Alex Bregman – the 26-year-old cheater … I mean third baseman – had a career year for the Houston Astros in 2019.
The LSU product quickly established himself as one of the game’s youngest stars with a .286/31/103 season in 2018. Apparently, none of those numbers were satisfactory for the young slugger as he improved in each category the following year.
Bregman is a surprisingly patient hitter for someone who possesses so much power. Many sluggers who knock out 40 bombs are also up near the league lead in strikeouts. Bregman has increased his power numbers while decreasing his strikeout rate each year. This is almost unheard of!
These numbers are astonishing. Home runs, RBIs, and walk rate are trending upward each year while strikeouts are in decline.
Mike Trout could not claim this feat through 4 seasons. Neither could Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, or Cody Bellinger. Bregman is truly special.
Alex Bregman’s Secret is Patience … Extreme Patience
It took Alex Bregman a couple of years to develop into the polished hitter that he is today. His rookie season was pretty ugly from a plate discipline standpoint. A strikeout rate of 24% and a minuscule walk rate of 6.9% plunged his average into the .260s.
A major part of Bregman’s problem was chasing too many pitches outside of the zone. He fell into some bad habits in college and the minor leagues – going after high fastballs and low sweeping curves. He was able to get away with it at the lower levels, but he soon learned that he needed to be more selective in the majors if he wanted to stick around.
Fangraphs has a stat for how often players chase outside the zone – O-Swing%. O-Swing% is simply the percentage of pitches outside of the zone that a hitter swings at. O-Contact% is the percentage of swings on pitches outside of the zone that result in contact. If you are going to have a high O-Swing rate, you better have a high O-Contact rate.
Bregman worked hard to decrease his O-Swing% each season, and in 2019 he posted his career low. His eye was so incredible that he led the major leagues in this category. Here are the 5 lowest O-Swing rates in the majors from 2019.
The Z-Swing% column stands for the percentage of pitches swung at inside the zone. Z-Swing rate is almost always going to be higher than O-Swing rate. Some hitters swing at nearly every strike, posting Z-Swing rates in the mid-90s. Bregman is the opposite.
His patient approach applies not just to pitches outside of the zone but to all pitches. Bregman has learned at a young age that just because a pitch is a strike does not mean you need to swing at it. He saves his swings for only the most hittable pitches, and posted the fifth-lowest Z-Swing% in the league this year because of it.
Swing% tells what percentage of pitches a hitter offers at – it doesn’t matter if they were inside or outside of the zone. Only Daniel Vogelbach – 2019 rookie for the Seattle Mariners – posted a lower Swing% than Alex Bregman this season.
Look at some of the names that are on this list: Daniel Vogelbach, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts. These are established stars – or emerging stars in the case of Vogelbach.
Being selective at the plate seems to be a trait that many good hitters possess – making it all the more impressive that Bregman displays such great plate discipline at a young age.
Would Bregman hit a few more home runs if he was more loose at the play? Sure, but at the expense of his batting average and pristine walk rate.
Right now, Bregman is a guy who does it all. He hits for average, power, and can work the count and draw walks. It is amazing that Bregman is able to hit 40 home runs in a season with such a patient approach. He spits on nearly two-thirds of the pitches he sees.
Bregman could morph himself into more of an all-or-nothing hitter and put out 50 or 55 home runs in a year, but the Astros don’t need him to do that. They love him where he’s at – a top of the lineup guy who hits for a high average, gets on base, scores runs, but also can also run into one.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the Houston Astros following their cheating scandal, the league is anxious to see how stars like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman will fare on a level playing field.
As long as Bregman’s plate discipline is a byproduct of good eyes and not a buzzer on his chest, he should be just fine.
See you on top!