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.