For Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, a follow-up act was always going to be a challenge. How does a player produce the first 30-30 season in Orioles history and then repeat that?
Since 1954, the club’s first year in Baltimore, no player had ever hit 30 or more homers and stole 30 or more bases in the same season. It was not done by anyone else in the majors in 2021 and had not happened in the American League since 2018.
It probably would have been more of a surprise if Mullins had in fact repeated the feat, but he fell 14 homers short. In one sense, was the great achievement of 30-30 a bit of a burden for him this season? Maybe somewhat.
“Yeah, but in terms of pressure I wasn’t feeling pressure to repeat that, but I had that as a goal. But I think at the end of the day I just wanted to put together a strong season like I feel I have,” said Mullins.
It was a year where his OPS was four percent above league average, but not 37 percent as it was when he was the unanimous Most Valuable Oriole. In ’21 he batted .291/.360/.518/.878 with 37 doubles, five triples, 30 homers and 59 RBIs. He stole 30 of 38.
This past year he nearly matched his combined doubles and triples, he did drive in more runs and stole more bases. Mullins batted .258/.318/.403/.721 with 32 doubles, four triples, 16 homers and 64 RBIs. He stole 34 of 44 bases and finished second in the AL in that stat for the second year in a row.
So if someone set the bar as high as he reached in 2021, Mullins fell short of that this year despite feeling good overall about his season. But he knows the area that stood out on the stat sheet this season.
“Being someone that can contribute on a daily basis, no matter the numbers at the end, is kind of my focal point,” he said. “Now I know what I have to make adjustments on moving forward if I want to duplicate that season, so something to look forward to.
“I think the obvious thing is left-handed hitting this year. If anything kept me from being close to the same season, it was that. So past that, a lot of other things stay the same. I feel like I made some strides on defense this year and I feel like I continue to progress there as well.”
In 2021, Mullins first season batting only as a lefty hitter, he batted .277/.337/.451/.788 against lefty pitching. This season those numbers were .209/.265/.313/.579.
“We’ll evaluate that this winter. I feel like I had some better at-bats against them lately (late in the year) and need to carry that into the offseason work,” said Mullins.
Mullins fWAR was 3.3 this year and that was ninth-best among AL outfielders, so not bad at all. But he was first among the same group, topping Aaron Judge and all of them with 6.0 fWAR the season before.
For Mullins, who will play for Team USA in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, getting back to his ’21 stats against the southpaws could move his final season stats closer to their outstanding level from his 30-30 year. There is work to do, but if he can get that done the Orioles will be happy to send out a center fielder every night that brings offense, defense and speed.