As with everything statistical at this mid-April juncture, the returns on Cedric Mullins’ decision to abandon switch-hitting this spring come with a caveat: It’s early. But they’re still really good.
At the root of Mullins’ white-hot start at the plate is his success against left-handed pitching, with Mullins going 6-for-11 on the first left-on-left at-bats of his career. Before he decided to eschew right-handed hitting this spring, Mullins last faced southpaws as a left-handed hitter in high school. But he entered 2021 hitting .189 from the right side in 123 career plate appearances, with just one homer. He said this spring he committed to hitting only left-handed with an eye toward eliminating that hole in his game.
And it’s worked about as well as possible. Mullins entered Monday’s series opener against the Mariners tied for the MLB lead with 17 hits, slashing .459/.512/.676 over his first 41 plate appearances.
“It’s been extremely impressive,” O's manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s not something I was expecting. I thought he might put together some good at-bats, but I did not think he’d be able to stay closed and stay on the baseball like he is against good left-handed pitching.”
Mullins' ability quickly quieted all the preseason talk of a potential platoon in center field with Austin Hays, which Hays’ recent right hamstring injury helped put completely to rest. All the while, Mullins kept producing, hitting safely in each of the Orioles' first nine games with a homer and two stolen bases. Throw in impact defense in center, and Mullins ranked among the five best players in baseball per Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement over the season’s first week-plus.
The timing of the breakout is notable because it’s come two years after Mullins weathered a terrible, career-threatening start to 2019, going 6-for-64 to begin the season and finishing the campaign at Double-A Bowie. Mullins went 1-for-15 as a right-handed hitter during that slump and 6-for-35 (.171) right-handed in '20, compared to .305/.348/.448 left-handed.
So far in 2021, Mullins' left-on-left hits came against a trio of Red Sox southpaws: Eduardo Rodriguez, Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernández.
“[Mullins is] making a conscious effort to stay on the baseball,” Hyde said. “It’s one thing to work out at home and face some lefties to get used to it, and at Spring Training, I tried to get him as many at-bats as possible against left-handed pitching to get him acclimated and see how it looked -- and it looked pretty good. But this has been really good.”
Said Mullins: “I didn’t necessarily expect to struggle too much. I knew how much work I put into the offseason to get adjusted to seeing left-handed pitching. It’s about me continuing to be aggressive on balls in the zone and see the ball well.”