More Barrels on Fewer Swings for New & Improved Mullins

Throughout his minor and major league career, Cedric Mullins was your typical singles-hitting, glove-first, speedster center fielder. The defensive prowess was always obvious, whereas the well-roundedness at the plate that he is now showing was not.

The changes Mullins has gone through in recent months are well known. After an offseason spent with private hitting coach Rick Strickland in 2019, Mullins came into the 2020 season with some adjustments to his swing that he’s stuck with into 2021. His decision to abandon switch hitting is also widely known as he’s gone exclusively left handed, his natural side and the one at which he’s always been most comfortable and effective.

Mullins career as left vs. right: .264/.323/.422, 10 HR, 104 wRC+

Mullins career as right vs. left: .147/.250/.189, 1 HR, 26 wRC+

With the help of the two aforementioned adjustments, Mullins, still the elite defender, has expanded his game to become that more complete hitter this season.

First, the power numbers have risen. His slugging percentage of .476 entering Thursday is 69 points higher than his previous career high. He has twice as many home runs as last season in the same number of games played, and his 20 extra base hits shatter his previous career high of 13 in 2018.

For Mullins, the rise in power is simply a result of putting the barrel to the ball more frequently. His barrel rate of 4.8 percent, although still below league average, still far exceeds his mark of 2.8 last season and his sweet spot rate of 34.9 percent is over 10 points higher than last season.

His ability to hit for power even against secondary pitches has also improved dramatically. He’s slugged .464 against breaking balls and .615 on off-speeds, up from .233 and .318, respectively, a season ago. It’s led to him being able to drive those secondary pitches, often out of the strike zone, that he previously struggled facing. These are breakdowns of Mullins’ swings per hard hit by zone. On the left is 2021, the right is 2020.

To complement the uptick in power, Mullins has also significantly improved upon his plate discipline.

Mullins has walked 21 times this season in 211 plate appearances, a career high 9.7 percent rate. It may not seem like a lot, and that’s because it isn’t. That rate ranks in the 57th percentile league wide, so just a tick above average. What jumps out, however, is the fact that he walked at just a 5.2 percent rate in 2020, finishing in the bottom 12th percent in the league.

As you scroll further down his Baseball Savant page, the plate discipline metrics for Mullins this season are fascinating.

What stands out initially is the decrease in first pitch swing rate, down to just over 24 percent from 34 percent last season. Also down are the percent of pitches he swings at in the zone, as well as the number of pitches he chases.

Not only has Mullins become more patient at the plate, but also more selective, swinging at fewer pitches both outside and inside the zone. That change has allowed him to work deeper into counts and see more pitches before finding one to put the bat on. The ability to lay off the first pitch, not chase after balls and be willing to take walks was missing from Mullins’ approach. He’s not only improved, but gone from one of the league’s worst at those things to above average at them this season.

The common theme in both the power and discipline numbers from Mullins are that neither are elite, but they don’t need to be. To date, the extra base hits and walks have never been a part of Mullins’ skillset. As I’ve noted previously, he ranked near the bottom of the league in most power and plate discipline metrics. He’ll never be a 30 home run hitter that walks more than he strikes out, but going from near the bottom to just slightly above average in those areas is enough of an improvement to turn Mullins into the well-rounded, more complete player he’s been in 2021.

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