Is this where I am? Is this what I’ve become? Have the Orioles, now unequivocally the worst team in all of Major League Baseball, played at such an astonishingly low level for so long that I’m forcing myself to heat check Hanser Alberto? One of the three or four guys that have put a return on the MLB.TV investment?
Yes, actually, that’s the one.
It feels especially dirty to discount Alberto considering he’s carved himself an everyday role in a big league lineup. He was waived four times over four months this past offseason without much of a big league reputation to boost his standing. His prior work history hardly looks like his updated resume, however.
With the Rangers, Alberto eked out an OPS+ of 18 in 192 plate appearances over the course of four years. He was up-and-down, didn’t play any big league ball in 2017, and in the minors, had similarly low walk and high ground ball numbers as he does now. Unlike his time in Texas, however, this slappy approach of his has worked.
Now owning a .312 batting average following last night’s game, Alberto is among the top ten in that figure in the American League and has seen a respectable rise in his OPS+ (91). Whether it’s punching singles past diving infielders or suicide-squeezing, the frumpy yet versatile infielder has been anything but a detriment to a team now 30 games under .500.
So it pains me to say that despite Alberto being as good as he’s been, it’s hard to predict if he’ll ever be able to sustain the wacky pace he’s set. If you rely on common sense, it seems hardly possible.
As a Ranger, Alberto had an average exit velocity of 78.9 mph. In 2019, Alberto has an average exit velocity of 83.1 mph, a career high. Alberto’s current EV number is among the bottom two percent of qualified batters. Crazily enough, the 26-year-old Dominican’s contact has only been determined “soft” 16.2 percent of the time, so he’s consistently poking the baseball with a little bit of oomph.
But how sustainable is that profile? An EV of just over 83 mph places Alberto among the likes of Carlos Gomez, Dee Gordon and Jose Peraza, who combine for an average 2019 OPS of .645. And Alberto’s .711 OPS isn’t being helped by his patience at the plate.
Among hitters with at least 210 plate appearances, Alberto has the lowest walk rate in all of baseball at 2.4 percent. His OPS number, which is still below league average, has been fueled solely by his remarkable ability to find holes between defenses. An ISO figure of only .074 shows that all of those singles, as fun as they may be, aren’t doing much to create much of a threat on offense. For a player hitting over .310, one would hope to expect more than a 90 wRC+.
Alberto also leads all of baseball in chase rate, which correlates with an overall swing rate that places him in the top ten among all hitters. All of those swings have somehow created hits, but common sense would say that so many attempts to hit the baseball, coupled with softer-than-usual contact, would result in many more outs.
Sometimes baseball just doesn’t make sense.
You know what else doesn’t make sense? As Alberto continues to swing at a furious pace, he’s only struck out less than 10 percent of the time and his contact rate situates within the 20 best in baseball. Again, less-than-booming contact with a lot of balls in play shouldn’t maintain the offensive numbers that Alberto has managed. Seriously, go to his Statcast page, click on “Watch Random Video” and then the “Hit” tab. The variety of ways he’s peppered singles through the infield or into the outfield isn’t just insane. It’s baffling.
Of course Alberto’s numbers would look better with a more talented surrounding cast, but down the road, how could this hitting profile be replicated? If Alberto was able to do this, say, for two or three years, that would mean that Alberto has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in baseball. I don’t know if I’m ready to believe that just yet.
Hanser Alberto’s made the most of his current opportunity. He finds ways to get knocks, he plays passable defense at multiple positions, and it doesn’t take much to see he’s a bundle of good energy in the dugout. But he’s also having one of the more improbable, unexplainable years of batted ball success baseball has had in recent years.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because I’m not sure how it’s gone on this long.