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Astros: Alex Bregman is the team’s best hitter in 2018

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WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros and the American League celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the tenth inning against the National League during the 89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard at Nationals Park on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros and the American League celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the tenth inning against the National League during the 89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard at Nationals Park on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Despite a recent rash of injuries, the Astros’ best hitter is still leading the charge.

If you were to ask a baseball fan on the street who is the best hitter on the Astros, most will likely answer Jose Altuve. Some may even say Carlos Correa or George Springer. At their individual best, all three would be reasonable answers. One is the reigning AL MVP, the other a World Series MVP. Correa is one of the best hitting shortstops in the game today. All three are All-Star caliber players. Makes sense, right?

However, the Astros’ best hitter in 2018 isn’t one of them. That honor belongs to another part of the team’s incredible core: All-Star Alex Bregman. The age-24 third baseman has literally been the team’s best and most consistent hitter. And the argument is quite straight forward and simple.

Out of all qualified Houston hitters, Bregman leads the team in the following categories: wRC+ (152), home runs (22), runs (73), RBI (71), wOBA (.390), walks (62), and slugging percentage (.530). If the season ended today, the Astros’ third baseman would also set career-highs across numerous metrics, some of which are not included above. He is the team’s best hitter, and one of the best hitting third basemen in baseball.

Now, I could spend the next couple hundred words gushing over all of these numbers. But I won’t do that. Instead, I am choosing three numbers to write about for the rest of the post and elaborate from there: walks, strikeouts, and home runs, also known as the three true outcomes.

Like I mentioned two paragraphs above, Bregman has drawn 62 walks on the season. Again, if the season ended today, his current walk total over 484 plate appearances would represent a new career-high. Bregman, for comparison, had a 55 walks over 626 plate appearances last season. The improvement is noteworthy. In fact, his increased walk total coincides with his decrease in strikeouts. In 2017, Bregman had a 15.5% strikeout rate and a 8.8% walk rate. That’s not bad. Today, he has a 12.6% strikeout rate and a 12.8% walk rate, which is quite good. Most times when a hitter draws more walks and decreases strikeouts, it is seen as an improvement. In Bregman’s case, this is definitely true as evident by various metrics. And he has already set a new career-high with 22 home runs. Last season, he had 19 dingers in 142 more plate appearances. That’s quite impressive.

This positive change in Bregman’s offensive profile can be linked to a few items. For one, the Astros’ third baseman has taken swung the bat notably less in 2018.

Swing% year-to-year breakdown

2017 – 44.8%

2018 – 37.9%

In essence, Bregman has become more selective in his approach at the plate. Not only is his swing rate down, but he has lowered his swinging strike rate from 6.4% in 2017 to 4.7% in 2018. In turn, his first pitch strike percentage has also decreased from 63.3% in 2017 to 54.1% in 2018. He is generally whiffing less in 2018 than past seasons. Thanks to this change in approach, Bregman has seen more pitches per plate appearance this season.

Pitches Per Plate Appearance

2017 – 3.67 PPA

2018 – 4.03 PPA

Again, it is worth mentioning that Bregman has become more selective in his approach. Being more selective though doesn’t always translate into success, yet it has for Bregman. To his credit, when he does swing, it is a pitch that he believes he can handle. This thought would explain the improvement in his batted ball data, such as home runs.

If there is a troubling trend in Bregman’s offensive profile, it would have to be the increase in whiffs on off-speed pitches. Following a rather low percentage of whiffs on any off-speed pitch through May, those figures have noticeably jumped in June and July. From the start of the season through May 31st, 10.9% of the total pitches Bregman saw were classified as off-speed. From June 1st through August 2nd, 12.7% of the total pitches against him were off-speed. Since the start of the 2017 season, Bregman only has 24 base hits that came from off-speed pitches. Might be coincidental, but opposing pitchers may be adjusting to him by throwing more of the off-speed variety. This will be something of interest to watch going forward.

Next. Astros: A fond farewell to Ken Giles. dark

Overall, it is more clear how Bregman has transformed himself into the Astros’ best, and most consistent hitter, in 2018. Not sure how long that’ll last since there are multiple hitters on the roster capable of the title, but it is encouraging to see Bregman’s improvement as a core player.

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