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Five stats that stand out about the Orioles’ uneven start at the plate | ANALYSIS

Nine games in a shortened 2020 season was meaningful by default, but with baseball back to a 162-game schedule, the statistics that come from barely over a week of play — and the first week at that — can be hard to parse for real meaning.

The small sample over the Orioles’ first nine games is similarly opaque. One can glean whatever they want to from most of the information this team has generated.

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However, whether it’s expected improvement or regression back to normal as the season barrels through April and beyond, there are some indicators that change could be on the horizon.

From Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini’s batted ball luck, to Ryan Mountcastle’s strikeouts, to Anthony Santander’s plate discipline and the team’s general strikeout proclivity, here are five stats that stand out early in the season.

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.593 – Cedric Mullins’ start has been a joyful part of an Orioles season that hasn’t always earned the same descriptor, but can’t last forever. His .593 batting average on balls in play is the highest in baseball and goes a long way toward explaining his .459 average so far. Mullins’ speed and ability to leg out infield and bunt singles means he’s liable to have a high BABIP, and there’s really no baseline for his statistics in the big leagues given how volatile his performance has been in the majors so far. Still, it’s a near-certainty that number will fall, and his batting average along with it. The key for Mullins will be to not let his season be too up-and-down in the way they have been in the past. For now, the Orioles will gladly take the production.

.217 On the flip side, Trey Mancini’s .217 batting average on balls in play is one of many indicators that his own frustrating start to the season won’t last. He has a career .315 BABIP in the big leagues, and thinking back to his last full season in 2019, Mancini used a handful of infield hits early in the year to elevate his numbers and give himself a baseline that carried him through the best season of his career. The opposite is happening this year — every ball Mancini hits seems to be finding a fielder. He doesn’t have a hit on a ground ball yet this year. That’s liable to change, and before long, Mancini might start getting a little bit of the luck he’s been denied this year.

21.4 – Rookie outfielder Ryan Mountcastle is dealing with some early-season strikeout issues, with 17 in the first nine games, and his 21.4% swinging strike rate has something to do with it. Within those numbers, though, are some signs for optimism. For all of Mountcastle’s developmental goals of walking more, it’s not as if he’s chasing more pitches this year — at least not yet. According to FanGraphs, he’s swinging at 39.1% of pitches outside the zone, compared with 42% in 2020. But his swinging strike rate in 2020 was 16.2%. So it’s not as if Mountcastle is totally out of his approach. He’s still swinging at strikes this year, just not hitting them. That’s not liable to continue going forward, and both he and the Orioles will hope things turn around soon.

2 Outfielder Anthony Santander has two walks in 34 plate appearances this season after walking 10 times in 39 plate appearances in spring training, meaning he’s struggling to carry over his newly refined approach now that the games are counting. According to FanGraphs, he’s also swinging slightly more often at pitches outside the strike zone than in 2020. It’s a larger difference, though, in how often he’s swinging in general — 58.9% in 2021 versus 52.3% in 2020. Santander adding some plate discipline would be a welcome addition to his game. He’s right to think that at the plate, it might be the final piece of the puzzle. But his strikeout rate coming down from the heights it’s at now might do more for his productivity this year than trying to hunt walks.

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31.5 — With a 31.5% strikeout rate as a team, the Orioles are pacing a league that as a whole is striking out more often than ever before. They were likely the fastest team to reach 100 strikeouts ever, and set a major league record by striking out 13 or more times in five straight games. It’s hard to imagine the strikeouts will continue at such a rate over a six-month season, but if it does, it would eclipse the major league record of 27.3% set by the Detroit Tigers in 2020. The Orioles entered Monday as one of six teams above that mark this year.

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