Most of the time when we hear about a player hitting a wall, it’s due to injury, fatigue, or loss of skill. Very rarely – and maybe never! – do we hear about a player hitting a wall because of an actual wall. But we may have found our Patient Zero in Ryan Mountcastle, whose momentum from a breakout season as a 24-year-old in 2021 was derailed by the new placement and height of Camden Yards’ left field fence.
Gather ’round children while we tell the tale of Sir Ryan of Mountcastle who fought a valiant battle against the Wall of Camden. But lost.
More Bricks in the Wall
To refresh your memory, before the 2022 season, Baltimore wanted to do something to help their young pitchers in what was becoming one of the more offensive-friendly environments in Major League Baseball. Their enlightened decision was to move the left field fence back 26.5 feet AND raise it by six feet. According to models looked at by MLB, the new placement would likely prevent about 50 home runs per year from clearing the fence.
But I guess what the Orioles, in all their wisdom, forgot was that in baseball the offense actually has to bat on the same field where their pitcher pitches. That same fence that would potentially lower their pitchers’ ERAs would rob their own batters of some dingers. Their general manager Mike Elias said all the right things about “we still expect that this will remain somewhat of a hitter’s park, and we like that about Camden Yards.” Well, he was wrong, especially for right-handed power hitters like Mountcastle. One year’s worth of data shows the park now plays wildly differently than before.
In 2021, Camden Yards ranked third in overall offensive park factor and first in home run park factor to right-handed batters. With an HR park factor of 147 to righties, it allowed 47% more homers to that side of the place than the average major league park. In fact, for offense as a whole, Camden Yards was behind only Coors Field and Great American Ball Park. It was a hitter’s paradise for players like Mountcastle who busted onto the scene with 33 homers and 89 RBI in less than 500 plate appearances. His .487 SLG% and 12% barrel rate were phenomenal numbers for someone that young and he looked like he was on the path to joining the great right-handed sluggers in the game.
Just one year later, those numbers ALL cratered. Looking at 2022 data for right-handers, it’s like they are playing in a different park. Overall offensive park factor dropped to 99, or 1% below average, and the home run park factor plummeted to 77, 23% worse than league average and the fifth-lowest overall.
In terms of runs, Camden Yards was 20th last season, which I guess is “somewhat” of a hitters’ park, Mike Elias. Kind of like how I’m “somewhat” of a ball player (beer league, of course). And in case you were thinking all those homers must have turned into doubles off the taller wall, think again. Camden Yards was 27th for right-handed doubles in 2022.
What this drastic change in the park did for Mountcastle is sap his power to that side of the field. His 33 homers in 2021 turned into 22 in 2022. His expected home runs were at 28, and only Orioles teammate Trey Mancini has a greater difference in his expected home runs to actual home runs.
Continuing that trend, Mountcastle’s expected slugging percentage was .509 last season (or basically Freddie Freeman). His actual slugging percentage was a lowly .423. No player in baseball had a greater difference between the two. The story is the same with wOBA and xwOBA as well. And he is in the top-12 in the batting average category as well.
Simply put, the wall killed his pull power to the left side and (as you can see in his spray chart) it was only the pure n0-doubters that cleared the fence on that side. (Also note the two doubles that are clearly “past” the wall).
If you look at Mountcastle’s Statcast page, it looks like a damn State of the Union address. A lot of red on one side (mostly in power and barrel rates) and a lot of blue on the other (mostly in strikeout rate and whiff rate). That means with the park doing him no favors, Mountcastle is going to be a very streaky on-and-off power hitter this year.
Mountcastle is not the kind of player you would think to platoon in your fantasy lineup, but he is much more intriguing to me in AL East road games or on a West Coast swing than he is at home. But as a player taken around pick number 150 in NFBC drafts in February, I just don’t see myself spending a top 10-12 round selection on a first baseman where I have to wonder if he will be useful for long stretches.
Projections systems are giving him a bump up this year, but the Steamer/Razzball model only has him at 25 bombs and 80 RBI with an average around .250.
At that range for a first baseman, give me Anthony Rizzo (ADP 152) or Rowdy Tellez (ADP 169) 10 times out of 10. Those are guys who have their parks working for them and not against them.