If Loving Albert Almora Jr. Against Righties Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right
In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know right off the top that I carry a serious torch for Albert Almora Jr. Not only was he the first draft pick of Theo Epstein and Co., thereby becoming the de facto poster boy of the new regime, but he’s been a leader and consummate teammate at every level of the organization.
And have you heard the guy on the radio? Most players at this level are able to regurgitate a rote slate of platitudes, but Almora is earnest and transparent, saying the right thing without saying nothing. His appearances on 670 The Score always offer insight into what he’s thinking and about the team in general.
That stuff is great for a bench guy, you say, but being an everyday player on a championship team requires much more than just intangibles. And what held Almora back from getting more plate appearances in the past was his inability to hit right-handed pitchers. He didn’t get to face them regularly enough and when he did, his performance was lacking. It was kind of a chicken/egg situation in which neither issue could be pinpointed as the root cause.
A funny thing started to happen late last season, though, and Almora’s platoon numbers started to rise a little bit. That positive trend has continued in earnest — like the man himself — and he’s hitting righties pretty well here in 2018.
You know what’s really funny, though? That the narrative regarding Almora’s inability to hit righties ever got started in the first place. His .711 OPS and 81 wRC+ last year indicate that he wasn’t great by any stretch, but they certainly weren’t awful enough to drag down his contributions against lefties (.898 OPS and 137 wRC+) or in the field.
Then again, Almora’s early results were pretty terrible and did nothing to dispel the notion that he was a platoon bat. Through 123 first-half plate appearances against righties last year, he had a .598 OPS and 56 wRC+ that meant he was about 44 percent worse than the average hitter. In 75 second half plate appearances, however, Almora put up an .894 OPS and 123 wRC+.
He’s come down from that a little bit in 94 plate appearance this season, though his .754 OPS and 110 wRC+ are more than acceptable in light of his other talents. But what makes Almora’s recent performance even better and more believable than that above is how he’s doing it. Namely, the way he’s putting the O in OPS.
Remember that .894 mark? That came partially from a .311 OBP that was actually lower than his .319 batting average in the same sample. In fact, he drew only six walks in 198 plate appearances vs. righties in 2017. Never known as a big-time on base guy, that 3.0 percent walk rate was paltry even by his standards.
Contrast that with this season, in which Almora’s .366 OBP against righties is not only significantly higher than last season, it represents a 60-point jump from his .306 batting average. That comes from an 8.5 percent walk rate that is 1.4 points higher than he’s posted in total at any level of professional baseball. Folks, that’s kind of a big deal.
It’s also possible that it’s a big fluke, at least according to his expected stats. A quick look at Andrew Perpetua’s modeling over at xStats.org reveals that Almora’s batted-ball profile against righties should have yielded a mere .597 OPS and .268 wOBA. That’s a more detailed way to look at a .397 BABIP that indicates more than a little good fortune for Almora thus far.
So do we take that to mean Almora is actually a much worse hitter than we’re seeing and that he’s bound to regress to what his xStats say? Of course not, though the caveats to his hot hitting are duly noted and should not be completely glossed over. As we’ve seen discussed by various members of baseball stats cognoscenti of late, expected metrics can tell us how a given hitter should have performed, but they can’t really tell us how he will perform.
Which is to say that Almora’s current numbers might not be entirely sustainable. Or maybe this is just a matter of the stats kind of explaining the trick to us when we’d have preferred to go on believing in magic. Then again, perhaps Almora is capable of defying expectations. Perhaps his performance against righties will precipitate fake-it-till-you-make-it growth that is more sustainable over time.
Those conversations are probably better left to the smart folks out there. As for me, I’m just going to keep advocating for the dynamic defender to be in the lineup as frequently as possible. I’m going to keep holding my torch high and making a note of it every time Almora gets a hit against a righty. Because if loving him against righties is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. Or left.