When he stopped switch-hitting, Cedric Mullins started really hitting

We didn’t know it at the time, but we saw it with our own eyes this year. A player that batted .094 in 2019 and ended the season in Double-A two years ago was one of the best players in baseball.

It was an incredible 2021 season for Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins by just about any standard, as he became the first Oriole ever with 30 or more homers and stolen bases in one season.

It was a year where he started in the All-Star Game, was unanimously voted Most Valuable Oriole, was named a Silver Slugger finalist, also a finalist for the Hank Aaron award and a finalist for the MLB Players Association’s Players Choice Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Managers and coaches voted for the Silver Sluggers and other players for the MLBPA award. Everywhere around the industry, Mullins was noticed in 2021.

He put together a year so good, and it may be hard to duplicate.

Thumbnail image for Mullins-Cuts-Gray-Sidebar.jpgMullins batted .291/.360/.518/.878 with 37 doubles, five triples, 30 homers, 30 steals, 91 runs and 59 RBIs. He was durable and dependable, playing in 159 games and taking 675 plate appearances. He was more of a leader than ever, and manager Brandon Hyde cited that numerous times this year.

But if we were to try and pick the No. 1 thing that elevated his game it might be the decision to drop switch-hitting. In 2020, Mullins batted .171 with an OPS of .502 versus left-handed pitching. And that was the best stats of his three years in the league against lefties. The best. In 2021 against southpaws, he hit .277 with a .788 OPS. So, yeah, massive improvement.

Mullins actually produced a lower batting average against right-handers in 2021 than the previous year, but his production numbers were much better. In 2020 he batted .305 with an OPS of .796 versus right-handers. This season he batted .299/.931.

Can Mullins do all this again in 2022 or get real close? Will he feel the pressure to produce big again?

“I think he’s going to handle it really well,” Hyde said in the season’s final week. “I think he’s got a ton of confidence. He really believes in himself. I think he puts more pressure on himself than he’s going to feel from the outside.

“How consistent he’s been this year without any drop-off really throughout the course of the year just kind of shows you how confident he is and how consistent he can play. And there’s going to be higher expectations next year, no doubt. That comes along with the territory of having a good major league season. People expect you to do it again. I just want Cedric to be Cedric, and if he hits 30 homers again, great. And if not, he’s going to put up great numbers and continue to take the at-bats that he’s been taking all year.”

A few other notes on Mullins:

* His four multi-homer games from the leadoff spot were the second-most in a single season in O’s history, trailing only Brady Anderson’s five such games in 1996.

* Mullins’ 106 hits prior to the All-Star break led the American League and were the most by an Oriole since 2018 when Manny Machado had 115 in 96 games. They are tied for the 23rd-most by an Orioles player pre-All-Star break in club history. The club record is 128 by Machado in 2013 in 96 games.

* Mullins was named to his first career All-Star team and made the start in center field as an injury replacement for Mike Trout. He became the first O’s outfielder since Adam Jones in 2015 to start the All-Star Game for the AL. Mullins finished the game 0-for-2 with a run scored.

* He became the first player in the majors with a 30/30 season since Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2019 and first in the AL since Mookie Betts and José Ramírez in 2018. Mullins is the first center fielder (at least 75 percent of games played in center) with a 30/30 season since Trout in 2012.

* Mullins recorded two five-hit games, April 4 at Boston and June 5 versus Cleveland. Those are his career high. He was the only player in the majors this season with multiple five-hit games. Mullins is one of three players in O’s history to record at least two five-hit games in a single season along with Tommy Davis (two in 1974) and Luis Aparicio (three in 1966).

* When putting the first pitch in play, Mullins batted .435 with an OPS of 1.291, with seven doubles and seven homers.

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