Not much has gone right for the Astros since the first of August. Not much at all.
Amongst all of the Astros position players this season, Alex Bregman has been one of the more scrutinized. Thanks in part to his high draft pick status back in 2015 and the age we live in, Bregman’s actions on-and-off the field are put under a microscope. Right or wrong.
As of August 13th, the Astros find themselves in the midst of an August swoon. A 2-and-9 record to be exact. Since Tuesday’s bout with the Chicago White Sox, Houston has lost five games in a row. While their AL West lead is still at a comfortable 12 games, the lead for AL supremacy has dropped to five games. Yes, five games separate the Astros and the Boston Red Sox. Home-field advantage throughout the Division and Championship Series is at stake.
In other words, the Astros have not made life easy for themselves.
There has been a silver lining, though.
From April through June, the former first-round pick was in a “sophomore slump”.
Wait, can I call it a “sophomore slump”?
Oh, well, I am calling it a “sophomore slump”. Deal with it.
Where was I? Yes, the first three months of the 2017 season.
Bregman, in his age-23 season, posted the following wRC+ from April through June: 84, 120, 93.
In essence, the former LSU standout was a below-average hitter more times than not to start the season. In terms of results, anyway.
Fast forward to July and August, though, and you can see a noticeable difference in wRC+.
July wRC+ – 169
August wRC+ – 201
Sure, the Astros only have played in eleven games this month. Bregman only has 49 plate appearances. Insert standard sample size warning for reader.
So, where was this production in the first three months?
If you hop over to his Bregman’s Fangraphs page, you will find his batted ball data. Batted ball data doesn’t necessarily translate into results, but you can investigate whether the issue is more a “luck” one or something else. Let me breakdown his batted ball data by the infamous soft, medium and hard hit percentages that baseball analysts prefer to use.
And bloggers. I fall in the second category if you haven’t noticed.
April: Soft%: 19.1%, Med%: 48.5%, Hard%: 32.4%
May: Soft%: 19.2%, Med%: 48.7%, Hard%: 32.1%
June: Soft%: 22.1%, Med%: 52.9%, Hard%: 25.0%
You can begin to see why Bregman struggled in the first half of the season outside a brief improvement in May.
But Bregman has appeared to turn the corner starting July 1st. Here is his batted ball data for July and August up to yesterday.
July: Soft%: 17.7%, Med%: 50.0%, Hard%: 32.4%
August: Soft%: 15.0%, Med%: 42.5%, Hard%: 42.5%
At first glance you can see why Bregman has improved since July 1st. For example, his hard hit percentage has rebounded. If this change in hard hit percentage continues, it will not be surprising to see his average exit velocity improve from its current 87.4 MPH.
Strangely enough, Bregman’s ground ball rate in August is quite high. 52.5% to be exact. His fly ball rate in August has even dropped to 37.5%.
So, in essence, he has been hitting the ball harder and on the ground more. Yet his HR/FB rate has risen – 10% in July, 13.5% in August – compared to past months. After all, Bregman had a 50.7% ground ball rate yet no home runs in April.
Baseball is going to baseball, right?
Another reason why Bregman’s improvement can be attributed to how he is hitting the ball. And which pitches he has been hitting.
For example, Bregman has been pulling the ball much more in July and August when compared to the first three months of the season. And he has been hitting the ball to the opposite field much less.
April: Pull 36.8% ; Opposite 23.5%
May: Pull 42.3% ; Opposite 29.5%
June: Pull 36.8% ; Opposite 17.7%
July: Pull 45.6% ; Opposite 17.7%
August: Pull 47.5%; Opposite 17.5%
In case you are wondering, Bregman has been a much better hitter when pulling the ball. When he pulls the ball, the Astros infielder has an 1.120 OPS. When he is hitting the ball to center or the opposite field? A .747 and .717 OPS. Yes, Bregman, please continue to pull the ball if you don’t mind.
Then there is two pitches, in particular, that Bregman has hit well as of late. Or even better than before. The four-seam fastball and the slider. You can find this information on Brooks Baseball.
Four-seam fastball results from 4/1 to 6/30: 94 AB’s, .287 BA, .457 SLG, .312 BABIP, 7 2B, 3 HR
Four-seam fastball results from 7/1 to 8/12: 30 AB’s, .400 BA, .933 SLG, .429 BABIP, 3 2B, 2 2B, 3 HR
Slider results from 4/1 to 6/30: 59 AB’s, .136 BA, .288 SLG, .150 BABIP, 2 HR
Slider results from 7/1 to 8/12: 23 AB’s, .261 BA, .652 SLG, .211 BABIP, 2 HR
In short, Bregman has been hitting the ball harder. And pulling it more often. While also hitting certain pitches better than he did earlier in the season. Add it all together, and it is easy to see why Bregman’s improvement has taken place. You have to wonder if he has changed his approach to the plate or the way he conducts his business in the batter’s box. Or is he holding his bat differently or adjusted his stance? All good questions. And I will let the actual baseball analysts look into that.
Regardless, the improvement has been much needed. Not only for Bregman’s benefit, but also the Astros. After all, the team is still missing Carlos Correa. You can’t replace a player of his caliber. But Bregman is no slouch, either. Since Correa’s last game on July 19th, the Astros’ offense has posted an 120 wRC+, which is the best in baseball in that timespan. While the month of August has seen that number drop, Bregman’s contributions remains a prime reason behind the lineup’s continued production.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball**