About this time last year, we were still reveling in the remarkable season that Rookie-of-the-Year Pete Alonso had, led by a remarkable barrage of 53 HR, which set a rookie record and led the major leagues. I decided to analyze each at bat leading to all 53 of Alonso’s home runs. Much to my surprise, he covered a lot of the plate, in particular the outer half, and from low to up in the zone. What looked like a hole was the inner part of the plate, although perhaps this was him being pitched away more than his inability to cover the inner half. Although the 2020 season classifies as “unusual” relative to any major-league season any of us can recall, it was still worth the effort to review the 16 home runs Alonso had in 2020.
Like last year, I watched each home run pitch multiple times in order to see the entire context of the pitch he hit out. In 2020, SNY displayed a K-zone box (much to my viewing unhappiness, but great for this work), making charting the location a lot easier. Like with my previous analysis, this article will feature a five-zone map to locate pitches (inner upper, inner lower, outer upper, outer lower, and middle middle) instead of the conventional 3×3 matrix. Factors looked at include the pitcher throwing arm, count, home v. away, NL v. AL, and inning the HR occurred. Unlike last year, pitches leading up to the home run were not considered. Part of the goal is to see what, if anything, changed from 2019 to 2020 seasons.
Comparing these two seasons is of course difficult for obvious reasons, but also because the numbers are quite imbalanced. Everyone could see the outward frustration with Alonso’s at-bats in 2020, with a tendency to chase outside, even way outside, to the point he looked like a minor leaguer. Interestingly, Alonso was on pace to have 30 or so fewer strike outs in a projected 2020 full season relative to 2019. So many of the at bats looked like he was totally lost, which magnified the agony to watch, but a strike out is a strike out. Other things were really similar, too, on an adjusted basis including games played and at bat totals.
As the accompanying figure shows, and unlike last year, nearly 60% of Alonso’s home runs in 2020 came on pitches to the inner half of the plate. There is clearly no concern whether Alonso can cover the inner half, he can. Similar to last year, his home runs came equally in both the upper and lower part of the strike zone against fastballs and breaking pitches. He hit about 70% of the homers in 2020 against right-handed pitchers, which is similar to 2019. Nearly two-thirds of Alonso’s homers came against NL pitching. He hit one more home run on the road than at Citi Field.
Some aspects of his home run at-bats in 2020 caught me a little by surprise. In 2019, Alonso hit the most home runs in the first inning (first at bat), followed by an even distribution in later at-bats. By comparison, Alonso was most prolific in the middle innings in 2020, hitting 50% of his dingers in innings 4-6 (second and third at bats) with an even distribution between his first and last at bats. Alonso continues to be most homer proficient seeing fewer pitches in an at-bat, with 80% coming with fewer than four pitches, and nearly 50% coming on a 0 – 0 count. He clearly was hunting first pitches. This expands a bit further to count, where he was much most effective on even counts (this was biased by seven of 16 HR coming on 0 – 0) or ahead in the count.
It is sort of easy to drop the hammer on Alonso’s sophomore season relative to his 2019 Rookie-of-the-Year campaign, especially in light of the “breakout” season by Dominic Smith. However, Alonso still had a pretty solid effort despite looking like he was pressing non-stop for the magic of 2019. He was on track for a 43 HR season and the accompanying RBIs. Yes, there was a more than 100-point drop in OPS, but he still finished with 123 OPS+. I would have been ok with that OPS+ and adjusted “on-pace” numbers. Alonso mashes homers at home, on the road, against lefty or righty pitching, up or low in the zone, and on the inner and outer half of the plate. That is a weapon this team needs. My reading is that it is not time to bail on Alonso in any way.
It’s no secret that the Rockies would like to get out from the contract of their star third baseman, Nolan Arenado. Recently, the Rockies indicated they would “like to engage” the Mets on a deal for Arenado. That certainly makes sense, as the Mets likely have the ability to take Arenado’s contract and the Rockies would prefer to deal him as far away from the NL West as possible.
The Mets could use a Gold Glove third baseman. Is the contract a deal killer? Perhaps but from here on let’s focus on what type of value Arenado would provide the Mets, rather than if it’s a smart idea at this moment to trade for him. You hear people all of the time quote his road numbers, which are far inferior to the ones he puts up at Coors Field.
