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What Ryan Mountcastle is doing right these days

Plenty, but mostly he’s figured out how to lay off low offspeed pitches and crush pitches in the zone. Easy to say, hard to do.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Look!! It’s another Ryan Mountcastle appreciation post! No surprise that Mountcastle has been attracting lots of notice lately…. I mean, where is he going to hide, in his purple velour jumpsuit and with his .403 average/1.103 OPS in the last 30 days?

But I thought it’d be fun to delve into the nitty-gritty, the why’s and wherefore’s of Mountcastle’s stunning July/August reinvention. For one thing, because it’s such a U-turn from his miserable June. And two, because he’s kept up his hot performance for an entire month. This is not just getting over the vertigo, or the “Toronto Effect.”

I won’t lie, I was worried about Mounty in June. No Oriole was hurt more by the new left-field fence than Mountcastle, and he went just 2-for-15 in a handful of games, hitting .133 and barely managing a .321 OPS. His job as an everyday player seemed in jeopardy, and it was easy to think his struggles were just, well, his fault—he’s always been streaky and had shamefully bad plate discipline (he still ranks in the bottom 3% of all hitters in that category), so it wasn’t so weird to see him flail at offspeed pitches off the plate, either. Plus I’d never heard of vertigo being a thing that afflicted otherwise healthy young men.

But clearly this time it was something. As he told reporters last week, “[I]t’s easier [to hit] when you’re just seeing one baseball instead of three.” That’s crazy to think about. I don’t know what causes that, or what helped him get over it. All I know is what the data says, and what we can see with the naked eye. Ryan Mountcastle is absolutely on another level since he was activated off the IL on July 9, exactly a month ago.

Here are Mountcastle’s numbers over the last month: .403/.462/.642 and a 1.103 OPS. To put that in context, Cody Bellinger is getting credit for the sudden resurgence of the Cubs as a team, and he just won NL Player of the Month in July with a slashline of .400/.432/.690 and a 1.122 OPS.

From July 31 to Aug. 3, RMC terrorized the Blue Jays (going an unthinkable 11-for-13 with a 2.056 OPS), a team he’s always liked facing. But this is not just that. Since July 9, when he was activated off the IL, the only sub-.500 team the Orioles have faced is the Mets—so Mountcastle is hitting above .400 against a bunch of postseason contenders: Miami, Tampa Bay, the Dodgers, Philadelphia, the Yankees (count ‘em? or don’t, either way), Toronto, and Houston.

His 11-game hitting streak is four away from his career high. He’s swinging at good pitches, his bat speed looks wicked, and he’s tattooing pitches he’s sometimes not great at hitting—breaking balls, for example:

What do the peripherals say about Mountcastle right now? Here are a few takeaways.

1. Pitchers have to respect him right now, because he’s hitting everything.

When Ryan Mountcastle is slumping, pitchers take advantage and just feed him breaking balls off the plate. This is easy to do because he has one of the worst chase rates in the league.

Not this month, though. Mountcastle saw a steady uptick in fastballs over July, and is seeing more heaters in August he has any month.

The reason: he’s crushing breaking/offspeed pitches. Mountcastle always hits the ball hard, with an average exit velocity (92.1 mph) usually in the top tenth of the league, powered mostly by his love for fastballs. This month, though, his average exit velocity against breaking/offspeed is even higher than average, even higher than against fastballs. Against sinkers: 98.6 mph. Sliders: 107.6 mph. Curveballs: 109.2 mph. That’s sizzling, and it’s not just the weather.

2. He’s stopped chasing offspeed pitches, allowing him to get better pitches to hit and make more contact in the zone.

Mountcastle, over his career, tends to be one of the freest swingers in the league. His career chase rate, across all pitches, is 37.7%. Overall, the last two months haven’t changed that fact (39% and 34.6%, respectively).

Except (related to the above) he’s cut down dramatically on fishing for offspeed pitches. In June, he chased 44% of those pitches. In August, 26.7%. He also cut down on chasing breaking balls (especially curveballs) from July to August.

As a result, Mountcastle is seeing more pitches in the zone overall, and he’s making hard contact on these. For instance, in June he whiffed on an astonishing 50% of fastballs in the strike zone. In August, that number bottomed out to 6.7%.

Of course, it’s early into August, but so far Mountcastle is on pace to break monthly career highs in batting average (.357 in August ’21, and .500 so far), hits (33 in June ’21, 14 so far), walk rate (12.9%), line drive percentage (35%), exit velocity (98), and a bunch of others.

3. Pitchers’ next adjustment will be throwing him high fastballs.

One interesting trend to keep an eye on: as Mountcastle’s chase rate on breaking pitches drops, he’s seeing more fastballs. And that seems to track a rise in fastballs he’s seeing outside of the zone—especially high and inside, one of his weakest spots on the heat zone map. (Or anybody’s.)

But hey, hat’s off to pitchers if they can consistently land a heater there. Because if they miss, those balls will end up over the center field wall.

After the Toronto series, Brandon Hyde said, of the difference in Mountcastle, “[T]here’s some intent in that swing.” RMC’s streaky tendencies are well-known, but he’s 27-for-67 since coming off the IL and full of confidence these days. If the Orioles are going to, not just make, but go deep into the playoffs, an energized and dangerous Ryan Mountcastle in the middle of the lineup would be a really nice thing.