Last night, the Chicago Cubs drew 11 walks and cranked 16 hits, en route to scoring 17 runs for the third time this season. So, as you can imagine, there were more than a few excellent performances throughout the lineup.
But arguably the biggest offensive contributions of the night came from a guy who didn’t even enter the game until the seventh inning. Yep. Taking over as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, Albert Almora Jr. went 2-2 at the plate, with a three-run homer and a three-run triple in two plate appearances.
Take a look:
Six RBI in two at-bats off the bench for @albertalmora.
We can confirm that is good. pic.twitter.com/LcZY14dtHg
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 14, 2017
His six RBI led the team last night, and also set a new modern-day Cubs record. According to @ChicagoSports, Almora became the first Cubs player since 1925 to drive in six runs after not starting the game. That’s pretty damn impressive.
Naturally, the press was all over him:
Almora interviewed pic.twitter.com/C9Jf9uXF6B
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) September 14, 2017
And although it was only two plate appearances last night, his performance raised his season-production quite a bit. Take a look:
Before: .285/.330/.404 (.119 ISO); 91 wRC+
After: .290/.334/.426 (.136 ISO); 97 wRC+
He raised his batting average by five points, his OBP by another four, and his slugging percentage by a massive 22 points … in one night … in a game he didn’t even start! And although inching that season-long wRC+ closer to league average is truly noteworthy news for a guy with his glove, it’s not even the best part. Instead, the best part is that both of his extra-base hits came off right-handers.
And that may just be part of an on-going trend.
Earlier today, Jed Hoyer jumped on the Score to discuss a number of Cubs-related topics and Albert Almora came up. After the love for his performance last night, Hoyer pointed out that Almora has done a lot better against righties lately and has even managed to hit the ball in the air more often (#flyballrevolution) too.
If that’s right (and sustainable), the Cubs will have a sure-fire starting center fielder for the next half-decade. So let’s dig in and see what’s under the hood.
First Half of 2017:
Ground Ball Rate: 54.1%
Fly Ball Rate: 26.3%
Hard-Hit Rate: 27.7%
Soft-Hit Rate: 21.9%
V. RHP: 55 wRC+
Clearly, in the first half of the season (123 PAs), Almora hit the ball on the ground more often than not, was making less hard-contact and more weak contact than the league average, and could basically not TOUCH right-handers (of which there are many).
But what about since the All-Star break?
Second Half of 2017:
Ground Ball Rate: 43.8%
Fly Ball Rate: 33.7%
Hard-Hit Rate: 30.0%
Soft-Hit Rate: 21.1%
V. RHP: 96 wRC+
Since the break (107 PAs), Almora has hit way fewer grounders and many more fly balls than he did beforehand, while raising his hard-hit rate and lowering his soft-hit rate in the process. And that combination is a sure-fire recipe for success.
On top of that, he’s started to hit righties SO MUCH better than he ever has before (which is possibly the headline story here). Sure, that 96 wRC+ is still 4% below league average, but given where he was before and how well he hits lefties in general, that is an absolutely phenomenal win for Almora and the Cubs.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, he’s done all of this despite a second-half BABIP (.329) lower than his mark in first-half (.331)!
As you might expect, the effects these peripheral improvements have had on his second-half slash line are quite notable: .314/.321/.490 (.176 ISO); 106 wRC+. If you were forced to point out something bad, his diminished walk rate would be the thing, but given how great the rest of his numbers look, it’s hard to dwell on that too much right now.
So what’s next?
Well, I’m not expecting to see much more of Almora than we already have this season (always against lefties and as a late defensive replacement, less often against righties), but heading into next year, these second-half numbers could be a game changer. And at just 23 years old with less than a year of service time, the Cubs could have their center fielder of the future penciled in for a very long time.