Going Deep: Yonder Alonso is Back

Ben Palmer explains why he thinks Yonder Alonso is back to being a fantasy relevant player.

Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

If you drafted Yonder Alonso, you probably drafted him late—his ADP was about the 22nd round in 10-team leagues, maybe 21st in 12-teamers—so when he started off the year sucking hard, it was pretty easy to drop him.

I’m not gonna lie, I was worried that Alonso’s fantastic 2017 was going to be a flash in the pan. He had hit 28 home runs last year after hitting no more than seven in a single major league season by changing his swing and joining in the fly ball revolution. Breakouts at age 30 don’t happen all that often, so it was perfectly fair to be pretty cautious.

That’s why Alonso is sitting at 30% ownership right now in fantasy leagues—because people were (rightfully) skeptical, and because so far this year he’s been really bad. On the season so far, he’s slashing .234/.299/.461 and people have been dropping him faster than George Michael dropped Andrew Ridgeley to start a solo career.

But things have changed for Alonso lately. Specifically, the difference between his last 15 games and his season before those last 15 games is like night and day. From the start of the season to May 8, Alonso was slashing .208/.267/.425. Since then, he’s been slashing .298/.377/.553.

So what changed? Has he just been getting lucky lately? I’d argue that he hasn’t, and rather that he’s made some adjustments—specifically two adjustments that are related.

First, his BABIP has changed a fair amount this year:

That’s a pretty big BABIP swing, from .202 between the start of the year and May 8 to .324 since then. Second, relatedly, his groundball rate has changed as well:

That’s a drop from 45.7% from the start of the year through May 8 to 33.3% since then.

Not only that, Alonso’s seen his plate discipline improve. From the start of the season through May 8, Alonso had a strikeout rate of 22.1% and a walk rate of 7.6%. Since then, that strikeout rate has dropped to 18.9% and that walk rate has increased to 11.3%.

Alonso’s still got great power, that hasn’t changed all year. Despite his struggles, he’s still got 11 home runs on the year with a .228 ISO (compared to .235 last year), and as you can see, he’s still lofting the ball well, as his launch angle hasn’t changed much at all (2017 on the left, 2018 on the right):

In fact, I’d make the argument that Alonso is back to being the same player he was last year, provided these adjustments stick (and I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t). Take a look at his stats from his last 15 games compared to his stats last year:

AVG OBP SLG K% BB% LD% GB% FB% HR/FB%
2017 .266 .365 .501 22.6% 13.1% 22.8% 33.9% 43.2% 19.4%
5/9/18 – on .298 .377 .553 18.9% 11.3% 25.0% 33.3% 41.7% 20.0%

Outside of the difference in batting average (which I expect to regress some), those are remarkably similar stats.

Now, this is the point where you go down to the comments and shout “YOU’RE NITPICKING STATISTICS TO FIT YOUR NARRATIVE BEN, YOU’RE A BAD ANALYST AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD,” to which I say I understand your point of view. I felt that 15 games was a sizable sample, and even if you stretch it to 16 or 17 or 20 games, the point still remains for the most part.

And what is that point? That point is that Yonder Alonso looks like he’s back to being the Yonder Alonso we all knew and loved last year. A guy who, without a doubt, has the ability to hit nearly 30 home runs with a batting average that isn’t going to kill you.

He’s not going to hit in the .230s all year, that average is going to come up as his BABIP regresses to the mean (it already is), especially since he’s back to hitting the ball the same way he did last year. I think this is the beginning of a triumphant return for Alonso back to being very fantasy relevant, and if he’s available in your league (and chances are he is), I’d go grab him.

Ben Palmer

Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

  • Avatar griff says:

    drop teoscar hernandez for him in an obp league?

  • Avatar Joel says:

    Alonso or Aguilar ROS in an OBP league?

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      Ooo that’s close. I think I might *slightly* lean Aguilar but I am kinda worried about his playing time once Thames comes back. Still, I think his OBP should be solid, he walks enough and his average should be pretty good. They’re extremely close though.

  • Avatar Justin says:

    Ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls. So the two charts you show are related, but inversely. GB% down should lead to BABIP down.

    Truth is he’s been hitting the ball high and hard all year. In April they were finding gloves and in May they’re finding grass/seats, because baseball.

    I think the lousy Cleveland weather in April may have had something to do with it too. The Indians as a team had a .300 wOBA in April and a .354 in May.

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      Not necessarily! Whether his BABIP would go down with a decrease in groundball rate would depend on what the groundballs are being exchanged for.

      He’s been hitting fly balls pretty consistently all year, however as his groundball rate has gone down, his line drive rate has one up.

      From the beginning of the season through May 8 (the timespan mentioned in the article), his groundball rate was 45.7% and his line drive rate was 12%. Since then, that groundball rate has dropped to 31.6% and his line drive rate has increased to 23.7%, which is why his BABIP has increased.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Wouldn’t you expect the BABIP to go down as FB goes up?

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      Actually his fly ball rate has stayed pretty consistent, it’s his groundball rate and line drive rates that have changed. As I mentioned above, he’s been exchanging groundballs for line drives, which is why his BABIP has increased.

  • Avatar Kyle says:

    Alonso or Bird for this season and next? I also have Encarnacion.

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      That’s close, but I think I might lean Alonso just because of Bird’s injury risk, at least for this season. Next season though, I might lean more towards Bird, but it depends on how healthy he stays this year and in the offseason.

  • Avatar Swfcdan says:

    Was going to ask about Aguilar then see someone just did. Glad you’re a believer, he reminds me of Nelly Cruz. Surely they find a way to keep his bat in there, bench Santana if need be!

    Also Alonso owner in an OBP same league so I’ve held firm all year. Very glad he’s coming around and he’s had some really good games lately. Do wonder why his production dipped so much though, just a slump?

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      I think so. The whole Cleveland offense seemed to slump through the first part of the year.

  • Avatar Chris V. says:

    Eric Hosmer killing me out there in san diego …… 12 team, 5×5(ops) league, should i part ways with him for a yonder alonso?

    • Avatar Chris V. says:

      or would mitch moreland be the better free agent pick up ?

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      I wouldn’t drop Hosmer, but if there’s another way you can get Alonso, I would.

      And I’d take Alonso over Moreland

      • Avatar Chris V. says:

        Great stuff appreciate it…. was able to trade carlos santana for fullmer and pick up Alonso while keeping hosmer

  • Avatar Donn says:

    Moncada or Alonso ROS? points league.

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      I’ll take Moncada solely for the steals upside, but in a point a league that’s pretty close given how much Moncada strikes out

  • Avatar Chucky says:

    Alonso or Bour. I know the counting stats are tough to come by but…..Bour is a walking machine.

    • Avatar Ben Palmer says:

      Depends on the league. In an OBP league, I’ll take Bour. In a standard league, it’s pretty close but I’ll take Alonso.

  • Avatar roger says:

    I have Jose Martinez, would you drop for Alonso or Smoak?

    Thanks

  • Avatar Brennan Cassidy says:

    Carlos Santana or Alonso ROS in points league

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