There was a time, long ago, when yours truly was so aboard the hype train for a certain young Mets slugger that he preposterously suggested that said slugger could become the franchise’s future home run king. To be fair, the Mets aren’t exactly known for having an illustrious history of mashers. Darryl Strawberry, the franchise leader, heads the pack with just 252 homers after all. Still, we all know how things turned out professionally for poor Ike Davis. The “Future Mets HR King” ended his MLB career *pitching* in 2017 for a Dodgers rookie level affiliate.

By now most of us have learned that you shouldn’t fall in love with prospects because they’ll usually break your heart. We also know that early success doesn’t necessarily portend sustained success, even if it happens at the major league level. We should, perhaps, pump the breaks just a bit to see how the player adjusts to the league adjusting to them before anointing them the franchise savior. It’s through this lens that we briefly examine the sophomore season of one Pete Alonso, future…well, let’s keep that hype train in check for the time being.

Alonso burst onto the scene in 2019, earning the starting job at first base as a rookie and top-rated prospect at the position. Given this rare opportunity (at least for the Mets), all he did was break the rookie single-season home run record and set the high-water mark for the franchise with 53 dingers en route to winning National League Rookie of the Year. Not too shabby.

The natural question following a dominant rookie campaign relates to an ability to continue that performance into the next season. Would Alonso continue to dominate, or would he succumb to the precipitous second-year drop in performance colloquially known as the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Spoiler: he did see a drop in performance, but he was still pretty good during a pandemic-shortened season. Below is a selection of his stats for 2019 and 2020.

2019 161 53 120 10.4% 26.4% .323 .280 .260 .358 .583 .384 143 4.8
2020 57 16 35 10.0% 25.5% .260 .242 .231 .326 .490 .342 119 0.4

Counting stats like HR and RBI are obviously going to be suppressed during an abbreviated season, but the nearly identical BB and K percentages are good indicators that Alonso maintained a consistent approach across seasons. There is a noted drop in his triple slash that should be a bit concerning on the surface, but the drop in BABIP and a smaller sample size may go a long way in explaining that reduction in results.

An interpretation of the sophomore slump that I’m inclined to agree with, at least in theory, involves a regression to the mean with a particular focus on luck. A player that performs so well that they garner Rookie of the Year honors (and break several records along the way) is likely benefiting from some well-timed luck in combination with their elite skill set. As we can see with the significant drop in Alonso’s BABIP rate (which was already below league-average), it’s likely that luck played as much of a role in his less impressive 2020 performance as it did during his amazing rookie year.

There are other statistics we can analyze in an attempt to piece together a narrative for Alonso’s sophomore performance, of course. His HR/FB ratio went from 30.6% in 2019 to 24.6% in 2020 at the same time his hard hit and line drive rates dropped. He appeared to miss more on pitches outside of the strike zone in 2020, though he didn’t swing at them much more often. Pitchers also appeared to bust him inside with cutters more often in 2020, a pitch he had less success with than in his 2019 breakout. These all appear to be signs of a player making adjustments to adjustments, though, and none of them signal that Alonso was overmatched during his second tour through the league.

We also have to keep in mind that these percentages map to relatively small raw numbers over 57 games and 239 plate appearances, and it’s unfortunate that the environment didn’t allow Alonso the reps to normalize the rates that under normal circumstances may be potential warning signs. It’s certainly possible, even likely, that his record-breaking performance was the well-timed culmination of ability, good luck, and the effects of what may be a modern live-ball era that can’t be replicated.

Alonso will likely never again be quite as good as he was in 2019, but the Mets don’t need him to continuously break records for him to be a core component of their next winning team. In the midst of a uniquely challenging season, he did not succumb to the trappings of what we know as the sophomore slump. Outside of reproducing his 2019, that’s probably the best possible outcome of the 2020 season for both him and the team.

Is Alonso the next Mets legend or, dare I say, home run king? In the spirit of baseball’s time-honored tradition of being cognizant and respectful of superstition, perhaps we shouldn’t poke that polar bear just yet.

10 comments on “Pete Alonso and the notorious sophomore slump

  • TexasGusCC

    Alonso has the mindset to become a very good player, but he will need to put in the work and put his attention grabbing endeavors in the background. In an interview that he did when he was raking at AA, he said that he wants to win every at bat from the pitcher. That’s a wonderful mentality to have and shows focus on every pitch of every plate appearance.

