When it comes to bouncing back, it would be tough to top Trey Mancini’s 2019. After an impressive rookie season in 2017 (1.6 fWAR, 116 wRC+), he struggled in 2018 (-0.3 fWAR, 91 wRC+) while playing through nagging knee discomfort. Despite the injury, the question persisted: Which version of Mancini is the real one? Last season, he answered that question in a major way by posting career bests nearly across the board, in fWAR (3.6), wRC+ (132), on-base percentage (.364), slugging percentage (.535), walk percentage (9.3%) and more.
There’s little doubt now that Mancini is a talented player, particularly when holding the bat, and that he should post solid numbers moving forward. But there are several O’s veterans who are facing similar questions that Mancini did. How good are they? And can they get back to some level of success?
Here’s a look at three bounce-back candidates for the Orioles in 2020:
The O’s picked up Bleier for essentially nothing in a 2017 trade with the Yankees after New York designated him for assignment to make room for first baseman Chris Carter. While Carter struggled mightily in what would be his final season in the major leagues, Bleier became one of the O’s most reliable relievers while posting his second sub-2.00 ERA season. He was on his way to doing the same thing in 2018 (1.93 ERA in 32.2 innings) before a Grade 3 lat tear ended his season.
Bleier made it back in time to pitch during spring training and make the opening day roster, but he didn’t pitch with the same effectiveness. He allowed seven runs in his first 4.1 innings through March and early April before he was placed on the injured list for a “reset.” It sort of worked. Bleier wasn’t nearly as bad the rest of the season after he returned in May (4.59 ERA, 3.86 FIP in 51 innings), but clearly those results weren’t in the sub-2.00 ERA realm.
Still, while it’s worth wondering if anyone should ever expect Bleier to post those types of sterling numbers again, he deserved better. After three straight seasons of outperforming his expected wOBA (xwOBA), his xwOBA was 46 points lower (.287) than his wOBA (.333) in 2019. He was also excellent once again in avoiding barrels (3.1%, top 3% of MLB) and walks (3.4%, top 2% of MLB). He’s always been bad when it comes to striking batters out, but he pairs that with a groundball percentage near 60%.
It’s not surprising that Bleier would be frustrated. It was a shock, though, that it led to an argument in the dugout with infield coach Jose Flores during an August game against the Nationals:
After the game, Bleier admitted the dust-up was about defensive positioning. Interestingly, if the argument was about the shift being used behind Bleier, the Orioles used them nearly 28% of the time for him through July 27. After that day, about one month before the argument with Flores, the O’s didn’t deploy a shift when Bleier was on the mound.
Regardless of the shifting behind him, there’s hope that with a full season of health and better infield defense behind him, Bleier can be effective once again.
Like Bleier, an injury ended Cobb’s 2019 early. But Cobb’s season ended much quicker — after just 12.1 innings pitched — in what amounted to an unfortunate lost season. Cobb had enjoyed a resurgent second half of 2018 (2.56 ERA, 4.28 FIP) following a disastrous first half (6.41 ERA, 5.13 FIP).
Injuries have been a common issue for Cobb. He missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he missed much of 2016 while recovering. That means that in the past five years, he’s thrown 22 innings or fewer in three of them. He’s also never thrown 180 innings in any season.
Any optimistic outlook for Cobb depends on health. One positive is that his 2019 injuries had nothing to do with his elbow. Another is that while Cobb was not effective at all in his limited innings last season, it almost certainly was because of his hip and knee. The last time Cobb looked completely healthy was in that second half in 2018 when he had his confounding split-change working.
In a sense, a bounce-back for Cobb would simply involve staying healthy. There’s little doubt that the O’s would be thrilled to move him and what’s left of the two years and $29 million on his contract. They may be able to do that if he’s mediocre, but they won’t have a chance if he can’t stay on the field. Besides John Means, a rookie, or another pitcher making a John Means-like ascension, Cobb is one of the few remaining hopes on the O’s roster for competent starting pitching. It would be nice to see him at least clear that hurdle.
Any discussion of Givens involves a few things. The first is that he’s still much better against right-handed batters:
Givens career vs. RHB: .251 wOBA (212.2 IP)
Givens career vs. LHB: .322 wOBA (110.1 IP)
That’s pretty much stayed the same during the last three years (.261 wOBA vs. RHB; .312 wOBA vs. LHB).
Next, it’s that he isn’t as good in late-game and/or high-leverage situations. By ERA, the ninth inning has been Givens’s worst (4.54) followed by the 8th inning (3.51). His next closest is the 6th inning, at 3.19.
His issues with high leverage mirror those struggles:
High: .795 OPS (453 PA)
Medium: .581 OPS (310 PA)
Low: .557 OPS (559 PA)
Givens has posted a 4.40 ERA and allowed a .683 OPS in save situations, and he’s posted a 2.85 ERA and allowed a .620 OPS in non-save situations.
Another constant theme for Givens is that he’s a trade chip. Barring an unanticipated switch to being a dominant closer, he’s almost certainly not being used to the best of his abilities. He’s best when he’s able to come into the game in the sixth or seventh inning, preferably against a handful of right-handed batters. He’s also better in brief bursts and when he doesn’t appear in multiple innings or throw more 25 pitches (.641 OPS vs. .663).
Other teams likely envision that type of role for Givens, but the O’s may also be able to use him more optimally in 2020. A full season of a healthy Hunter Harvey would help, along with Bleier returning to form and a couple other relievers performing better. Givens is a good pitcher but not a closer, and that’s OK.
Other bounce-back options in 2020:
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