Orioles sit Trey Mancini in effort to reverse young slugger's season-long struggles

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Struggling Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini was out of the lineup for the second time in four games Wednesday, and might be headed for the same kind of in-season break that appears to have worked wonders for second baseman Jonathan Schoop and also brought about some improvement from first baseman Chris Davis.

Manager Buck Showalter said he met with Mancini before batting practice to lay out the possible courses the 25-year-old outfielder can take, but gave him "some time to think about them."

"We talked about the options that he has," Showalter said. "And I know what he's going to do — he's going to work, like he has, almost to a fault. It's funny how you can do all these things and attack what you know is causing a lot of other things. There's a lot of peripheral things that happen off of one thing. And all of a sudden, that creates more issues. It's not just a matter of correcting one thing, because that's made other things not work right."

With over half the season now finished, Mancini hasn't come close to replicating the success from his rookie campaign in 2017, when he hit .293 with an .826 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 24 home runs while playing a serviceable left field and finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He entered Wednesday batting .220 with a .657 OPS and 11 home runs, a level of production Showalter knows isn't up to the level Mancini will eventually get back to.

"Trey is going to hit," Showalter said. "Trey has shown that. He's hit everywhere he's ever been, and he's going to hit here again. He's got a nice bright future with us, and we're lucky to have him. He's just going through some period. He's got so much want-to, and he's so invested in it emotionally and mentally that he knows, and we've got a pretty good idea of what he's doing physically that's causing a lot of it, without getting into it. Sometimes, the body just doesn't cooperate — and we know the pitchers don't cooperate."

Showalter said Mancini is mostly being pitched the same way, and that's the case. He's also, in terms of his rate stats, swinging and chasing less often than he did in 2017. His contact rate, according to FanGraphs, is almost identical — 73 percent in 2018 and 72.9 percent in 2017.

He's even hitting the ball a little harder than 2017. According to MLB Statcast data from BaseballSavant.com, Mancini's average exit velocity of 89.9 mph this year is up from last year's average of 88.6 mph. But his average launch angle of 5.1 degrees means that he's not elevating the ball or creating loft the way he has in the past.

That's the 10th-lowest average launch angle among the 149 players with at least 200 batted balls this season, with Mancini populating a portion of the list reserved mostly for speedsters and slap hitters. His 57.3 percent ground-ball rate is fourth-highest among qualified hitters, up from 51 percent last year.

Considering the elite reaction times and hand-eye coordination of major league hitters, it stands to reason that, because Mancini is making the same amount of contact and being pitched generally the same way, something in his swing is causing that.

Showalter said he asked Mancini whether his knee was still bothering him after he slammed it into an unpadded portion of the wall at Camden Yards on April 20, causing him to miss a few games, but was told it didn't anymore.

"Trey's not one of those guys who looks for any type of excuse, but sometimes, through that, you can develop some bad habits that takes a while to get out of," Showalter said.

He's mentioned certain habits throughout the season, and observers saw a bit more of a rigid lower half to compensate for the knee early. Without his lower half secure, Mancini hasn't been able to get under balls and generate backspin to drive the ball to all fields as he did last year. That's resulted in the same hard contact that a player of his coordination and strength is expected to make, but on more topspin ground balls and weak contact.

After Mancini took batting practice with the last group Wednesday at Camden Yards, he had a long chat with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh before heading inside, the last player and coach on the field. Showalter said he'd wait for Mancini to decide whether this would be a long break or a short one, but knows the end result they want.

"We'd love to have the Trey that we know he's capable of being," Showalter said.

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