Alec Bohm’s Sophomore Slump

Chad Young dives into Alec Bohm's second-season struggles.

Coming into the 2020 season, I don’t believe I had Alec Bohm on a single roster. The lack of power in 2018 (0 HR in 158 PA) and mixed reports from scouts on how much power he could or would develop balanced out impressive plate discipline. The power looked better in 2019 (21 HR in 540 PA) but it wasn’t enough to make him feel like a special prospect to me, at least from a fantasy perspective.

Then 2020 happened and, despite the .410 BABIP standing out as a glaring red flag, I was intrigued. He hit the ball hard and did so on a regular basis. His plate discipline wasn’t elite, but was more than acceptable from a rookie – out of 203 hitters with 150 or more plate appearances, he was 108th best in walk rate, and 77th best in strikeout rate. It was easy to imagine him adjusting to MLB, improving that plate discipline, maintaining his impressive contact quality, and having a full-fledged 2021 breakout.

And so far, it looks like I was both right and wrong.

 

On Contact

 

Once Bohm contacts the ball, he looks a lot more like the guy who stormed out to such a great rookie season last year. His xwOBACon last year: .418. This year? .420. Across the board, he looks like the same guy.

The biggest concern here, if anything, is that launch angle. While he is 45th out of 129 qualified hitters in Sweet Spot, a sign that he hits plenty of line drives, his launch angle is 120th out of that group. This isn’t a death knell for a hitter – Juan Soto and Bo Bichette are in the same range (121st and 122nd in average launch angle) but it’s not an ideal place. That said, he had plenty of success this way last year, so whatever is driving his struggles in 2021, it’s not his quality of contact.

He’s getting the exit velocity boost everyone else is getting this year, but otherwise, everything is in a similar range. The barrel rate is down a bit, but given the boost in hard-hit rate and in sweet spot rate, it doesn’t look like there is a lot of reason to be concerned. Bohm hits the ball with authority – 88th percentile average exit velocity, 82nd percentile max exit velocity, and 83rd percentile hard-hit rate all speak to that.

 

Plate Discipline

 

I thought we would see Bohm’s plate discipline improve as he adjusted to MLB but, on the surface, that has not been the case. After posting a respectable 8.9% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate in 2020, he’s down to 5.5% walks and up to 27.0% strikeouts in 2021.

Sometimes looking at a rolling chart of stats like strikeout and walk rates can put things in a new perspective and make you feel better about a problematic shift like Bohm’s.

Data and graphic from FanGraphs

That both helps and doesn’t. It helps because in his last 10-20 games, it appears the strikeouts are coming back down and the walks have been coming back up. It doesn’t help because the strikeouts, in particular, are still above the 20% mark he set last year.

Digging a little deeper, there are some interesting-if-subtle trends in his plate discipline.

Data and Graphics from FanGraphs

Like I said, mostly subtle. His chase rate is down overall this year, but that dark blue line at the bottom doesn’t suggest much change – just fluctuation within his pre-established range. Which is fine – his O-swing over the last two years is 29.7%; 49th lowest among 117 hitters with 400 or more plate appearances in that time. Not elite, but quite good.

His zone swing rate is up quite a bit overall this year (77.4% after 72.0% last year), but that red line suggests less of an increase and more of a return to where he was for the first half of 2020. Given his 171 wRC+ in the first half of 2020, that seems like a good thing. For a guy whose calling card as a prospect was his hit tool, attacking pitches in the zone while being selective outside the zone seems like a great place to be.

That light blue line, though, is the one that concerns me. There is a slight but clear downward trend in his contact on pitches in the zone. The easiest way to see this is comparing to the dotted blue line: in 2020 he was mostly over that line; in 2021 he is mostly under it. In the last paragraph, I cited his special hit tool as a reason to like his increased aggression in the zone.

