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Oriole of the Day: Cedric Mullins’ breakout year has him center stage in 2022

With MLB owners continuing to lock out the players as the two sides slowly work toward a new collective bargaining agreement, Orioles officials are barred from specifically discussing players on the team’s 40-man roster.

The Baltimore Sun, of course, faces no such stipulations. Throughout the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at each Oriole, examining their 2021 seasons and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.

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This series will go in order of players’ wins above replacement in 2021, as measured by FanGraphs. That means the process begins with Cedric Mullins, whose 2021 season earned him Most Valuable Oriole honors, a top-10 American League MVP finish and a start in the All-Star Game while he established himself as one of the sport’s top outfielders.

Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 27

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2021 stats: .291/.360/.518, .878 OPS, 30 home runs, 30 steals, 5.3 fWAR

Under team control through: 2025

2021 in review

Number to know: 30. Mullins became the first Oriole to record a 30-30 season and was the only player to pull off the feat in 2022. He had always been known for speed, and although some teammates called him “Parking Lot Ced” in the minors, he hadn’t truly displayed his power until this year. The performance made him a Silver Slugger.

What was good: Basically everything, but perhaps most impressive was how Mullins handled left-handed pitched. His decision to abandon switch-hitting and bat as a left-hander only quickly proved worthwhile, and with a .788 OPS, he more than held his own against lefties despite having not faced them as a left-handed batter since he was a teenager.

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What wasn’t: Outside of an understandable slow stretch at the end of the season, there aren’t many flaws to point to with the offensive side of Mullins’ game. But for all the spectacular plays he made defensively, he wasn’t rated as one of baseball’s top defensive center fielders in numerous metrics. While Statcast’s Outs Above Average reflects his range and web-gem prowess, FanGraphs’ advanced defensive metrics hamper him for his arm, which has never been a particular strength.

Center fielder Cedric Mullins became the first Oriole to record a 30-30 season and was the only player to pull off the feat in 2022.
Center fielder Cedric Mullins became the first Oriole to record a 30-30 season and was the only player to pull off the feat in 2022. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.

What’s projected: Neither ZiPS nor Steamer see Mullins’ 2021 season as a fluke, though both projection systems stop short of declaring he’ll post repeat 30-30 seasons. They do have Mullins finishing as the most valuable Oriole (in terms of WAR, not local media balloting) for the second straight year, despite his numbers declining overall. Although these systems weigh recent seasons more heavily, they still factor in prior ones, meaning Mullins’ abysmal 2019 and pedestrian 2020 — seasons in which he was still switch-hitting — are likely dragging down his projections some.

A step forward: This section will typically be devoted to a way in which the player can improve his own game, but Mullins repeating his 2021 on an improved Orioles squad would likely make his end-of-the-year numbers even more impressive. Mullins came to the plate without a runner in scoring position more often than any other qualified batter at about 84%, and even accounting for the fact he always started in the leadoff spot, his rate of 79% after the first inning is still among the sport’s highest. When Mullins got on base himself, he stole 30 bases. But it’s easy to imagine him pushing for a higher number had the Orioles been losing, and doing so by multiple runs, less frequently. Those deficits likely prevented him from going or being sent, and although the league with surely adjust to Mullins’ breakout, a full season of him performing at the level he did into 2021′s final week could have him pushing for 35-35 in 2022.

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