You might be saying to yourself, “Really, is this guy trying to sell me Yonder Alonso? A no-power corner on the Padres no less?” I guess. I mean, if you want, you can save your money and invest in pogs. Or, you can hear me out. I enjoy a challenge, and it looks like I have a lot of time on my hands since, apparently, I gave up sex for lent. That doesn’t include my dakimakura though. I should note that kissing someone, excuse me, something, that doesn’t move is quite awkward. Not to mention the whole situation can get a bit messy. But that’s neither here or there. Well, it’s here, but it shouldn’t be there. Unless you want it to be. Then, you know, bewbs or GTFO.
Inexorably linked with Anthony Rizzo, Yonder Alonso will most likely be an after thought in this year’s drafts. The biggest discrepancies are pretty obvious. One guy has power, one guy doesn’t (supposedly, more on that later). One guy plays in a pretty good offensive park. One plays in the MLB version of Yosemite park. It is these two factors that mostly drive why Alonso is being drafted around 100-150 picks later. If you fancy, and trust me, you will want to match my fancy, we are now able to smack the cliché label of ‘post-hype sleeper’ on Alonso. Of which, the general definition is: a former top prospect that fails to live up to expectations, thus driving down their draft day price.
Drafted by the Reds in the first round in 2008, Alonso hit 293/370/466 in 313 minor league games. His overall skill set includes good plate discipline and gap power to all fields. To go along with the patience, he has made continual progress with pitch recognition, specifically with both breaking balls and offspeed stuff. Traded to the Padres in 2011 along with Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger for Matt Latos, Alonso took his 330/398/545 in 47 games as a Red, to the aforementioned place where hitters go to die — PetCo.
In a full season as a Friar last year, Alonso put up a very mediocre 273/348/393 in 619 plate appearances. Now, these aren’t necessarily bad numbers for a Major League corner. In fact, according to WAR, Alonso was a top-10 first baseman. While WAR is not always useful in a fantasy context, we can surmise that based on age, scouting reports, trajectory, and statistical indicators like BB%, K%, BABIP, etc., we most likely saw his floor in 2012. And that floor isn’t bad. But what makes him a useful fantasy corner? Well, it just won’t work, as a great man once said, UNLESS YOU’VE GOT POWWW-ER! So let’s tackle that issue.
To tackle that issue, we must tackle Chase Headley. Hey buddy, go easy on the thumb. More specifically, we’re going to take a look at his power surge last year, which directly correlates to Yonder Alonso. If you were to tell me at the beginning of last year, that Chase Headley was going to explode all over your face, in a good way, I would not believe your lies. I would call shenanigans, sir. And then hand you a towel. Scratch that. Based on what Headley did last year, I would just go straight to licking your face. Please be hot. As a quick synopsis, Chase Headley was once a highly thought of prospect who arrived in 2009 and put up two okay seasons, and then two-thirds of an ouchie season. That ouchie season, in 2011, was a 4 HR effort. Granted, that was only in 113 games, but his ISO stood at .110. That puts you into the Jerry Hairston Jr./Maicer Izturis danger-zone. But there were some statistical indicators here that we should have paid attention to. First, we shouldn’t have accepted that ISO level as normal, even considering the home park effect. If you go back season by season over a four year period, Headley’s ISO actually goes up. .110->.111->.131->.151. And, if you go even further back, in 186 AA and AAA games, his ISO was roughly around .250. Second, his HR/FB rate in 2011 was at an unheard rate of 4.3%. The MLB average was 9.7%. There’s hitting in PetCo. And then there’s being incredibly unlucky with your FB% combined with hitting in PetCo. Thirdly, after a particularly yuck-infested start to that season, Headley started heating up in May until injuring his finger in August. Despite only 4 HR, he managed 19 doubles and a 311/382/434 slash during that period, perhaps giving us a taste of things to come.
So let’s apply what we just learned about Chase Headley to Yonder Alonso. That involves going back to his minor league numbers for a minute. Or two. Put that stop watch away and pay attention. But if we go back, you’ll notice a power trend that continues to move up. Take, for instance, that from Double-A to Triple-A, his slugging rose from .406 to .486. His ISO also went from .139 to .190 in the same span. So, Headley had power in the minors. Alonso had power in the minors. Check. Fast foward to the 2012 season, we’ll find that Alonso had a .120 ISO… interesting. Wondering what his HR/FB was? 6.4%. The MLB average in 2012 was 11.3% Holy shiitake mushroom Batman! We are seeing parallels! Just like Chase, Yonder’s fly-balls were avoiding the fence like it had the mud butt. Next up, what were the trend lines for Alonso as 2012 progressed? Let’s do chart time, cause nothing beats chart time.
So, as you can see, there is an upward trend occurring. Now, I’m not saying that Yonder Alonso will have a 2012 Chase Headley type season. But both of them shared the same miserable fly ball luck, and to a certain extent, shared a good pedigree, and also share the same FB madness. In terms of Alonso’s skill set, there is a definite amount of upside yet to be tapped into. But let’s not kid ourselves, he doesn’t have the raw power you want at 1B, or at any corner or utility position in general. Yes, chicks dig the long ball. Dudes dig the long ball. Chicks that have turned into dudes and vice versa dig the long ball. I think. But while he doesn’t possess the raw power tool, or brute power as some call it, he does have outstanding bat speed that can create the same result as natural strength does. You remember when I said that there’s nothing better than charts? I lied. There is. Behold, my GIF magic will be conjured again for your satisfaction.
Pitcher: “You are no match for my Ion Cannon!”
Yonder: “Pfffft! I will bash your ovaries in such a manner!”
Pitcher: ” :'( “
The first GIF features our protagonist showing his patient eye, waiting for the curve on the inside part of the plate, and then using his bat speed to power the breaking pitch out of the park. The second GIF is another example of his quick-wrist action. Vance Worley does an admirable job trying to sneak an inside fastball to the left-handed Alonso. More often than not, this type of pitch and location will lead to a strike-out, or the hitter getting jammed and creating weak contact on the ground or in the air. But again, Alonso’s bat speed makes up for that, and he’s able to turn on the pitch and launch it to the moon. So, as you can see, while he doesn’t have natural power per se, he has enough bat-speed to make up for that.
One thing to note is that he actually hit better at PetCo than he did on the road. His home slash was 276/362/398 while his road slash was 271/334/389. While Alonso’s home run total on the road was double than at home (6-3), the slugging was higher at PetCo. What does that tell us? Well, unlike most of his compadres (meaning times two!), including Chase Headley, Alonso doesn’t have significant splits at his carnivorous park. No, there aren’t any dinosaurs roaming around PetCo, which is the first thing I thought of when typing ‘carnivorous’. Well, I mean, there might be dead ones underground and stuff, but you know what I mean. Or you don’t, and that aside just wasted 30-seconds of your life. My bad. Maybe next time I’ll just use ‘cavernous’ and call it a day.
Really quick, as I covered in Deep Impact: Undervalued, Will Venable could get help from the fences moving in. Yonder Alonso could also benefit, though, unlike Venable, is more likely to take advantage of the left-center alley fence instead of the right-center fence, both of which are coming in. Just to add context, if those new dimensions existed last year, Alonso would have hit two more homeruns. Temper your expectations, of course, but there will be some affect.
The ingredients are there. The trends are there. The only thing left is for Alonso to go out and do it. And I think it happens this year. I know a lot of you drafted him as an afterthought, so I expect you to all come back next year and pay homage to the jaywrong when Yonder goes out and acts like gangbusters. Or at least start a petition to have Grey name me jayright. 2013 Projection: 89/24/72/.309/2.