But are the road numbers really what he’d hit like all year if he was removed from playing half of his games in Colorado? One of the stats we like to use is OPS+, which adjusts for both league and ballpark – which makes it a good number to use to compare players from different teams or different eras. It’s easier to hit in Coors Field in 2000 than it was to hit in Dodger Stadium in 1966. OPS+ puts numbers on an equivalent basis.
In 2000, Larry Walker put up a .309/.409/.506 line for the Rockies. In 1966, Lou Johnson slashed .272/.316/.414 for the Dodgers. Those two lines were separated by 185 points of OPS but once you account for the offensive environment of both the league and the park, those two seasons were virtually identical. Walker posted a 110 OPS+ while Johnson checked in with a 109.
Let’s check on Rockies hitters from when when they installed the humidor in 2002 up through 2020. We’ll focus on ones who played 650 PA both in Coors Field and with another park or parks as their home and compare how they did both as Rockies and elsewhere. Finally, we’ll also include their ages for both splits. Here are the numbers:
|Player||Rockiess PA||Rockies OPS+||Rockies Age||Other PA||Other OPS+||Other Age|
|Eric Young Jr.||855||72||24-28||1071||71||28-33|
We have 24 hitters in our sample and 16 of those put up OPS+ numbers within 10 points in their years away from Coors as they did while playing their home games in Colorado. Additionally, five of the eight hitters who were more than 10 points of OPS+ away did better when they called someplace else besides Coors home.
In his eight years with the Rockies, Arenado has a 120 OPS+ in 4,558 PA. Let’s focus on the seven hitters with at least 1,000 PA with the Rockies and an OPS+ mark of at least 100 and compare and contrast their results with Coors as their home field and without.
Holliday – Like Arenado if he were to be traded, Holliday started out with the Rockies and played elsewhere for the back half of his career.. He actually put up a slightly better OPS+ after the Rockies dealt him. In his last season in Colorado, Holliday had an OPS 105 points higher at home. His first year with a different home park saw him enjoy a 150-point higher home than road OPS.
Cuddyer – A stalwart in Minnesota for the first 11 years of his career, Cuddyer actually improved his production when moving to Colorado, despite being on the wrong end of 30 at the time. In his last year with the Twins, Cuddyer had a 45-point home OPS advantage. In his first year as a Rockie, Cuddyer had a 114-point home edge.
Tulowitzki – One of the top offensive shortstops of his era, Tulowitzki was done in by injuries. In five years after leaving Colorado, he was only able to amass 1,000 PA. His reduced output has as much – if not more – to do with health than with his home park.
Smith – Overall he was slightly better after leaving Colorado. In his last year as a Rockie, Smith had a 34-point edge in home OPS. In his first year after leaving Coors, he had a 22-point road edge.
Wilson – His pre-Rockies career included 22 games with the Mets. That, combined with his years with the Marlins, was more productive than what he did in Colorado. In his last season with the Marlins, Wilson had a 63-point home OPS edge. His first with the Rockies produced a 165-point home edge.
Fowler – Another player like Holliday and Smith to start his career with the Rockies and produce equal or better once he left. In his last year in Colorado, Fowler had a 196-point home OPS edge. His first year in Houston, he had a 103-point home edge.
Reynolds – He played for six different teams before joining the Rockies and his production was nearly identical at Coors as it was previously. In his last season before joining Colorado, he had a 66-point road edge in OPS. His first year in Coors, Reynolds enjoyed a 148-point home edge.
Four of our seven highlighted players started off with the Rockies in Coors before finishing their careers elsewhere. Three of those four produced at an equal or better clip once they left Colorado and the one who didn’t had major injury issues. Regardless of if they started their career with the Rockies or not, all seven of these players had a major OPS edge in Coors Field. That had no impact on what they were able to do when they weren’t playing in Colorado. There’s a Coors Field Hangover effect in place, where it’s hard on hitters to adjust in-season to playing on the road. But that effect does not follow the players to other parks, with some actually performing better in road parks.
