Trey Mancini has disappeared into the 100-loss ether with the Baltimore Orioles. Several galaxies away from contention and without an attention-attracting superstar since Manny Machado was traded last July, the Orioles are stuck in the heavy mud of a lengthy rebuild. Mancini, meanwhile, continues to perform.
Being the Orioles’ best hitter isn’t much to write home about. It’s not just that Mancini is outperforming his struggling teammates, though. He’s a legitimate middle of the order hitter on pretty much every team in baseball – his 124 wRC+ is better than Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins.
After a down year in 2018, Mancini has taken a step forward this season, hitting at a higher level even than his 2017 rookie campaign, when he was unfortunate not to pip Andrew Benintendi to second place in Rookie of the Year voting.
It’s not often a hitter drastically alters his approach at the plate. Mancini has done that this season.
While his hard hit rate and K% have remained around the same in his three full Major League seasons, Baltimore’s star man has seen his BB% leap. As a rookie, Mancini posted a 116 wRC+ with a mere 5.6% walk rate. While his expected batting average dropped and he struggled to elevate in 2018, that walk rate increased to 6.9% in 2018.
This season, Mancini’s launch angle is up to around seven degrees, his expected batting average is in the .270s as a result. His walk rate has climbed to 9.3% – just above Machado, Eugenio Suarez, Justin Turner and Matt Olson.
Hitting the ball slightly harder than 2017, striking out a little bit less, walking a lot more and cutting down the groundballs has contributed to a big year for Mancini.
With the vast majority of his games played on the outfield corners, the defence is the main criticism anyone can have of the 2013 eighth-round pick. Ranking in the 12th percentile on Outs Above Average and Outfielder Jump per Baseball Savant, Mancini is in liability territory. If it wasn’t for Chris Davis’ albatross contract, he’d be at first base. If, and it remains a big if, the Orioles consider dealing him, teams will likely view the former Notre Dame slugger as a first baseman.
Mancini’s excellent season might well have an asterisk next to it. Whether that improved walk rate holds into 2020 and beyond remains to be seen, but it’s a good sign of a player adapting at the plate, which might suggest sustainable improvement.
Offseason trade speculation is a certainty, though the Orioles may opt to keep him as their franchise building block like the White Sox did with Jose Abreu. Interested teams will be concerned with what he is in the future, but right now, Mancini warrants more attention than he’s getting.
Whatever the rest of his Major League career holds, he’s keeping company with some of the game’s best this season.