SARASOTA, Fla. — Ryan Mountcastle knows what the numbers say about his 2022 season. A .250 batting average. Eleven fewer home runs than the year prior.
It remains a bit mind-boggling for him, given how the swings felt, how the ball jumped from his bat, how he avoided chasing as many balls out of the strike zone.
“It was definitely tough during it,” Mountcastle said days before the rest of his Orioles position player teammates were due to report at Ed Smith Stadium for spring training this week.
At some point, though, Mountcastle looked at his advanced metrics.
There he found validation, even if it was somewhat hollow in nature. The red highlights all over his Statcast page indicating a process that should have delivered above-average results assured Mountcastle that he wasn’t crazy — that some of what he experienced last year came down to luck, or the lack thereof.
There was a new wall in left field at Camden Yards, an imposing challenge for a right-handed slugger. The number of balls he blasted in that direction to no avail left him staring toward the heavens in vexation on numerous occasions.
“Throughout the year,” Mountcastle said, “I knew it was pretty bad with the unlucky hits.”
But from all the vexation comes a silver lining.
As the full complement of Orioles position players descend on Sarasota to begin spring training in earnest, Mountcastle figures to be the best bounce-back candidate among any of them. That’s because just about the only thing he needs to change is luck — and he has no control over that.
“It was frustrating at times,” Mountcastle said. “But it’s a new year, and hopefully they’ll start falling this year. I did pretty well, especially the advanced stuff, so hopefully they start falling.”
The Orioles will hope the same thing, leaning on Mountcastle as the everyday first baseman and a major offensive producer. He finished 2022 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs. Even in a down season, those two marks were second on the team, to outfielder Anthony Santander.
Mountcastle seems destined to produce higher outputs than that, however, based on his Statcast metrics.
“He’s got so much ability and it’s still really early in his career,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was a victim of a lot of leaping catches in center and right-center.”
His .277 expected batting average ranked in the top 9% of the league, and his .509 expected slugging percentage ranked in the top 4%.
Beyond that, Mountcastle reduced his strikeout rate to 25.3% — still high, yet better than the 27.5% rate he struck out at in 2021. He walked a fraction of a percentage more frequently and chased a fraction less. Both areas he wants to improve still, and he spent most of the offseason focusing on both.
“Offensively, just try to work on pitch recognition in the offseason, and you can only do so much, but try to work on my eye,” Mountcastle said. “Beside that, I like my swing.”
And he likes his swing for good reason, because Mountcastle’s hard-hit rate leaped to 46.3% — meaning that nearly half the time Mountcastle made contact with a pitch, it left his bat at 95 mph or faster.
Few major leaguers got their bat barrel on as many balls as Mountcastle did (15%, a rise from 11.8% in 2021, putting him in the 94th percentile for all of MLB). Only 13 batters ranked ahead of Mountcastle in expected isolated power metrics, too.
It’s all those metrics that helped Mountcastle get through an offseason after an otherwise underwhelming season. He believes in his swing, and he believes at some point, luck will turn his way again.