Alonso’s Power Found Way to Goodyear – Next Stop, Cleveland?
Craig Gifford | On 25, Mar 2018
Last year, veteran first baseman Yonder Alonso changed his swing and had a career year. At the age of 30, he shattered his career high home run total and had his best RBI season of his eight-year and four-team career. The Indians are hoping their biggest free agent signing of the winter has more from where last season came from.
Alonso’s 28 homers were 21 better than his previous career high, set in 2012. That was his first full Major League season, when he finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting while playing for the San Diego Padres (in his third season in the Majors after a pair of years with the Cincinnati Reds). His 67 RBI were not quite as impressive last season but still five better than his previous water-shed mark, also set as a rookie. Of course, he did play his first 100 games of 2017 with the Oakland Athletics, where there simply was not a lot of offensive players getting on base for him to drive in.
That will be different in Cleveland.
Alonso his .266 playing in Oakland and then Seattle, following an August 6 trade to the Mariners. That mark was actually a little off of his .268 career batting average. He has been a decent contact hitter throughout his career and has shown bursts of doubles power, but rarely has it translated into the long ball like it did in 2017. The biggest question regarding the Tribe’s new first baseman is whether or not he can keep the power surge going and fill a giant hole created in the middle of the batting order that was created when Carlos Santana signed a free agent contract with the Phillies.
There are some who worry that Alonso may have had a career year a season ago and will never come close to that home run total again. Part of that fear is fed by the drop off in his numbers after the All-Star break. He became a first-time All-Star with 20 home runs and 43 RBI in 258 at bats for the Athletics prior to the Midsummer Classic. Once regular season play resumed, his totals dropped to eight bombs and 24 RBI in 193 at bats. One glimmer of hope is that he batted .275 in the season’s first half and .254 in the second half. So it is not as if he went into a big-time slump after the break.
A lot of factors could play into and explain why he hit with considerably less power after the All-Star Game. For one, pitchers may have adjusted to his new upper cut swing and he did not have time to adjust back. At least in Oakland, pitchers did not have to give him a lot to hit after it became clear that he was a far superior hitter than almost anyone else in the A’s lineup. When he was traded to the Mariners on August 6, that could have also impacted things. For some players, mid-season trades do not work as well as others as far as getting totally comfortable in their new surroundings. Those new digs included playing at Safeco Field, routinely considered one of the harder parks in baseball today to hit not only homers, but extra base hits in general. He also went from the anonymity of the awful A’s to a wild-card race with the M’s. Just like that, he went from zero pressure to big-time pressure. After hitting 22 jacks in 100 games in Oakland, he had just six in 42 games with Seattle.
The reality is, while that is not bad, he was not hitting the ball out of the park at the same blistering pace that he was with the Athletics.
No matter the reason for the second half decline in home runs, the Indians are certainly hoping the power travels to Cleveland with Alonso. As Santana’s replacement, he does have some powerful shoes to fill. While last season was Alonso’s first with more than 20 homers, Santana has had five such campaigns with seven seasons over 70 RBI (three with 80 or more driven in).
Of course, Santana was prone to prolonged slumps and his batting average suffered for that. His career average of .249 is a good bit less than Alonso’s. Santana, while a consistent threat to hit 20 or more bombs, has been inconsistent, year-to-year. He hit 27 in 2011 and then 18 in 2012. He hit another 27 in 2014 and dipped to 19 the next season. He exploded for 34 jacks in 2016, the Tribe’s World Series season, and fell to 23 last year. He never maintained a real level of consistency in the power department from a year-to-year basis.
This is not to bash Santana, but more to say if Alonso can even come close to replicating his 2017 power numbers, it will show a better level of consistency and meeting expectations (in regards to power) than the Indians’ former first baseman accomplished.
The good news for Cleveland and its fans is that Alonso’s power stroke has found its way to Goodyear, Arizona. He is hitting the cover off the ball in the Cactus League. Of course, spring stats do not always carry into the regular season, but it definitely beats the alternative for a player the Indians just signed to a guaranteed two years and $15 million over the winter.
Alonso entered Sunday leading the team in homers for the spring with seven, one ahead of Jason Kipnis. His 12 runs driven in were just off of the pace of Yan Gomes (14) and Roberto Perez (13). In other words, Alonso is keeping up with the other Cleveland Major League hitters. It is good to see Alonso continuing to rip the ball rather than dealing with a spring slump that could have sparked worry for Tribe fans. His bat followed him to the Arizona desert in general (he was hitting .396 in 18 Cactus League games through Saturday). Now the hope is it will follow him to Progressive Field.
If he can his 20-25 home runs, the RBI total should improve simply because of the quality players the Indians will have hitting around him. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are top-of-the-order hitters who get on base much more consistently than players Alonso had in lineups in San Diego, Oakland, or even Seattle. The lineup around him in Cleveland with slugger Edwin Encarnacion and All-Stars in Kipnis and Michael Brantley is a big step up. Pitchers will not be able to pitch around him as they may have been able to last season. He should see better pitches to hammer.
Alonso certainly has some big, powerful shoes to fill in Santana’s departure. If this spring is any indication, however, it seems Alonso may very well be up to the challenge of replacing Santana and also proving last season’s home run total and All-Star effort was no fluke.
Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images