Pete Alonso's Got a Plan in Port St. Lucie

Polar Bear Pete is setting the Grapefruit League on fire with a calculated approach

Image via New York Mets

Peaks and valleys. Ebbs and flows. Hot streaks and schneids. Such is the life of a major league hitter. Pitchers see a weakness, they exploit it. Hitters are forced to adjust. It’s the bread-and-butter of this beautiful game.

The constant tinkering on both sides makes for a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse that, in turn, makes for some extremely dramatic content from the viewer’s perspective.

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso is well-acquainted with this particular process. The breakout of all breakouts in 2019 was followed up by a mostly underwhelming and moderately exposing 2020.

Happens to the best of us. But it certainly doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story.

Following his remarkable, record-breaking rookie campaign (.260/.358/.583, 53 home runs, 143 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR), the 26-year-old fell shy of those expectations in his sophomore season, hitting .231/.326/.490 with 118 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR over 239 plate appearances.

Alonso’s 16 home runs over 57 games were a bright spot, but keep in mind that 10 of those came in the final month of the season (good for second in the majors over that span, notably).

There were high points, but mostly there was bewilderment. All around, in fact.

Over 50 plate appearances ahead of the Mets’ COVID pause in mid-August, Alonso hit .326/.420/.674 with four homers and three doubles, which, after his .180/.339/.240 start to the season (62 PA), was a more than welcome development.

His .094/.167/.188 slide over the 10 games following New York’s return to play was understandable — routine is everything to ballplayers and 2020 was nothing of the sort — but Alonso got back on track in short order, as evidenced by those aforementioned 10 dingers down the stretch.

Following a historic, downright electric rookie season, the feeling of deflation was palpable as we saw Alonso’s otherworldly confidence at the dish all but negated for most of the season. The home stretch was encouraging, but was this the player Alonso would become?

Inconsistency was a hallmark of Pete Alonso’s 2020. It’s simple enough to leave it at that and hope for the best. But, upon closer inspection, there could be a reason behind his struggles last year. And it all comes back to those adjustments.

In 2019, Alonso’s 9.5% barrel rate ranked fifth in baseball and his 90.7 MPH average exit velocity ranked 38th, both well above league averages.

In 2020, his barrel rate dropped to 7.9 percent. You’d imagine his exit velocity would have suffered a similar fate, but it remained virtually unchanged at a 90.2 MPH average.

So Pete was still making very hard contact, but he was catching considerably fewer barrels. Peculiar, but explainable.

In the images below, you’ll see Alonso’s zone maps via Statcast. In the first image, notice Pete’s most treacherous zone for pitchers to drift into in 2019 was middle-low, though the entire strike zone was practically a minefield if we’re being honest.

Naturally, last season pitchers attacked those 2019 weak spots, hammering Alonso low and off the plate with a staggering 38 percent of offerings landing low and outside the zone.

Take a look at his barrel count and whiff rates from last season, and you’ll see the ripple effects that approach had. No hard contact low and a ton of swings and misses in all those target areas.

Forget cat and mouse. This was lion-versus-hamster. Most discouraging of all, Alonso was simply up there hacking, as evidenced by his swing rates last season shown below.

Alonso’s talent is immeasurable. But without a gameplan in place to roll with the unrelenting barrage of power punches and combinations major league pitchers will hurl at him, consistent success will be an uphill climb.

Heading into camp this spring, Alonso’s made a conscious effort to step into the box with discipline as his foundation. Following Saturday night’s Grapefruit League game, Alonso noted he’d only chased four pitches this spring.

Clearly, Pete’s got progress on the mind in Port St. Lucie. And lo and behold, strides are being taken.

Over his first 30 plate appearances, Alonso’s hitting .417/.533/.958 with four doubles, three homers, five walks, and eight strikeouts. Seven extra-base hits over 10 games is a strikingly similar characteristic to Alonso’s 2019 offensive profile.

Alonso’s home run on Tuesday was a curious one, as the spot the Astros’ battery attempted to attack was one that Pete had extremely poor whiff and strikeout rates in last season (74 percent and 75 percent, respectively).

Take a look. Tell me that's not a pitch Alonso would have whiffed on last season. You don’t gotta say anything, actually. Just scroll back up those last two images above.

Again, with a plan in place, Polar Bear Pete could be the propelling force behind these New York Mets. Exciting times…

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