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Leadoff candidate: Alex Bregman

With George Springer gone, Alex Bregman might be the number one candidate to occupy the first spot of the lineup in 2021.

American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

One of the realities the Astros need to face is they don’t have a leadoff man right now. George Springer’s departure (he rejected the qualifying offer on Wednesday) not only left a huge void in center field, but in the first spot of the lineup as well. With Houston still to make a move in the offseason, Alex Bregman could be the answer to cover the lineup’s first slot in 2020.

Bregman is coming off a down year or at least a season in which we didn’t see the Alex Bregman we’re used to seeing. But he’s just 26 years old and he’s good enough to think he can show a better version of himself next year.

Why do I think he could be the leadoff guy for Dusty Baker in 2021? Basically, two factors: his plate discipline is great and he gets on base A LOT. In fact, and going with the latter, Bregman owns the 10th highest OBP (.381) in the Majors since his debut (2016), among men with at least 2.000 plate appearances in that span.

But going back to the first subject, the third baseman rarely chases pitches out of the strike zone: he does it at a 21.1% rate that’s well below the MLB average (30.6%). That always makes him really tough to strike out: 14.4 K% in 2020 (MLB average was 23.4%), a skill you always look for in a leadoff hitter.

Another good thing for Bregman is he very selective at the plate. Alex doesn’t swing that often: 36.1%. Among qualified batters, a list that doesn’t include Bregman, that number would rank fifth, only behind Yasmani Grandal (33.8%), Christian Yelich (34.6%), Cavan Biggio (36.0%), and Juan Soto (36.0%).

And when he does swing, he makes regular contact: 86.5%, way higher than the MLB average (75.3%). You can add the fact that, in 2020, he had a 4.9 SwStr%, according to FanGraphs, and a 14.7 whiff% (the MLB average is 24.5%).

If we go to the OBP point, he’s the best of the best in the Astros. We need to start saying that he saw 4.07 pitches per plate appearance this year, only behind Martín Maldonado among regulars. That fact is good to evaluate the rival pitcher and to have greater chances of getting walks, which he did at a 13.3% of his total PA in 2020. As an additional statistic, led the American League in bases on balls last year (119).

There’s a stat I love more than any other about Bregman. When he gets ahead in the count, he has a .505 career OBP!!! Besides that, he’s registered at least a .350 OBP in every season since 2017.

I know that moving Bregman to the leadoff spot will also leave a void in the heart of the lineup, but that would be an easier need to address for the Astros, I guess, especially if Yordan Álvarez comes back healthy. So far, with Springer as a free agent, Alex could be the only answer Baker has to the first lineup slot in 2021. His stats and his plate discipline support that.