Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins admits it would bother him that his arm strength would get criticized. So he has put in the work to improve in that area. And both the eye test and Statcast metrics tell us he has done just that.
He is now throwing better than ever, and when you couple that with his ability to run balls down in the gaps, you have a player becoming an elite defender in center.
“I just feel like my carry (on the ball) is much better this year than it has been in the past,” Mullins told me during the just-concluded homestand. “Been working with the staff and (catch partner Austin) Hays, because he has a cannon, and just kind of picking his brain on what he kind of feels and what his body is feeling preparing for throws. Try to mimic that, and of course we long-toss a good bit to create more arm strength. My arm has been feeling good and I think it’s been showing itself.
“The accuracy, for sure, has been better. I’ve had a fair amount of accuracy in the past, but not the arm strength I would want, and that was a main focus of prepping for the season, the arm strength.”
Statcast tracks miles per hour on outfielders' throws when they have to make a strong throw, and not necessarily on just any throw in from the outfield. But on such plays, the data clearly show Mullins is trending up. He has gained nearly 3 mph per throw this year alone, and his throwing strength has improved the last several seasons.
2019 – 79.4 mph on average, per Statcast
2020 – 82.5 mph
2021 – 83.8 mph
2022 – 86.7 mph
Hays is not only a close friend but is Mullins' catch partner before games, and he pointed out that Mullins' take on the carry on his throws is accurate.
“I would say the spin of his ball has improved a lot this year, just the consistency,” said Hays. “The last couple of years there were throws where the spin was off a bit. It was more like a cutter. And now he has true backspin on the ball. He is getting a lot more carry and his throws are accurate.
"I think even scouting reports are saying, just stop testing him, because there are guys this year that last season were running in certain scenarios and now they are not pushing the limits nearly as much on balls in the gaps that he cuts off.”
Mullins had seven outfield assists all last year and has five already this season. He said past criticism of his arm strength did bother him.
“Oh, of course," he said. "You know, I’m pretty sure if they put a gun on me right now I’d hit 94 (mph). I’ve hit 94 in years past and it's just one of those things. It’s showing now more in the games. People can doubt my arm strength, but I know I can reach 90 plus.”
And the numbers back him up. Statcast has tracked five of his throws this year at 90 mph plus, with a top of 95.2.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Mullins' defense all around has improved this year.
“I do, yeah (see him getting better)," Hyde said. "His throwing is improved. He practices throwing every day. What is impressive about Cedric is, if you watch him in batting practice, he takes live balls off the bat every single day. So he is improving his defense, or working to improve his defense, every day. It’s very important to him.
"During the Minnesota series we were talking about some things in my office, and I told him how far he has come defensively from my first year here in ’19. It’s been unbelievable. He could run back then and was a good outfielder, but now he is a great outfielder. The jumps he gets are improved. Understanding the right base to throw to. The leadership he takes out in center field. He’s making almost a great play a night, it seems like.”
For Hays, that all adds up to an outfielder that could collect some postseason hardware for his defense.
“If you take away his throwing errors last year, I think he had a real chance to win a Gold Glove,” added Hays. “That was the only thing his defense needed, was to improve his throwing. Now you see him robbing homers, diving catches in the gaps, tracking everything down. Now if you add strong, accurate throws to that, he’s an elite center fielder, the best of the best out there. I think he has a really good chance to win a Gold Glove."
Win streaks and All-Star nods: When the Orioles beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-5 Sunday they recorded a four-game sweep and extended their win streak to eight games. It is the longest in-season win streak by an O's team since April 22-May 1, 2005. They have won eight straight at home for the first time since April 26-May 20, 2017.
What an impressive run that has the Orioles one game under the .500 mark (43-44) for the first time since they were 0-1.
Late Sunday afternoon we found out that right-hander Jorge López is the O's rep for the All-Star Game. López has 16 saves, a 1.74 ERA and 0.968 WHIP. He is very deserving, and O's skipper Brandon Hyde got emotional when talking about López after the game.