Better: Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman was one of the five-best players on the planet from 2018-2019. He finished runner-up to Mike Trout in the 2019 AL MVP voting, but had a very convincing case to take home the honor.
A multitude of injuries that impacted his mechanics led to some regression in the 2020 and 2021 season. Bregman was still a good hitter, but far from the game-changer he had been. Thankfully for Astros fans, the tireless cage rat found his mechanics and regained his peak form, specifically in the second half of the season.
Bregman hit .259 with an .820 OPS in 2022. His second-half was noteworthy, hitting .287 with an .894 OPS. Breggy was at his best in the playoffs, hitting .294 with a .948 OPS.
Looking ahead for next year, multiple things are working in Bregman's favor. First, he's healthy. His broken finger is healed up and he's been swinging a bat since January 1. The leg and wrist issues that plagued him in the last two seasons are gone. He recently expressed to Brian McTaggart that he feels the best he has while swinging the bat in a long time.
Secondly, the shift is being eliminated. Most of the time we think of left-handers being punished by the shift, but Breggy was amongst the most punished hitters by the shift. With his pull-heavy approach, he was shifted 57.9% of his at-bats. Many of his ground-outs were hit to the left-side with three infielders waiting for him. According to MLB.com, Bregman would gain eight hits without the shift.
While that may not sound like much, with just eight singles, Bregman posts a .273 batting average and and his OPS jumps to .847.
Bregman's Statcast metric were eerily in-line with his 2019 MVP-caliber season. His xwOBA was 85th percentile this year as compared to 88th in 2019, but he actually had a higher xBA (66th percentile compared to 61st), barrel rate (46th percentile compared to 21st), finished one percentile higher in strikeout rate (96th percentile) and saw a jump in xSLG (63rd percentile from 53rd).
Unless the juiced baseballs come back for non-Yankee teams, we may not see 40 bombs from Bregman again, but a season in which he hits .275 with an OPS hovering around .900 is hardly out of the question. Look for 2019 Bregman to be back in full force in 2023, rather than just appearing in flashes.