    Last year, when he was DHing his average was .204 compared to .261 when he was playing the field. If he wants to become a complete player, this offseason’s improvements will go a long way as to showing this. As first base is the easiest position to fill, two stud first baseman may bring me back to stud pitchers. I’d take that in a heartbeat and put Davis at first. If I can get Plesac from Cleveland for Smith and Snell from Tampa for Alonso, let’s do it. If not, I’d see who can get me the most and move that way.

    Many players have talent, but not many will put in grueling hours of work to improve their weaknesses. Let’s see if Alonso has that in him, but I wouldn’t necessarily wait to find out if I can cash him in right now.

    DeGrom, Bauer, Plesac, Snell and Stroman… then you sign Springer and Realmuto with the leftover money in the budget? Come get us!

    • John Fox

      Gus, trading both Alonso and Smith is one I have not heard before, but it just might work, at least for the pitching haul you outlined. Playing Davis at first would mitigate his throwing problems. His arm is plenty strong but his release can be very slow and accuracy can be erratic.

    • Metsense

      Snell and Plesac at a cost of $11M annual salary, wow! Forget Bauer and sign LeMahieeu instead along with Springer and Realmuto. That would be an awesome pitching rotation and not too shabby lineup also. Gus, good buddy, How do you think up these things ?

      • TexasGusCC

        Metsense, I said this once before, in Chris’ article I believe. I feel that when you are holding good cards, you either cash them in or raise the stakes. There are enough good pieces in the Mets lineup and the improvement of signing Realmuto and Springer will give the Mets a good player at every position. If Smith and Alonso played other positions, like middle infield, I’d hold them. But, first basemen are easier to plug in. This year Davis can play 1B and next year Cano comes back and can go there.

        Both Smith and Alonso are good players, but if you can get top, young pitchers for them, that’s something that’s harder to find.

    • Jamie Horvath

      Not sure its fair to suggest that Alonso hasn’t put in the work? He’s always talked about being a complete player & has worked hard to improve his defense… And I know its fun to talk trades but I wouldn’t dismiss the fan connection with home grown talent like Alonso & Smith… I look forward to bringing in some free agents to address the areas of need (Bauer, Springer, LeMahieu, Cather, bullpen…) but would stay away from trades, as to preserve the existing roster, as well as the farm assets that were thinned-out by the previous regime… just my opinion…

  • Brian Joura

    In Alonso’s last 39 games, he had a .902 OPS despite a .228 BABIP.

    No one should jump off the bandwagon based on 18 games at the start of the Covid year. For some additional perspective, in his first 18 games after the All-Star break last year, Alonso had an even worse stretch, as he slash .125/.305/.313 in 82 PA. And with a full season to make up for it, Alonso did just fine.

  • Ike

    Did Pete have have a bad your average wise yes he still wound up tied for seventh in all of baseball as far as home runs go And tied for 29th in RBIs so his average might’ve been down a little but he still was producing and I think everyone feels as though he’ll produce more this coming year

    • NYM6986

      Would rather keep both and teach Smith to play a better left field, possibly the easiest position to learn. We can move a shortstop or outfielder to get a starter in return like Arenado or Brynt. Then Cohen opens the purse and brings in Springer and a catcher who can throw runners out. We would be in contention.

  • Mike W

    I don’t think Pete had a sophomore slump. He played in 57 games, and missed 100 because of Covid. He started to warm up at the end of the season and hit 10 home runs in September. If they played the whole season, Pete probably would have hit 40 home runs and driven in 95-100.

    2021 will be his real sophomore season. Every at bat, he is a threat to hit the long ball. Home run hitters grow on trees, but one who will be a threat to hit 50 every season, don’t.

    I wouldn’t trade him.

  • Thomas M Christensen

    From what I saw of Pete was he did hit better when he slowed his swing down and didn’t try to hit it out of the park every time he got up .At the end of the shortened season he was hitting doubles and singles and making contact but once he started going for the downs he was way ahead and swing at the real slow pitches they teased him with . I think he’s got to learn speeds this year because they set him up with a few fast balls and then got him off stride with a change . I’m sure this coming season one of the old timers will get him straightened out because if he don’t get corrected he’ll be a benchwarmer DH ! Smith will take his place on first, if they don’t trade him ?
    I hope and pray the owners do the right thing and get the help this team needs to compete with the Braves and Philly or it’s going to be a long season again watching them be a 3rd place team ! Cohen get the job done and spend whats needed if your a real Met fan as you say you are .
    There are thousands of Met fans just chomping at the bit waiting to see new faces and new hitters get the wheels turning to a champion !

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