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Have we already seen Alex Bregman’s peak?

The All-Star third baseman has many more good years ahead of him, but his best one might already be behind him.

League Championship - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Alex Bregman was the AL MVP runner-up in 2019. The player who finished ahead of him in the voting is this generation’s greatest player, Mike Trout. Bregman had a Trout-like year in ‘19, hitting .296/.423/.592 with 41 home runs. Bregman led baseball in walks and also walked more than he struck out, something no other qualified hitter did that year. What’s even more impressive is that he walked 36 more times than he struck out.

Bregman’s defense at third base is also noteworthy, as his glove at the hot corner is one of the best. Aside from being a significant contributor at the plate and in the field, Bregman’s an above-average runner on the basepaths as well. He is an incredible overall player and is only in his mid-20s.

So, why the need for the somewhat provocative headline? Well, there’s an anomaly that needs to be discussed, and it’s a fairly substantial one.

A Familiar Issue

In my Yuli Gurriel deep dive, I wrote this:

Going back to 2019, Gurriel’s power output stood out significantly, but for the wrong reasons. He hit 31 HR in 2019, which is great, but he did so with a 3.6% barrel rate. That is nuts.

15 of Gurriel’s 31 bombs were barrels. That means 16 of them were not. How many players hit more non-barreled home runs in 2019 than Yuli? Just one.

As you may have just guessed, Bregman is that one player. He hit more non-barreled home runs (19) than anyone in baseball in 2019. Like Gurriel, it made up nearly half of Bregman’s home run total that year. Also like Gurriel, Bregman’s average home run distance was not good, except it was bottom-10 in the league, whereas Yuli’s was bottom-30.

Additionally, Bregman’s xHR (expected home run) is notable. Counting the playoffs, he hit 45 home runs in ‘19. His xHR was 31.5. Only three players had a double digit difference in HR - xHR. Bregman’s discrepancy of 13.5 was good for worst in the league.

Do these tidbits guarantee a marked drop in home run production going forward for Bregman? It’s hard to say. Let’s take a closer look.

Home on the Range Road

Because of the short porch that is the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park, we’re inclined to think that’s where the majority of Bregman’s home runs are hit, especially his fence-scrapers. That’s not necessarily the case.

In his career, Bregman has hit 13 more home runs on the road than he has at Minute Maid Park. In 2019, he hit nine more on the road than at The Juicebox, despite getting the exact same number of plate appearances at MMP and away from it.

Bregman’s 19 non-barreled home runs in 2019 were split almost evenly at home (9) and on the road (10). In regard to the latter, the average distance was 373 feet, compared to 363 feet for the former. This makes sense, as it’s not as necessary to hit the ball terribly far at MMP, especially if it’s a right-handed batter like Bregman who, in his career, has pulled more than 75% of his home runs.

Here’s the problem: that nearly even split in home/road home run output may seem like a good thing because it’s balanced, but it’s not. Bregman having a high non-barrel home run total at The Juicebox isn’t a big deal — it’s his home park. That means it could be sustainable, possibly for more than just a few seasons. Having a high non-barrel home run total away from the friendly Crawford Boxes, however, is a big deal. Its sustainability is highly questionable at best and is the prelude to a double digit decrease in home runs at worst.

Take 2018, for example. In 2018, Bregman launched 31 home runs. Of those 31, 11 of them were not barreled. Of the 11, nine were at Minute Maid Park. Just two were away from it. Now that is sustainable. And it’s not merely in theory — as I’ve noted above, Bregman hit nine non-barreled home runs at MMP in 2019 as well.

Looking Ahead

With MLB going back and forth with juicing and possibly de-juicing the ball, it’s not a factor that can be casually taken for granted, though I do expect the ball will continue to be juiced in some capacity.

It’s fair to say that players like Bregman have benefited tremendously from the ball being juiced. He makes a lot of contact, his swing nets a terrific launch angle, and he has a strong upper body, but no one expected him to hit more than 70 home runs in just a two-year span. This is the era of seemingly everyone being a 20-HR hitter. The ball is not the sole explanation for that, but it’s a significant one nonetheless.

Bregman possesses elite plate discipline and stellar contact skills, so he’s very likely to continue to hit for a good average and get on base at a high clip. He’s yet to hit .300 in a season but I believe it’s something he’s capable of, and posting on-base percentages north of .400 is also a realistic expectation.

It would seem as though 2018 is what’s reasonable to expect from Bregman in terms of home runs. He’s not a conventional masher, but given his attributes and the (probably?) juiced ball, there’s 30-HR power in his bat. I just don’t think he’ll run into another season of 40+, however. Were it not for the shortened 2020 season — as well as Bregman missing a few weeks of it due to injury — perhaps there would be more clarity on this issue. For now, we have to wait until next year.

Bregman turns 27 just two days before the start of the 2021 campaign. This is usually the age when a player is entering his prime. Does this mean the best is yet to come for Bregman? Yes. And no.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant