Only 27 days until live game action…
OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?
Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.
Coming up in the minors, Yonder Alonso had a perfect comp: Sean Casey. It was fitting for a bevy of reasons: he was a Reds farmhand (the team Casey spent eight of his 12 years with), he batted left-handed, had high batting average potential (Casey hit .300), and had a power ceiling in the low-20s (Casey reached 20+ three times, topping out at 25). Comps are should never be used as 1-to-1 gauges, but if you wanted a good idea of what to expect from Alonso as a pro, Casey was a great place to start.
Then he was traded to San Diego.
He moved from one of the best home run parks for lefties to that absolute worst. The Great American Ballpark has a 137 park factor (where 100 is average) for left-handed hitters when it comes to home runs. Only Coors Field is better in the National League checking in with a 150 park factor. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Petco Park has a frightening 61 park factor. Alonso suffered the consequences immediately. In his first full season, he hit just nine home runs in 619 plate appearances including a whopping three at home. Edwin Encarnacion hit nine home runs.
Alonso was fourth among qualified first basemen in doubles, though, hitting 39. His power manifests itself in line drives as his 24 percent mark was fifth-best among qualified first basemen, but his 31.3 percent flyball rate is easily the lowest among quintet (next lowest was Prince Fielder’s 33.3 percent). Part of that is his game and part of it is his adjusting to what Petco Park will give him. Here is his 2012 spray chart:
This is a full spray, home and away, but Alonso clearly leans away from the pull outfield and I bet it would be even starker in a home-only chart (which wasn’t available to me). He understands what he’s dealing with in Petco. His home slugging percentage is actually higher than his road (.398 to .389) because he popped 23 of his 39 doubles at home, but looking for pull power at home is a fool’s errand as a lefty Padre. He hit .290 with a .400 slugging percentage to rightfield at home, but those numbers jumped to .342 and .544 to leftfield.
Obvious next question is: Will the moved in fences help Alonso?
Well they should. They should ostensibly help every hitter, but I’m just being literal and anyone asking that question is actually asking how much they will help Alonso. There is no way to answer that question definitively, but let’s see if we can get some idea based on what he did in 2012. Thanks to MLB.com we know how the new fences will look once the renovations at Petco Park are finished:
For those of you thinking that these changes will turn Petco into Coors Jr., I hope the above picture is a wakeup call. We’re talking about a handful of 9-11 feet moves which may result in a couple extra bombs for the team’s best players. The opposition’s best players will also get a little uptick, but Petco Park is still most definitely a pitcher’s park and the best place to utilize your marginal fantasy starting pitchers. Let’s take a look at Alonso’s outfield flyball outs in Petco last year and see if those extra 10 feet would’ve turned into much.
I circled a pair of outs in red that look like they might be homers in Petco2. Of course, he’d have to have the same exact hit distribution in 2013 and I highly doubt guarantee that will won’t happen. What may happen, though, is that Alonso is less fearful of pulling the ball for some power thanks to the moved in fences. At the very least, hopefully the new dimensions bring even more doubles which would then likely translate into more runs scored and driven in.
Without improved production, it is hard to justify Alonso being selected in leagues with 12 teams or fewer, even as a corner infielder or utility. He checked in as the 61st corner infielder on ESPN’s Player Rater for 2012. It was his rookie year so I’m not necessarily slamming him for finishing so poorly among corner infielders, just stating it so you’re careful not to overvalue him as he was a blue-chip prospect. And it can’t all be blamed on his home ballpark because his 723 OPS and six homers on the road were far from special.
The 26-year old Alonso is entering his physical prime and now has 746 major league plate appearances under his belt. It isn’t unreasonable to expect him to show some improvement, especially for a guy who was expected to have .300+ capability with at least high-teens power, but expecting it all at once will likely leave you disappointed. Keep him on your watch list for a standard mixed league should you need an early replacement in April or May, otherwise draft him only in NL-only leagues.
This piece was supposed to come out earlier on Saturday afternoon before I left for the movies, but I messed up the scheduling of it. So in my haste to remedy that and get it posted before it was all of a sudden Sunday, I forgot to include an instructive graphic.
Look at how his power is all to the pull field on the road (as it is with most guys, of course). This backs up the notion that he knows what he’s dealing with when it comes to Petco Park so he’s content to try and pepper doubles to leftfield instead. It will really be interesting to see if the fence move, though slight, will coax Alonso toward the pull field a bit more at home and maybe yield some extra bombs.