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Ozzie Albies: A Tale of Two Hitters

Left side, strong side? Not exactly...

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ozzie Albies is the No. 5 overall player in the fake game, mere weeks after I told you all to draft him aggressively after pick 80 (instead of Whit Merrifield). You’re welcome. This early performance begs the question: can he keep this production up? And if not, what production can we expect?

So let’s look under the hood, beginning with his performance against left-handed pitchers over the last two years.

Ozzie Albies is a Lefty-Masher

The right side is the strong side for Albies. Last year he slashed .327/.407/.519 against southpaws with a .192 ISO and 145 wRC+. The coolest number for me was his soft contact rate against LHP—a nonexistent 6.4% against southpaws. That’s right, the other 93.6% of the time, Albies hit the ball medium/hard. I’m no scientist, but I like it when guys don’t make weak contact. For reference, among qualified hitters in 2017, the guy who had the best (lowest) rate of soft contact was Khris Davis at 8.5%. So yeah...Albies is hitting lefties pretty hard. Or at least, not soft. Albies’ 38.3 hard% in 2017 would have ranked 32nd among all qualified hitters, tied with D.J. LeMahieu and Yulieski Gurriel. That mark was fifth among all second basemen, though.

In 2018, Albies is obliterating lefty pitchers. He boasts a .625/.625/1.500 triple slash, .875 ISO, and 486 wRC+ against southpaws so far. He doesn’t have a single walk against left-handed pitchers, either. And before you think he’s not being effective, know that against those zero walks he has only two strikeouts in 16 at-bats. In short, he is hitting everything, whether it’s in the zone or not (more on that later). He’ll come down a bit for sure—he won’t manage a .636 BABIP vs. lefties all season, for instance—but it’s clear that Albies has a particular set of skills when batting from the right side.

Against Right-Handed Pitching, We’ll See

Patience, young grasshopper. Albies has tweaked his batting stance from the left side (less of a leg-kick) but that hasn’t paid dividends so far in 2018. In 2017, Albies slashed a tolerable .273/.337/.436 against RHP with a .164 ISO. He also posted a .331 wOBA and 102 wRC+.

Off the bat (heh!) I’m questioning the change, honestly. That’s a solid performance against right-handed pitching, and when you marry that with bashing lefties it looks like we have “Altuve lite” on our hands. Alas, Albies is slashing .208/.240/.438 against RHP in 2018, along with a .229 ISO and below average 82 wRC+. The two home runs are nice (hence the ISO) but Albies is making hard contact only 25.0% of the time. Still, it’s early on in the season and Albies managed a 31.4 hard% against RHP last year. And the line drive rate is actually encouraging (23.1%). Truth is, it’s too soon to say that the numbers show one thing or another, because it’s too small of a sample.

So perhaps, for now, we can just say that Albies’ left side is the key. What sort of player we’ll get in 2018 and beyond will probably be tied to his performance from the left side, since that’s where Albies will spend the majority of his time (since most pitchers are right-handed). So stay tuned to that leg kick and to his performance against right-handed pitching.

The Approach

I wanted to see if 2018’s sample is markedly different than 2017’s, so I looked at league stats for all second basemen in 2017, compared to each of the Albies samples that we currently possess (57 games in 2017, 14 games in 2018):

Second Base Plate Discipline

Who? O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Who? O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2017 Second Basemen 29.70% 66.40% 46.40% 67.20% 87.60% 80.50% 45.60% 60.40% 9.10%
Ozzie Albies 2017 33.30% 73.40% 51.40% 71.10% 84.80% 80.00% 45.30% 63.10% 10.30%
Ozzie Albies 2018 34.30% 76.40% 52.00% 76.00% 86.40% 82.40% 42.10% 59.70% 9.10%

Albies is a free-swinger compared to his keystone counterparts. He swings more on average and swings at more balls out of the zone. This year, he’s only seeing pitches in the zone 42.1% of the time. Why? Perhaps because he is swinging at everything. If you were a pitcher, would you throw in the zone to a guy that’s not bothering to draw walks?

