Cedric Mullins was named one of the eight outfield finalists for the Silver Slugger Award on Monday. If he’s one of the three outfielders chosen, which will be announced on November 11th, he’ll be the first Oriole to win one since Mark Trumbo did when he led the major leagues with 47 home runs in 2016.
Mullins became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. He started in center field for the American League in the All-Star Game after an injury to Mike Trout.
His play in center field was outstanding. The highlight came on September 16th, when Mullins made perhaps the best catch in Oriole Park’s 30-season history, perfectly timing a jump on which his left shoulder was even with the top of the wall as he reached high above it with his glove to take away a home run from the New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. Fans immediately started comparing it to Trout’s exceptional grab of J.J. Hardy’s drive in 2012.
Along with teammate Trey Mancini, Mullins has been nominated for the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the Major League Baseball Players Association Players’ Choice Award.
It was a remarkable season for a player who abandoned switch-hitting for 2021 to bat left-handed exclusively. Two years ago, Mullins was an afterthought in Orioles’ outfield plans. After a 6-for-64 (.094) start to 2019, Mullins was sent to Triple-A Norfolk, and then to Double-A Bowie and wasn’t recalled in September.
After Mullins rebounded in 2020 (.271 average, .723 OPS in 48 games), manager Brandon Hyde began campaigning for him to win the American League Gold Glove in center field during the 60-game season.
His position on the Orioles for 2021 seemed set, but no one dreamed that Mullins would play as well as he did. He’ll be mentioned on Most Valuable Player ballots next month and has raised expectations.
Any player who experiences a breakout season faces the pressure of repeating it.
Mullins had a far better first half than second half. At the All-Star break, Mullins was hitting .314 with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases and a .921 OPS.
In the second half, Mullins hit .261 with 14 homers and 14 steals, but his OPS fell to .822. That second-half OPS was still better than any other teammate’s full-season mark.
There’s no question that Mullins grew tired down the stretch. He played in 159 games. In parts of his first three major league seasons, Mullins played in only 115. Mullins’ 146 starts in center, three fewer than Cleveland’s Myles Straw, were the second most in the majors.
Mullins stole his 30th base on September 18th, and in the last 13 games he didn’t attempt another one. He hit his 30th home run on September 24th. He hadn’t homered in his previous 11 games nor did he in his final eight.
On August 13th, Mullins was still hitting .322, but lost 31 points on his average to finish at .291. After a third-inning triple on September 22nd, Mullins was just 3-for-35, including that 30th home run.
Mullins had a sore hamstring late in the season, and Oriole manager Brandon Hyde tried to give him some rest.
The Orioles have two other outfielders who can play center — Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna. Itt wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hyde play them more often in center next season to give Mullins more time off.
Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle both hit at least 30 home runs for the Orioles this past season. No one has done it in consecutive seasons since Adam Jones, Mullins’ predecessor in center field, hit 32 and 33 in 2012 and 2013.
Mullins will try to become the first Oriole to steal 30 bases in consecutive seasons since Brian Roberts did it in four straight (2006-2009).
There wasn’t a huge disparity in the left-handed hitter’s splits. Mullins had a .299 average with a .931 OPS against right-handers and a .277 average with a .788 OPS against left-handers.
One area in which he can improve is runs batted in, although that often wasn’t his fault. Mullins had 59 RBIs, and because the bottom of the Orioles’ batting order was weak, there weren’t as many runners for the leadoff man to drive home.
I think my favorite Mullins statistic was that as the Orioles’ leadoff batter, he hit .348 in the first inning with eight home runs and an outstanding 1.014 OPS.