Amid the scuffling about in these first two weeks of baseball that see the Cleveland Indians hanging around .500 coming into the weekend, one surprise has been the continued and somehow steady presence of Abraham Almonte.
After barely scraping his way on to the Opening Day Roster because of a Lonnie Chisenhall injury, it is he and not Tyler Naquin who stayed on when Chisenhall was activated. Partially because Naquin has been bad but more because Almonte has been excellent at getting on base, the Indians were forced to go with the man who is producing. He's been very good at the bottom of the lineup though, holding a .476 on-base percentage in the early goings and more notably has already walked five times this year in limited action. He walked eight times after coming back from suspension last year, as pan of 67 games. Surely he hasn't developed a preternatural eye at the plate and the ability to read pitchers minds, but something is different with Almonte.
Almonte has always been a pretty aggressive player, swinging at 46.5 percent of pitches. That's down to 42.1 percent so far this year, and he's also seeing considerably more pitches. He's averaged 3.76 pitches per plate appearance, down from the MLB average of 3.84. So far this season though, he's seeing five per plate appearance. This likely cannot hold, especially with how absurdly aggressive he was last season, but it is happening now.
What, if anything, is causing this?
He’s simply not being pitched in the zone. Last year, people worked the zone against him simply because pitchers felt comfortable challenging him. They’re still keeping the ball down when facing him, which must be the book on him, but spots are merely being missed. Or maybe he’s taking advantage of a newer, higher strike zone the league is secretly mandating.
But even his approach is more careful early on. As said before, he’s seeing a lot of pitches. He’s also swung at the first pitch 28.6 percent of the time, well below his career average 37.6 percent and right in line with MLB averages. He’s also seen a 3-1 count in 23.8 percent of his plate appearances, which is absurd — the MLB average is 8.2 percent. What’s truly bizarre is that he sees a 2-0 count in only 4.8 percent of plate appearances, well below the 13.6 percent MLB average. Basically, he always ends up 1-1, then gets pitched around. It’s odd.
It’s a strange beginning to a season, and even if I’ve sung his praises coming into April and now look like a genius, I both know it won’t hold and am a little troubled it’s even happening. Small sample size issues can toy with the mind sometimes, confuse and make you believe things. I’d like to think Almonte has turned into the most patient hitter ever and somehow pitchers are just terrified of him. It works for Roberto Perez, who ends up in hitters’ counts constantly despite hitting .218 for his career. Abe just can’t hit the ball a quarter mile. It’s something to watch though, to see if he gets into old habits again.