Spring notes on Mancini’s hitting approach, analytics and more

Manager Brandon Hyde has spent some time talking about the Orioles continuing move toward more use of data, technology and analytics since the start of spring training. New pitching coach Chris Holt led a big move toward data and tech to the Baltimore farm in 2019 and it’s matriculated to the big league pitchers as well. It was cited by veteran righty Matt Harvey as one reason he signed with the Orioles.

But where does that leave the big league hitters? Do they have the same opportunities to use data and technology? The organization hired a number of younger hitting coaches for the farm before the 2020 season. And Hyde said use of analytics is readily available to the O’s batters too.

“Yeah, I think that that is evolving,” Hyde said during his Monday Zoom interview with reporters. “Absolutely, our analytics team, they are diving into not only the pitching but the hitting as well. Even into some baserunning things and defense definitely. So I think our hitters, we’re pretty young at the plate with a lot of young position players and I know they are very interested in what their numbers say.

“Analytics, there is a lot under that umbrella. So as a young player, it’s learning what works for you. How to apply the data. And our guys, this is our third year now, have definitely gotten more accustomed to it. It’s definitely continuing to grow.”

On an unrelated topic, Hyde was asked yesterday about how impactful a sports team - in this case, his team - can be to its fan base.

Hyde-Arms-Crossed-Dugout-Railing-Sidebar.jpg“Sometimes you lose track of how impactful we are to fans and how impactful fans are to us,” he said. “That was a big shock last year, not playing in front of fans, and what that was like. Having fans for these spring training games coming up, I think the players are going to enjoy that more than the fans will. Just to be able to have people in the seats, play in front of great fans, as Orioles fans are. I think we take a special pride in knowing that people are watching us, people are getting away from ... it’s a release for fans to be able to watch their club play and we don’t that lightly.”

Ruiz on dealing with tough parts of the protocols: None of us can relate to the challenges that players faced in 2020 and will in 2021 dealing with the extensive COVID-19 protocols. We all have had our own issues and those that loved ones have had to face. But players had to deal with some issues too just to get to play a major league game. It may have been much more challenging than we could know.

Recently shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who just signed with Minnesota, revealed he dealt with strong bouts of depression last year that led to his opting out of the last five games of the 2020 season.

Yesterday, O’s third baseman Rio Ruiz was asked about those tough parts and challenges of pulling off a season during a pandemic.

“I think people with families can deal with things a little bit better,” he said. “You know, they have their wife, they’ve got their kids and everybody with them throughout the season. Everybody I feel like, there was a shorter fuse for people. Getting a little bit more frustrated quicker. And you can’t really put your nose on it. You’ve just kind of got to go through it to understand it. It will be interesting to see how much different it will be with 102 more games this year. But we’re excited. We’re just excited to get back playing baseball and get back here where everything kind of started essentially.”

Mancini’s hitting approach: As Trey Mancini returns to the Orioles, it was great yesterday to see and hear from him in a Zoom interview. He’s doing great and all signs indicate he has a strong chance to be every bit as good for the team in 2021 as he was in 2019.

That Mancini was really good - the Most Valuable Oriole, who hit .291/.364/.535/.899 with 38 doubles, 35 homers and 97 RBIs. That year, Mancini became the 10th player in O’s history to produce 30 or more doubles and homers and score 100 runs. He was one of six major league players in 2019 with 35 or more doubles and homers. He produced 75 extra-base hits. He was that good indeed.

But even while having that kind of year, Mancini made some late-season batting tweaks, with the urging of Hyde, to try and get the ball in the air more and on the ground less. And that September, Mancini absolutely raked, batting .365/.433/.615/.1.049.

In an interview in the final days of the 2019 season, Hyde talked about adjustments he had been talking to Mancini about.

“You can misconstrue that we mean to lift the ball or try to hit a fly ball,” Hyde said. “It means getting a pitch you can drive in the air on a line. Or that he can stay behind and not get jammed (to hit a grounder) to the shortstop or third baseman. Or chase a slider down and away that you can’t do anything with. But a mindset of going gap-to-gap and trying to hit a 3-iron over the center field wall naturally puts you in a mindset of, ‘These are pitches I can do that with and I’ll lay off anything you can’t.’ So the Trey-getting-the-ball-in-the-air thing is more of an approach. Not trying to lift the ball, but getting pitches that he can drive. Going forward into spring training, this is a 40-plus home run guy, especially in our ballpark, if he is just able to lay off the pitchers’ pitches, especially early in the count.”

Yesterday, Mancini said that same hitting approach that he was implementing to have such a great final month in ‘19, is the same batting approach he wants to begin this season using.

“Yeah, I just want to kind of continue what I did,” he said. “Especially that September of 2019, which was a long time ago at this point. Just the minor adjustment of setting my sights a little higher. Yeah, I remember that and that is still my approach at the plate and that hasn’t changed at all.”

If the results are similar, that will be a nice player to have back in the Baltimore lineup.

The over/unders: Two online sportsbooks, SportsBetting.ag and BetOnline.ag list the Orioles’ over/under win total for 2021 at 63.5. That ties the Orioles with Colorado and both those clubs are ahead of only Pittsburgh at 58.5 on the major league list. Detroit tops the O’s at 65.5 wins.

BetOnline lists five teams at 90 wins or better with the Dodgers at 103.5, the Yankees and Padres at 95.5, the Braves at 92.5 and the Chicago White Sox at 90.5. SportsBetting lists the Dodgers No. 1 with an over/under victory total of 103.5, which is highest total in the last 22 years. The Yankees had a win total of 104.5 ahead of the 1999 season. New York was the World Series champ that year, but their total went under after compiling a 98-64 record.

How BetOnline sizes up the American League East:

New York: 95.5
Toronto: 87.5
Tampa Bay 86.5
Boston 79.5
Orioles 63.5

No division but the AL East has three teams projected at 86.5 or more wins.

The 2019 Orioles preseason win total was 57.5 and they went under at 54 wins. The 2020 preseason and pre-pandemic Baltimore win total was listed at 56.5 wins. They went 25-35, which equates to 68-94 in a full year.

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