Ryan O’Hearn was, understandably, skeptical.

After years of floundering on the Royals, he was finally hitting with the Orioles. Then, one day he arrived at the ballpark and the hitting coaches told him it was time for a change.

“Why?” he asked. “I’m hitting .260. I haven’t hit .260 in the big leagues in a long time. This is the best it’s gone. Why would we do anything to change it?”

It’s been about a year since that conversation, and in that time, O’Hearn has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball. For him, the change has ensured his early season breakout with the Orioles last year wasn’t a temporary one. For the Orioles’ hitting brain trust, it was an opportunity to use data and video breakdown to show a player what holes opposing pitchers may start attacking before they arise.

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“I trusted them, and obviously it’s paying off, big-time,” O’Hearn said.

The change comes down to O’Hearn’s hand placement and how he held his bat. Early in 2023, O’Hearn’s bat was much more horizontal as he awaited a pitch. His bat being flat in his stance allowed him to hit fastballs well, especially at the top of the strike zone. That’s a valuable skill in a league where so many pitchers elevate their four-seam fastballs, but left little adjustability for pitches lower in the strike zone.

“Breaking balls gave him a really tough time,” co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller said. “We said, ‘If we start with your bat a little bit more vertical, it’s going to be a little easier to scoop those balls when they’re in the zone at the bottom.’”

O’Hearn said: “What they wanted to change was my bat, and my torso and my bat were almost like all connected. There was no adjustability in my hands, to be able to adjust to a high pitch or a low pitch. It was just all together.”

Such a change has been a common one in the minor leagues for Orioles hitting prospects, unlocking better zone coverage for countless young hitters in the system over the last few years. The Orioles’ hitting coaches also came armed with major league success stories as they explained to O’Hearn why the change could work.

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He had little reason to push back.

“Nothing else was working,” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t had success in years. When I did have success, I didn’t know why.” A coach O’Hearn had hit with in the offseason, Dan Hennigan, vouched for Fuller.

“I was like, ‘If Dan says this guy is good and the O’s say this guy is good, look how good the Orioles’ offense is, and he’s been working with all these hitters,’” O’Hearn said. “Why wouldn’t I trust him?”

That trust was also built quickly upon O’Hearn’s arrival in the organization. In spring training, he did significant work on his lower body and posture to help him cover more of the plate, which helped spur some of his early success.

It’s a delicate balance as a coach to suggest something when a player is already performing, but when the alternative is to wait until they’re struggling or the results turn south, the relationships that exists between coaches and a player can make those conversations easier.

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“It’s about not being afraid of saying, ‘This is what we believe, we want you to be your best, we care about you, here’s our thoughts right away.’” Fuller said. “We want the game to teach them lessons, but we want to be there to help make those lessons really manageable and have them be able to excel at them.”

The approach worked well with O’Hearn. It was a gradual process, one he feels started to take hold when he hit a game-tying home run off a slider from Blue Jays reliever Jordan Romano a little over a year ago. He believes something clicked pre-game that day on hitting sliders, and the moment he broke through into Orioles’ fans’ consciousness doubled as a breakthrough moment in his work.

“I had that confidence that this really was working,” he said.

The first time you could noticeably tell his bat was being held at a different angle in-game was May 31. Before that change, O’Hearn was a career .180 hitter on non-fastballs with a .342 slugging percentage, .330 expected slugging percentage, a .245 weighed on-base average (wOBA) and .251 xwOBA.

In the year since, entering Tuesday’s game, he was hitting .246 on non-fastballs with a .454 slugging percentage, .448 expected slugging, and .316 wOBA and .307 xwOBA. Given O’Hearn still crushes fastballs, covering those pitches helped him sustain an .813 OPS since last May 31 and an .809 OPS with 21 home runs in an Orioles uniform.

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He’s cut down on his swing-and-miss and strikeout rates while enjoying some of the best expected stats of anyone in the game, thanks to his consistent hard elevated contact. In 2024, he entered Tuesday’s game with seven home runs and an expected slugging percentage of .593 against an actual slugging percentage of .485.

“Now, when you look at his performance against pitch types, he’s hitting breaking balls really well and fastballs,” Fuller said. “That’s what we want our guys to be able to do.”