A plan comes together: Looking for more walks, Ryan O'Hearn is getting them

It was an interview in early March at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. at O’s spring camp. As usual, Ryan O’Hearn was being himself which is something reporters have really come to appreciate.

He’s almost always available to us and he doesn’t go through the motions in these interviews, he provides real insight.

Like he did for me on another sunny day in Florida.

While delighted with his first season in Baltimore, O’Hearn said he didn’t want to be a “one-hit wonder” and he had a specific plan to improve this year - one that is playing out nightly in Birdland.

Few players have ever changed their walk-to-strikeouts totals so dramatically year-over-year. In the 2023 season, O’Hearn had a 4.1 walk rate and 22.3 K rate. In his career he had never come close to walking as much as he struck out.

This year he has walked 13 times to 10 strikeouts. That walk-rate is way up to 12.3 and that K rate is way down to 9.4. Just stunning improvement here as O’Hearn who took 49.3 percent of his pitches last year, takes 59.0 now. And O’Hearn, who had a 23.0 swing and miss rate in 2023, has a rate of 18.4 now.

Among all 2024 O's batters, O'Hearn's average of drawing a walk every 8.15 plate appearances leads the team. And also, his rate of a strikeout every 10.60 PAs is best on the team. He is the toughest to fan right now. 

This is how you take good numbers and make them even better.

Last season he batted .289/.322/.480/.801 in 368 plate appearances. Now, over 106 PAs, he is hitting .290/.377/.505/.883.

Among American League players with 100 or more plate appearances, O'Hearn ranks 19th in the AL in walk rate. 

In March I asked O’Hearn how he had looked to improve on his 2023 stats over the winter?

“You forget about it,” he said with a laugh. “You go back into offseason mode and get better mode. Try to get in great shape. And I continue to work on things with my swing. Putting in that work.”

He has done that.

“One emphasis for me, I’d like to walk more,” he said in the March interview heading into this season. “If I’m swinging earlier in the count, I’d like it to be for damage. I don’t want to make early-count outs. I’d like to see more pitches and work more walks.”

Again, he has clearly executed that plan.

And beyond just desiring more walks, O’Hearn had a very specific thought about a very specific count.

“What it really comes down to is what you do in 3-2 counts. Just looking at the analytics and swing rates, that is one area I can improve on, is pitch selection in full counts. Definitely an emphasis for me this spring.”

And while the MLB average OPS on a 3-2 count in 2023 was .779 last season, O’Hearn was just 7-for-45 with 22 strikeouts in such spots. He batted .156 with a .520 OPS on the 3-2 pitch.

This year while he is just 2-for-9 (.222) on a 3-2 count, look at his walks and strikeouts now even at four each. Very different balance from last season and that provides him a .462 OBP on a 3-2 count.

On a team that ranks 29th in the majors in drawing walks, O'Hearn is doing his part to change that. 

He is having a year that is making him a "Statcast darling." He ranks in the top one percent of MLB in expected slugging, the top two percent in K percentage (meaning few strikeouts) and the top 14 percent in barrel percentage. 

His exit velocity is often solid and it is again this year, but he is just getting more balls in play or taking his walks when he doesn't get a pitch to drive early in the counts. 



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