This blue line doesn’t make his hit tool look that special. Over his career, his 84.5% zone contact rate is 69th out of the 117 hitters with 400+ PA. I am not worried about this yet. The trend is slight and could easily turn around. But moving forward, it would be ideal to see that contact rate on pitches in the zone start to creep back up.

All in all, his plate discipline doesn’t look problematic, or at least not worse than it did last year when he posted significantly better strikeout and walk numbers. So should we expect strikeouts to continue to fall?

 

What Comes Next

 

Projecting Bohm’s future has a lot to do with determining whether his plate discipline mix over 2020-21 is going to result in a strikeout rate more like his 2020 season or his 2021 so far. Here are all hitters with 400 or more plate appearances across 2020 and 2021 with an O-swing between 27% and 31% and Z-swing between 71% and 79%:

Looking at his 27% strikeout rate so far this year vs. 20% last year and 24% over the two years combined and pairing those rates with the table above, a strikeout rate in the low 20s moving forward seems like a decent bet. ZiPS projects 21.1% and Steamer projects 22.0% moving forward, and I think those are both reasonable expectations.

Of this group, Bohm has the 2nd best contact rate and, as a result, the second-lowest swinging-strike rate. He also sees the third-fewest called strikes and has the lowest total strikes (called and swinging combined, or CSW). He has the fourth-best strikeout rate, but based on all of the other data, there is reason to believe he should be better than that – maybe not a ton better, but better.

Even with that improvement, he is still going to fall off the 2020 pace because he is not going to get back to the .400 BABIP he posted last year. He is at .296 this year, which seems reasonable at first glance, but I am not sure it is. Bohm ran high BABIPs all through the minors. T

his year he has a .227 average but an xBA per Statcast of .275 (last year his average was .338 and his xBA was .292). That .296 BABIP, at least to me, looks like pretty bad batted ball luck for Bohm.  The combination of a lot of hard contact, a lot of line drives and ground balls, and surprisingly good speed (72nd percentile sprint speed this year) is enough to make me think he can post BABIPs in the .320s.

Overall, with the higher BABIP and lower strikeout rate, in 2020 he had a .381 wOBA and a .363 xwOBA. This year he is at .257 wOBA and .322 xwOBA. Even if you don’t think he can get all the way back to .363 (and I am not sure he can), there seems like plenty of reason to believe he can split the difference, or better, thanks to strikeout rate improvement and his impressive quality of contact.

If Bohm can settle in at a .340-.345 wOBA, that won’t make him a superstar, but it would make a top 60 bat in MLB. For fantasy purposes, the low launch angle means he is not quite tapping into his raw power, likely leaving him with disappointing home run totals for a 3B (something closer to 15-20 rather than 25-30.

But he does flash a bit of speed (three stolen bases so far this year) and should be in a position to drive in a lot of runs hitting behind a strong top of the Phillies lineup. Add that to a high average, and you have a pretty useful player. Plus, given the raw power and strong contact, a true power breakout isn’t out of the question. I am just not betting on it yet.

Chad Young

Chad is a long-time fantasy player and baseball fan, who learned to love the game watching 100 loss teams in the truly awful Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Chad writes Going Deep for Pitcher List and co-hosts the Keep or Kut podcast on the Pitcher List Podcast Network. Chad is also one of the creators of ottoneu and you can hear him on the Ottobot Podcast and read his work on FanGraphs.

One response to “Alec Bohm’s Sophomore Slump”

  1. Jayson says:

    For me it definitely looks more like last season (which was a shortened season) was an anomaly rather than what we could and should expect from Alec Bohm.
    He’s not the superstar so many people expected he would be based on what they saw last season, which once again I repeat was shorter than a normal season which could explain a lot of things… Does it mean I believe he cannot become a superstar? No, because Bohm is very young but I do believe he was overhyped.

    Now fantasy-wise, I think he’s not worth rostering in any fantasy league with less than 14-teams. I mean there are too many 1B/3B who provide much better numbers than him. Bohm’s lack of HR makes him tough to roster.

    Alec Bohm is burst and a trap! Stay away from him!

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