Where Is Alec Bohm’s Power?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of power in Alec Bohm’s swing. He’s capable of getting completely twisted up, arms fully bent, on a pitch he has no business swinging at, and yet he can still get the barrel on the ball with enough power to blast it off the centerfield wall. Here, see for yourself:

It takes quick hands and great bat-to-ball skills to square up 93 mph that far in on your hands. It should be no surprise that the man behind that swing produced an 89th-percentile average exit velocity and 90th-percentile hard-hit rate in 2021. Yet good results rarely followed suit for Bohm, as the highly anticipated follow-up to his 138 wRC+ in his rookie campaign landed with a dud. The 6’5” third baseman proved unable to tap into his power, with only seven homers and a lowly .095 ISO — 15th percentile in the majors, well off the league average of .165 (though even during his stellar rookie season, he only got up to .145). His elite hard-hit rate wasn’t enough to keep his offense from cratering; he finished with a 75 wRC+ and was even demoted late in the season.

Bohm clearly has power potential, but after just 11 homers in his first 597 plate appearances, why hasn’t it surfaced? At first glance, it looks like a simple diagnosis: he hits the ball on the ground too often, and his ability to hit the ball hard is being diminished by a poor launch angle. That is certainly a good place to start given his 52.7% groundball rate last season, which ranked in the eighth percentile league-wide. Thriving with a groundball rate that high is not unheard of, but in order to do so, you really have to damage the fly balls you hit. It’s the Juan Soto model for success; he has an identical 52.7% grounder rate, but 24.4% of his fly balls leave the yard because he simply crushes them (average exit velocity: 96.2 mph). Bohm’s fly balls, meanwhile, are only leaving the park 11.3% of the time.

For a guy that hits the ball as hard as he does, why is Bohm’s HR/FB ratio so low? Let’s take a closer look at the nature of his fly balls:

Bohm’s Fly Ball Issues
FB% HR/FB Avg. EV Fly Ball EV Pulled Fly Ball%
Bohm 22.7% 11.3% 92.0 91.4 11.1%
League Average 36.5% 13.60% 88.8 92.2 26.0%

There are a couple of big issues here. Bohm’s typically great average exit velocity gets worse — even dropping below average — on fly balls. He also pulls few fly balls, with a rate that places him in the sixth percentile around the majors, and pulled fly balls are a key to making the most out of launch angle, because they are typically hit harder than straightaway or opposite field flies and benefit from shorter fences down the line. Check out the astonishing difference in results on fly balls depending on where they are hit:

League-Wide Fly Ball Results
Pull .918 40.5% 95.7
Straightaway .340 11.4% 93
Opposite 266 6.4% 89

It’s still possible to be an elite hitter, even an elite slugger, without pulling very many fly balls. Remember when Aaron Judge was blasting home runs to the opposite field in the 2017 Home Run Derby? He is ninth percentile in pulled fly balls, giving him a similar fly ball spray chart to Bohm, but Judge hits his fly balls six miles per hour harder on average, and that’s before you even factor in his fly ball frequency advantage (35.5% to Bohm’s 22.7).

Bohm may not have the power ceiling of Judge, but given his size and hard contact abilities, he has the power potential to make this approach work. And while getting improved contact on his fly balls and pulling a few more would go a long way to unlocking the power he does have hidden away in this swing, I think the core of these issues might come from his struggles with fastballs and his overall swing decisions.

Let’s start with the fastball since it leads into the latter issue and because it’s at the heart of what the Phillies’ new hitting coach, Kevin Long, is hoping to fix with Bohm. Per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Scott Lauber, the two met last October soon after Long was hired, with Long “tweak[ing] Bohm’s hand position and shorten[ing] his swing, adjustments designed to help him catch up to more fastballs.”

Good start, right? The problem is that the lockout began about a month later and has kept Long and Bohm from working together. (That said, given this photo of Bohm strapped to myriad wires and doohickeys working on his swing in a lab, he clearly didn’t abandon this offseason project.)

Adjustments that can unlock Bohm’s ability to hit a fastball will be huge for him, because he has a rough .256 wOBA and .098 ISO on four-seamers so far in his career. And as you might imagine, he’s fared even worse at higher velocity. On heaters that go 95 mph or faster — 37% of the fastballs he sees — he has only a .229 wOBA and a .063 ISO. This is where his long arms work against him; a mechanically shorter swing could help a lot, particularly on the inner half of the plate. You saw him make up for this in the GIF up top, but far too often, he’s getting jammed inside and not getting the barrel on the ball as a result, like so:

A big guy with long arms getting jammed on inside fastballs is not exactly groundbreaking, but this is where Bohm’s swing decisions are a bit confounding; he loves swinging at these up-and-in fastballs. (Believe me, I could’ve made that GIF a lot longer.) Check out the following two charts showing where pitchers throw their fastballs to Bohm (left image) and where he swings at fastballs (right):

Two of Bohm's heat maps. One showing where pitchers throw their fastballs to him. The other showing Bohm's swing tendency against fastballs. Bohm swings at a lot of up and in fastballs.

Pitchers do have a tendency to challenge Bohm up and in, but not egregiously so, and his willingness to stretch the zone in an area unsuited for him is both quite generous and not working at all, with a .216 wOBA and 85.9 mph average exit velocity on up-and-in fastballs last season. Meanwhile, he swings half as often on fastballs down and in — pitches that would allow for better extension — and showed an impressive exit velocity of 92.9 mph and a .283 wOBA (but .406 xwOBA) on those pitches. A mechanical adjustment would likely help his fastball production overall, but a lot of his struggles with them come simply from swinging at the wrong ones.

Bohm had nearly everything go against him in 2021. We haven’t even touched, for example, on his poor defense at third, creating doubt about whether he’ll ever be anything but a DH. It’s easy to see issues start to compound for a young player when things aren’t going right in the batters box or in the field. But there is still plenty of potential in his bat, and with a DH coming to the National League this season, that should provide one less thing for Bohm to worry about. This season could still be a work in progress, but I’m eager to see what his swing looks like whenever Spring Training gets underway, and I think a more refined approach could go a long way in getting his career back on track.

Luke Hooper is a designer and writer at FanGraphs. He lives in Portland, Oregon, longing for a major league team to materialize.

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1 year ago

I think he’s got serious breakout potential, but I’m definitely not on any sort of hype train about him. I guess the Phillies could also afford to play him at 1B if the defense is an issue though, now that Hoskins won’t be around. I don’t know how his injury updates have been though.

1 year ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

Did something happen to Hoskins, or is he just going to DH going forward?

It would be a touch unusual to have both a right handed DH and first baseman. But it’s certainly doable if they get enough lefties at other spots (most likely the outfield”).

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I thought his injury was expected to make him miss much of this year? Or was it not that serious?

1 year ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

you may be thinking of last offseason when he had elbow surgery. core surgery ended his 2021 season but he should already have been back to full strength for months at this point.

1 year ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

I adore adding post hype guys, but in this case, I had Bohm while he was hyped. I like guys with a good hit tool to be better able to make adjustments than guys that can hardly lay bat on ball. But I guess it depends how deep the league is.

1 year ago
Reply to  pepper69fun

I wasn’t really thinking through a fantasy lens, but swapping to a fantasy lens, I will let someone else roll the dice on him. He doesn’t walk but he does K and he isn’t hitting for enough power. My league scores walks, total bases and penalizes strikeouts and I can’t have that drag. I’ll roster Jose Miranda and take 0 points for a while to gamble on a safer looking hit tool if I need a 3B late.