You were worried, don’t front.
Justifiably so!; The first two months of Ryan Mountcastle’s 2021 campaign were cause for some concern. Regression to the mean was expected after the torrid pace he set after his call-up last season, but the nature in which it happened was startling: his OPS was under .600 as late as May 20th, and his slash line sat at .226/.255/.373 entering the game against the Twins on June 1. He often looked lost at the plate, striking out in nearly one third of his plate appearances and drawing walks in 3.6% of them, which is low even for a guy who has always had a reputation as a free swinger. If we’re looking at things through the prism of Kanye West albums, Mountcastle’s 2020 was College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation all rolled into one – bangers on bangers; His first two months of 2021, however, were a little more Yeezus. It was bad, but then came June.
All he did was hit! His June totals left him 13th in wOBA (.429), 14th in wRC+ (175), and 14th in slugging (.634) among all qualified MLB hitters. Timely home runs helped contribute to wins (remember those?) including Monday against the Astros and earlier this month against the Blue Jays and Cleveland.; Indisputably, his crowning achievement in June was the 4-for-4, three-homer game against Toronto on June 19 which made him the first Oriole rookie to do so since based god Nick Markakis hit three against Minnesota in August 2006. Ryan’s performance was betrayed by the Orioles bullpen, but we won’t talk about that. So, he’s clearly turned things around and is back on the trajectory we all expected heading into this season, but how exactly has he done it?
A REFINED APPROACH
As the wonderful Baseball Savant illustrations show, his walk and strikeout percentages are running away from each other, and in good directions. Mountcastle’s 31.8 K% and 3.6% entering June left the month sitting at 29.2% and 5.0%, respectively. Both are still below league average, but a player with a history of question marks concerning plate discipline who was mired in a two-month slump being able to emerge a more patient hitter is nothing short of promising. His walk percentage in June (7.3%) was nearly double that of his first two months and nearly three percent higher than his career average (5.0%); if he can sustain even a league average walk and strikeout rate, his potential climbs even higher. The last week of June also saw him chasing balls outside the zone less frequently than he has previously, but I’d like to see a larger sample before I include it as an official feature of the Ryan Mountcastle Operating System.
HIT BALL HARD. BALL GO FAR.
After exhaustive research, I’ve learned that the higher and further the ball gets hit, the better chance a hitter has of doing well. Mountcastle, no stranger to a barrel, has seen his exit velocities steadily increase; a rolling average exit velocity of his previous 75 batted balls that sat at 87.2 MPH on 6/1 rose to 90.9 MPH by the end of the month. His ground ball percentage dropped slightly with corresponding raises in line drives and fly balls, leading to improved outcomes. Mountcastle has a .544 OPS on his ground balls this year. The OPS of the balls he puts in the air? 1.200 on line drives and 1.572 on fly balls. It also seems that he made an effort to pull the ball more in June, as his share of pulled balls went from roughly 37% in the beginning of the season to 48% in June. The latter is an outlier in his Major League career, but closer to the numbers he posted in the minors, so attributing this to improvement and adjustment is not preposterous. Ryan has a .475 batting average and a 272 wRC+ on balls pulled to left, so it’s no surprise that this trend has paid dividends.
Long story short, Ryan Mountcastle has turned his season around by improving his approach at the plate, hitting the ball harder, and hitting it to places that yield good results. The obvious caveats apply for a one month sample, but it’s awesome to see how he’s rebounded given how lost he looked at the plate on some occasions. His hit tool has passed its first rigorous test. June was his The Life of Pablo, emerging from the wreckage of mediocrity to once again prove why he is who he is. Orioles fans should be excited to see what the rest of his season brings.
Hopefully not his version of Ye.