In evaluating Ryan Mountcastle’s 2022 season, it is easy to note that his homer total dropped from 33 in 2021 – a new O’s rookie record – to 22 last season. His OPS dropped from .796, which was 14 percent above league average to .729, which was five percent above the league.
In 145 games Mountcastle, who will turn 26 in February, hit .250/.305/.423/.729 with 28 doubles, one triple, 22 homers and 85 RBIs. His homer percentage – the percentage of balls he hit out – dropped from 5.6 in 2021 to 3.6 last season.
Mountcastle’s offense really fell off in the second half when his OPS dropped from .786 to .656. It was .541 in July and .630 in August, and he hit a total of five home runs in those two months.
With the glove Mountcastle, via the eye test, got better. Via the data he got a lot better, going from the the bottom two percent in Outs Above Average (and he did make 18 starts in left field then) to the top 20 percent. Mountcastle tied for first in the AL and tied for third among MLB first basemen with his three outs above average.
“Defensively, I feel like I made some huge strides over there at first base and want to keep improving on that. Hitting, I hit the ball hard all year. It didn’t fall as much as I hoped. It is what it is. Got to keep learning, it’s a tough game and I will try to get better this offseason,” said Mountcastle, during the final series.
He is sure right about hitting the ball hard. His average exit velocity increased from where it was in 2021 at 89.1 mph to 91.3, which ranked in the top 12 percent of MLB. He was in the top six percent in barrel percentage and in expected slugging he ranked in the top four percent in the majors at .508 but his actual slugging percentage of .423 ranked 38th in the AL among qualified hitters. The batted ball data said his final numbers should have looked better, maybe much better.
Was a lot of this about wall ball? It seemed that when Trey Mancini got traded Mountcastle became easily the player impacted the most by the left-field wall moving back.
“It was tough man," he said. "Seemed like every game I was getting robbed of a homer or double, or something. About two months of that. It was tough to go through, but you live and you learn. It was good experience for me and I’m not going to hang my head about it. Feel like this year was still pretty successful.”
And Mountcastle said he was not likely to change anything about his hitting approach, even though it’s now tougher to hit one out to left and left center at the Yard.
“Well, you can’t try to aim the ball anywhere,” he said. “You hit it and if you do hit it to that big wall out there you have to hope and pray it hits it or goes over,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think much is going to change. But try to get better pitch selection, stuff like that and I felt like I did make some improvements there.”
Mountcastle’s falloff, if you will, at the plate, can be traced a lot to wall ball but not completely. In 2021 he hit 22 homers at home, one every 12.8 at-bats and slugged .555 with an OPS of .871 at Camden Yards. This past season at home he hit 11 homers, one every 25.2 at-bats while slugging .440 with a .767 OPS. But his homer rate was about the same on the road where his OPS was only .691.
Furthermore, Mountcastle’s numbers fell off versus lefty pitchers also. In 2021 his OPS was .842 against southpaws and that number dropped to .693 this past season. Big change there.
Mountcastle frustrates fans when he chases pitches out of the strikezone and he needs to continue to work to improve here. But his chase rate, while still in the bottom 10 percent of MLB, actually got a bit better this year.
Mountcastle was also a much more effective batter when ahead in the count this year with a 1.302 OPS ahead compared to .449 when behind in the count.
Among AL first baseman with enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaders, Mountcastle’s OPS ranked seventh among 13 in 2021 in that stat. This year it was eighth among nine. The O’s came up a bit short in that comparison of hitters at an offensive position.
Right now the Orioles have a young power hitting first baseman in Mountcastle who is not even arbitration-eligible yet. One who hit 33 homers a season ago. His batted ball data was solid during the 2022 season but the ballpark changed on him. Now with a year there under his belt, will his numbers improve at Oriole Park?
For me, with Mountcastle getting ready to play all of next year at just age 26, he still has potential for further improvements and is still the O’s first baseman of the future.