The eye test and the analytics agree: Trey Mancini has been very unlucky to start this season.
After 66 plate appearances across his first 16 games, Mancini has a .237 batting average and a .339 slugging percentage. However, the way he’s been hitting the ball certainly hasn’t looked like someone with a batting average under .250, and the data from Statcast reflects that.
The best way to understand Mancini’s unluckiness using Statcast data comes from the statistic known as expected batting average. Expected batting average, or xBA for short, takes the launch angle and exit velocity of every ball put in play to give the probability that it’ll become a hit.
To provide an example, a sharp line drive hit 102 mph with a launch angle of 11 degrees has an xBA of .931, meaning that combination of exit velocity and launch angle leads to a hit 93.1 percent of the time. In contrast, a grounder hit at 85 mph with a launch angle of -10 degrees has an xBA of .129. xBA exists as a way to use data to verify what we already know: hitting the ball hard and in the air gives you a great chance at getting a hit, unlike slow grounders.
Now that we’ve established how xBA works, let’s apply it to Mancini.
While Mancini’s actual batting average is .237, his xBA is a remarkably higher figure of .346, a difference of 109 points. Mancini’s .346 xBA ranks seventh out of 97 hitters with at least 40 balls put in play this year, but his actual batting average puts him in 64th place.
Mancini’s 109-point difference between his xBA and his actual batting average ranks fourth among the 97 hitters, meaning that just three people have had worse luck than Mancini.
To understand how exactly Mancini has been getting unlucky, let’s look at some of the loud outs he’s made.
104.9 mph exit velocity, 28 degrees launch angle, xBA of .951
The worst luck Mancini has had this year came in his first at-bat during the home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, smoking a ball into the gap that seemed like it should’ve at least been a double, if not a homer. Instead, it was snagged by center fielder Tyrone Taylor at the fence. Anyone watching could tell Mancini got unlucky there and xBA tells you exactly how unlucky he was: he made an out where there was a 95.1 chance that his combination of exit velocity and launch angle would’ve been a hit.
98.0 mph exit velocity, 10 degrees launch angle, xBA of .834
Sometimes you’re unlucky because the center fielder makes a great defensive play and other times, you’re unlucky because you hit a line drive right at an infielder. Mancini hit this ball almost 100 mph with a typical launch angle for a line drive but it still wound up being an easy out for shortstop Willy Adames. A liner right at an infielder isn’t quite as memorable as a fantastic play by a center fielder, but putting the ball in play like that will normally find a hole, which is why it has a high xBA of .834.
106.6 exit velocity, 16 degrees launch angle, xBA of .626
This is the highest exit velocity Mancini has had for an out this year. He hit the ball very hard, but there was just one small issue: it was too close to center fielder Mike Trout. Hitting the ball incredibly hard into the outfield is always a good outcome in the long run, but sometimes your 106 mph screamer will just end up being a routine play for a center fielder playing straight-up.
These are just three examples of something that has happened nine times this year: Mancini making an out on a ball with an xBA of at least .500. As of Tuesday morning, he’s the only player to make nine outs with an xBA above .500, further demonstrating that he’s been uniquely unlucky to begin this season.
The good news for Mancini is that his 109-point difference between his xBA and actual batting average is incredibly unlikely to continue once we have a sample that’s larger than 66 PAs across 16 games.
In 2021, the unluckiest player based on the difference between their xBA and actual average with at least 600 PAs was Carlos Santana, and he only had a 30-point difference. As for 2019, the unluckiest hitter with a minimum of 600 PAs was Lorenzo Cain with a 20-point difference.
April is always a time for odd stats thanks to the small sample size and Mancini’s unluckiness with balls in play is just another example of this. As the year progresses, some of Mancini’s loud outs will start becoming extra-base hits and he’ll get to enjoy another solid year at the plate.
Rose Katz is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, where she worked for The Diamondback as the online managing editor and a sports blogger. As a student, she spent almost all of her time on campus in The Diamondback’s newsroom or at Xfinity Center, Ludwig Field and Maryland Stadium. Rose gained intern experience with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).