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2021 Royals Season in Review: Ryan O’Hearn

His last hurrah, most likely

Ryan O’Hearn #66 of the Kansas City Royals reacts during the fifth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 04, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.
Ryan O’Hearn #66 of the Kansas City Royals reacts during the fifth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 04, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Ryan O’Hearn is an extremely talented, hardworking human being. O’Hearn is better at his craft than, I would wager, almost anyone reading this at anything. He is in elite company, as one of less than 25,000 people who have played Major League Baseball in its century-plus-old history. He is a big, strong dude who can pummel a baseball disturbingly far.

The above home run is one of the most impressive pieces of hitting you’ll ever see. O’Hearn hammered a hanging sinker at 106.3 MPH to straightaway center, which bounced off the screen probably 75 feet above the outfield wall. The swing was controlled, efficient, and easy. O’Hearn is probably one of only a few thousand athletes alive who can do that.

All this preface is important because it helps give context to why O’Hearn was given so many plate appearances this year, and it’s why O’Hearn has continued to get so many plate appearances over the last few years. Left-handed power bats are important and rare. O’Hearn has flashed that over his career...but nevertheless, in a league where talent is a given, O’Hearn simply does not have what it takes to be a successful ballplayer. His 2021 stunk, just like his 2020, and just like his 2019.

Ryan O’Hearn 2021 Stats at a Glance

  • WAR: -0.7
  • Games: 84
  • Plate Appearances: 254
  • wRC+: 70
  • Triple Slash: .225/.268/.369
  • Of Note: 78 wRC+ vs. righties

That last point is a big deal. There are many players who carve out long careers by being what are termed “platoon guys.” These players are excellent against either left-handed or right-handed pitchers. An example of a classic platoon guy is Danny Valencia. The onetime Royal managed to accrue 3,222 plate appearances and 865 big league games over a nine-year career despite a career 83 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers and questionable defense. Why? He had a career 135 wRC+ against righties.

O’Hearn wouldn’t be the first left-handed power bat best put in a platoon role. And O’Hearn is certainly a great candidate for it. For his MLB career, O’Hearn has been unplayable against lefties, against whom he has an anemic .165 batting average and a silly (in a bad way) wRC+ of 34. All would be well if he could hit righties well, but he just can’t. With a 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers for his career and no better than a 78 wRC+ against righties over the last three seasons, O’Hearn is well below league average at the one skill that would allow him to stick around.

One thing to O’Hearn’s credit this season was his outfield play. Before this season, O’Hearn had precisely 11.2 outfield innings in his big league career. However, O’Hearn played 172 outfield innings in 2021, almost all in right field. And you know what? It was fine! DRS graded O’Hearn at -1 runs saved, but UZR graded him at +1.4 runs saved, putting him at about average. In fact, O’Hearn seems to be a better outfielder than first baseman, where he, um, is less than stellar.

Of course, to be an outfielder who isn’t a defensive savant, you’ve got to be able to hit. And O’Hearn most certainly did not. His walk rate shriveled to a Perezian 5.1%, and as a result his on-base percentage was the worst of his career despite an improved batting average over the previous two years.

Ryan O’Hearn’s 2021 Season Grade

F. O’Hearn did nothing to validate his position on the roster and will probably be non-tendered this year. Relative to his MLB peers, O’Hearn doesn’t do anything well.


What grade would you give Ryan O’Hearn

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  • 2%
    (8 votes)
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    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    (53 votes)
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    (192 votes)
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