Yonder Alonso Immediately the M's Best Hitter
He's a day late vis-a-vis July 31, but is he a dollar short?


... well, he's our best stick, per the OPS+ column, that is.  :- )  We told you we weren't above click-bait titles.  Alonso's OPS+ sits at 142 for the year, higher than Boomstick's or Cano's.  The problem is that it was all achieved in the first coupla months and he's been an ordinary hitter since.



Not every Denizen is aware, we don't think, that Alonso came up a super big name prospect with the Cincinnati Reds.  Year after year he got raves for his HIT tool and his ZONE command, rather in the Sean Casey mold.

He had a real big September with the Reds at age 24, like a 150 OPS, and then was #6 in the Rookie of the Year at age 25.  He was promptly shipped to the San Diego Padres for SP Mat Latos in a win-now move by the Reds.


Unfortunately Alonso worked out to be one of those guys who is a "major league hitter" but ... without much power.  In 2015, for example, Alonso hit .282 in that San Diego airport with a 42:48 eye but ... only 5 homers from first base.  Think Seth Smith in a year where Smith just didn't get any home runs.



Landing in the A's organization at age 29-30, they talked him into a better "launch angle."  Even before this season started (!!) there was much fanfare, with videos and all the trimmings, that Alonso was going to be different.

The season started, Alonso hit .291/.391/.657 (!) the first two months, and Dave Cameron pronounced him literally the poster boy for launch angle.  But Bill James gravely intoned with respect to the Launch Angle fad, "you can't cheat this game," and pitchers apparently started pulling the string on Alonso's attempted Back Leg Specials.  Over Yonder's last 22 games, he's batting .219/.351/.359.  Or is that just the ups and downs of the game?



Dr. D joins The Founding Father in his suspicion that Launch Angle its ownself will have a short shelf life.  Launch Angle can actually be traced more to pitch elevation than anything much the hitter's doing.  :: shrug :: just my intuition, for what it's worth, that Launch Angle is currently being overstated.  It's worth looking at, but not a panacea.

- BUT! - 

There is a related idea, only about 10 degrees off, that has been around since Earl Weaver at minimum.  In Weaver On Strategy he relayed that he would talk to young hitters like Bobby Grich and Ken Singleton, and tell them they needed to "hit that 2-0 and 3-1 pitch out of the park."  All year, Alonso has emphasized his intent at least as much as his launch angle.  For example, from Eno Sarris' article:


That might be good enough, though, considering what the player himself has to say about the changes. It wasn’t about minute alterations to his hands, his load, his step, or anything like that. It was a mindset change. 

“Did some mechanical things but also intent was important,” Alonso said in camp. “I’m trying to punish it more, get it in the air.”


Have seen this kind of quote from Alonso several times, "Slow down, wonks, it's not really Launch Angle.  It's about looking to do damage."

So is Alonso going to turn out to be a Justin Smoak-, Raul Ibanez-type late bloomer?  Did he learn to drive hitters' pitches, and then the pitchers adjust back, and now Alonso will adjust back-back?  Or was it just a couple of hot months?  Alonso's EYE has remained good and his launch VELOCITY has shown good signs, even without the home runs the last month or so.  Here is a Travis Sawchuck graph, 3 years' worth of Alonso's OPS+ (in blue) and his fly ball ratio (in yellow).  The graph is two weeks old, from July 24:



Whatever be the explanation, it's fun the read the MLBTradeRumors type chatter from late July.  Alonso was still seen as a pennant-deciding rental,  especially by Yankees fans.  :- )  no, seriously, the Mariners just landed him, so do go check out some of the late July chatter.  Fun :- )



Ballplayers like to be in there every day, especially if they just made the All-Star team.  However, if Alonso is in the middle of a pitcher-adjustment tit-for-tat, a platoon job (with his homey Danny Valencia) might do Alonso some good.  Yonder's platoon splits this year:

vs LHP = .188/.278/.406 with an 0.30 EYE

vs RHP = .286/.391/.557 with an 0.65 EYE


Dr D




But I also did a month-by-month split of ALonso's stats. He cooled off rapidly once he hit July. After slugging .515 and .803 (!!!), he went .433-.443-.286 (!!! but the other way) in June-July-August (ths far). Not what I want to see from a guy touted for his power breakthrough.

That said... August (SSS) has been great for OBP, even better than Alonso's torrid April (.444 vs .425). AVG is likewise way up from Jun-Jul (.286 vs .267 and .227). Maybe the power has dipped recently while he's making adjustments? I've heard guys coming back from injury are often recovering AVG before PWR... in fact, I'm pretty sure I heard it here. Too much SSS, or maybe a chance of soemthing in the works which will come out to our advantage over recent (e.g. post-May) performance?


He's always been a HIT template player, who never quite translated it into MLB success enough to hold down 1B.  The theory was always that, like guys like Votto, Edgar, and Mauer, he'd eventually learn how to pick on the pitches he could punish and start doing that.

It's ALWAYS suspicious when a player has a breakout (especially a PWR breakout) in his FA walk year, but I wouldn't worry too much about the late slide in the power department.  He's not going to hit for as much power as he did in those first two months, nor is he going to hit for as little as he has the last month or two.  He didn't fake those first HR's; he's obviously capable of hitting pitches out of the park regularly.  The real questions are: was this PED-driven, or was it a legit plateau leap.  I generally tend to think the latter, but I've been beaten down by life enough to admit the former is more probable than I'd like.

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