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Pete Alonso or Matt Olson in 2020?

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Heath compares the two sluggers for 2020.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

This isn’t exactly a player profile. Instead, I view it as more of a head-to-head battle with traditional 5x5 hitting categories as the backdrop. My personal lean right now is to skip over Alonso and wait for Olson later. That’s the loose hypothesis: Matt Olson is a better pick at ADP than Pete Alonso. Hopefully looking deeper can clue me into whether I’m biased or not—Olson has received plenty of helium in recent months. We shall see.

For the sake of simplicity, I am using the typical five hitting categories as a way to chop up the analysis. That may be too simplistic for some, but I’m a numbers-challenged fanalyst here, okay? I love fantasy sports. I hate numbers. I majored in History, I minored in English. I obtained an advanced degree in counseling. I read, write, and talk for a living. Numbers are not my jam.

Now that that is out of the way...

Batting average

Pete Alonso actually has higher BABIPs and batting averages at the minor league level than I had imagined. Three of five seasons over .300, and the other two were .286 and .260. Sounds darn good for a slugger with his power. And in his first year in the majors, he batted .260 with a .257 xBA. I think it’s notable that his three lowest averages as a professional have come when he’s hit more grounders—his three highest ground ball rates are his three seasons below .300. He’s not fleet of foot (26.5 ft/s or 41st percentile) so that won’t save him. His line drive rates are really pedestrian, too. Less grounders in the form of more line drives or more fly balls (that turn into homers) are the only way he’s boosting that .260 mark. His 42.0% hard contact rate per Fangraphs is lower than Olson. And for giggles, Statcast data favors Olson, too. Alonso is 71st percentile in hard hit rate and 78th percentile in exit velocity. Olson...

Matt Olson has never posted a batting average over .282 as a professional...and that was in his first year of rookie ball. However, as a pro he’s beefed up his line drive rate. He’s posted rates of 15.9%, 21.1%, and 24.0% in his first three seasons. Both of these guys are pull-heavy hitters, but Olson hits more liners and his hard contact rates are outstanding (47.3% and 50.3% the last two years). Per Statcast data, Olson’s hard hit rate ranks in the 98th percentile and his exit velocity is 94th percentile. Also, he had a .276 xBA last year. Last year’s .267 batting average may not be a mirage.

Overall, Olson has a lesser swinging strike rate, chases less out of the zone, and makes more contact. Compared to Alonso’s first year in the bigs, at least. But add in Olson hitting the ball harder, and I think the edge is going to Olson here. For what it’s worth, Steamer has Olson besting Alonso by three points, .255 to .252. Ariel Cohen’s ATC has these two in a dead heat, both at .257. So it’s close. But I’m leaning Olson.

Runs and RBIs (team context)

I put these two together, as I think they fit together. We can predict how these offenses will look exactly, but we can look at recent seasons and discern how similar or alike the batting order slots will be.

The Athletics scored 845 runs last year, the 8th highest mark in the MLB. The Mets mustered 791, the 13th highest mark. In 2018, the Athletics scored 813, ranking 4th in the MLB. The Mets were all the way down at 676, 23rd in the MLB. And in 2017, Oakland edged out the Mets yet again, though they were both closer that season.

Oakland’s lineup top to bottom seems a bit more formidable. Any sort of rebound at all for guys like Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty, and this squad runs seven players deep, easily. As for the Mets, they’re a bit longer in the tooth—counting on Robinson Cano (37) and Wilson Ramos (32) to produce. Brandon Nimmo’s return from injury will be key, as well. In general, the youth and upside of Oakland seems like a safer bet here.

As for batting order, Alonso is hitting third (after Nimmo and Jeff McNeil) with Cano and some combination of J.D. Davis and Michael Conforto following him. Olson is projected to hit cleanup, following Marcus Semien, Ramon Laureano, and Matt Chapman. He’ll be surrounded by Khris Davis, Stephen Piscotty, and the underrated Mark Canha in some order. On an anecdotal level, I much prefer the Oakland side of things. On a practical level, my cursory study of batting order slots tells me that the difference between batting third or fourth is negligible, and that batting fourth is more preferred. If anyone has a link to some updated research, feel free to drop that in the comments. That’s just the first one I found.

For giggles, let’s check out Steamer and ATC projections again:

Alonso: 98 runs, 105 RBIs (says Steamer)
Olson: 91 runs, 103 RBIs (says Steamer)

ATC says 96 runs and 108 RBIs for Alonso...and 85 runs and 100 RBIs for Olson. So a bit more bearish on Olson, which seems strange to me. Olson scored 85 runs in his first true big league stint back in 2018, and scored 73 in an abbreviated season last year. I think the 90+ plateau is attainable.

Still, projection systems are smarter than me, no doubt. Even if we give the edge to Alonso in runs (which to me is a fairly aggressive take), I think we can call it a push in RBIs. The draft day difference has to factor in at some point, in my opinion. Alonso being taken at pick 30 and Olson at pick 63...for Olson to be approximating or even outproducing Alonso in a given category is impressive. So let’s split the difference. Alonso gets the edge in runs scored (and this jives with him batting third, anyways). Olson, batting cleanup for what looks like a better team, gets the edge in RBIs. Maybe that’s aggressive on my part, but I don’t really think so.

Home runs (park factors, too)

Now for the fun part. Dingers. Let’s state the obvious: Pete Alonso crushed 53 homers in 2019. 14 were against lefties (against whom he batted .240) and 39 were against righties, against whom he batted .266. Per Fangraphs, he’s 80/80 with regard to raw power. He slugged .583 (.542 xSLG), had an average exit velocity of 90.6 mph, and posted a 15.8% barrel rate (which ranked inside the Top 3% of the MLB). Pretty shiny stuff. And just so we can easily compare, he had a 42.0% hard contact rate per Fangraphs, with a 15.8% soft contact rate.

