frustrated Orioles fans.
After 2017, we’d come to expect a lot from Mancini. Maybe we should temper those expectations a bit until he changes his approach at the plate.