06 June 2018

What's Going On With Trey Mancini?

For a while in the first part of this season, things were going well for Trey Mancini. In early April, he found a regular role as the team's leadoff hitter while producing about as much as he did in 2017 (117 wRC+). In March/April, he posted a wRC+ of 109. But in May, he slumped mightily, with a 64 wRC+. As Orioles fans know well enough this year, everyone slumps. But let's look a little closer at what's been going on with Mancini.

First, a few things should be noted. Overall, Mancini's current batting line is .229/.307/.369 (85 wRC+). That's not very good, especially for a player like Mancini who needs to hit to have value, but it's almost comical how much better that batting line is than Chris Davis's current one: .154/.234/.239 (28 wRC+). But while hope for Davis diminishes every day, there's still plenty of hope for Mancini.

Mancini also suffered an injury in late April that may still be affecting his play. On April 20, he ran a long way towards a foul ball in left field. Not only did he not catch the ball, but on his slide, his knee crashed into the bottom of the brick wall where the padding does not extend. He was in clear pain and was forced to leave the game early. But he did not go on the disabled list, and after pinch-hitting on the 23rd, he found his name in the starting lineup on the 25th.

It's simplistic to look at things this way, but here are Mancini's numbers before and after the knee injury:

Before: 111 wRC+ (91 PA)
After: 69 wRC+ (150 PA)
Source: FanGraphs

But again, that doesn't tell the whole story. Despite his struggles, he's still hitting the ball hard (and harder than last season):

2017: 88.6 avg. exit velocity, 7.0 barrels/PA
2018: 91.1 avg. exit velocity, 8.3 barrels/PA
Source: Baseball Savant

Oddly enough, Mancini had a BABIP of .352 last season, but just .269 this season. But while he's making more solid contact, he isn't hitting the ball as far:

2017: 158 avg. distance
2018: 146 avg. distance
Source: Baseball Savant

In 2017, Mancini had a groundball percentage of 51% and a flyball percentage of 29.7%. This year, he has a GB% of 55.2% and a FB% of 26.4%. When someone thinks of Mancini, they most likely think of line drives and power to both gaps, but his isolated power is down from .195 last season to .140 now.

Still, Mancini's plate discipline has improved and he's chasing fewer pitches out of the zone. And even though the lack of power is concerning, his batted ball profile and number of strikeouts and walks suggest he's been rather unlucky:

2017 xwOBA: .342 (actual .349)
2018 xwOBA: .365 (actual .296)
Source: Baseball Savant

Of all players with at least 100 plate appearances, his expected wOBA and actual wOBA difference of -.069 is tied for 11th worst. Again, that suggests Mancini has been unfortunate, and yet Davis is also ninth at -.073. Even if both players have been hitting into some bad luck, that doesn't mean things will necessarily improve (and as a reminder, xwOBA is better used in a descriptive way, not a predictive one).

About a week ago, Mancini was removed from the leadoff role. The hope was that batting lower in the order would ease some of the pressure off of him, but his numbers haven't started ticking back up yet. Unfortunately, with Mancini struggling, Jace Peterson and Joey Rickard received at-bats at the leadoff spot, which is something that no one really wants to see. Last night, Mancini returned to the top of the lineup.

It remains to be seen where Mancini will be placed in the lineup, but what matters is that he starts hitting again. The knee discomfort hasn't helped his play at the plate or in the field, but it's also hard to know just how much of a factor it's been.

A couple weeks after the injury, Mancini did this:

About a month after the injury, he did this:

The first, an outside pitch being deposited to right field. The second, an inside fastball pulled just over the wall in left field.

Mancini still has power. Maybe he is simply having good and bad days with his knee, and it's something that won't stop being an issue until he gets regular rest. We don't really know for sure.

What we do know is that, because of roster construction and Davis apparently being an immovable object at first base, Mancini is often forced to play out of position in the outfield. And while he's undoubtedly trying his best and is very hard on himself, he should be playing first base or designated hitter. We also know that while nothing is for certain, what he's done so far this year suggests that he's hit into some tough luck at times and could see more batted balls find open space instead of opponents' gloves. There's plenty to panic about when it comes to the Orioles, but Mancini isn't one of those things... yet.

Photo: Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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