The season is still young. However, after 11 games, we can begin to assess players and their early production.
We have J.D. Martinez in Boston torching pitchers with his league-high seven doubles. We also can’t forget the new sensation of Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo, who is putting himself on the map in Detroit.
However, our very own Baltimore Orioles have a relatively unknown guy who is absolutely touching up the league. His name is Cedric Mullins.
Mullins has traveled a very long road from being drafted in 2015, to becoming the most productive leadoff hitter in baseball in 2021. Having played through Low-A ball, all the way to his Major League debut in 2018, not everything has been sunshine and roses for the young center fielder. So much so that in 2019, Mullins found himself all the way back in Double-A, after starting that same 2019 season on the Opening Day roster.
Finally in 2020, Mullins showed some signs of improvement. His average increased to .271, with four doubles in 48 games. The switch hitter seemed to finally see the ball better and, in turn, was hitting better. However, even greater improvements would soon follow.
Switch hitting is an incredibly underrated and versatile part of baseball that is not seen as much anymore. In Mullins’ case, switch hitting is also something you will not see anymore. Before the 2021 season, Mullins decided to hit solely from the left side. And boy, was that a good choice.
Let’s take a look at some numbers here. In his first 11 games, Mullins is leading the league in hits at 19 and has hit safely in every game so far for a streak of 11. Also, he is top five in average at .442 and holds an OPS of 1.161. Maybe the most impressive is his 227 OPS+. What that means is Mullins’ OPS is 127% higher than the league average when a player’s stats are adjusted to the ballparks they are playing in.
If we look even deeper than that, we can see how the hot start to Mullins’ season is more than a mere fluke. Dating back to last year, 32 of his 38 hits in 2020 came from the left side, good for a .304 average from the left. This includes three of his four doubles, all three of his triples, and two of his three home runs.
The ability from the left side was already there. Now in 2021, we see how this has translated over to an 11-game hit streak to start the year solely from the left. He already has two more doubles than all of last season and has exactly half the amount of hits so far this year in less than half of the amount of plate appearances.
There are a few stats here to look at that also prove what Mullins is doing is more than simple luck. In the age of saber metrics, all these new stats have become a phenomenal way to assess players. So let’s apply them to Mullins.
The first that opens my eye is his line drive rate. Regardless of the sample size, the line drive rate among the league averages around 25%. Right now, Mullins is hitting line drives at a rate of 33.3%. This means a third of every ball that is being hit by Mullins are solid line drives with an average exit velocity that is better than 66% of the league.
When we add that to his .563 batting average on balls in play, we can see that Mullins is reaching safely with above average velocity hit, roughly one out of every four times he puts the ball in play. What’s even better about that is his ability to reach safely even on hits that seem like routine plays due to his speed, which aren’t even included in that 33.3% line drive rate.
Outside of these incredible stats, his play on the field is certainly following the numbers. As the leadoff hitter in every game, Mullins has recorded a hit in the first inning six times out of 11 tries. That includes first inning hits off both Gerrit Cole and Nathan Eovaldi, one of whom is one of the better pitchers in baseball.
We already know he can hit from the left against righties, but what about hitting lefties? Well, have no fear! Even with a left-hander on the mound, a Cedric Mullins base hit is near!
In 15 at-bats against left-handers in 2021, Mullins has seven hits; six singles and one double. In 35 at-bats against left-handers in 2020, Mullins had six base hits from the right side of the plate. Yes, you read that right.
The one main criticism to Mullins losing the right side was if he could hit left-handers. Well, in less than half of the amount of at-bats, he has more hits off left-handers from the left side in 2021, as opposed to the right side in 2020. Need I say more?
There’s one more glaring stat to look at in this young season. Pitchers are starting to not want to pitch to him. Can you blame them?
A pretty poor K/BB ratio has plagued Mullins so far in his career. In 11 games this season, that ratio is 10 strikeouts to six walks. And a large part of the six walks he already has is due to the fact that pitchers simply haven’t been giving him pitches to hit.
When you have someone who is hitting nearly everything you throw to them, you begin to pitch around them. We see this yearly with Mike Trout, who is constantly near the top in walks solely because he sees so many less good pitches than other hitters.
At the moment, Mullins is doing an amazing job of putting himself on the map with his play, and it can only go up from here. Mullins will be a top performer throughout the 2021 season, and taking a look back at some of those numbers will explain all of it.