The Alex Bregman Of Old Isn't Coming Back

Though once an everyday feared hitter at the dish, Houston Astros' Alex Bregman is turning more into a lineup afterthought for opposing teams.
Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels / Michael Owens/GettyImages

Let's go back to 2019. Houston Astros third basemen Alex Bregman was having a breakout year, batting .296 with 41 home runs, thirty-seven doubles and a 1.115 OPS. Coupled with an 8.9 WAR, which led the majors, Bregman was a huge piece in the Astros starting lineup. His plate discipline was masterful, as he led the league in walks (119) and struck out just 83 times in 690 total plate appearances.

He earned his second All-Star nod and was the runner up MVP only to lose to Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout. At just 25 years old, Bregman's numbers looked to become a mainstay in the MLB. With his teammates in 2017 MVP Jose Altuve, unanimous Rookie Of The Year in Yordan Alvarez, along with an up and coming threat in Kyle Tucker, the Houston Astros weren't going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Since Bregman's MLB debut in 2016, scouts and media expected him to become one of the leagues best players in the game over the next 2-3 years. I mean, come on, Bregman only spent a little over a year in the minor leagues. It's only natural of his expectations.

After this prediction, it seemed to become a reality. Bregman steadily got better in 2017, made his first All-Star selection in 2018, and was an MVP candidate in 2019, as mentioned earlier.

This was the Bregman the Astros, and indeed all of us, believed was worth the nine-figure paycheck.

Following this breakout year, Bregman was inked into a six-year, $100 million contract extension. Expected to be an All-Star mainstay and an MVP contender, Bregman seemed to be on the path of stardom. But as the seasons unfolded, so did the puzzling reality: Bregman's star potential appeared dim, rather than shine brighter.

Fast forwarding to 2023, and sure enough, the Astros are still a formidable threat in the major leagues. They've made it to six straight American League Championships along with their second World Series ring in six seasons. Is this because of Alex Bregman's continued success?

Arguably no. The former 2nd overall pick in 2015 has had a complete 180 of a career since his best season in 2019. Since then, Bregman has been a shell of himself. His batting averages plummeted to .242 in 2020 (42 games), .270 in 202, .259 in 2022, and .254 thus far in 2023.

Bregman was expected to "regain his MVP form this year." Unfortunately, it hasn't been the case. Here's why.

His once-impressive wOBA and wRC+ figures slipped from .418 and 167 in 2019 to a rather average .337 and 116 in 2023. This is not the superstar output Houston banked on following his MVP campaign. What's worse is that this offensive drop impacted his WAR, which took a nosedive from 2019 to 2.4 in 2023.

Adding to this narrative is the context of the infamous sign-stealing scandal and the "Juiced ball era" of 2019. The explosion in home runs league-wide that year might have bumped Bregman's numbers higher than they would've otherwise been. And while no proven accusations of sign-stealing hit Bregman or the Astros that particular year, the whole scandal does throw a bit of shade on his sterling stats.

Bregman's Hit Selection

Often times when Bregman is at the plate, his mindset doesn't appear to be swinging the bat. While he has always been a patient hitter with an incredible eye of the strike zone, Bregman seeks longer plate appearances to help his team more than himself. This has to do with working the count by letting pitches he is known to swing at go by him for strikes. There's hardly any consistency for Bregman to swing at his pitches and develop at least a base hit.

A more particular concern is his waning prowess against fastballs. Back in the glory days of 2019, Bregman had a striking 27.2 runs above average when facing fastballs according to Fangraphs. Fast forward to 2023, and that figure has dwindled to a modest 1.4. Couple that with a 13% decrease in his hard percentage between 2021-2023 (from a commendable 45% in 2019 to an average 31% in recent years), and you start to see a trend. A trend that's pointing south.

Now, you might ask: What's the big deal? Well, these figures - wOBA, wRC+, hard percentage - directly influence the WAR metric, a widely respected measure of a player's overall impact on their team's success. Remember Bregman's impressive 8.9 WAR in 2019? Well, it's only 2.4 in 2023. And since 2018, he hasn't managed to touch a WAR above 6.

Sure, he managed a WAR of 5.5 in 2022, but that was largely thanks to a sizzling second half following the All-Star break. In August of last season, Bregman did hit a torrid .362 with a 1.133 OPS.

Bregman's recent performance might provide a little deja vu for Astros fans. Currently, the third baseman is hitting .340 over his last 15 games with a 1.065 OPS. But let's not let a short-term performance cloud the broader picture. Overall, his offensive output has consistently been on a downswing in the past few seasons. But flashes of brilliance don't make a consistently high-performing player, do they?

There's no denying it: these numbers paint a picture of a player struggling to keep up with his own past performance. This drop-off is even more concerning when you consider he's 29, smack in the middle of what should be a player's prime years.

Bregman Is Still Reliable

It's worth noting Bregman's plate discipline is still top-notch, and he's still elite at the hot corner. Nevertheless, in a game where offense often dictates a player's worth, these positives don't fully offset his batting decline.

So, let's face the million-dollar question: Is Bregman overrated? Or rather, was he overhyped to begin with?

While we're not in the business of rushing to judgments, the evidence is stacking up. Bregman is a decent player, no doubt about it. But that nine-figure paycheck was meant for a superstar, and recently, his performance seems to fall short of that mark.

Now, don't get us wrong. Bregman is still a good asset to the Astros, and the MLB world hasn't seen the last of him. And let's not forget: he's shown us before what he's capable of, especially during multiple postseason runs. But as of right now, it seems the superstar label we've slapped on him back in 2019 might have been a little premature.

No Longer A Batman

So here's the bottom line: Alex Bregman is a solid, reliable player. Any team looking for a playoff push would be happy to have him, including the Houston Astros. But in the context of the high expectations set for him, and given his performance in the seasons post-2019, that overrated tag seems more fitting than we'd like to admit.

Can he turn it around? Maybe. I'm not completely ruling it out. We've seen greater comebacks in baseball. But as of now, Bregman's star doesn't seem to be shining as brightly as we once thought it would. And that, folks, is a reality we need to face.