Some good news: Albies’ swinging strike rate is 9.1%, which is better than his 10.3% mark last year and better than his keystone counterparts this year, as the average for second basemen so far is 10.5% in the early going.

Ozzie Albies vs. Jose Altuve

For giggles, I started comparing Albies to Altuve. Let’s go line by line, because that’s easier for me to decipher.

The O-Swing% was pretty similar. Albies’ two years combine for a 33.5% mark, while Altuve’s career mark is 34.5%. Over the last two years, Altuve has swung at pitches outside the strike zone at rates of 32.7% and 33.1%. Albies’ two marks are 33.3% and 34.3%. Granted, it’s a really small sample with Albies, but if he’s chasing right around the same amount as Altuve I can’t be worried about that, right? Everyone doesn’t get to be Mike Trout.

Albies swings at pitches in the zone more (career 74% to Altuve’s 67.2%). Albies does swing more in general (51.6% to 48.9%) so perhaps that’s the root of all that. Still, that one surprised me a little.

It’s when we look at contact that we begin to see the difference. Altuve connects 79.4% of the time on pitches out of the zone, while Albies is at 72.2% for his short career. His mark this year is 76.0% so far, though. It’s fair to remember that Albies is young and that we are dealing with a small sample. Also, we’re comparing him to Altuve. The league average rate for O-contact is about 66%, and Albies is smoking that right now. So if you compare him to Altuve he falls short, but if you compare him to other second basemen he’s still advanced.

Compared to Altuve, Albies swings more at pitches in the zone but he makes way less contact when he swings (85.2% compared to 93.8% for Altuve). I’m beginning to think this comparison was a bad idea. I am a Braves fan, after all.

As for contact in general (that’s total contact made when swinging at all pitches) Albies is well behind Altuve again—80.5% to 88.2%. Again, though, Albies’ 2018 mark is higher, 82.4% compared to last year’s 80.0%. And that mark from Albies is slightly above average from what I can gather based on recent data.

Help me figure this out somehow: Altuve only sees 44.2% of pitches in the zone, compared to a 44.6% mark for Albies. And in the early going this year, Altuve (45.6%) is seeing more strikes than Albies (42.1%). I expected these numbers to be farther apart, but maybe I was way off on the hypothesis? It’s a surprise to me that Altuve (a better hitter) is seeing more strikes. But I suppose you have to throw more strikes to the better hitter since he might actually take a walk? From that angle, it makes sense. It also makes sense that we’re still dealing with a small sample from Albies...

First strike percentage seems similar enough. Altuve sees them 64.7% of the time, while Albies sees them 62.4% of the time. Moving on.

Last but not least, Altuve has an EPIC swinging strike rate of only 5.7%, compared to Albies’ 10.1% career mark. Remember, 9.1% was average for all second basemen last year.

The Verdict

Ozzie Albies is a beast. The left side is his weaker side, but last year’s production is encouraging, as is the home locale of SunTrust Park (that was built for Freddie Freeman and other left-handed hitters). I also failed to mention Albies’ 70-grade speed until now, but he is a legitimate candidate to swipe 30 (or 40) bags this year despite the slow start in that category.

You don’t find many guys with a floor of 15/25 and the upside for 20/40 types of seasons. And though Albies is 5’9” and only 160 pounds, we’ve seen Jose Altuve (5’6”, 165) and Mookie Betts (5’9”, 180) defy the odds for years now. Albies hits the ball hard and doesn’t strike out much (career 15.1 K%). His ISO marks are trending upward the farther away he gets from minor league ball (and from hitting grounders all the time). He’s hitting enough fly balls (41.5% career FB%) to continue to “make hay” in the power department. I’m having a hard time finding a flaw here.

Some of his contact skills (and the swinging strike rate) are average, but for a guy that’s still only 21 years old I view that as a positive. He’s starting out where everyone else already is...

Lastly, I wrote all of the above prior to last nights 2-for-3 effort by Albies. It’s such a small sample that we are dealing with that his season average against RHP rose from .208 to .235, and his career average against RHP rose from .258 to .264. So yeah, small sample. But I just wanted to see what Albies had done so far. Consider me extremely happy to have drafted him aggressively in 2018.