For the most part, no player performs the same year-in, year-out, even if we build in an aging pattern for the numbers. But we see that OPS+ does a good job of accounting for the difference in parks and leagues. If it didn’t, we’d expect to see more random results than we actually do from our 24-player sample.
When looking at Arenado, you’re missing the boat if you just look at his raw HR or OPS totals. You’ll get a much better idea of who he is as a hitter by looking at his OPS+. Arenado had a poor year at the plate in 2020 so fans and teams will have to decide if this is the beginning of a decline or merely a Covid-year blip.
From 2015-2019, Arenado had a 129 OPS+. In the same time frame, Michael Conforto had a 125 OPS+. If we include 2020, Conforto jumps ahead by a 128-127 mark. Essentially, if the Mets traded for Arenado, the expectation should be they’re adding a hitter equivalent to Conforto to the team, assuming 2020 was not a sign of things to come for Arenado.
Of course, offense is only part of the equation for Arenado, who has eight Gold Glove Awards to his credit. Defense is a big reason why Arenado has a 27.8 fWAR since 2015 while Conforto checks in with a 16.0 mark in the same time period. It’s not the only reason – Arenado has a 1,076-PA edge since 2015.
Most people view Arenado’s contract as prohibitive. There’s no way he’d get that much money if he was a free agent right now. His deal was for 8/$260 with an opt out after the 2021 season. Some people consider that he should waive the opt-out clause before the Mets acquire him. But since he’s owed $164 million for 2022-2026, maybe that’s not really necessary.
Trading for Arenado would give the Mets a two-way player at third base, improving both their offense and defense at the position. But it’s an awful lot of money and there’s concern about his 2020 numbers. There are reasons to be wary of trading for him. But one thing that shouldn’t be a concern is that he hits better in Coors than he does in road parks. As multiple players before him have proven, properly-adjusted hitting numbers (OPS+) don’t fall apart once a player leaves Colorado.
Much digital ink has been used on the need to get George Springer onto the Mets because he’s “a real center fielder” and the one the Mets used this year isn’t. To this, we will examine how good does your center fielder have to be in order to win a championship and is signing Springer to major dollars the best scenario? First, we will examine the center fielder production for the last 10 World Series champions and their team’s dependence on their play. Then, we will examine the names in the news for the Mets, my mystery acquisition and how they compare to our incumbent.
First, a brief summary of each year’s World Series winning center fielder and their relevance to the team’s production. Pitching is always referenced because some teams expect to win because of their superior pitching. All WAR values come from FanGraphs.
|2011 Cardinals CF:||Jon Jay||2.3||7.7 Offense, -1.2 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Yadier Molina||5.9||9.1 Offense, 31.3 Defense|
|Lance Berkman||4.7||44.4 Offense, -17.5 Defense|
|Matt Holliday||4.4||29.9 Offense, -3.9 Defense|
|Albert Pujols||3.9||28.9 Offense, -11.6 Defense|
The top nine WAR players were all negative on Defense expect for Molina.
|fWAR||Offensive/ Defensive Grades|
|2012 Giants CF:||Angel Pagan||4.6||21.7 Offense, 2.7 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Buster Posey||10.1||41.9 Offense, 36.5 Defense|
|Melky Cabrera||4.5||33.4 Offense, -5.6 Defense|
|fWAR||Offensive/ Defensive Grades|
|2013 Red Sox CF:||Jacoby Ellsbury||4.6||19.1 Offense, 2.9 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Dustin Pedroia||4.9||11.1 Offense, 10.4 Defense|
|Shane Victorino||4.7||17.6 Offense, 8.6 Defense|
|David Ortiz||3.4||27.0 Offense, -15.0 Defense|
|Mike Napoli||3.4||17.5 Offense, -4.9 Defense|
Five pitchers with WAR of 2.3 or greater, led by Jon Lester at 3.3.
|2014 Giants CF:||Angel Pagan||1.8||7.6 Offense, -3.4 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Buster Posey||7.6||25.3 Offense, 25.7 Defense|
|Hunter Pence||4.0||23.4 Offense, -7.9 Defense|
|Pablo Sandoval||3.2||2.4 Offense, 7.9 Defense|
Bumgarner had a 3.6 WAR, three pitcher had 1.5 – 1.7; no one else close.
