It is not easy to remember now. But for Ryan Mountcastle, the 2021 season, one that ended with him pushing to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, did not begin well.
At the end of April, Mountcastle, 24, was batting .196/.229/.286./.515 with one homer and seven RBIs. He was chasing pitches big time. It seemed like he would need a 50-inch bat to get to some of them.
Was this a sophomore slump? Would he need to be sent to the minors to work it out?
No and no.
It was a hitter that needed to stop helping pitchers get him out and he did that. Some encouraging words early in the year from his manager couldn’t have hurt. Brandon Hyde, at one point, made the proclamation that the Orioles believe in Mountcastle, were standing behind him and would help him work through it.
Before long, the balls were jumping off his bat. In 119 games from May 1 on, Mountcastle produced an OPS of .853 with 32 homers and 82 RBIs.
For the season, in 144 games and 586 plate appearances, he batted .255/.309/.487/.796 with 23 doubles, a triple, 33 homers and 89 RBIs.
Mountcastle’s 33 home runs led all major league rookies. He is the third rookie in the American League since 1990 to record a 33+ home run season (Aaron Judge, Yankees - 52 in 2017, José Abreu, White Sox - 36 in 2014). His 33 home runs are tied for the ninth-most by a rookie in AL history and ranked tied for 14th overall in the AL. Curt Blefary in 1965 (22 homers) is the last O’s rookie to lead the club in home runs outright in a single season as Mountcastle did this year.
On Sept. 16, he hit his 29th homer to break a tie with Cal Ripken Jr. from 1982 for most homers by an O’s rookie. He topped Ripken and another Hall of Famer, Eddie Murray, on his way to the top of that list. Mountcastle’s 89 RBIs are third-most ever by a Baltimore rookie behind Jim Gentile (98 in 1960) and Ripken (93 in 1982). His 57 extra-base hits are third-most by an O’s rookie behind Ripken (65 in 1982) and Murray (58 in 1977).
When your name keeps showing up on lists with Hall of Famers, that’s not bad.
Mountcastle had a 27.5 strikeout rate this year and walk rate of 7.0. He is an aggressive hitter that is likely never going to walk very much. But for him it comes down to which pitches he tries to drive. If he can stay in the strike zone and work on mostly very hittable pitches, he’ll be fine. Mountcastle rated poorly in chase rate for the season, so perhaps there is more growth for him here moving forward. Draw a few more walks and chase a bit less. Maybe that is where he takes his game to an ever higher level in 2022. Maybe he also gets a bit stronger, and more and more experience leads to better numbers in the long run.
He was among the most productive first-ball swingers in the sport. On the first pitch, he batted .444/.438/.944/.1.383 and ranked third in the AL in OPS on the first pitch, sixth in batting average, and fourth in both homers (10) and RBIs (26) on the first pitch.
Mountcastle hit the ball harder more consistently in 2021. His average exit velocity increased from 87.4 to 89.1 mph and he ranked among the top 21 percent in the majors in barrels. Barrels use a formula combining launch angle and exit velocity to note balls that are really squared up well and often produce big damage.
The 2021 stats also show us that Mountcastle did much more damage at home (.871 OPS and 22 of 33 homers) than on the road (.713 OPS). Rather than have any concern about that, I can easily see the road numbers going up while he maintains the home stats. Again in 2022, spoiler alert, he will play half his games at Oriole Park.
Mountcastle overcame a slow start this year to produce an impressive stat line. He showed without question that when he limits the chasing, the run production will follow. He earned the right to be considered the top rookie in the AL as much as anyone out there. He cemented himself as a fixture in the middle of the Orioles order.
Hopefully for many years to come.
Congratulations to Ryan on setting the new O’s rookie home run record. He’s a dynamic player. I wish him nothing but the best and excited to watch him in the years to come. All @Orioles fans should be excited that he’s on our team. https://t.co/YDVVJnqDnM-- Cal Ripken, Jr. (@CalRipkenJr) September 17, 2021