Look at any major league leaderboard, or read any baseball first-half round-up or listen to any baseball podcast, and you’ll see/hear about a few surprises this year: the resurgence of Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis, the rise of Max Muncy and Jesus Aguilar, or the explosion of Jose Ramirez. But one I find pretty fascinating is that of the former World Series Astros—Alex Bregman.
As if the Astros didn’t need another star in their prime, Bregman currently sits at sixth on the FanGraphs leaderboard, right next to Aaron Judge at 4.5 fWAR. Hitting an incredible 159 wRC+, the biggest improvement in his game is most obviously his plate discipline:
The reason for this is always going to be a bit post-hoc, but here it goes: in his “best shape of his life” article in spring training, he talks about some changes to his training regimen:
“Bregman came to Dynamic Sports Training (DST) to reconstruct his body and mechanics. ‘His arm wasn’t moving the way it should. He had some tightness there,’ said Kevin Poppe, of DST. ‘He had some weakness and his core and mobility restrictions... We said “this is where you are. Here is where your body fat is,”’ said Poppe. ‘You are going to need to make these improvements to become a better version of the player you want to be.’”
Which is funny, because a lot of it, frankly, just has to do with approach. If you look at Pitch Info’s plate discipline stats, which adjust for error bars in the zone used game to game, it shows that Bregman was second-best in the league in O-Swing%, just shy of Joey Votto. He also ranks fourth in swinging strike rate, and seventh in O-Contact%.
That has also reflected in the batted ball profile, which, while deceiving at times, is both an indication of his success but also of some possible regression. His average exit velocity of 89.6 mph doesn’t put him in the Aaron Judge class, but his distribution of hard hit balls is very, very good.
By the number of 95+ mph hit balls, Bregman ranks sixth—tied with Mookie Betts—with 133. Yet, why is his overall profile a little lower than what we’d expect? When you look at the radial chart, you’ll see it’s a pretty high variance chart for someone with so many hard-hit balls:
And it makes sense, because when you compare where he hits for power...
...compared to where he got pitches this year...
...the opposing pitcher approach is clear.
So, it’s very possible we see some second-half regression. If his overall hit velocity is generally low, but you still hammer a ton of mistakes, it’s very possible that he misses on a few mistakes and he slumps a little.
But only a little. ZiPS thinks he will be a 134 wRC+, so it tends to agree with the thesis: regression, but not much. The fact is that his plate discipline alone bumps him from what was a 120 wRC+ true talent hitter to 134, which is a world of difference. As long as hits the pitches on the inside hard, then he could be one of the most formidable hitters in the American League for a long, long time. And for a team with so many players that could dominate the league over the next decade, we’re looking at not only a special and historic team, but a newly minted generational talent.