|fWAR||Offense/ Defense Grades|
|2015 Royals CF:||Lorenzo Cain||6.1||26.0 Offense, 11.8 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Mike Moustakas||3.8||10.9 Offense, 5.2 Defense|
|Eric Hosmer||3.5||21.7 Offense, -10.8 Defense|
By contrast: Curtis Granderson 5.3 WAR, Travis d’Arnaud 3.4 WAR in just 67 games, Lucas Duda 3.2 WAR, Yoenis Cespedes 2.6 WAR in just 57 games, Daniel Murphy 2.2 WAR, Michael Conforto 1.9 WAR in just 56 games.
|2016 Cubs CF:||Dexter Fowler||4.6||25.6 Offense, 1.9 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Kris Bryant||7.9||48.8 Offense, 6.6 Defense|
|Anthony Rizzo||4.9||34.6 Offense, -8.0 Defense|
|Ben Zobrist||4.0||20.5 Offense, -1.4 Defense.|
|2017 Astros CF:||George Springer||4.5||28.6 Offense, -4.6 Defense||(was -4.8 Defense in 2018)|
|Top Performers:||Jose Altuve||7.6||52.7 Offense, 0.8 Defense|
|Carlos Correa||5.1||32.4 Offense, 5.1 Defense|
|Marwin Gonzalez||4.0||28.3 Offense, -6.1 Defense|
|Alex Bregman||3.5||17.7 Offense, -4.4 Defense|
|Josh Reddick||3.4||21.3 Offense, -5.8 Defense|
|509 plate app.||Carlos Beltran||-1.1||-17.6 Offense, -11.3 Defense||Notice who benefitted?|
|2018 Red Sox CF:||Jackie Bradley Jr.||2.8||-0.5 Offense, 10.1 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Mookie Betts||10.4||69.2 Offense, 11.6 Defense|
|J. D. Martinez||5.9||50.4 Offense, -14.7 Defense|
|Xander Boegarts||4.9||21.1 Offense, 7.2 Defense|
|Andrew Benintendi||4.4||22.0 Offense, -1.5 Defense|
|2019 Nationals CF:||Victor Robles||2.5||-3.0 Offense, 8.5 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Anthony Rendon||7.0||46.5 Offense, 4.2 Defense|
|Juan Soto||4.8||35.8 Offense, -7.5 Defense|
|Trea Turner||3.5||19.1 Offense, -1.5 Defense|
|2020 Dodgers CF:||A. J. Pollock||2.7||17.8 Offense, -10.5 Defense|
|Top Performers:||Mookie Betts||8.1||50.2 Offense, 8.4 Defense|
|Corey Seager||5.1||36.5 Offense, -6.8 Defense|
|Chris Taylor||4.1||21.1 Offense, -1.1 Defense|
|Justin Turner||3.5||22.7 Offense, -3.5 Defense|
|Will Smith||3.5||25.9 Offense, -3.8 Defense|
|Austin Barnes||2.7||2.4 Offense, 11.3 Defense|
|*-All numbers multiplied by 2.7 to match up to other years.|
As we have seen for the last decade, a winning team has an offensive center fielder more often than a defensive center fielder. In fact, in only three times in the 10 years has the winning team had a good defensive center fielder even when he wasn’t one of the team’s top performers. So, as we know quality catchers are hard to find, so it seems are quality dual threat center fielders. Now that we’ve done our homework, time to see how the five players we are comparing stack up. We will compare Brandon Nimmo, George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermeier, and my mystery candidate.
