2020 Underachiever Series Part Six: Alex Bregman

by Mickey Bell

To recap the articles so far, I buy Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and Yordan Alvarez as values, sell Keston Hiura, and fall somewhere in the middle with Gleyber Torres, Javier Baez, Austin Meadows, Yoan Moncada, and Victor Robles. Please check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five of this series as well.

Alex Bregman – 3B – Houston Astros
Age: 26
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 15
2020 final rank: 440
2021 ADP: 33

While Bregman certainly did not live up to his draft value, he still had a good season (123 wRC+). But after averaging 36 HR and a 163 wRC+ in the two previous seasons, he disappointed those who drafted him at the first-second round turn. His stolen bases decreased for the third straight season from 17 to 10 to 5 to, well, none in 2020. 

Good Eye

Looking at Bregman’s underlying numbers, not too much changed. His plate discipline numbers (O-swing, Z-swing, etc.) and spray chart (Pull%, Cent%, Oppo%) stayed about the same. The percentage of ground balls, line drives, and fly balls did not drastically change either. His strikeouts stayed among the top 10% lowest. The walk percentage did drop from an elite 17.2% in 2019 but only to a very respectable 13.3%, similar to his 2018 rate. 

Not the Hardest Hitter

While low K rates and excellent walk percentages have been his calling cards, the same cannot be said for his exit velocity. In 2019, Bregman posted a 169 wRC+ while having a Hard Hit % and Barrel % in the 42nd and 21st percentile, respectively. In 2020, according to Fangraphs, Bregman’s Hard% dropped from 44.9% to 36.7%. And that decreased the efficiency of his strategy: waiting for his pitch and pulling it down the line just over the wall and (when at home) into the Crawford Boxes just 315 feet away. This strategy allowed him to hit 41 HR in 2019. Many of his home runs were literally feet from the left field foul pole. 

When you consider how close so many of his home runs were to fading foul or being caught on the warning track, it makes sense there would be some volatility to the power numbers of a player with below average exit velocity. Bregman surprisingly hit 25 of his 41 home runs on the road in 2019, but I am still not sure he can expect to do that again.

On Statcast, you can see how many home runs a player would have hit at each stadium based upon the batted ball locations. In his 41 HR 2019 season, he would have hit 44 HR if all his games had been at home at Minute Maid Park. He would have had far fewer at most stadiums including just 22 at the Royals’ Kaufmann Stadium and 25 at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field. Only Fenway Park’s 310’ Green Monster has a shorter left field porch than Minute Maid Park. I would expect him to hit more HR at home most years.

That Ball is…Gone?

Dwindling steals, below average hard hit numbers, and a high volatility batted ball approach represent risks attached to Bregman, but not the only ones. Bregman had his worst season since his rookie year in 2020, the year after the Astros were exposed for stealing signs. Bregman (and any other player who previously relied on knowing what pitch was coming) will have to rely on their own intuitions from now on.

An analysis of Bregman’s risks and flaws is relative; I would draft in the top four rounds, but I do not see him as a top 30 guy for 2021. It seems that if Bregman’s StatCast power numbers remain below average, he might have to settle for more doubles in seasons to come. With news of a “deadened” ball in 2021, those homers that used to just creep over the wall might end up at the warning track now. Still a great hitter, I expect 25-30 HR and fewer than five steals per season to be the new norm and would adjust my expectations accordingly.

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