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Alex Bregman has Changed His Approach.

Should he try to be a home run hitter?

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Since about the All Star game, maybe earlier, Alex Bregman has seemingly decided to become a new man. A born doubles hitter, by swing and body type, a kind of 21st century Ty Cobb, Alex Bregman is determined to be MORE. (Cue Geico commercial)

And that can mean only one thing. MORE HOME RUNS.

I am going to analyze the batted ball data on Alex Bregman since the All Star game. I know this is a very small sample, and judging results based on that sample would be meaningless. But that is not what I am trying to do. I want to show that Alex Bregman has clearly developed a new approach, swinging at different pitches, hitting them in different ways to different places. What it clearly shows is he is trying to hit more home runs.

In the long run, I don’t think it will work. But he will adjust.

Of course by now we all know that Alex Bregman is one of the most disciplined and skilled contact hitters in all of baseball. Thankfully, there is little difference in his plate discipline since the All Star break, that is , his swinging rates in and out of the zone, and his contact rates in and out of the zone. If anything they are slightly improved. He is actually walking more as a percentage of at bats and striking out less.

What has changed is his batted ball profile. He is hitting more fly balls, he is hitting more balls to left field, and he is hitting balls higher and more inside in the strike zone. This is the behavior of a right handed hitter trying for home runs.

This is Bregman’s batted ball profile from Fangraphs for 2018 before the All Star game.

Bregman Batted Ball Profile Before the All Star Break

Line Drive % Ground ball % Fly ball % Infield fly % Pull % Cent % Oppo %
Line Drive % Ground ball % Fly ball % Infield fly % Pull % Cent % Oppo %
23.9 33.9 42.9 10.9 46.9 32.9 21

Look at this chart that shows Bregman’s profile since the All Star game. Then we will compare.

Bregman Batted Ball Profile Since the All Star Game

Line Drive % Ground ball % Fly ball % Infield fly % Pull % Cent % Oppo %
Line Drive % Ground ball % Fly ball % Infield fly % Pull % Cent % Oppo %
9.1 36.4 54.5 16.7 59.1 31.8 9.1

Bregman has almost completely stopped hitting line drives since the All Star game, and has almost completely stopped hitting to the opposite field. What he is, is hitting fly balls to the left side. When you add the fly ball and infield fly ball rates, he went from 53.8% fly balls earlier in the season to 71.29% since the All Star game.

Again, he is trying to lift the ball to left field. It doesn’t take a genius to figure the intent behind that.

A look at Bregman’s heat map shows a rather dramatic change in his behavior within the strike zone, showing that he is hunting the high inside pitch to pull, and that he is hitting these at a much higher rate. This was not his earlier behavior, and it is the typical behavior of the pull/home run hitter.

Here is a heat map of Bregman’s swing behavior before the All Star break. Very center oriented.’

Here is the pattern of his swing behavior since the All Star break. This chart is less uniform, reflecting the smaller sample size, but a different pattern is still clear.

The clearest result from comparing these tables is the new preference for high pitches on the inner two-thirds of the zone. Look at the high part of the zone, the top two rows and exclude the four boxes on the high outside corner. Dramatically higher swing rates there. And he is swinging right above the zone dramatically more as well.

Most of the boxes along the inner most part of the zone show a higher swing rate as well, as do the boxes just inside the strike zone.

He is also swinging less at high outside and low outside in the zone, and less on the outside portion outside the zone.

Most of the boxes along the low edge of the zone show a slight tendency to swing less.

It all adds up to the same thing; he’s looking for balls he can drive high to left field.

At this point I can anticipate the following objection: the modern home run hitter is looking for the low pitch to hit out with his uppercut swing that will bring a favorable launch angle.

This doesn’t apply to Bregman. He doesn’t use the uppercut swing so popular today. His is old school, level swing, short stroke, direct to the ball in a hurry. He even chokes up. For Bregman the easiest way to get launch angle is to swing at a high pitch and get under it. That’s why pitchers back in the day always tried to stay down in the zone. Maybe Bregman’s isn’t an old school approach after all. If the pitchers now are throwing higher to avoid the upper cut swings, maybe Bregman is one step ahead of the trend going back to the level approach that hits high pitches well.

Now let’s look at the batting average heatmaps before and after the All Star break. What you will see is that Bregman was remarkable in how he could hit almost anywhere in the zone. Now his hits come almost exclusively from the inside part. I will show the slugging heatmap as well and you will see it shows the same pattern.

Bregman before:

Bregman after:

Just to show that the slugging map looks the same, here is Bregman’s slugging heatmap after the All Star break:

I believe this is self explanatory. Bregman is hitting mostly inside pitches since the All Star break, and batted ball data shows he is hitting them up and to the left; home run alley.

And herein lies the danger. Quite obviously he is vulnerable to outside pitches like he has generally never been in his career. Not that I’m worried about it. If pitchers start to exploit this Bregman will adjust, although the adjustment period might look like a temporary slump.

Maybe that’s already happened. I promised not to talk about results for such a short sample but for what it’s worth, his batting average since the All Star break is only .160, although his WOBA is a very respectable .357 and his wRC+ likewise very good at 130. But this is down from his pre-All Star WOBA of .397 and wRC+ of 158. His ISO since the All Star break is consistent with his seeming new emphasis on power: .320, up from .251.

So Bregman, like most of his teammates, is in a bit of a slump since the All Star game in a very small sample although his power is up. It should be noted that his BABIP since the All Star game is .100. But BABIP will tend to go down if you are hitting more fly balls and more pop ups and two of your four hits are home runs. His hard hit rate is down in conjunction with his line drive rate, and his medium hit rate is up. These are easier to catch.

Maybe Bregman’s recent change in his hitting approach isn’t intentional. Maybe he’s just in a rut; gotten into some bad habits. If that is the case, can we blame the home run derby? Just askin.