It feels a little odd to be waiting for an offensive explosion out of a guy on pace to hit more than 40 home runs, but that’s where we stand with Yonder Alonso.
Brought on as a replacement of sorts for the departed Carlos Santana, Alonso has had a few nice moments in his first month with Cleveland, but the overall picture is less than impressive. Yes, he has those eight homers. But he’s slashing .207/.268/.431, good for a below average 85 wRC+. Not quite the numbers you want from your supposed big gun. Maybe it’s the weather, or bad luck, but here we sit, waiting for that Alonso eruption.
The good news is, there are inklings of something greater lurking beneath the surface. It holds true for the entire Indians squad, but Alonso in particular has been much better than the numbers. We hope anyway.
Thanks to Baseball Savant, we do have a good idea of how hes hitting the ball at least. It lends some credence to the eye test, which does tell me at least that he’s hitting the hell out of the ball. If life was treating Alonso right, he’d look pretty good:
xwOBA - .384
xSLG - .583
Avg. Exit Velo - 89.5
Non-grounder Exit Velo - 94.4 mph
Adding to tall that, you have the fact his BABIP is a mere .198. That’s nearly 100 points below his career average. It could be his current way of swinging for more fly balls could cause a dent in that career average, since grounders tend to lead to a higher BABIP, just less damage. But last year it was .302, so there’s something that has to give.
As he’s missed out on hits in the early goings, it appears as though Alonso is getting more aggressive. That could present a problem. He’s logging a career high in swing rate (51.2 percent), swinging strikes (12.1 percent), outside-swing rate (35.6), and his 76.4 percent contact rate is the second lowest of his career. That last is by design, he had that big explosion last year because by his own admission he started swinging harder and trying to elevate, which does lead to more swings and misses. But it was the newfound power along with his ability to draw walks (13.1 percent last year was basically the same as Santana) that made him so attractive. That’s slid to 7.9 percent thus far this year, the second lowest of his career and more than a percentage point off his career average.
It’s still very early, and the Indians have spent much of the opening month in cold weather and large parks when on the road. Well, Seattle and Anaheim anyway, and that park in San Juan was no bandbox. And he’s still hitting the ball hard. If all Alonso’s games had been at home, there’d be at least a few more home runs to his name:
If we’re talking about 13 home runs and a batting average closer to .250, nobody is that worried. So maybe it’s not all bad. At 108 plate appearances, though, you expect some things to start stabilizing. Which is a bad thing if this is all that Alonso is. It could be wrong to trust the “expected” stats too much, they’re very new and likely have some kinks that need to be worked out, But at the end of the day the hitter’s job is to hit the ball hard. He’s done that. The rest of the team is starting to wake up, so even if Alonso takes a bit to get back in the flow there’s not a ton of worry. And the Tribe dealt with a below league average first baseman for the first half last year, too. It wasn’t until May that Alonso blew up in 2017 anyway, posting a 214 wRC+ for the month after a merely very good 134 in April. Even if he doesn’t get that good, a leap to the 150’s for the month would assuage a lot of worry.
So we wait, and watch incredibly hard-hit fly balls find gloves instead of grass and seats. The reminder that he’s not Santana is always there, but he’s also very inexpensive, and at the worst he’ll be a good platoon against right-handed pitching. With Brantley hitting like he used to and the other offensive stalwarts starting to show up it’s not a huge problem, yet. But the Indians do need the offense to be more than serviceable if dreams are to be realized. Alonso needs to be at least a part of that. It’s early enough that there shouldn’t be much worry. But some fireworks sure would be nice.