If you think that the Orioles' Ryan O’Hearn is hitting the ball hard, a lot, the stats back that up. In June, when he is batting .328 with a .921 OPS, his average exit velocity of 95.1 mph is sixth in MLB (min. 40 PAs).
O’Hearn’s average exit velocity on the year is 93.4 mph, which ranks first on the Orioles among players that have gotten at least 50 plate appearances.
Is he as locked in as he’s ever been in the majors right now?
“Maybe. I’ve hit the ball hard always, I just often hit it on the ground. I think the mechanical changes have kind of helped hit the ball at better angles. And I think that turns into more production. Yes and no. I feel like I’ve constantly been growing as a hitter. I’ve always felt pretty mentally locked in but maybe the results are just better now than they ever have been because of some mechanical changes.”
Here are the O's team leaders in average exit velocity:
93.4 – Ryan O’Hearn
92.1 – Ryan McKenna
92.0 – Gunnar Henderson
91.4 – Ryan Mountcastle
90.9 - Austin Hays
90.3 – Anthony Santander
“Lately, the last few series I’ve hit some balls hard that went right at guys and that’s okay. That’s part of the game,” O’Hearn said. “As long as I continue to hit the ball hard, put myself in good positions and good counts to be aggressive, they’re going to fall and production will continue and good things will happen. Just trying to stay focused on the process and my work and not change anything that got me into this hot streak and keep it going.
“I think I have consistently hit the ball in the air more than I have the last few years. In 2018 when I had the most success I’ve ever had, I was hitting the ball in the air a lot. I don’t know if I’m quite back to there yet, but as far as how much I’m hitting the ball in the air but I’m definitely getting closer to that. Not hitting as many groundballs as I have. I think that’s a key."
And O’Hearn, a pretty mature and smart player, is right on about those numbers.
His fly ball rate in that 2018 season he cited was 46.2 and in 170 PAs that year as a rookie he produced an OPS of .950. But his fly ball rate dropped 27.3 percent last year and this season has elevated back to 40.2. He’s hitting the ball hard and more often in the air.
And, over 36 games with the Orioles, he is batting .308/.348/.542/.890 with seven doubles, six homers and 21 RBIs.
He has gone from a player that didn’t make the Opening Day roster to one that is now regularly batting fourth. And why not. He is 8-for-20 when batting with runners in scoring position, hitting .400 with an OPS of 1.035 in those spots. When batting No. 4 he is hitting .326 with an OPS of .914.
O’Hearn throws some props to the O’s hitting coaches, who helped him make changes to get the ball in the air more and get more consistent launch angles for better production.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think I had to make some mechanical adjustments to allow myself to hit the ball in the air. Nobody wants to hit the ball on the ground anymore and I wasn’t trying to the past few years. But the stuff I had going on mechanically, it was hard not to. Got that cleaned up and the work I’ve done in the cage with these hitting coaches has really helped me.”
And now O’Hearn is a cleanup hitter on a team that ranks eighth in MLB in runs per game.
“I’m stoked. I’m excited coming to the field every day and having fun playing with this team. At the same time, I’ve experienced in the past when people start telling you how good you are, you can take that one of two ways. I appreciate the confidence and the pats on the back and all that, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet.
“I think I have the talent to be a middle of the order type hitter you know, not for just a month or two months or a flash in the pan. My goal is to be a consistent major league hitter that drives in runs. That’s an ongoing process. Just trying to stick to the things that got me here. When the season is over maybe I can enjoy it a little bit more. Right now just having so much fun playing and enjoying it with this group."