Olson burst onto the scene in 2017, bashing 24 homers in only 59 games. He slugged .651 (.576 xSLG) and had an average exit velocity of 90.8 mph. So in his first real MLB stint, he posted a higher slugging an expected slugging mark than Alonso—he just appeared in fewer games. He had a higher barrel rate, at 16.3%. He was a hair below with a 40.3% hard contact rate and a 17.8% soft contact rate, per Fangraphs.

2018 and 2019 for Olson have been all about growth. Hard contact (per Fangraphs) has risen: 40.3%, 47.3%, and 50.3%. Soft contact has fallen: 17.8%, 13.8%, 15.6%. Olson has also proven beastly with regard to Statcast, with his exit velo marks all being very impressive: 90.8 mph, 93.1 mph (Top 2%), and 91.9 mph (Top 6%). His barrel rates are also healthy: 16.3%, 12.2%, and 14.5% (Top 6%).

There’s always room for growth with Alonso, much like we’ve seen with Olson. But if we just take 2019, Olson was better than Alonso in exit velocity, launch angle, xBA, xSLG, xWOBA, xWOBACON, and hard hit rate. Olson also struck out less (Alonso walked a percent more).

Alonso was better in barrel rate (15.8% to 14.5%) but both guys were inside the Top 6% of the MLB. Basically we’re saying both of them are elite. Alonso’s .384 wOBA edged Olson’s .368 wOBA—but Olson had the higher xWOBA and and smacks the ball much harder. Olson’s hard hit rates over the last two years place him inside the Top 2% of the MLB, while Alonso’s calling card is more his ability to hit barrels—i.e. he didn’t hit it as hard last year, but his combination of exit velocity plus launch angle meant that he did hit more barrels.

Given that Olson’s barrel rate was so close and still very elite, when I add in Olson’s hard hit rates and slightly longer track record, I’m giving the edge to Olson here. So unless park factors have something wacky to say about it, for me it’s Olson in the power department.

Over the past three years per MLB.com, Citi Field has scored 0.798, 0.888, and 1.000 with regard to homers. A score above 1.000 would favor the hitter, and the 1.000 score by Citi Field last season ranked 16th in the MLB. So Citi Field has been well below average in two of the last three years, and right at average in 2019.

Oakland Coliseum has ranked 1.056, 0.756, and 0.854 over the last three years. So two well below average seasons, and one above average season. Some fairly wild pendulum swings. Not telling me much, honestly. Let’s scope out recent Pitcher List work with regard to barrels and park factors, then.

For Alonso (a righty bat at Citi Field) the recent data suggests that Citi Field was a solid place to hit homers, with 68.89% of barrels becoming home runs—the 5th highest mark in the MLB. For reference, only Miller Park, Oriole Park, Dodger Stadium, and the Great American Ball Park were ahead of Citi Field. With directionality added in, Citi Field ranked fifth in the MLB with 81.5% of barrels becoming homers for righty bats. This was well above the mean for homers per barrel for righties, which was 75.8%. Just how much that mark has to do with Alonso himself (and the quality of his barrels) remains to be seen. But still, the data suggests that Citi Field isn’t damning for Alonso’s home run ability in 2020.

Olson is a lefty at Oakland Coliseum—long viewed as a pitcher’s haven. However, Oakland Coliseum actually came up neutral, at 18th on the overall list. And with directionality added—i.e. considering lefty pulled homers per barrel—Oakland was middle of the pack, at 16th (with 72.9% of barrels becoming homers). That was about average, as the mean homer per barrel rate for lefties was 73.6%.

Given that each of these guys has to travel and only plays half his games at home, I don’t want to spend a ton of time on parks. I just wanted to see what the data says. To me, the numbers are encouraging for both hitters. I lean Olson, but let’s scope out the projections again:

Alonso is projected for 44 homers (Steamer) and 43 homers (ATC).
Olson is projected for 38 homers (Steamer) and 38 homers (ATC).

I don’t know that the gap will be quite that large, as I love Olson’s ability to hit the ball hard. Still, Alonso did crush 50+ in his first MLB season, so I think I’ll give him the edge here. But it’s really darn close, in my opinion.

Conclusion

When considering traditional 5x5 categories, Alonso gets the edge in runs and homers. Olson gets RBIs and batting average (from me). As for steals, neither guy is projected to swipe more than two bags per Steamer or ATC...so I think we are not worrying too much on that front.

For my money, real or imagined, my preference is to pass over Pete Alonso in 2020. Around pick 30 I can lock up a guy who can add to home runs AND stolen bases, like Starling Marte or Austin Meadows. But I’m most likely to take my second pitcher at that juncture, in the form of Chris Sale, Blake Snell, or maybe even Shane Bieber or Stephen Strasburg if they’ve fallen just a tad. Being able to lock up Olson’s services around pick 55-60 just solidifies this move for me. Even if Alonso edges Olson in a category or two, I expect these guys to be really close in every category in 2020.

So let’s play some would you rather, eh?

You can have Pete Alonso (ADP 30) and Yu Darvish (64)...or Blake Snell (34) and Matt Olson (63)? Of course it doesn’t work out that way, as you could lock up your first base and starting pitcher positions at other junctures of your draft. But I’m here to have fun, so I’d like to get my vote on...

Poll

Would you rather...

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Pete Alonso and Yu Darvish
    (56 votes)
  • 77%
    Blake Snell and Matt Olson
    (191 votes)
247 votes total Vote Now