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Yonder Alonso’s breakout season in 3 amazing stats

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Pictured: Dinger
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody expected much from the Oakland A’s offense this year. They had an established star slugger in Khris Davis, a couple of promising up-and-comers in Marcus Semien and Ryon Healy, and ... not much else. The rest of the lineup consisted of uninspiring veteran stopgaps, even more so after Semien was lost to the 60-day DL.

And yet, they’re surprisingly middle-of-the-pack. Entering Friday their .712 OPS ranks 22nd in MLB, and it looks even better when adjusted for their home park — their 99 wRC+ ranks 14th and is roughly average by definition. They’re tied for eighth in homers.

Khris and Healy have been a part of that relative success, representing two of the team’s four above-average everyday hitters. But the two best wRC+ marks in the everyday lineup have belonged to another pair of holdovers from last year — Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie. But especially Alonso.

#AlonSOgood

Nobody expected much from Yonder Alonso this year. Many fans didn’t think the A’s should tender him a contract at all after his negative-WAR 2016 season, especially with some new 1B prospects knocking on the door, but the team chose to hold on to him for $4 million. Good call.

Plenty has been written about the reasons for Alonso’s success, with changes to his swing and approach that have led to more fly balls and more power. Over at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris and Dave Cameron have provided excellent coverage, and here on Athletics Nation our own Joseph DeClercq took another look at the Statcast data. Click those links to learn all about the secrets to Alonso’s resurgence.

Today, we’re here to marvel at the actual numbers he’s putting up. Here are three of my favorites.

1. Career-high in homers ... in May

Entering the season, Alonso held a career-high of nine home runs. He achieved that total in 2012 with the Padres, in 155 games and 619 plate appearances. Last year with Oakland he hit seven, in 156 games and 532 plate appearances.

In 2017, he hit his ninth homer on May 7, in his 29th game and 99th plate appearance. Two days later, he hit another long ball to set a new career-high. It was his 106th plate appearance of the season. He hit another one five innings later.

We talk a lot about small sample sizes, and how you shouldn’t be too quick to jump at a high batting average or worry about a poor ERA. This is a different level. Needing only 106 PAs to set a career-high in a counting stat like homers represents a legitimate change in a player’s skill set. He hit five in a four-day span to earn AL Player of the Week honors, and that stretch included the first two multi-homer games of his eight-year career.

Yonder Alonso, who is famous for a scouting report that can be described as Bartonian, is tied for sixth in MLB in dingers in mid-May. Didn’t see that one coming.

2. Slugging > OPS

Here is a table displaying Alonso’s batting lines for the last two years, entering Friday.

Year AVG OBP SLG OPS
2016 .253 .316 .367 .683
2017 .303 .389 .687 1.076

Through 32 games, his slugging percentage is higher than his OPS from last season. That is absolutely unreal.

Furthermore, it’s not just from a fluky high batting average. His reasonable .303 average is backed by a sustainable .297 BABIP — regardless of whether those numbers hold, they are at least not the driving factor behind that SLG mark. His .384 isolated slugging percentage (SLG minus AVG) ranks fifth in the majors.

Here are a couple ways to put his slugging into perspective. His .687 SLG is right around .667, or two-thirds. So, on average he’s going 1-for-3 with a double. It’s also 300 points higher than his pre-2017 career mark (.387), which is around one extra base per three at-bats.

This one does fall into small-sample territory so expect it to come down as the long season wears on, but the comparison between his slugging and last year’s OPS illustrates just how vastly he’s improved in the early going.

Top of the charts

Finally, the big picture. Some MLB rankings, entering Friday:

  • 10th in OPS (1.076)
  • 8th in wRC+ (194)
  • T-7th in OPS+ (200)

Simply put, Alonso is one of the best hitters in baseball right now. Here are the players ahead of him in wRC+:

  1. Ryan Zimmerman (221)
  2. Aaron Judge (208)
  3. Bryce Harper (208)
  4. Mike Trout (203)
  5. Freddie Freeman (203)
  6. Miguel Sano (198)
  7. Eric Thames (196)
  8. Alonso (194)

Next on the list is Nelson Cruz. You get the idea.

My favorite part of this list is that Alonso is virtually tied with Thames. It’s easy to be disappointed that the A’s didn’t land Thames in free agency last winter, since he looked like a potential bargain and is turning out to be just that. But as it happens, they wound up with an equally good hitter at the same position, and for less money too. Oakland found a better bargain at first base than Eric Thames.

The best move the A’s made over the offseason was keeping Yonder Alonso. Just like none of us expected.