In season of outfield flux, Orioles' Mancini, Rickard and Trumbo show what they can offer

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Even as the Orioles outfield turned into an audition stage down the stretch in 2018 — with Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart and John Andreoli getting their first extended major league time as the team began its rebuild — three players who were part of the good times turned in noteworthy years.

Mark Trumbo, Joey Rickard and Trey Mancini — each darlings in Baltimore at one point or another but eventually passed over for the next new player — had seasons that present interesting cases for what they can contribute to the Orioles in the near-term and long-term.

While Mancini rebounded to hit .276 with 12 home runs and a .792 OPS in 65 games after the All-Star break, a miserable first half meant that only raised his average to .242 with a .715 OPS for the full season. Mancini was rightfully commended for salvaging his season, and he spoke with confidence once he got on the other side of the struggles that he'd be able to keep such spells shorter as his career progressed.

Yet Rickard, albeit in 36 percent of the plate appearances (230 against 636), posted almost an identical offensive season to Mancini, and did it with hardly any notice. Mancini hit .242/.299/.416 with a .308 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 93. Rickard hit .244/.300/.413 with a .309 wOBA and an identical wRC+ of 93. And because of his defense, Rickard's wins above replacement was 0.6, according to FanGraphs, against Mancini's minus-0.2.

There are plenty of caveats with these numbers, principally that Rickard did it in a small sample size. It was the best major league projection he's had and, like most of his previous success, was boosted by better production against left-handed pitching than against right-handers, though not as drastic as his rookie year.

It's really a matter of perception. Rickard was always viewed as a platoon player who, at 27, has reached his full potential. It was hard to convince the coaching staff otherwise, even as he was one of the majors’ best outfield defenders in 2017, according to several metrics.

Mancini rightfully had a lot of rope because of his standout rookie year, and his struggles in his age-26 season really only amounted to half a season and were influenced by his April knee injury.

But Rickard seemed like someone who was caught in the middle of the new wave of players and the established veterans. He basically lost his roster spot and playing time to a veteran in Craig Gentry because he was the one who had minor league options. Once Gentry was designated for assignment at the end of August, Rickard hit .283 the rest of the way. Had someone who just came up to the majors for the first time done that, it would have received more attention.

He wasn't the only one who had his productivity overshadowed, though. Trumbo hit 17 home runs with 44 RBIs in 90 games, which projects to a 30-homer season with 79 RBIs. Both marks would have led the team. Instead, he missed a month in the early part of the season with a quad strain and had knee surgery in August.

Because Trumbo signed a free-agent contract after leading the league in home runs but hasn't provided the same power since, and because he doesn't bring much defensive value, he's hardly been as popular as when he was an All-Star in 2016.

But outside of Manny Machado and Renato Núñez, no Orioles player with at least 200 plate appearances topped Trumbo's 107 wRC+ in 2018. Like Rickard, his high-water mark at Camden Yards came in 2016. The idea that Trumbo hasn't reached those heights again has, perhaps unfairly, drowned out the fact that on a team full of unproductive hitters, both Trumbo and Rickard were better than met the eye in 2018.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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