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There wasn’t anything special about Yonder Alonso in 2018

The Indians should focus on using him exclusively against right-handed pitchers.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Analysis of Yonder Alonso tends to devolves into a strict comparison to Carlos Santana. Rather than letting this start in one place and derail to there, we’re just going to jump the tracks now.

Carlos Santana 161 679 24 82 86 2 16.2 % 13.7 % .186 .231 .229 .352 .414 .333 109 -0.1 7.2 -9.9 1.9
Yonder Alonso 145 574 23 64 83 0 8.9 % 21.4 % .171 .283 .250 .317 .421 .319 97 -0.9 -3.2 -8.6 0.7
Spooky Mystery Player 142 521 28 72 67 2 13.1 % 22.6 % .235 .302 .266 .365 .501 .366 133 -2.5 18.4 -11.9 2.4

Carlos Santana ended up being a better baseball player in 2018. He is also paid to be a better baseball player; he earned $20M this season as compared to Alonso’s $7M.

You may be asking yourself, “Who is this Spooky Mystery Player (SMP)? He looks pretty interesting. I wonder if the Indians can grab him? Why is he so spooky?”

It would make sense for the Indians to consider such a player if they had an open spot on the roster for another 1B/DH type. SMP strikes out a little bit too much, but he draws walks at a decent clip and delivers plenty of power. It’s not likely that he’s going to set the world on fire, but you can imagine him finding at least 500 PAs on any Major League roster and contributing. Tag onto all of this that he was a former first round pick, a top prospect, and seemed to finally be putting all of his talents together, and he becomes even more enticing.

The problem is that SMP is 2017 Yonder Alonso. SPOOKY INDEED.

I toss that comparison in there not as a defense of the Indians’ decision to sign Alonso as much as it is a warning that players who aren’t Mike Trout often fluctuate in performance from year to year. The Indians signed Alonso and hoped he could match the type of numbers he put up with Oakland in 2017, before being traded to the Mariners. He didn’t quite do that.

The story of Alonso 2018, to me, is this: one year after taking baseball by surprise and learning how to elevate the ball, baseball tipped it’s cap, said “I see you,” and started pitching to him in a way that took advantage of that changed approach.

Here are a couple of strikeout heatmaps from Alonso’s 2017

Here are the same charts, but for 2018

Pitchers took advantage of Alonso’s eagerness to chase balls that dart down out of the zone in 2018. They likely also recognized that when pitches stay at the knees just inside the strike zone, Alonso makes weaker contact with a lower launch angle. While the differences aren’t extreme, the change in approach on favorable counts added up to a significant advantage for pitchers. Alonso adjusted his swing, and in time, the league adjusted to the adjustment. It also strikes me as a bit strange that a player who earned praise for learning to elevate the ball at an advanced age happens to struggle most in the region where an uppercut swing should be of benefit.

I wonder if the Athletics noticed this beginning to happen, and that’s why they flipped him for Boog Powell (not that one, the other one) toward the end of 2017.

Regardless, the Indians are likely in for another season of Yonder Alonso. I’m not suggesting that he’s a bad player, but I don’t see any reason to be excited about him in 2019. What the Indians need to do is to find a way to maximize his effectiveness. He wasn’t complete waste of space, and it isn’t clear that another member of the Indians’ roster would have added more value to the lineup.


With a glut of infielders and other options available for 1B/DH, I don’t see any reason that Alonso can’t be an effective platoon option and bench bat.

Never use Alonso against a left-handed pitcher ever again

The numbers speak for themselves. Alonso slashed .227/.275/.344 against lefties this season for a wRC+ of 64.

Against righties, he slashed .258/.330/.446. These aren’t incredible numbers for a first baseman, but the wRC+ rises from miserable to a serviceable 107.

We’re talking about a difference in production akin to Billy Hamilton (wRC+ of 69) without legs and — wouldn’t you know it — Carlos Santana (wRC+ of 109). As for whom the Indians might plug into the lineup when facing a lefty starter, or when one enters the game to face Alonso’s spot, my answer is “literally anybody else”. The only semi-regular player worse against left-handed pitching on the Indians’ roster this season was Rajai Davis.

If the Indians find a way to keep Alonso from facing southpaws whenever possible, they can reduce the number of negative outcomes that he generates. Is it ideal that the Indians’ strategy for a player they owe $9M next season involves keeping him off of the field to a certain extent? Not really, but unless the Indians trade him it is their best chance to turn him back into the Spooky Mystery Player that they envisioned during last offseason.