What will the Astros do with Aledmys Diaz when Alex Bregman returns?
Among AL batters with over 200 PAs, he ranks 22nd in wRC+ at 133. (before Sunday) That puts him just ahead of Jose Altuve, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo, Nelson Cruz, Ty France, Randy Arozarena, Ji Man Choi, and I’m not even looking at page two of Fangraphs.
And he’s clutch. He was the hero in the Astros’ recent extra-inning win in KC, just to give one example.
Diaz has been elite as a hitter despite coming back from a broken hand. Trouble is, he plays for the Astros.
Even so, Diaz has been among one of the most productive Astros this year. In 219 PA’s Diaz is slashing .304//.352/.485, for an OPS of .837. His wRC+ of 133 is tied with Kyle Tucker for fifth on a team of sluggers, just behind Yordan Alvarez (143), Carlos Correa (140) and Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel (both 137). (8-20 stats))
Below Diaz in wRC+ are Jose Altuve (129), Alex Bregman (120), and Chaz McCormick, (116). (8-20)
Among Astros with 200+ PAs Diaz is sixth in xwWOBA at .331, behind Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, and one point behind Jose Altuve, respectively. (8/21 stats)
Since returning from IL on July 27 Diaz has been even better, slashing .337/.366/.511 for an OPS .916
When you look at WAR per plate appearance. Diaz looks even better. His .029 WAR per plate appearance is third behind Correa (.040, and Altuve (.034). (8-20)
None of this includes newly minted major leaguer Jake Meyers, who leads the team in wRC+ (155 before Sunday) and is second in WAR per PA.
So when Bregman returns, where does Diaz go. Let’s look at the (im)possibilities.
1B: Yuli Gurriel. Diaz may have a tiny edge in WAR/PA. but Yuli is the king of Cuban baseball, arguably should have made the All-Stars, and is having his best season hitting, with a slight edge over Diaz in wRC+.
2B: Jose Altuve. Diaz is hitting a tad better than Altuve but....MVP, future Hall of Fame, Heart and Soul of the Team. Sorry to mention it.
SS: Carlos Correa. All-Star, defensive phenom, team leader, and WAR leader. Another no-way-no.
3B: Alex Bregman. Intriguing, but we know the answer. Bregman had been having an off-season before his injury, after having an off-season in 2020. With about a month left in the season, what can we expect after Bregman returns?
In his first 30 days after the start of a season, and after his return from prolonged IL last season, Bregman has averaged an OPS of .771. After IL last year Bregman hit OPS .691. He is a historically slow starter, and his prolonged rehab at Sugarland seems to be an acknowledgment of that, so a return of Bregman to 2019 almost MVP form seems unlikely.
Still, Alex Bregman owns third.
OK, So the Astros infield is impregnable, even for a guy having a season as great as Diaz. What about outfield? Keep in mind, Diaz has played only 19 games in the outfield his whole career. Not every utility player is Marwin Gonzalez. For Diaz, he is still at the very beginning of the outfield learning curve.
So who could he replace?
LF: Michael Brantley. All Star, league leader in BA, 3rd in xwOBA, professional hitter, Mister Consistency. Not.
RF: Kyle Tucker. Equal wRC+, 22 homers despite missing time to health protocols, good defender, plus baserunner. He leads the team in xwOBA at .395. Of course not.
CF: An inexperienced outfielder like Diaz wouldn’t play an elite defensive position like CF. His only outfield option would be left field, with Tucker in center and Brantley at right. That’s a terrible defensive outfield but your best option with Diaz out there.
So in this unlikely scenario who does Diaz replace among center fielders? Right now Jake Meyers seems to have taken the starting position from Chaz McCormick, who nonetheless has a 116 wRC+ with great speed. His xwOBA of .323 is just behind Diaz at .331.
In his 14 games (8-21) current #1 CF Meyers leads the team in wRC+ and is fifth in xwOBA at .346.
Sure, it’s a small sample size, but how do you sit a hot bat with + defensive and baserunning skills for a guy with 19 games of experience in the outfield?
DH: Yordan Alvarez............
Can Aledmys play catcher?
About the time Bregman finally arrives, Aledmys Diaz is going to be asking: “What do you have to do to play for the Astros?”
Or maybe: “Why am I playing here. I’m an All-Star, not a bench warmer.”