June 29, 2022



What the advanced numbers tell us

4 min read

Alex Bregman isn’t having a great year. The Astros third baseman would be the first to tell you that, though he credited some mechanical adjustments in his wrists with what Astros fans hope is Sunday’s RBI double and Monday’s home run that created the spark that ends a recent slump.

Bregman came into 2022 as a career .281/.377/.507 hitter but was facing questions after a decidedly un-Bregman-esque postseason in which he was hitting .239/.308/.326 when I told you not to worry about him at all. He rewarded my confidence and bravado by immediately going 2-for-14 (.143) in Games 3-6 of the World Series, ending those six games against the Braves with an .095/.200/.143 slash line. He had surgery on his hand in early November and came to the abbreviated spring training seemingly completely healthy.

And to begin the season, he was hitting like it. Just a month ago – on April 24 – Bregman went 2-for-3 with a double and two walks to raise his slash line to .294/.393/.529 for a .923 OPS. In the 27 games since, a span of 114 plate appearances, Bregman is hitting just .194/.325/.366, a batting average which ranks 150th out of 175 MLB players with at least 80 plate appearances since April 25. It’s not good, but it is better than J.T. Realmuto (.188), former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Cody Bellinger (.183) and Marcus Semien (.181).

So what’s going on with Bregman? To begin with, Bregman himself noted that he’s not going to just kill the ball, telling the Houston Chronicle’s Danielle Lerner, “I’m not a guy who tries to hit the ball 110 miles an hour.” And he’s absolutely right. His average exit velocity is in the 45th percentile while his hard hit % ranks in the 30th percentile across MLB – but his 89 mph average exit velocity is almost perfectly in line to where he’s been since the beginning of 2018, so it’s not as though he’s just getting soft contact and this season is an aberration.

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Bregman is more than just a slap hitter, though, and his plate discipline has helped keep his OPS afloat while his batting average has sunk. Bregman’s 14.9% walk rate ranks in the top 4% of baseball and is currently the second-best of his career, behind just the 17.2% he posted in 2019. To take a wider-angle view of it, Bregman’s 13.1% walk rate ranks 15th out of 128 batters with 2,000 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2017 season – when Bregman first played an entire season.

One thing you’ll note from the previous link, if you scroll down a bit, is how Bregman is actually hitting the ball. His weak-hit rate is up slightly (to 3.3%), but he’s also getting a higher barrel rate than he did last season. Bregman is getting under the ball more in 2022 – 36.1%, much higher than his career 31.6% rate (and far higher than the 24.4% MLB average). Perhaps the wrist mechanics Bregman told Danielle Lerner about will address this.

Sinkers – the type of pitch Bregman has seen with the third-most frequency (behind four-seam fastballs and sliders) – are currently eating him up. So far in 117 sinkers Bregman has seen, he has a .194 average and a .222 slugging percentage. Going back a few years, in 2021 Bregman hit .333 with a .507 slugging on sinkers, .250 with a .607 slugging in 2020, .303 with a .508 slugging in 2019, .303 with a .545 slugging in 2018, and .300 with a .457 slugging in 2017. His approach against that type of pitch in particular is causing him problems, and he’s going to see more of them until he gets it sorted out.

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But the most glaring issue facing Bregman is in the pitchers themselves. Thus far into his career, Bregman has faced lefthanded pitching in 887 plate appearances, and has posted a .310/.398/.560 line – the .310 average being good enough for 12th out of 172 active righthanded batters with at least 200 plate appearances against left-handed pitching since Bregman’s debut.

That has changed dramatically so far in 2022. Bregman is hitting .189/.318/.340 against lefties in 63 plate appearances. Where he’s enjoyed a .316 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against lefties thus far in his career, that average has dropped precipitously to a .220 BABIP in 2022. And lefty relievers, in particular, are eating his lunch.

Let’s just pretend that six more balls in play fell in for a hit for Bregman – his average against lefties would then be .301 and his overall average would be .271. It’s still pretty early in the season to be making any sort of Sky Is Falling calls, but the quicker Bregman makes that adjustment (and maybe it was this week), the better it’ll be for him.

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