Whenever a rookie player, in any sport, breaks out onto the scene, fans begin to ask two questions: Are they legit? Or are they a fluke?
Questions like that take more time to answer than a rookie campaign has time to offer. However, we can begin to take a look at what we have seen so far. In the case of Orioles rookie slugger, Ryan Mountcastle, these questions do not change. But after 160 games played in his career, we can begin to answer said questions.
We all know the hype that surrounded Mountcastle as he made his way through the minors. He had light tower power and could hit the ball to every spot on the diamond. Poor plate discipline dropped him on a lot of people’s lists, yet he continued to impress.
During his time in the minors, Mountcastle racked up a number of awards. He was a Future’s Game selection in 2018, then he took home a International League Player of the Week award in 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk. He was also a International League Mid-Season All-Star and eventually took home the International League Most Valuable Player award at the end of the 2019 season.
As soon as Mountcastle was called up to the Major League squad in August of 2020, he was an everyday player. In his first 35 games, Mountcastle fit right into the hearts of Oriole fans, providing some fantastic play in a shortened amount of time.
Mountcastle ended the 2020 season eighth in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. He hoisted a .333 average and a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. That is exactly what critics said the powerhouse slugger would not be able to do at the big league level.
Jumping into 2021, his first full season in the majors, things didn’t start out quite as planned. A horrid April left many in doubt of Mountcastle, and they couldn’t have been more wrong. He finished that month with an average under .200 and a .500 OPS. From here, he would not drop underneath either of these numbers again.
Once May started, so did a new Mountcastle. In that month, No. 6 collected at least one RBI in 13 of the 26 games played, hit safely in 14 and collected at least three total bases in eight. The walks were still down and the strikeouts still high; however, he was starting to heat up at the plate.
Since the beginning of June, Mountcastle has a collective OPS of .903. Also, he has walked 56 times to 74 strikeouts; that is a huge improvement. In the month of June, Mountcastle also took home Rookie of the Month honors, as well as the Rookie of the Week for the week of June 6.
When looking at a rookie and whether their early success can become a usual thing, you look for improvement and adjustments. When you look at Mountcastle’s April compared to the rest of the season, you see a plethora of just that. We have seen a spike in walks and pitches seen, and that has translated into better at-bats and seeing more pitches he can hit, because he stopped becoming an easy strikeout.
Because of an improved batter’s eye, Mountcastle has been able to hit ahead in the count, and he has been one of the best in the A.L. in that situation. He has a .302 average and a 1.138 OPS when ahead in the count. He has 96 at-bats in that situation, with a majority of those coming in the last two months. Again, that’s proof of improvement and adjustments.
As mentioned earlier, it is extremely tough to gauge how well a rookie player can be over time, even after a full season. Yet, we can start to paint the picture. Now that Mountcastle has played in 160 games, let’s take a first look into the larger picture.
Over a course of a full season, you can expect a good hitter to sit around the .280 mark in average, .310 range in OBP and around .800 in OPS. You want your batter to be able to net at least 90 RBI, however, that truly is as much of a team stat as it is a personal. With the new emergence of the OPS+ metric, you want that hitter to be above 100, which is league average.
In the case of Mountcastle, he exceeds all of these. His average is the one that is a little low, currently at a .279 for his career. But average truly doesn’t mean that much is today’s game. His OPS is right where it needs to be at .827. His OBP is .331, which is funny considering people think he is nothing but a three outcome batter. That’s simply not true, and these numbers prove it.
Over this stretch of 160 games, Mountcastle has netted a slash line of .279/.331/.497/.827 and a 119 OPS+. He has 33 home runs and 164 total hits. What’s impressive, besides having a better than one hit per game ratio, is that 40-percent of his hits have been good for extra bases.
If this was a 160-game stretch that all landed within one season, he would be the first 100-RBI player for the Orioles since Jonathan Schoop in 2017. Schoop came in third in A.L. MVP voting that season.
Even better, Mountcastle has planted himself in fantastic company during his rookie campaign. He currently is tied for the rookie home run record for the Orioles at 28. The player he is tied with is one you might remember, and that’s Cal Ripken Jr., who hit 28 in his 1982 rookie season. It might be worth noting that Jr. won the Rookie of the Year that season, the last ROTY the Orioles have had.
When you watch Mountcastle play, you see many things you don’t see in most rookie players. A strong plate presence, a good batter’s eye, and the ability to hit for contact, as well as extra bases and power. What you see when you look deep into those numbers is a rookie, who within just one full season, has made the adjustments and changes within to continue to get better. And guess what, that improvement is not going to stop anytime soon.
Mountcastle is currently in the mix for the A.L. Rookie of the Year; however, a poor start and bad defensive WAR has him lower on people’s lists. And that’s just wrong. Offensively, Mountcastle has some of the best numbers of every rookie in baseball, and that is not to be overlooked.
So, after digging deep into the numbers of Ryan Mountcastle to start his career, we can again ask those age-old questions. Is he for real? The answer to that, is a resounding, yes.
The future is bright for the Orioles, and Ryan Lee Mountcastle will be at the forefront of that future.
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