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Cedric Mullins Should Be in the MVP Race

The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the worst teams in baseball for the past few seasons, but the emergence of Cedric Mullins II has been incredible in 2021. Mullins, once a switch hitter, became solely a left-handed batter prior to this season. He was a disappointment through his first three big league seasons, but he has lived up to his number six prospect (FanGraphs) potential in 2021.

Mullins II"s Transformation

After making his debut in 2018, Mullins II got off to a rough start to his career, as he slashed just .235/.312/.359 with a .298 wOBA and .264 xwOBA in his first 418 plate appearances from 2018-2020. His right-left splits were concerning to many, including himself and the Orioles organization.

This season, Mullins ditched switch-hitting, opting to hit only left-handed, his natural side. As a righty, he was hitting just .147/.250/.189 with a .211 wOBA and a 26 wRC+ in his career. As a lefty, he was slashing .251/.305/.394 with a .303 wOBA.

In 2021, Mullins II is having an incredible season, slashing .315/.378/.538 with a .389 wOBA, .353 xwOBA, and 150 wRC+. His transformation at the plate has turned him into one of the American League"s best hitters, as he ranks fourth in wRC+, 5th in OBP, 6th in SLG, and 4th in wOBA.

Defense and Baserunning

Mullins II has always been a solid baserunner and defender, but he has been even better in 2021. On the basepaths, he has accumulated 1.7 BsR and 22 stolen bases on the year, although he has been caught stealing seven times. Defensively, Mullins II doesn"t grade well according to UZR and DRS, but his OAA ranks him in the 97th percentile. He has 8 OAA so far in 2021, and had 9 in his three prior seasons. Combining this with his value with the bat, Mullins has accumulated 4.7 fWAR, which ranks third in the AL, among position players.

Where Does Mullins II Stack Up?

The runaway favorite for AL Most Valuable Player is Shohei Ohtani, and for good reason. Ohtani has a 167 wRC+, .648 SLG, and 4.6 fWAR offensively, and a 2.79 ERA, 3.19 FIP, and 3.87 xFIP in 100.0 IP on the mound. Ohtani"s combination of elite hitting and great pitching is unprecedented, as his combined 7.2 fWAR leads the AL by over two wins.

After Ohtani, two Blue Jays and Cedric Mullins II are in contention. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s incredible start to the year had him as the MVP favorite for a few months, but he has slowed down in the second half. Since the all-star break, Vladdy has just a 120 wRC+, compared to his 190 wRC+ in the first half. As a result, his place on the MVP ladder is starting to become less certain, although he still leads AL position players in fWAR and wRC+, with 5.3 and 171 respectively.

Marcus Semien finished third in MVP voting in 2019 then struggled in 2020, but he has been incredible in 2021. He has a 132 wRC+, 3.6 BsR, 5 OAA (7 at 2B), 12 DRS (11 at 2B), and 5.0 fWAR. Semien has also played in each and every Blue Jays game so far, a common theme among AL MVP candidates.

Mullins has a case to be above both of these players in the MVP race, but it is very difficult to compare players from different positions. WAR is oftentimes the best metric to do so, but Mullins" UZR doesn"t do his defense justice. According to UZR, Mullins has been significantly worse than the average defensive CF, as he has -4.4 UZR on the year. Despite this, he has 8 OAA, or seven runs prevented.

Unlike Vladdy, Mullins and Semien play great defense at premium positions. Although Semien leads Mullins in fWAR, Mullins has been much better at the plate than Semien, and the difference in the field is not as large as DEF says. Semien has 5 OAA, while Mullins II has 8, and they both play positions with a +2.5 positional adjustment. Of course, OAA isn"t the only good measurement of defensive production, so the edge could still go to Semien, but Mullins II"s 20 point lead in wRC+ should put him higher on the MVP ladder.

Guerrero Jr. remains the second best candidate for AL MVP, but Mullins II is catching up quickly, as he plays a much more important defensive position than Vladdy. The positional adjustment for 1B is -12.5 runs, while CF is +2.5, and Mullins already has 12 more OAA than Guerrero Jr. The offensive gap still puts Guerrero Jr. in front, but Cedric Mullins II has kept up his elite play and there are 42 games to go.

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