SCHOOL DELAYS
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Though he's not likely to win Rookie of the Year, Mancini's season was important for Orioles

Orioles left fielder/first baseman Trey Mancini will likely finish a distant third in voting for this year’s BBWAA American League Rookie of the Year award, which will be announced tonight, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Mancini’s season was one of the best by any Orioles player in an otherwise disappointing 2017 season.

No Orioles player has won the AL Rookie of the Year since closer Gregg Olson during the team’s “Why Not?” season in 1989. And Mancini is the team’s first finalist – top three finishers -- in 13 years since right-hander Daniel Cabrera finished third in a weak 2004 class (Oakland shortstop Bubba Crosby won that year and Chicago reliever Shingo Takatsu finished second).

Since then, only three Orioles rookies even received votes for the award. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen received two votes in Mike Trout’s runaway win in 2012. Left-hander Brian Matusz’s three votes tied for fifth in 2010 and outfielder Nick Markakis placed sixth in 2006 with seven votes.

And this year, Mancini will likely finish as a footnote in the voting behind MVP candidate Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Boston outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who played for a division winner.

Mancini had to settle for being one of the most consistent players on a last-place Orioles team, something that might have left him out of the top three for the Rookie of the Year award had some other candidates had more games to build their rookie resumes. Oakland’s Matt Olson’s 24 homers tied Mancini, and he reached that mark in just 59 games. Seattle outfielder Mitch Haniger posted an .843 OPS that bettered Mancini’s .826 mark, but played just 96 games.

But the fact that Mancini -- a player who entered this season in a platoon role – played 147 games for the Orioles this season might be his most important number. The 25-year-old went into spring training blocked at first base by Chris Davis, his only legitimate way onto the club as a part-time designated hitter. But he showed his value with his bat, and a test run playing the corner outfield made the Orioles confident enough to warrant giving him an Opening Day roster spot.

Eventually, he became the team’s everyday left fielder, and the Orioles’ August offensive surge correlated with Mancini moving into a prime run-producing spot in the batting order from sixth and seventh up to fourth and fifth. It was a slight adjustment, but one can only wonder what might have happened if the Orioles made that bump earlier, because Mancini posted an .845 OPS in 58 games hitting out of the No. 5 spot.

But for an Orioles team that wasn’t light on flaws, Mancini’s consistency stood out. He never had a month where his OPS dropped below .700, which was something not even Most Valuable Oriole Jonathan Schoop could say. Schoop owned a .590 OPS in September and October.

Even though Mancini hit just one homer in the team’s final month, as the Orioles bottomed out down the stretch, he still hit .301 and posted a .726 OPS, ending the season with hits in 25 of his last 28 games, including a 17-game hitting streak in September.

And even though the defensive metrics didn’t reward Mancini, those who watched him throughout the season saw the strides he made as an outfielder. In his first days in the outfield in spring training, he did look lost, unsure of his routes and his spacing in the outfield.

But Mancini put a lot of work into improving his defense, doing early work before every road series to get used to new outfields and honing his instincts to the point where by the end of the season, he could say he was confident playing left field.

Mancini recorded minus-1 defensive runs saved in left field, according to FanGraphs, which labels him a slightly below average left fielder. But breaking that number down, Mancini received above average marks in rARM (outfield arms runs saved), which measures plays an outfielder makes with his throws, and rGFP (good fielding plays runs saved), which takes into account difficult plays made. But his rPM (plus minus runs saved), which evaluates a player’s range and ability to convert batted balls into outs, was a minus-4, which isn’t necessarily surprising for a player who was playing a position for the first time. With experience, Mancini’s range should improve.

So even though Mancini will likely have to settle for third place tonight, there’s no doubt his season was an important one for the Orioles, maybe their most important in terms of potential stability when thinking about the team’s clouded future.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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