The Mets may have developed their long-term solution at first base, but there is reason to be cautious.
The Mets have had their ups-and-downs over the last few seasons. They won the National League pennant in 2015, but since then have only played in one playoff game, finishing in fourth place the last two seasons.
Their success developing and acquiring strong pitching talent is evident in their starting rotation. Jacob deGrom has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last couple years; he and Noah Syndergaard have individually led the team in bWAR each of the last four seasons.
The Mets lineup however has been a mixture of under-performing free agents and players who have not quite developed into stars…that is, until now. Pete Alonso is looking to buck the Mets trend of not being able to develop an All Star position player since the ascension of David Wright (we’re not including Justin Turner, who became an annual all-star elsewhere).
The Mets selected Alonso with their second-round pick just three June’s ago. The overall 64th selection, Alonso and Shane Bieber (a fourth-round steal for the Indians) are the only players who have put up more than one win per Baseball-Reference. In fact, of the first ten rounds of the 2016 draft, only 13 of the 316 players have appeared in the majors to date.
Alonso has already posted excellent value in his early-season start for the Mets. In only 18 games and 75 plate appearances, he has a 1.0 fWAR and bWAR. He is slashing a torrid .323/.413/.708, and has hit some monster home runs, six in total so far.
The power does not come as much of a surprise, the Mets knew they were getting an offensive-first player, and likely one who would struggle on defense. The home run in-game power was too much to pass up, and certainly was on display in last year’s Future’s Game, when Alonso absolutely crushed a fastball delivered by Phillies farmhand Adonis Medina.
Alonso’s 190 wRC+ is ninth-best in baseball right now. He sits in the top ten with some expected players like Cody Bellinger (256) and Mike Trout (255), who are, unsurprisingly, numbers one and two on the list. There is a major difference however, as Alonso’s 30.7 percent strikeout rate pales in comparison to nearly every other player in the top ten (only Willson Contreras’ 25.4 is anywhere close).
Last year, across both double-a and triple-a, Alonso pulled the ball far more than he hit to center or went opposite-field. This was especially exaggerated in triple-a, where he pulled over 50 percent of the balls he hit. So far in 2019, he’s hitting to the pull side, and to center 40.5 percent of the time, with the occasional opposite-field hit nearing 20 percent. It’s a small sample-size, but could indicate that he’s becoming more of a balanced hitter than simply a pulled-power-threat.
The other positive for Alonso is he is hitting the ball hard over 50 percent of the time. His hard-hit rate per FanGraphs is 52.4 percent of the time, complemented by medium-hit ⅓ of the time. It’s rare he doesn’t put good wood on a batted ball, and that certainly counts for something.
There are clear indications that Alonso will not keep up this record-setting pace. Even if he outperforms the league average batting average on balls in play, his current .417 BABIP will decline, as will his home run to flyball rate, which is currently showing that a full one-third of all fly balls he hits leave the park.
Taking away 50 points of batting average, and regressing the 33.3 percent HR/FB rate to even 15 percent makes Alonso look much more mortal than he’s looked so far. The strikeouts are concerning, as it is possible he turns into a Joey Gallo-like player over time.
Still, Gallo is a near-three-win player, and for a Mets team that has not had a first baseman with power since 2015 Lucas Duda, it’s a nice change of pace. If Alonso’s floor is close to Gallo’s ceiling, New York will likely be content. With greater upside, there’s a lot to like about the future for their newly-minted first baseman.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano