An Update on Yonder Alonso Prior to His Seemingly Inevitable Trade

Back in March, Yonder Alonso explained to Eno Sarris that his focus during the offseason was to more frequently launch batted balls into the air.

“Did some mechanical things but also intent was important,” Alonso said in camp. “I’m trying to punish it more, get it in the air.” He agreed that aiming to put the ball in play in the air more was the major key for him this offseason as he worked.”

Alonso’s intended goal has worked out magnificently: he’s having a career season in a walk year.

As Dave mentioned back in May, Alonso has become the poster boy of the fly-ball revolution.

Dave was prescient when closing his post with this thought:

And by bringing Alonso back for one more go around, the A’s might now have one of the most interesting trade chips of the summer. Or perhaps they’ll try to re-sign him to a deal that keeps him from free agency this winter, pairing him with Khris Davis to form the most unlikely middle of the order threat in baseball.

The A’s do indeed have one of the more interesting trade chips leading up to Monday’s deadline. While a trade seems inevitable, though the A’s can’t like the return they saw J.D. Martinez netted the Tigers.

But is Alonso losing some of his appeal?

Alonso’s bat has cooled off after a scalding start. He produced a .870 OPS in April and 1.228 mark in May, but figures of .786 and .776 in June and July, respectively. Said Alonso of his scuffles to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I’m one swing away, I’m one pitch away,” Alonso said. “I’ve had good at-bats, long at-bats, I’m still getting walks, it’s just a matter of time before balls start finding holes. Two days away, three days away, I’ll be hitting .280 again, but I don’t care about that stuff as long as my work is good, my mind is healthy. I’ve just got to continue to battle.”

The good news for the A’s and Alonso is his plate discipline remains intact; he’s posted at least an 11.8% walk rate each month. Also, the power continues to seem real, as 28% of his fly balls have gone for home runs in July.

Overall, Alonso’s breakout seems legitimate. He ranks 22nd in xwOBA (.375), sandwiched between Giancarlo Stanton and Ryan Zimmerman. But since June 1, he ranks 149th (.330), something more resembling a good hitter rather than an elite one.

But the other bit of good news is after his June and early July cooling period, Alonso’s batted-ball profile is trending in the right direction again:

The A’s are perhaps also attempting to advertise and boost his intangible value.

What does it all mean? Well, while Alonso might not be the star-level slugger he was in April and May, he has made real improvement and performance gains. He’s certainly a different kind of hitter. And he can probably help a contender for a modest return.

What team has made the most sense for Alonso? Perhaps it remains the Yankees. It has looked that way for awhile.

Alonso still makes sense to the Yankees even after their acquisition of Todd Frazier, even with Chase Headley having some moments at first. (Headley has recorded just a modest 98 wRC+ with the bat.) And the secret has been out for a while that the Yankees are interested in adding Alonso.

No contender needs a first baseman more than the Yankees. The Yankees entered the week with -1.2 WAR from first baseman, which ranks 29th in the sport. They’re the only contending club that has negative performance value at the position. And with Gregory Bird lost to injury, there isn’t an obvious candidate to supply potential above-average production at the position.

Alonso is also a left-handed hitter, which doesn’t hurt. But it might actually be more meaningful in gaining platoon advantages than maximizing the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium. Since 2015, left-handed hitters have an isolated power mark of .174 at Yankee Stadium. Right-handed hitters have a .179 there.

Of course ,the Yankees aren’t the only contender struggling to fill first base with a productive bat.

The loaded Astros lineup ranks 21st in the game in WAR (1.0) from first baseman and own a paltry 2.3% walk rate at the position.

The Rockies, Pirates and Indians likely all consider themselves contenders to varying degrees and rank 23rd, 24th and 25th, respectively, in first-base WAR production. While the Pirates are committed to Josh Bell, who has been better of late, and the Indians will also give Carlos Santana every chance to warm in the second half — he slugged two homers on Monday night — Alonso’s fly-ball ability would be interesting in Coors Field.

The Red Sox rank 25th or lower in positional WAR at third base — a void they hope to fill with top prospect Rafael Devers — catcher, and first base, where Mitch Moreland and Sam Travis have failed to provide impact. Alfonso could make some sense there after the club missed out on Frazier.

Alonso is interesting because he’s a fly-ball poster child, who has taken his performance level — if not to a star level — certainly to a different and better level. He’s also of interest because so many contending clubs are struggling to receive meaningful first-base production.

While an Alonso trade seems inevitable, the ultimate destination is less certain.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Nelson S.
6 years ago

Is Alonso a platoon bat, or should he be? His stats V. lefties are pretty abysmal.

6 years ago
Reply to  Nelson S.

His career splits are bad but not as bad as this year; last year he was worse against LHP than his career line but still better than this year. So either that’s a downward trend or small sample noise (65 PA vs LHP so far this year, and just 74 all of last year). I suppose the Yankees could platoon him with Frazier.