Dusty Baker’s Hesitance to Start Trey Mancini is a Problem


The Astros traded for Trey Mancini at the deadline and he is hardly playing, which is frustrating at best and a big concern at worst.

Moments after the Houston Astros released their lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Oakland A’s, there was yet another explosion amongst their fanbase on Twitter. Newly acquired Trey Mancini will not start for the third time in 4 games. In the 9 games in which he has been on the Astros’ active roster, he has started in 5 of them. Now that he’s not in the lineup tonight, he will have started the game on the bench in 50% of his Astros tenure.

This is flat-out unacceptable. Mancini was acquired in exchange for one of the Astros’ top-15 prospects in Chayce McDermott. Regardless of McDermott’s potential, giving up future assets for an established major leaguer only to start him in half the games, when he is clearly the most prolific first baseman on the roster, is a bad look. Baker has had a storied and remarkable career as a manager in MLB, but he’s undermining GM James Click by not giving consistent playing time to the guys he trades for.

In his previous 4 full seasons, Mancini had never played fewer than 147 games. He had at least 20 home runs in all of those seasons, and an OPS+ over 100 in 3 of 4. It’s possible that Baker is not the only one behind the current structuring of Mancini’s playing time, and if anyone else is, they should be held accountable as well, but until then, Baker has to answer for it. To his credit, he did just that in an interview yesterday.

To paraphrase, Baker said that he wants Yuli Gurriel and his best defensive outfielders to start whenever Framber Valdez is the starting pitcher since Valdez is a flyball pitcher. Mancini has played the corner outfield positions this year, but only in a limited sample. Baker also gave a nod to Gurriel’s recent Gold Glove award at first base. Valdez actually has the lowest flyball rate out of all qualified starters in baseball, but he does have the highest ground ball rate, so it at least makes sense that Baker would want Gurriel to be Valdez’s personal first baseman since he is a better defender than Mancini at the position.

Even so, that doesn’t excuse Mancini’s lack of playing time when Valdez isn’t pitching. There are also plenty of ways for Baker to start Mancini and keep Gurriel in the lineup at the same time since Yordan Alvarez can shift from DH to left field every once in a while. Yet, he still appears reluctant to use that flexibility.

Yuli Gurriel doesn’t deserve any disrespect whatsoever. He has been instrumental in the Astros’ success for the past few years and is both the reigning AL Batting Champ and Gold Glove winner at first base. That was last year, though, and this season, his OPS+ is 25 points lower than Mancini’s. He has also been worth 0.1 rWAR to Mancini’s 2.1. Gurriel deserves to stay with the team as a primary bench bat and defensive asset, as well as for the veteran role he plays in the clubhouse. However, his performance on the field suggests that he should be the one seeing a reduction in playing time, not Mancini.

The logic behind starting Mancini less than 5 times per week just doesn’t add up, especially considering he has already launched 3 home runs since coming to Houston. Minute Maid Park also plays to his strengths quite well as a right-handed power hitter.

Dusty Baker deserves to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his career accomplishments once he retires, and his leadership and “no-nonsense” attitude have greatly benefitted the Astros’ clubhouse following their cheating scandal. However, he has shown that he can’t be trusted to construct the most efficient lineups possible, which could come back to bite the Astros late in the year.

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