We will go defense first by comparing the players’ UZR – that is FanGraphs’ version of Outs Above Average – and their arm strength specifically.
|Player||17 UZR||17 Arm||18 UZR||18 Arm||19 UZR||19 Arm||20 UZR||20 Arm|
On offense, rather than measuring the counting stats, which can be affected by the lineup around each player, I’d like to present some of the hitting trends of each player to try to get a sense of the individual results we may expect. We used the percentages from 2019 and 2020 to be as current as possible as bat speed can be affected much quicker than defense is affected. The “hard hit” and “medium hit” are usually pretty subjective, so it’s best to watch the trend and blend the two as a batted ball may go to one category or the other depending on home team scoring.
|Player||19 K%||19 BB%||19 Med||19 Hard||20 K%||20 BB%||20 Med||20 Hard|
This is a pretty tight match but Springer doesn’t seem to be the slam dunk the writers are making him out to be – and what’s with always putting him right field in the late innings of games? Obviously, his present employers must know something. Kiermaier seems a better overall player but the “easier get” may be the mystery player and he will be essentially free to trade for. That player is Jason Heyward. Heyward is an athletic marvel and a great defensive player who I believe still has a great arm. He has had a reputation for hurting the ball consistently and when his luck changes, he will be a beast. His BABIP has not been anywhere near what it was in Atlanta while in Chicago – for whatever reason – and that is something I would bet on when the other numbers average out. By asking the Cubs if they want to save $23 million by switching Cano for Heyward, we give them a first baseman for next year when Rizzo leaves, no payment to Heyward this year, and an overall savings of the previously mentioned $23 million, which will please the owner and take away their headache. Problem is Heyward just had a pretty good year with a .848 OPS, so we may need to sweeten the deal by throwing in a small piece or also taking Bryant off their hands too to make the tendering aspect of his contract easier to make.
Then, there is the incumbent who seemed to be better when he moved deeper in center field in August of this year to the naked eye, but has always had an uncomfortable look when he is standing in the middle of the ball field alone.
From 2012-2015 Matt Harvey was fabulous on the mound for the New York Mets. His performance in the 2015 World Series was everything a fan wants from a top hurler. He had the persona, the confidence, the dominance and the city to deserve the moniker “The Dark Knight.” It was very fun to be a Mets fan for those seasons.
In 2016, Harvey hurt his arm. Pitchers hide injuries, sometimes subconsciously, because they feel like it is a pain they have worked through before, or maybe they just slept on it wrong. So, they adjust to avoid the pain on the mound. Dizzy Dean famously, perhaps apocryphally, had a line drive hit his foot, and to pitch through that he altered his motion and injured his arm. What was Harvey trying to pitch through?
With Statcast, we can see Harvey change his throwing angle. Statcast data started in 2015, which is key because it shows when he is good.
It may not be terribly obvious without a frame of reference, but his release point for all his pitches are pretty narrow and in the same vertical line. Here’s Jacob deGrom’s 2018:
You can see a nice “football” shape to their release points. Squashed into the vertical.
Justin Verlander’s 2019 season.
Here is Trevor Bauer’s 2020:
You get the idea.
Harvey started 2016 pretty well, but the release point charts show he was “rounding” his release points, and really only getting on top of this 4-seam fastball, and major league hitters only need the smallest of differentiation before you become dead meat. Couple that with declining velocities, and there is a recipe for disaster. Here is Harvey’s 2016 season:
Those pitches suddenly out from the pack are his last game, before shutting down the season. But that release point was tough to come back from.
One can see the roundness of his pitches. And the hand is much further from his body, with changeups being more prominent.
It is about this time people should have noticed. His arm slot is off from his dominant period. Once a pitcher loses that due to injury can he every get it back or does the fear of re-injuring his shoulder override his ability to do what he knows to be needed. Frankly, it is tough to tell if he was coached in what he needed. The Mets gave him another shot in 2018, and it started out well, but the Mets lost patience quickly and shipped him off to the Reds, where he struggled.
His pitch releases were better, but still round, and fewer curveballs. He got a real chance with the Angels in 2019, was not good, and then spent 2020 with the Royals. His 2019 was very round, which basically works as tipping your pitches.
At least Harvey made some money in 2019. As noted 2020 started out with some control, but:
The last two games are represented by the wide release points, which flagged an injury, and he was put on the injured list with a lat strain.
Harvey is an unrestricted free agent. He signed for the minimum in 2020. Harvey hopefully will get healthy and spend some time re-learning how to pitch, his velocity was up some, but his spin rates were down. He needs to hold it like an egg.
Can the Dark Knight Return? Could Rick Peterson fix Harvey in 10 minutes?
This Met fan would love to see him given the chance.