07 March 2018

What's Next For Trey Mancini?

There's a lot to like about Trey Mancini. Mancini never made any top-100 lists on his climb up the Orioles' minor league system, but he hit at every stop along the way. The big question mark: Would it stick when he reached the majors? So far, it has.

When Mancini first appeared, at the end of the 2016 season, he homered in his second at-bat. A couple days later, in his second start at DH, he homered again. He did the same thing two days later, in his third start -- three starts, five hits, three homers. Not bad. He only got one more chance to start in 2016, but he made his first, brief act in the major leagues memorable.

Mancini made the club to start the 2017 season, and he won the battle over Hyun Soo Kim for regular work in left field. It helped that he tied a major league mark by homering seven times in his first 12 career games. Mancini also saw an extended stretch at first base in June and early July while Chris Davis was on the disabled list.

At the end of the year, Mancini stepped to the plate 586 times and posted a slash line of .293/.338/.488 and a wRC+ of 117. By Baseball-Reference's version of wins above replacement, he was worth 2.2 wins. By FanGraphs' version, he was worth 1.8 wins. That performance helped Mancini finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, behind Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi. That's pretty good company.

Mancini deserves some credit for not being a complete disaster in the outfield. With Davis and Mark Trumbo on the roster and clogging the 1B/DH spots when they're healthy, Mancini has nowhere to fit on the roster unless he's playing in the outfield. That was a challenge, because he exclusively played first base in the minors. To my untrained scouting eye, Mancini looked somewhere between below average and average in left field in 2017. He doesn't have a strong arm and didn't always get the best jumps on batted balls, but he typically made the routine plays.

By Defensive Runs Saved, Mancini finished -1 in his 729 innings in left field. He fared worse in Ultimate Zone Rating, with a UZR/150 of -7.3. Neither of these numbers is far from definitive, and the more innings Mancini plays, the more it'll reveal about his true outfield abilities. Still, his ceiling as an outfielder is basically "he's fine," so most of his value will have to come from his bat.

Fortunately, Mancini did hit. Among all qualified left fielders last season (meaning players who played some left field), Mancini's 117 wRC+ was ninth best. He didn't hit that well while actually playing left field, but the important thing is that he hit well, period:

as LF: 101 wRC+ (343 PA)
as 1B: 152 wRC+ (157 PA)
as DH: 116 wRC+ (73 PA)

Let's look a little more in-depth into Mancini's hitting. In 2017, he was pretty fortunate on balls in play falling in for hits. His .352 BABIP was 12th best in the majors among qualified hitters, which is pretty high for someone who isn't a fast runner and who didn't hit the ball extremely hard. Mancini's percentage of hard-hit balls, 34.1%, tied for 68th in the majors. The average exit velocity on his batted balls was 88.6 mph (t-106th, min. 30 batted balls). For a power hitter type, Mancini also hit the ball on the ground more than half of the time (51%, 16th highest in the majors). Since ground balls are more likely to fall in for hits than balls hit in the air, that may partially explain the high BABIP.

Still, maybe what's more important for Mancini is how he continues to adjust to how pitchers attacked him in the second half of the season. Pitchers didn't change much from month to month in the types of pitches they threw to Mancini, but they did change the location. (Camden Chat noticed this as well last June.)

In the first half, pitchers were not afraid to challenge Mancini in the middle of the zone:

In the second half, that changed:

It's not a drastic change, but there are more pitches down and away and less in the middle and up. Combined with this change and some worse luck on balls in play, Mancini was not as successful in the second half:

1st half: 135 wRC+, .385 BABIP, 36.7 Hard%, 15.4 Soft%
2nd half: 101 wRC+, .325 BABIP, 31.8 Hard%, 23.2 Soft%

While Mancini made worse contact, one positive is that he walked about the same (5.7 BB% vs. 5.6) while striking out less (26.4 K% vs. 21.2).

So, to which of those versions is Mancini closer? The Orioles and Mancini clearly hope it's the first one, and that Mancini has another gear. Mancini is not going to become some wizard with the glove, so any gains are almost certainly going to have to come from the offensive end.

Mancini knows he must keep improving and adjusting. During a spring training interview, Mancini answered a question from Jim Palmer on what he worked on during the offseason. Mancini said:
"I think I had a lot of wasted movement in my swing last year. So in the offseason, I focused on keeping my head in the same place, which is back more, and still having a forward movement with my step. But I try to keep my head in the same spot and I tried to eliminate the leg kick. I thought it was a little unnecessary and kind of made my head move a little. So those are two kind of minor things that I tried to fine-tune this offseason."
Are things different? You decide. The first GIF here is from a Mancini home run from last August:

And here's a Mancini bomb during spring training:

The differences aren't that noticeable. Mancini's leg kick does seem a little more understated, and his head seems to move less. He also appears to be standing a little less upright now. But it's not like Mancini said he was going to overhaul his swing, and he didn't need to. Anything different here is minor.

In 18 spring training plate appearances, Mancini is slashing .333/.444/.733. It's probably better that Mancini is hitting well now than struggling, but it's unknown whether any of the minor changes above will lead to improvement during the regular season. Pitchers are going to keep looking for new ways to attack Mancini, and he'll need to come up with solutions. He seems up to the challenge.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball. Photo via Keith Allison.


Jan Frel said...

I would say the question is, does his adjustment strengthen his chances against being pitched to down and inside? Lets see at the end of spring training

Matt Kremnitzer said...

You mean down and away? I don't even think we know if it's much of an adjustment at all. I just find it interesting.