With his sterling glove in center field, Albert Almora Jr. need not be much more than a league-average contributor at the plate to be a valuable overall player for the Chicago Cubs. Think of it like Kevin Kiermaier back in 2015, who was just below league average offensively (97 wRC+), but was worth 4.3 WAR overall.
No, Almora is not as good of a defender (or base runner) as Kiermaier was that season, but he’s still really, really good out there, and could easily be worth 3.0+ WAR over the course of an entire year with league-average offense … which would be great! And also … not that far off from where his career started, before taking a downturn last season:
Almora’s Offensive Production:
2016: 101 wRC+
2017: 103 wRC+
2018: 89 wRC+
And sadly, a quick look at this season’s numbers (66 wRC+) might leave you even more down on Almora than you might’ve been in the second half of last season. But that’s why you shouldn’t make a habit of quick-looks.
Albert Almora Jr. has a VERY long way to go to prove that he’s finally getting his offensive career off the ground, but he has begun showing signs of life. And considering how good the overall picture can be if he’s hitting just enough, any little spark is going to catch my eye.
Like, say … this: Over his last 17 games (49 plate appearances), Almora is slashing .267/.313/.467 (102 wRC+) with a 4.1% walk rate and a 16.3% strikeout rate. But while I love to see the high average and low strikeout rate, I think I’m most impressed by his power during that stretch: .200 ISO.
NOTE: Getting your ISO up over .200 is kinda like getting your batting average up over .275 in this current era. Last season, for example, only 50 players were able to accomplish either feat.
We’ve always known Almora was able to hit for contact – even last season, when his overall results were terrible, he still had an impressive .286 batting average. Instead it’s the on-base skills and, more importantly in his case, power that’s always been lacking. But like I said, lately, he’s been hitting the ball well (36.8% hard-hit rate, 13.2% soft-hit rate) and doing it for extra bases (.467 SLG, .200 ISO), to boot.
And if you shrink down this sample to just his last 11 games (37 PAs), things get a little saucier: .343/.361/.600 (154 wRC+); .257 ISO and a 42.9% hard-hit rate. That’ll play, man. That’ll play.
But … there’s a but.
I REALLY REALLY hate to do this, because I’m very happy to see Almora succeeding so much lately. But we’ve got to point out how small of a sample this has been (which, whatever, that’s always part of the conversation) *and* some of the less-exciting numbers that are hidden just underneath.
In this last eleven-game stretch, for example, Almora may have a 42.9% hard-hit rate, but he’s also got a 59.3% ground ball rate and a 28.6% infield fly ball rate. That high of a ground ball rate can really neuter the effectiveness of such a high hard-hit rate (think Jason Heyward when he’s at his worst), and that high of an infield fly ball rate suggests that the hard contact he has shown might not be here to stay. Also, a .400 BABIP, whether earned with all the hard contact on the ground or not, is not sustainable and likely propping up his numbers further.
There’s also this: Almora also has not taken a walk in 45 full plate appearances, which, sure, if you’re smoking the ball isn’t the end of the world for most guys. But for him, well, we know patience and a high-OBP have yet to become a big enough part of his game. I’d like to see that change at least a little.
So yes, he’s been pretty hot lately and all of those good results matter – he and his bat have certainly helped the Cubs win during this stretch. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Let’s hope the good stuff continues, the bad stuff falls away, and we’re left with an Almora whose offensive ceiling is soon within reach.