Why I’m Not Dropping Yonder Alonso

Who wants to own a 32-year-old first baseman sporting a disgusting .256 wOBA and playing on a sub-.500 team likely to look toward the future soon? I do, that’s who. Yonder Alonso has been awful during the first half the season and with Daniel Palka crushing it at Triple-A, it might not be much longer before the White Sox give the latter another chance, pushing the former to the bench or packing. And while I acknowledge that there has been some skill degradation here and there for Alonso, his excruciatingly slow start appears to be driven more by terrible fortune. Let’s dive in.

We’ll start with Alonso’s scary .195 BABIP, which has kept his batting average below the Mendoza Line. Among qualified hitters, that BABIP ranks lowest in baseball. It’s easy to point to his penchant for grounding into the shift and just accept whatever BABIP he’s posting as his deserved rate. But that’s obviously just not how it works. We know that Giancarlo Stanton possesses massive power, but would we believe he could sustain any HR/FB rate, like a 75% mark, as a result? Of course not. Just like we would expect Alonso to post a better BABIP than, let’s say, .050, a sub-.200 mark is just not going to continue.

Luckily, years ago I developed an xBABIP equation that calculates what a player’s BABIP “should” be given the underlying skills fueling the rate. Let’s look at Alonso’s history.

Alonso BABIP-xBABIP History
Season LD% True FB% True IFFB% Hard% Spd PGBWS%* % BIP Shifted BABIP xBABIP BABIP-xBABIP
2012 23.7% 30.4% 0.9% 30.0% 2.0 0.0% 0.7% 0.318 0.318 0.000
2013 20.5% 30.8% 2.4% 30.6% 3.5 2.3% 11.6% 0.306 0.305 0.001
2014 18.8% 33.8% 4.7% 32.1% 4.7 1.8% 4.9% 0.251 0.295 -0.044
2015 23.0% 24.9% 2.9% 28.5% 2.8 5.0% 22.8% 0.313 0.308 0.005
2016 22.5% 30.8% 2.5% 32.3% 2.5 16.0% 63.8% 0.284 0.291 -0.007
2017 22.8% 39.6% 3.6% 36.0% 2.4 14.9% 78.7% 0.302 0.285 0.017
2018 21.7% 34.3% 5.8% 37.7% 1.2 17.8% 84.5% 0.283 0.273 0.010
2019 19.4% 35.7% 3.1% 31.7% 1.6 21.7% 87.5% 0.195 0.254 -0.059
*Pull GB While Shifted% – definition in linked to xBABIP equation article

It’s obviously disconcerting to see that Alonso’s xBABIP is in a downward spiral, declining each season since 2015. It perfectly correlates with the increased usage of the shift against him, and you see that he has grounded into the shift at the highest rate of his career this year. His Hard% is down a bit this year, as is his LD%. So yes, he’s clearly been worse than ever before, but the results are more dramatic and too extreme.

While Statcast does not calculate an xBABIP, it does calculate an xBA, which must determine a deserved BABIP to be calculated. Its xBA for Alonso sits at .234, which represents a significant improvement over his current .176 average. Both my equation and Statcast agree that Alonso has suffered from some terrible luck. His BABIP on grounders while shifted is down to just .153, the lowest mark of his career. It’s one thing to be shifted more and suffer similar fate on those shifts, but he’s being shifted more and hitting it at defenders more often. There has to be some rotten luck involved there.

Last, his line drive BABIP has randomly plummeted. His career mark stands at .706, but he’s at just .533 this season, which is the first time he’s been below .651! He has traded some medium hit liners for soft liners, which might find gloves now, but is that randomness or Alonso just stinking with no chance of recovery?

Next, let’s check his HR/FB rate, which has dropped for a second straight season after his 2017 breakout.

Alonso HR/FB-xHR/FB History
Season Brls/True FB FB Pull% FB Oppo% Avg FB Distance HR/FB xHR/FB HR/FB – xHR/FB
2015 13.0% 17.4% 45.3% 309 5.8% 8.4% -2.6%
2016 13.5% 17.6% 39.0% 316 5.1% 8.2% -3.0%
2017 25.0% 23.6% 42.4% 325 19.4% 15.4% 4.1%
2018 29.4% 27.0% 34.6% 326 14.5% 17.3% -2.8%
2019 15.8% 38.7% 37.1% 314 11.3% 14.7% -3.4%

Let’s discuss the bad first. His Brls/True FB has tumbled from the surge he first experienced in 2017, as has his average fly ball distance. As a result, his xHR/FB rate is down from the previous two seasons.

However, that xHR/FB rate is still solidly in the mid-teen range and still significantly ahead of his pre-2017 years. Furthermore, it’s more than three percentage points higher than his actual mark this year. The good news is that fly ball pull rate. He’s now upped that for two straight seasons and it’s an excellent sign for his future home run output. He’s got half the equation down, now he just needs to get back to hitting his flies as hard as he had been.

Statcast doesn’t calculate an xHR/FB rate, but it does calculate an xSLG, which stands at .379. That’s still terrible, especially for a first baseman, but it’s far above his actual .305 mark. Unfortunately, paired with its xBA, Statcast’s implied ISO is just .145, which isn’t that much higher than Alonso’s actual .129. That means that Statcast’s xSLG jump from his actual slugging is mostly driven by more singles.

Lastly, Alonso’s plate discipline remains solid, as his walk rate has jumped back into double digits to the second highest mark of his career, while he has cut his SwStk% to its lowest since his power breakout in 2017. There are no signs there, and few signs in his batted ball distribution, suggesting that he’s over the hill and done as a productive Major League hitter. Sure, some of his other skills are down a bit, but he’s deserves far better results. In addition, we still can’t say with total certainty that this isn’t just a random slow start and those down skills won’t rebound, fueling a big second half.

I keep expecting the White Sox to make some roster move signaling the end of Alonso as their starting first baseman. It hasn’t happened yet, but if he doesn’t get out of this slump soon, it almost assuredly will. I think his skills point to much better days ahead, so I remain hesitant to drop him or sell low in deeper leagues.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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