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MLB Trade Rumors: Is the Yonder Alonso breakout still happening and who wants him?

Yonder Alonso is one of the biggest stories of 2017 so far (non-Judge division), but he has cooled off lately. He’s also a prime trade candidate. Is he still valuable and who might deal for him?

MLB: All-Star Game Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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With the MLB trade deadline just 11 days away, it seemed like the perfect time to look at a popular trade candidate in Oakland. Also, he has cooled off after a blistering start to the season and may be regressing. He’s on an expiring contract, is having a breakout season, is cheap, but has complications because his recent performance has been mediocre. Sounds like a good premise for an article!

We’ll get to which teams could use a first base upgrade a little later. First, I want to look at what Alonso has done this year, what he has done lately, and if the advanced stats say he looks fine and should continue to be good the rest of the season.

A reminder: Alonso hit 7 HR in 532 PA in 2016. His career high was 9 HR in 2012 in 619 PA. He’s been good for 5-9 HR every year. Which, for a first baseman, is beyond bad. This year, he’s up to 21. The reasons for this surge have been discussed elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on it here. Basically, he’s consciously trying to hit the ball in the air more than ever before and exchanged some more strikeouts for more authoritative contact. His exit velocity is way up, his flyball rate is way up, his strikeouts are up 10% over last year.

So, he made adjustments and they worked exactly as planned. Not only has he hit more homers, but his overall batting line jumped. His batting average was over 0.300 for most of the first half (until mid-June), his walk rate is a robust 13%, and his OPS sits at 0.918. That’s great and took him from a complete afterthought in almost all fantasy leagues and turned him into a mixed league regular. But, since June 16, he’s been slumping.

It’s pretty ugly. It’s been about a month and he’s racked up this batting line: .189/.298/.367. He does have 4 HR over that time, but his strikeout rate shot up to 28% (season average is 24%) and his ISO fell to 0.178. He has been victimized somewhat by a 0.228 BABIP over that time, but he’s also a slow first baseman, so it might not just be bad luck. Also, he’s been pulling nearly 50% of all balls in play during this time, while hitting 8% of balls as pop-ups.

His season hard hit rate of 35% is solid, but it dropped to 28% in his slump. His flyball rate has dropped from 48% for the season to 41% just during the slump. His swinging strike % also jumped two points above his season average. Pitchers seem to be giving him less to hit as well. His Zone% has gone from 40% down to 37% and he is swinging out of the zone 3% more than before. He’s pressing a bit to produce while working with fewer good pitches to hit.

To demonstrate all of the above, enjoy the following graphs that simply put into pictures what I just described.

Are there signs of hope in the midst of this rough stretch? I pulled his Statcast data hoping to find that his average exit velocity has held steady, but it hasn’t. Here’s a graph I made of his 20-batted-ball rolling average exit velocity this season. You can see the general trend is downward.

So, things do not look good. His plate discipline is in decline and he’s hitting the ball weakly. His batting average on breaking balls is under 0.100, while he’s been crushing fastballs and change-ups (over 0.300 average), but pitchers haven’t really reacted much yet. The graph below shows that cutters, curves, and sliders against him have bounced around a lot. That’s a scary thought because things could get even worse if they start to throw more breaking balls.

I’m not saying he’s in a tailspin from which he can’t recover or that you should go out and drop him right away. But, I am concerned about his production dropping off the rest of the year and he is trending in the wrong direction in everything that matters.

Regardless of his own performance, he is still a popular trade target for his cheap expiring contract and the fact that the A’s are eager to sell. With the Yankees trading for Todd Frazier, the best landing spot for Alonso’s fantasy value is now gone. Sad face.

Who’s left that might be interested in a first baseman in a breakout season (trending down)? The Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, and Angels are the only ones that come to mind among teams in contention. Basically, the entire AL West outside of the A’s plus the Red Sox.

The Mariners, Rangers, and Angels have three of the worst first basemen in baseball, so if they are serious about contending this year (which isn’t a guarantee), they could use an upgrade. The Red Sox are probably underwhelmed by the production they’ve gotten out of Mitch Moreland this year and are sorely missing David Ortiz’s bat in the lineup, so in addition to getting a third baseman, they could pick up Alonso.

Unfortunately, none of those are slam dunks, so the market is pretty weak. He might not be traded, but the A’s will certainly try unless they think they can sign him long term. I don’t like to be a downer and I’ve been wrong once (maybe a little bit more than that), but Alonso’s slumping and may not move to a more fantasy-friendly ballpark after all. Tschus!