Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins has seen his production diminish due to nagging injuries
A season that started so bright was quickly derailed by a recurring hip injury, but Mullens continued to provide value on the field and on the bases.
There were moments last season when Cedric Mullins looked a lot like the 2021 version of himself who won the Silver Slugger Award and started the All-Star Game. The difference this time was a nagging groin injury that required two stints on the IL and seemed to sap his strength and speed in the final two-thirds of the season.
The high point of Mullins’ season came on May 12, when he scored in the cycle against the Pittsburgh Pirates in dramatic fashion. His home run didn’t come until the bottom of the eighth inning, and it was a special by Earl Weaver that proved to be the difference in the O’s’ 6-3 victory.
That session came as part of a hot start to the summer for Mullins. From Opening Day through May 29 (53 games), he had a .263/.356/.479 batting line with eight home runs, 12 doubles, three triples, and 13 stolen bases. Then came his first stay on the injured list.
While trying to hit a ground ball against the Guardians on May 29, Mullins walked away from first base. It was ruled a strain in his right abductor/groin, an injury that typically requires at least four weeks to heal.
Well, either Mullens is a particularly quick fixer, or he rushed back early, but just 25 days later, the outfielder is back in the Orioles lineup. His return will be short-lived and difficult to watch. He appeared in 16 games from late June through mid-July, but hit just .368 in that time with one home run and went 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts. However, he eventually started to heat up, going 6-for-10 in his final three games on that run.
On July 15, he had to sit out another game after experiencing what is called “quadruple distress” while running out of the ball. He would not appear in the Orioles’ next two games, and it was then announced that he would return to the IL with the same “right appendix/groin strain” he had suffered earlier in the season.
The injury cost Mullins another month on the sidelines, and his struggles at the plate before hitting the IL for the second time also forced him out of the lead spot in Brandon Hyde’s lineup, which Gunnar Henderson replaced at the time. From July 1 onward, Mullins was often as high as sixth or lower.
Mullins returned with the Orioles on August 11, but struggled mightily in the final month and a half of the season. Between his return and the end of the season, the O’s center fielder slashed .190/.232/.353. He managed to hit six home runs and steal five bases in those 47 games, but he also struck out 43 times and worked just eight innings.
It didn’t get any better in the postseason as Mullens went 0-for-12 with three strikeouts in the team’s ALDS sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers.
In many ways, Mullens’ work at the plate in 2023 wasn’t all that different from what he did in 2022. He found his barrel more often, hit the ball a little harder, and walked at the highest clip of his entire career (9.5%). ). But what sank him was a high strikeout rate (22.2%) and some bad luck with the ball (.271 BABIP), exacerbated by the more extreme launch angle (21.6 degrees) of his time in the major leagues.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Mullens is still a solid player in the league. Had he been able to stay healthy throughout the season, his overall numbers could have better reflected that reality. Unfortunately, injuries do occur, and this sort of thing seems to become less likely with age. The Orioles will need to be mindful of this moving forward.
Another thing to track is Mullins’ foot speed. He remained an above-average sprinter in 2023, though he also posted the worst average sprint speed of his career at 28 feet per second. He saw a slight decline in his sprint speed each year he was in the MLB. This is common, and does not always mean that the end is near. But Mullens is a player who relies on his wheels a bit. Will the prowess he has gained as an experienced senior player be a good counterweight to the downward trend in his physical skills?
Mullins managed to remain a force in the bases last season. He’s gone 19-for-22 in stolen base attempts this season, and FanGraphs credits him with a 3.3 BsR, which matches what he posted in 2022 when he swiped 34 bags. But he definitely became less dangerous as the season went on. He was a perfect 11-for-11 in April, but then just 8-for-11 the rest of the season.
It was another great year on the field for Mullins despite the injuries. He has won MLB’s “Play of the Week” award twice. First to steal a home run from Ty France in August against the Mariners. Then in September to snatch an extra-base hit away from Taylor Walls in a pivotal series against the Rays. Opponents kept running down his arm, but that was more than acceptable given the range he provided in the position. Had he been able to stay healthy, he likely would have been a Gold Glove finalist again.
In all likelihood, Mullins will never be the offensive force he was a few seasons ago. But these Orioles don’t need him. His excellent defense on the field is enough to keep him in the lineup provided his work remains passable, and he can stay on the field often.
Will he be on the Orioles in 2024? And barring a hot trade, it has to be. He’s a Gold Glove caliber defender with two years of control remaining and a reasonable raise in arbitration. Although the Orioles’ outfield is likely to become crowded very soon, Mullins feels he is a tougher prospect to replace.
Player ratings for 2023: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Brian Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John means, DL Hall, Jordan Westberg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Bowman, Ramon Urias, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Colomb, Tyler Wells, Sionel Perez, Austin Hayes, Yenier Kano, Dean Kramer
Tomorrow: Anthony Santander