With the New Year upon us, what better time to start analyzing some of baseball’s biggest “surprises” of 2019. Throughout the rest of the offseason and heading into the start of the 2020 regular season, I’m going to be taking players who had either surprisingly good, or bad 2019 seasons and look in-depth at whether or not we can expect more of the same going forward into 2020.
The first player I want to take a look into is Pete Alonso. After posting a .260/.358/.583 with 53 home runs, Pete Alonso was awarded the NL Rookie of the Year award. As a Mets fan, I could not be happier that he is on my team, but the question is, is this production legit and sustainable?
To start, let’s take a look at Alonso’s success when different pitches are thrown. Alonso was dominant against fastballs to say the least. Pete hit .295 with a .445 wOBA to go along with a .671 SLG and a 22.7 whiff rate. That, along with only a 21.9% strikeout rate and an 11.9% walk rate makes Alonso one of the top hitters in baseball against that pitch. Where Alonso’s problems began was on anything other than a fastball. On breaking balls, Alonso hit a cool .203 with a .418 SLG, a 37.4 whiff rate and a 34.2 percent strikeout rate. The thing that worries me the most is not only that 37.4% swinging-strike rate but the fact that Alonso walked only 8.4% of the time on breaking balls. Let’s just take into account the slider. Alonso had a 38.2% strikeout rate and a 43.3% O-swing (the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that are swung at). Pete is quite simply not a good hitter against the breaking ball. There are strides to be made and that can be worked on during the offseason and spring training.
Pete Alonso’s expected stats, in comparison to what his actual stats were, are surprisingly close. He posted an expected batting average of .257, an expected Weighted on Base Average .374, an expected slugging percentage of .584, and an xWOBACON of .471. What is surprising to me is these numbers are only slightly worse than the numbers he produced this past season (.260, .384, .583, .371, respectively). When looking into next season, I think that these numbers are important to reference, simply due to the fact that he did not greatly outperform these hitting statistics.
We all know that Pete Alonso is not the perfect player, and his flaws need to be discussed when looking towards the 2020 season.
I think Pete’s number one problem is striking out. During the 2019 season, Pete struck out 183 times, 98 times via offspeed pitches and breaking balls. Moving forward, the strikeout rate and discipline need to improve, but it is tough to analyze how much of this is “rookie struggles” with offspeed pitches, and how much of this high strikeout rate is legit.
Another interesting factor when looking at Alonso is his barrel rate. During the 2019 season, Alonso posted a barrel rate of 15.8%, putting him in the top 3% of players in baseball. The MLB average was 6.3%. Now, I don’t think Pete will ever reach the MLB average. Expecting a 15% barrel rate is unrealistic and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Expect him, in my opinion, to be around the 10-12% range, which still keeps him a premier power hitter in baseball.
Before I wrap up my discussion, I want to give my opinions on Pete Alonso’s fantasy value. Currently, he is ranked as the 3rd best first baseman (based on Rotographs player evaluation). His Average Draft Position is 27, making him a late second-rounder/early third-rounder (depending on the number of teams in your respective league). Based on the way I run my teams, and other first basemen I can draft, I don’t think that is the price I am willing to pay for Alonso. Guys like Joey Gallo, Josh Bell, and Matt Olson, all of which I can get anywhere from the 5th-7th round, are better value for me and the way I am planning to construct my rosters.
This is not to say that I don’t think this is a fair valuation for Pete. A 40 home run guarantee (basically), 90 runs, 90 RBI player at first base is never going to hurt you but based on any roster construction, but for me I will not be receiving a whole lot of shares of Pete Alonso.
After his Rookie of the Year campaign, I am expecting some regression (less than 50 home runs, a lower barrel rate), but I am also expecting some improvement (strikeout rate, discipline on breaking balls and offspeed). Rookies are sometimes tough to analyze when looking into the future, but I really believe that, aside from normal correction/regression, Pete Alonso is legit and his 2019 was Fact.