Why Trey Mancini Will Raise the Floor of the Entire Cubs Offense
This week, Trey Mancini was introduced to the Cubs world, with quotes from the media and an appearance on Marquee Sports Network. Among the topics of discussion was his comfort playing at a variety of spots (1B, DH, left and right field). Full buy-in. I found that part particularly encouraging, because I actually do think he’s a safer bet to contribute offensively than some of the Cubs other let’s-see additions this offseason (for example: Cody Bellinger and Eric Hosmer).
With the right matchups (not just for him, but for the players for whom he’ll provide rest), Mancini can really raise the floor of the 2023 Cubs offense.
Maybe he won’t ever return to the heights of his 2019 season (132 wRC+) — he wouldn’t need to in order to raise the floor of this relatively weak Cubs offense — but I’ll be taking the over on his 2023 ZiPS projections, nonetheless: .246/.321/.419 (103 OPS+); .320 wOBA.
Narratively, Trey Mancini has always been an above-average hitter (111 wRC+ for his career). He had that monster 2019 season, and he was diagnosed with (and overcame) colon cancer in 2020. Getting set up in a new city with a player-friendly contract, including a potential opt-out after 2023, just feels like a recipe for success.
Statistically, Trey Mancini has pretty significantly underproduced relative to expectations the last two years. In other words, based on the quality of his underlying contact, you’d expect his numbers to be much higher than they were.
2021: .326 wOBA, .341 xwOBA*
2022: .312 wOBA, .327 xwOBA
*For reference, Ian Happ had a .339 wOBA as an All-Star left fielder last season.
One factor for the underperformance could be as simple as bad BABIP luck: Mancini’s .286 BABIP in 2022 was well below his career average before last season (.317 BABIP). Some natural regression there, alone, could make an impact.
Now, it’s true that some players chronically underperform their expected statistics, regardless of BABIP, meaning that their true talent level is closer to their actual production than anything else. But I’m not sure that’s the case for Mancini, who was close to neutral in 2017 and 2019 and actually OVER-produced his expected stats in 2018.
Moreover, when you dig through his batted ball data, you’ll be pretty easily encouraged by what you see.
Take some time to look through those numbers (and where he is relative to the league). The only thing he’s been below average on in any of his last four seasons is launch angle, and that improved up to the league average in 2022. Maybe that came at the cost of some hard contact, but he’s still SOLIDLY above average in that respect.
Normally, I’d dig into his plate discipline data, but it’s pretty boring. For the most part, he’s just slightly better than league average across the board. Good. Fine. Solid.
Circling back to his impact on the rest of the team, it’s important to note that Mancini has been almost exactly split neutral throughout his entire career, which opens up even more opportunities to sneak into the lineup on a daily basis, spelling others with more significant splits.
He’s also pretty good at handling four-seamers (t-18th in MLB last season), which was NOT a speciality of the Cubs last season (middle of the pack but in a tier WELL below those ahead of them). Right or wrong, there are also questions about Matt Mervis’ ability to handle big league heat, so maybe there’ll be some natural protection built in there, at least as Mervis gets adjusted to big league pitching.
We don’t need to pretend this is some massive win for the 2023 Cubs offense. It’s not. The group, as a whole, projects worse than I had hoped it would at this point in the year. But Mancini *is* a very good bet to raise the floor of the Cubs offense, not only directly with his own contributions at the plate, but also indirectly by whom he’s subbing OUT of the lineup on a daily basis.