NY Mets: Pete Alonso’s success in 2021 relies on beating the shift

JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 17: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets in action against the Miami Marlins during a Grapefruit League spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 17, 2021 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 17: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets in action against the Miami Marlins during a Grapefruit League spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 17, 2021 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The New York Mets are approximately halfway through Spring Training. Although Mets fans have seen some great individual performances and at-bats, including Luis Guillorme’s 22-pitch walk against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most encouraging observations thus far has been Pete Alonso’s performance.

Articles focusing on how Alonso is locked in are pervasive on the Internet. They noted that Alonso arrived for the start of Mets Spring Training in shape and looking leaner and stronger than he did last year. These articles mentioned that Alonso deleted his social media profiles in order to focus on his game. Many articles also talked about how Alonso had a down year for the Mets in 2020, and that his strong showing in Florida is a sign of things to come this year.

However, the comments regarding Alonso’s down year are slightly exaggerated. While it is true that Alonso’s batting average was down, many of his advanced numbers reveal that Alonso performed similarly in 2019 and 2020 with the Mets.

Pete Alonso did not follow up his sophomore season with an electrifying performance like he did in 2019, but Mets fans should not be concerned. His underlying metrics tell a different story.

Consider Alonso’s strikeout rate. During his rookie year, Alonso struck out at a 26.4% rate. In 2020, during the truncated season, Alonso’s strikeout rate slightly decreased to 25.6%. His walk rate also minimally improved, from 10.1% in 2019 to 10.4% in 2020. He also posted a 162-game pace of 45 home runs and 99 RBI over the truncated 60-game season.

Examining Alonso’s 2020 statistics further, there is one metric that stands out to me that indicates Alonso did not have as bad a year as several believe, and that is his BABIP. In 2019, Alonso compiled a .280 BABIP, a number that dropped to .234 in 2020. So the question becomes why that happened.

The metric BABIP measures a player’s batting average on balls that end up in the field of play, removing outcomes that are not influenced by the opposing defense. It is a statistic that can reveal several aspects of a player’s performance, including defense, luck, and talent level.

Since Alonso is a hitter, his BABIP decrease last year tells us whether his overall batting line was sustainable or not if the season were to have gone on longer. A league-average BABIP hovers around the .300 mark, so Alonso’s .234 BABIP is anomalous compared to the major league average.

Initially, this indicates that Alonso was getting docked for having bad luck and facing better defense, and there have been reports that back this assertion. For example, CBS Sports wrote a great piece that breaks down Alonso’s BABIP and batting average against defenses that shifted against him. Their report shows that Alonso’s BABIP can be attributed to team defenses adjusting to Alonso via the shift. The result was that several of Alonso’s hard-hit balls resulted in outs instead of hits.

Because of the unpredictable nature of luck and defense, a BABIP is not a perfect reflection of a hitter’s performance. To gain a better understanding of Alonso’s “down year,” I examined his wOBA, to further evaluate whether Alonso’s performance regressed from his rookie year to his sophomore year.

The first thing I noticed was a steep decline in Alonso’s wOBA, from .384 in 2019 to .342 in 2020. A player’s wOBA is an indicator of how a player reached base instead of simply considering whether a player reached base or not. It is a statistic that is a better barometer of evaluating how a player reaching base is leading to the production and manufacturing of runs being scored. In 2020, the MLB average was .314, so Alonso remained above-average in this category, albeit not ranking as high in 2019 as in 2020.

So did Alonso perform worse for the Mets in 2020 than in 2019? I would say only slightly. Did he have a bad year? The answer is no.

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Alonso has shown over the past couple of seasons that he possesses prodigious power. His performance in 2020 does not indicate that Alonso has regressed as a hitter. What it indicates is that teams have adjusted to him, and the result was that he was not as effective a hitter as he could have been in 2020. For Alonso to change the narrative, he is going to have to find creative ways to beat the shift in 2021 or he will remain a home run-or-strikeout hitter, which is what the Mets saw in 2020.