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Baltimore Orioles

Ryan Mountcastle hit better than his 2022 stats show. The Orioles first baseman hopes his luck will change.

It became a familiar sight in September, Ryan Mountcastle staring toward the outfield in disbelief before returning to the Orioles’ dugout while shaking his head.

In Mountcastle’s second full season, perhaps no major league hitter experienced worse luck than the Orioles’ first baseman. After setting the Orioles’ rookie record with 33 home runs in 2021, the 25-year-old in many ways improved in 2022. Those steps forward hardly showed in his final stat line. Mountcastle hit .250 and slugged .423, both dips from his rookie numbers. But his quality of contact suggested a far better output.

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Mountcastle’s expected batting average of .277 and expected slugging percentage of .509 both ranked among the top 10% in the majors. The Statcast metrics are based on how batters hit the ball, rather than the results of doing so. No qualified hitter, though, had a larger difference between his expected slugging percentage and his actual one than Mountcastle, according to Baseball Savant.

“It’s tough to look at the expected numbers I have,” Mountcastle said. “They’re way higher than what I have right now. But I hit the ball hard, I felt like, all year, and I had better, more competitive bats this year. But just is what it is. I don’t see it as a bad year, but it was a learning year.”

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Camden Yards’ new left field wall certainly played a role — former teammate Trey Mancini was the only player with a bigger gap between his expected and actually tally of home runs — but Mountcastle suffered on balls to all fields, and his poor luck extended as the season went on.

Through Baltimore’s first 80 games, Mountcaste hit .283 with 14 home runs and an .826 OPS, though each of those marks was expected to be higher, as well. In the latter half of the season, he hit eight home runs, batting .220 with a .638 OPS. His slugging percentage during that stretch was .346, 122 points below its expected value. No other hitter with at least 250 plate appearances in that time had a deficit greater than .077. Relative to the season’s first half, Mountcastle’s average exit velocity went down while his average launch angle went up, meaning he hit the ball less hard and higher in the air, while his strikeout rate dipped slightly and his walk rate increased.

He was able to improve his exit velocity over the year’s final 25 games but experienced his greatest stretch of misfortune. During that time, he was expected to slug .590 but instead posted a .362 mark, again a league-high deficit for that span. From Sept. 9, there were 82 players who recorded at least six barrels, the quality of contact Baseball Savant deems most likely to produce a positive result; Mountcastle was the only member of that group for whom fewer than three barrels became hits. Of his 12 barrels in that stretch — tied for the sixth most in the league — 10 became outs.

In 2022, Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle’s expected batting average of .277 and expected slugging percentage of .509 both ranked among the top 10% in the majors.
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Only five hitters produced more barrels than Mountcastle did in 2022, with all of them — the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, Houston Astros’ Yordan Alvarez, Philadelphia Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber, Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley — among the finalists for the Hank Aaron Award, recognizing each league’s top offensive performer. But among the 23 batters with at least 50 barrels, none had a lower batting average and slugging percentage than expected than Mountcastle.

“I felt like I hit the ball a little bit better than what my numbers show,” Mountcastle said. “But is what it is and just gonna try to keep improving year after year.”

Mountcastle increased his average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit rate from 2021, a season that earned him the American League Outstanding Rookie Award from his peers. Those underlying gains suggest the type of player he can be, though he acknowledges he needs to hone his plate discipline. Although his strikeout rate, walk rate and chase rate each improved, they did so incrementally and remained far below league average. He felt his work with hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte throughout the year helped his swing decisions, an organizational practice to attack only pitches hitters can do damage on.

Even as his offensive results dipped, he made massive gains defensively at first base. Playing only one position for the first time since 2018 while in Double-A, Mountcastle tied for third among all first basemen and first among those in the AL in Statcast’s Outs Above Average. He performed the fourth worst of first basemen in that regard in 2021.

“I’m happy with the progress I made over there this year,” he said. “Hopefully, I can improve and try to be up for a Gold Glove at some point. That’d be cool.”

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But his most significant contributions will likely come with his bat. Even if 2022 didn’t plainly show it, Mountcastle has the potential to improve greatly as the Orioles try to end their playoff drought in 2023.

“I just feel like I’ve had more competitive at-bats, especially the second half of the year,” Mountcastle. “Things might not have fallen my way for a little bit, but I felt like I did hit the ball harder and better this year more consistently.”


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