With all the recent talk about backups at first base and a lefty hitter that can play there to complement Ryan Mountcastle in 2023, I went back and took another look at Mountcastle’s 2022 season. We know it was not as productive as his 2021 when he hit an Orioles rookie record 33 homers. That number dropped to 22 last year.
And it cannot all be about wall ball and the moving back of the left-field fence. With mostly shorter dimensions than Camden Yards in left in road games, Mountcastle hit 11 road game homers and 11 at home last season. He hit one homer every 25.2 at-bats at home and one every 25.3 on the road. The dimensions and different ballparks didn’t make much difference here.
But if Mountcastle’s actual stats could have mimicked his expected stats, he might have been one of the better hitters in the league. No exaggeration here.
His final actual slugging percentage for the year was .423, which ranked 38th in the American League among qualified hitters. But his expected slugging percentage of .509 would have tied AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez of Seattle for seventh-best in the actual final AL slugging leaders. That slugging percentage would have moved him ahead of the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Kyle Tucker, Anthony Rizzo, George Springer and Carlos Correa.
MLB.com defines expected slugging as a stat that is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, sprint speed. In the same way that each batted ball is assigned an expected batting average, every batted ball is given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015. For the majority of batted balls, this is achieved using only exit velocity and launch angle.
In 145 games Mountcastle, who will turn 26 in February, batted .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.
His OPS for the season dropped from .796 in ’21, which was 14 percent above league average, to .729 last year, which was five percent above the league.
The -.086 differential between his actual slugging (.423) and xSLG (.509) for last year was the largest differential in MLB.
Some of the Statcast numbers from 2022 make Mountcastle look like a feared hitter, yet the final numbers tell us a different story.
He did rank in the top four percent in the majors in expected slugging. He ranked in the top six percent in barrel percentage, top nine percent in expected batting average and top 12 percent producing exit velocity. His exit velo increased from 89.1 to 91.3 last season. His hard-hit percentage went up from the year before from 39.7 to 46.8.
For me these numbers indicate there should be a pretty solid chance for Mountcastle to produce more in the season ahead and end the year with numbers more like his 2021 season stats. Even with some extended slumps or down turns at-bat, the expected numbers still finished among the best in the league. I am not a huge fan of using the word luck very much, but if you want to conclude he should have better luck batting in 2023, I won’t challenge you on that front.